Ep.290: Psalm 147: Hallelujah Number Two.

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

Psalm 147 continues the final crescendo of praise that takes us to the end of the Book of Psalms. Like the previous psalm, and the next three, it begins and ends with “Hallelujah”, which means “Praise the Lord!” 

Writing about his journey toward praise, American teacher and blogger Alan Jacobs says, 

. . . a lot of people [are] doing good work to expose the absurdities, the hypocrisies, and the sheer destructiveness of both the Left and the Right. I myself did . . . that work for several years, but I’m not inclined to keep doing it . . . because that work of critique, however necessary, lacks a constructive dimension. There has to be something better we can do than curse our enemies—or the darkness or the present moment. If . . . this is indeed a time to build, then what can I build? (Jacobs, Alan. “The Homebound Symphony”. Web blog post. Snakes and Ladders. 15 January 2022. Accessed 18 January 2022.)  

Jacobs describes his new direction: 
I want to find what is wise and good and beautiful and true and pass along to my readers as much of it as I can.  (Jacobs, Alan). He says his work now is “all about praise and delight” (Jacobs, Alan). 

There’s that word “praise” which Jacobs shares with Psalm 147. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we focus too much on our enemies, thinking how to avoid their traps. We focus too much on money,  preserving and growing our riches. We read too much news, fixating on what’s wrong with the world. We introspect, working out what we’ve got wrong and right. 

Today, Lord, we focus on you. We are amazed by the person you are and the world you made and the life you give us and the people you created. 

You teach us love and faithfulness. The love we find in family and community is a small taste of your great love. We see your faithfulness in the world you made, where gravity always pulls down and trees grow up, where the moon bids tides to ebb and flow, where mountains stand immovable. Our home, this world, gives us food and shelter and comfort, that lead us to our home in you. 

We praise you that you speak to us. Scripture tells us that you are love and light and spirit, a consuming fire. We praise you for speaking to us though Jesus, who walked on earth, and died on a cross, and said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Beyond the  conundrums of life and the mystery of the universe, you offer us not answers but yourself. We praise you that in Jesus you walk with us and you promise to be our friend through life and death and life everlasting. 

O God, we have doubts but we hold them loosely. We have questions but we lean into mystery. We have complaints but we lift a voice of praise. With the poet we say, “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.” 

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.289: Psalm 146: Hallelujah Number One.

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

Psalm 146 begins the final crescendo of praise that takes us to the end of the psalms. Starting with this psalm, the final five each begin and end with “Hallelujah”, which means “Praise the Lord!”

Singer songwriter Leonard Cohen brought the word into modern, secular use with his well-known song, “Hallelujah”, used in the movie Shrek. Some of my favorite words from his song are:
    Even though it all went wrong
    I’ll stand before the Lord of song
    with nothing on my lips but Hallelujah  (Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah, 1984) 

Cohen said, “The world is full of conflicts and things that cannot be reconciled but there are moments when we can. . .embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah’.” Rolling Stone Article on L. Cohen

The poet of Psalm 146 does something similar, and something different. Like Cohen, he does not try to reconcile the conflicts he has struggled with all through the psalms. He’s not building a system of rational thought, nor creating a philosophy of life. But unlike Cohen, it is not the mess of it all he embraces, but the God of it all. He looks at the good which God has done in creation and the good he does for people who seek him. Our poet embraces God. Let’s do the same. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we say “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.” 

We have journeyed with the poet through depression and praise, through sleepless nights and hopeful days, through times when you are absent and times when you are present. We set aside conflicts we cannot reconcile, the parts of life that don’t add up. 

O God, our experience of you seems random, not neatly wrapped in theology or logic. Our prayers come from within, from depths we do not understand, from a place where pain and love and hope and despair mingle in our daily chaos. We have exposed our inner self to you, our thoughts worthy and unworthy, our desires and fears. Today we turn to you. We focus on your person and your gifts. 

The beauty we see in the world is a gift. You created the universe, and you saw that it was good. 

The beauty we see in people is a gift. You created us, male and female, in your image, and you saw that it was good. 

The beauty we see in society is a gift. You said, “It is not good for man to be alone” and you created family and community and society. We praise you because you made us to live in relationship. 

The beauty we see in culture– art, technology, music, and architecture–is a gift. You created us to be creative, and you enjoy the works we create. 

The beauty we see in your word is a gift. You spoke the worlds into being, and you spoke again through your son whom you love. He is our light and our life. 

With the poet we say, “Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.”

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.288: Psalm 145: All Praise to the God of All.

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

The Book of Psalms turns a remarkable corner at Psalm 145. Here, the poet looks away from his troubles and turns his full attention on God. In this psalm and the remaining five, the poet does not mention his enemies, nor his fear of falling into the pit, nor his struggle to believe. He is not despairing or desperate. 

Instead of cajoling God to keep his promises, he pivots to a theme of praise, focusing on God’s faithfulness and glory. 

The poet’s favorite word in Psalm 145 is “all”. Listen to all the ways he uses it: 

  The Lord is good to all
    he has compassion on all he has made.
  All your works praise you, Lord (vv. 9-10a).
     Your dominion endures through all generations (v. 13b). 
 
  The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
      faithful in all he does.
  The Lord upholds all who fall
      and lifts up all who are bowed down (vv. 13b-14).

  The Lord watches over all who love him,
      but all the wicked he will destroy (v. 20). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, you have compassion on all you made. Look on us with compassion, as we work for you and others; as we age; as we live with sins we are unable to conquer. Look on the earth with compassion, as it adjusts to a changing climate, convulsed by typhoons and floods, earthquakes and fires. Look on the nations with compassion as democracies decay and dictators rule harshly. 

With the poet, we say, “All your works praise you, O God” (v. 9). The sun rises and sets on bright winter snow, the moon softens the night with a gentle light. Mountains tell of your greatness and plains speak of your goodness. 

With the poet, we believe:
  You are trustworthy in all you promise,
      faithful in all you do” (v. 13b).
You chart your way through history. You do not make promises in election years and discard them when you govern. You do not study opinion polls and hire spin doctors. You are God of power, light, and love. Your rule is often hidden, your kingdom a mystery. Yet you call us into relationship, and draw us into the ocean of your love.   

As the poet of this psalm says, 
   You uphold all who fall
    you lift up all who are bowed down
  The eyes of all look to you (vv. 14-15a).
We are part of that “all”. We look up to you from our routines, from our pandemic world, from the politics of church and state. Above it all we see your throne, in the news we hear rumors of your righteousness, in disasters a hint of your goodness.

    You are near to all who call on you,
      to all who call on you in truth.
    You fulfill the desires of those who fear you;
      you hear their cry and save them (vv. 18-19). 
We call on you Lord, with such truth as we know. Fulfill our desire to know you. Help us make the world an outpost of your kingdom. Make our lives rich in the imitation of you and your goodness. May our mouths ever speak your praise (v. 21a). 

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.287: Psalm 144: Train my Hands for War.

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

In Psalm 144, the poet asks God to bless his military adventures. The psalm is framed by three sets of hands: hands that belong to the poet, to God, and to the enemy. 

Let’s look at the poet’s hands. He begins:
  Praise be to God who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle (v. 1). 

I have always liked that picture: I am God’s apprentice; he is my mentor, training my hands for the work I do. God uses whatever I hold in my hands as instruments of his purpose, though I am glad I don’t wield a sword, spear, or gun like the poet and other warriors.

When God called Moses to deliver Israel, he asked, “What’s in your hand?”  “A staff,” Moses replied. “Throw it on the ground,” said God. It became a snake. “ Pick it up by the tail,” and it became a staff again (Exo 4:2-4). The staff in my hand is a keyboard though I try not to throw it on the ground. Perhaps God looks at me as he looked at Moses, interested in what I hold in my hands, wanting to direct and participate in the tasks I undertake. 

The psalm also mentions God’s hand. The poet prays:    
    Reach down your hand from on high,
        Deliver me, rescue me (v. 7a).
The poet asks God to lend a helping hand, a hand of salvation and deliverance.

The poet needs help because his enemies’ hands are against him. He says: 
        Deliver me and rescue me
    from the mighty waters,
        from the hands of aliens
    whose mouths are full of lies
        whose right hands are deceitful (vv. 7b – 8). 

The poet’s prayer is, “Deliver me from the lying, deceitful hands of my enemies. They make war against me, God. Why don’t you help me make war against them?  Strengthen and train my hands, lend your helping hand.”

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we hear the news of our fallen world: politics, wars, and pandemics; sports, entertainment, and fashion. But the psalm brings us news of you:
  Praise be to God who trains my hands for war,
      my fingers for battle (v. 1). 

You are the God who trains our hands, our minds, and spirits in the way of life. Be our mentor. Teach us words of praise to sing above the cacophony of pandemic news. Teach us works of love to counter violence and selfishness. Teach us thoughts of mercy and peace in the midst of confusion and busyness. 

We receive your blessings on the work of our hands. Hands that prepare meals and wash dishes, that plant seeds and harvest vegetables; hands that shovel snow and plug in the car, that help the sick and needy. We raise these hands to you in praise and prayer. 

Our father, we invite you to extend your hand to us. Lend a helping hand in our work, a healing hand in our sickness, a welcoming hand when we raise our hands to you.   

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.286: Psalm 143: Lead Me on a Level Path.

Ep286_Psalm143. 

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

Psalm 143 begins:
  Hear my prayer, Lord,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
  in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
  Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you (vv. 1-3). 

Frequently, in the psalms, the poets appeal to God as judge, asking him to decide in the poets’ favor and to condemn his enemies. For example, Psalm 7 says,
  Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
      according to my integrity, O Most High (v. 8). 

So why is the poet in Psalm 143 asking God not to bring him into judgment? Why isn’t he confident, like the poet in Psalm 7, that God will see his righteousness and exonerate him? 

I give the usual answer, when faced with the complexity and depth of the psalms. Those poets pray honestly and authentically whatever is on their heart and mind. It’s a come-as-you-are prayer party. No need to dress up and look respectable. When they feel they’ve been doing a good job of living according to God’s covenant with Israel, they boldly claim their righteousness, castigate God for not doing his part, and call him to uphold his end of the covenant. 

But when evil surfaces in the poets’ heart, they ask forgiveness, basing their prayer entirely on God’s mercy instead of their own righteousness. 

Let’s pray. 

Our Father, with the psalmist we pray, “Don’t judge us quickly, because no human can stand before you.” We need your help, not your judgment.
  Do not hide your face from us,
    or we will be like those who go down to the pit (v. 7). 

We do not point to  the good things we have done. We point only to your love. Accept our faltering service, our stumbling ways, and the inadequate praise we offer. Because of your love, raise us up and set us on the way of eternal life.

With the poet we pray:    
Rescue us from our enemies, Lord,
      for we hide in you (v. 9).
We are crowded and cast down by our old enemy, the devil. Our enemy, the world, is always near, inviting us to a table of Christmas without Christ, of food without thanksgiving, of pleasures without joy. The enemy within tempts us to a feast of unbelief, of cynicism and doubt, questioning whether you rule the world in love. Our God, we ask: Are the randomness and violence we see your servants or your master? 

  Teach us to do your will,
    for you are our God;
  may your good spirit
    lead us on level ground (v. 10).
Yes, Lord, make it simple for us. We do not aspire to climb a spiritual Everest. We are amateur trekkers on this journey, looking for  level and well-marked paths. Teach us the path to take, help us follow the lead of your good Spirit, keep us from stumbling. 

We are your servants, Lord, we need your protection and guidance. 

Amen

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube