Ep.155: Psalm 68: Rider on the Clouds.

Hello. I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Psalm 68 contains some of the most memorable and some of the most mysterious verses in the entire book of Psalms. It presents the complex personality of God. He is the God of war, the God of temple worship, the God of law, and the God who cares for individuals. 

The psalm opens with an imperative,
    Let God arise,
      his enemies be scattered.
    May you blow them away like smoke–
      as wax melts before the fire,
      may the wicked perish before God (v. 1a-1b).
I wish I could blow away my enemies like smoke.

In praise of the personal justice God gives to individuals the poet writes:
    Sing to God. . .
      extol him who rides on the clouds. . . (v. 4)
    He sets the lonely in families
      he leads out prisoners with singing;
      but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land (v. 6).
That’s what our God does: he rides the clouds of heaven, he sets the lonely in families, he leads prisoners on a journey of song and freedom.

For sheer poetic beauty, try these lines:
    Even while you sleep among the sheepfolds,
        the wings of my dove are sheathed in silver,
        its feathers are shining with gold (v. 13).
Not sure what exactly it means? Neither is anyone else, but it’s beautiful and mysterious imagery. 

In similarly beautiful and enigmatic imagery, the poet describes God, perhaps when he moved from Mt. Sinai where he delivered the law into his temple in Jerusalem. The poet says:
    When you ascended on high,
        you led captives in your train,
        you received gifts from humankind,
    even from the rebellious —
        that you, Lord God, might dwell there (v. 16).
Consider for a moment: Do you think of yourself as God’s captive, giving him gifts, inviting him to dwell with you?

One of the greatest comfort verses in the Bible is in Psalm 68:
  Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour,
      who daily bears our burdens (v. 19).
Think about yourself in this verse. Does God bear your burdens in the COVID crisis? In your troubled family?

The poet calls on God to defeat his enemies, saying:
    Rebuke the beast among the reeds. . .
        Scatter the nations who delight in war (v. 30).
Part of the horror of our age is the nations who take delight in war, who want to use their armaments, who look for excuses to kill and destroy. 

The psalm concludes with this memorable praise:
  You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary,
      the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people (v. 35).

Let’s pray. 

Our father, this psalm opens for us new ways of thinking about you, new images of your strength and activity. 

We praise your power that melts your enemies like wax and blows them away like smoke. 

We praise you that you ride on the clouds, that you shook the earth at Mt. Sinai, that you send abundant showers to refresh your weary inheritance (vv. 4, 8-10). We are your weary inheritance. Refresh us we pray.

We praise you for placing the lonely in families and releasing the prisoners with singing (v. 6). Lead us out of our prisons, prisons of fear and lethargy and despair. Place us in the family you are building. 

We praise you that you ascended on high, taking captives in your train and receiving gifts from humankind (v. 18). As Geroge Matheson wrote, “Make me a captive Lord, and then I shall be free” (poem: Make Me a Captive Lord).

We praise you that you daily bear our burdens (v. 19). Bear the burdens of today with us: COVID-19, personal isolation and family troubles, a world in chaos. Defeat those who think that order and justice are born in war and anarchy. 

You are awesome in your sanctuary, God. You give power and strength to your people. We praise you God, you alone. (v. 35).

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.154: The Master’s Slaves.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

In Luke 17, the disciples asked Jesus, “Increase our faith.” Jesus replied, “If you have faith the size of a small mustard seed, that’s all it takes to uproot this mulberry tree and plant it in the sea”. 

Then he told this story: “Suppose your slave ploughs your field all day. When he comes in at suppertime, will you say, “Thanks for ploughing. Why don’t you take a break while I get you some supper?” Not likely, says Jesus. You’re probably a calloused slave master who will say, “I’m hungry. Go wash up, get my supper ready, open a bottle of wine, and serve me as soon as possible.”

The slave has only done his duty, Jesus says. He hasn’t done anything remarkable. Jesus says that’s like our relationship with God. We’re his slaves, and when we have obeyed every command, we can say, “Looks like we’re rather worthless slaves. We’ve only done our job.” 

Do you think it increased the disciples’ faith to imagine themselves as calloused slave masters and as God’s unworthy slaves? Did Jesus’ story bring them closer to that mustard seed of faith that can chuck a perfectly good tree into the ocean? Here’s what I think Jesus was telling them: “Don’t focus on a faith that does weird and wonderful tricks. It’s better to focus quietly on your duty to God and others. Plough the fields, prepare the suppers, don’t calculate how much reward you’re earning. Faith is God’s gift that helps you faithfully do your duty.” 

In Luke 12, Jesus told another story about slaves. This lot were waiting through the night for their master to return from a wedding. Jesus said that when the master returns and finds his slaves awake and waiting, he will call them to the table and serve them dinner. 

That’s strange. In the previous story, at the end of a long day, the slave master said, “Make my supper!.” But in this story, it’s flipped: the master is making supper for the slaves. 

I see two lessons in these stories. 

1. First, we are God’s slaves so our job is to do everything he tells us to do. That’s big. I find it hard enough to keep the Ten Commandments, much less follow the Sermon on the Mount and love my neighbour as myself. For me, that’s mission impossible, even though I’ve chosen to accept it. Jesus is right–we’re not very good slaves. Perhaps Jesus is saying that trying to earn God’s blessing by doing everything right is “mission impossible”. Perhaps the way forward is to receive God’s mercy that forgives our failures and gives us a heart of love and service.  

2. The second lesson is this: If we wait patiently for God, one day he will turn the tables on us. It won’t be us serving him at his table. It will be him serving us. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thought faith was the key to this Christian life. But we don’t have even the mustard seed level of faith that can relocate trees into the sea. Help us to hear and believe Jesus’ story. Help us to shift our focus from amazing works of faith to quiet service for others. Help us to work steadily without expecting appreciation or reward. Help us love you and our neighbors quietly, faithfully, graciously, even when we are unrecognized and unrewarded. 

Our father, we wait for you as slaves wait for their master, serving you through our lifetime, hoping for Jesus’ return. Help us to be faithful. Bring us quickly to that time when you will invite us to sit at your supper table, and you will serve us the meal that begins an eternity of feasting with you. 

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Ep.153: Psalm 67: God Smiles.

Hello. I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

Almost 250 years ago, hymn writer William Cowper became severely depressed and attempted suicide. During that dark year of his life, he wrote a poem called Light Shining out of Darkness, which includes these lines,
    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
        But trust him for his grace;
    Behind a frowning providence,
        He hides a smiling face. 

Maybe you know this poem as the hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way. What a wonderful picture of God. Our feelings and life circumstances may be frowning, dark, difficult, sorrowful. But behind our difficulties, God cares for us and smiles on us.  

Like Cowper, the poet in Psalm 67 trusts God to smile. He says,
    May God be gracious to us and bless us
        and make his face shine on us (v. 1). 

In the psalm, God smiles not just on his own people. He is creator and sustainer of the world. He smiles at all he has made. The favor he shows his chosen people is his invitation that flows through them to the whole world, inviting all the nations to praise God and to enjoy the favor of his smile.  As the poet says,
    May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
      for you rule the peoples with equity
      and guide the nations of the earth (v. 4). 

Brueggemann says of Psalm 67, “The sum of the entire poem is gladness for the life-giving, world-ordering power of God that makes a viable, shared life in the world possible.” (Brueggemann, Walter, and Bellinger, William H., Jr. 2014.  Psalms. In New Cambridge Bible Commentary. New York:: Cambridge University Press. p. 290).

Let’s pray.

     O God, be gracious to us and bless us
        and make your face smile upon us–
    so that your ways may be known on earth,
        your salvation among all nations (vv. 1-2).

For us, as for ancient Israel, your plan is not to create a cowering, fearful chosen people. You don’t want us just to hide out of sight in a dangerous world until the coming Messiah rescues us. Rather, in all generations you order the world for the benefit of all people. Summer and winter, springtime and harvest, oceans and mountains and plains give us a place to call home, to experience your beauty, and to grow food that sustains and satisfies us. You send your rain on the just and the unjust. You care for your creation, both the earth and the people. As the poet says,
    The earth has yielded its increase;
        God, our God, has blessed us. . .
        let all the ends of the earth praise him (vv. 6, 7b). 

We also hear the poet say,
  May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
        for you rule the peoples with equity,
        and lead the nations of the earth (v. 4).

God, we do not see that happening yet. We see a world caught in the COVID-19 pandemic. Nations bicker internally, castigate other nations for perceived faults, and move toward political and economic isolation and self-reliance. O God, as the pandemic exposes the fractures and foolishness of our world systems, as nations move toward self-protection and isolation, it is time for you to act as the poet suggests: to rule the peoples with equity and to lead the nations of the earth. Just do it, God! Bring justice to the earth. Bring leadership that will guide the nations wisely. Show the world your smiling face. Let the whole world be glad and sing for joy.

Amen.

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.