Ep.194: Psalm 87: Jerusalem, God’s City.

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

Psalm 87 is a fascinating but enigmatic poem, about the City of Jerusalem. At this point in the Psalms, Jerusalem is frequently mentioned as a city destroyed by the Babylonians, mourned by the Israelites, mocked by the nations, and ignored by God. 

But in Psalm 87, there is no hint of the destruction. Instead, Jerusalem is the city God loves and favors, almost like a summer cottage on a granite rock, caressed by gentle lake breezes, protected by a forest of evergreen trees. a place of glory and sunshine and life, God’s home on earth. 

This psalm is also amazing for the place it assigns to the nations of the earth. In the poem, God does a brief roll call of nations that have been Israel’s enemies: cruel world-dominating empires like Egypt and Babylon; smaller and closer enemies like Philistia and Tyre; and even the distant Ethiopia, .

God does not threaten these nations with judgement and destruction. Instead he calls them to become citizens of his favorite city, Jerusalem. He says, “They were born here”–that is, they have the same rights of citizenship as native-born Israelites. In our world today, we see nations and rulers making laws that exclude foreigners and undocumented aliens and people from terrorist countries. But in this psalm, King God sends a worldwide invitation for nations to become members of his city and citizens of his kingdom.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Psalm 87 pictures you, the creator of all, welcoming the nations into your kingdom. Nations that have warred against you, who have killed your people, taken captives, and destroyed your city and your temple.

In many psalms, your people ask you to take vengeance on their enemies, but in this psalm you show a heart of reconciliation and peace to every nation. Here you begin to undo the work of the tower of Babel–the confusion of tongues and the scattering of nations. 

O God, we pray today that you will work among our modern nations.
– Heal the hermit kingdom, North Korea.
– Bring your rule to a restored yet corrupt Russia.
– Bring the citizenship of your city to war-shattered Syria.
– Bring peace to the violent nation of Israel.
– Bring hope and land to the Palestinians.
– Bring justice to all refugees of war and violence.
– Bring truth to the United States.
– Bring wisdom to Canada as our politicians descend again into pettiness and foolishness.

O God, make of the nations one kingdom, ruled by your son, speaking the language of peace, paying allegiance to your rule and your fatherhood. 

And may we share the poet’s song, “All my fountains are in you” (v. 7). Yes, the fountains of life are not in the things we own, or the nations we conquer, or the temples we build; they are found in the city of God, in the place where you dwell on earth.  

Amen.

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

Ep.193: Paul Prays for Endurance.

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

Today, we look at Paul’s prayer for the Colossians. He says:
  I ask God to
      fill you with the knowledge of his will
          through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
          so that you may
            live a life worthy of the Lord
                pleasing him in every way,
                bearing fruit in every good work, and
                growing in the knowledge of God,
      strengthened with all power according to his glorious might,
          so that you may have great endurance and patience,
                  joyfully giving thanks to the father,
                      who has made you to share in the inheritance of the saints
                            in the kingdom of light (Col 1:9-12). 

This is another of Paul’s sweepingly broad prayers for the early church. If I submitted it to my editor, he would mark it up as a run-on sentence, and tell me to simplify and clarify. 

Notice what vast territory Paul surveys in his prayer. He wants us to
– know God’s will,
– have spiritual wisdom,
– live a life worthy of the Lord, 
– do good works,
– know God better,
– become strong in God’s might,
– have endurance and patience with joy,
– and be glad citizens of the kingdom of light. 

That’s a grand view of how we should live the Christian life. Rather intimidating, I find it. I wish Paul offered simple steps toward that lofty goal, instead of casting such a large vision I don’t know how to begin achieving it.

A second thing to notice in Paul’s prayer is the word “endurance”. Of all the virtues of the Christian life, endurance is seldom mentioned. Some translations choose the word “persevere”, probably because it sounds more spiritual than “endure”. As in, “We must persevere to the end” compared with, “My life is so overrun with problems I can barely endure it.” 

When a college friend was having a difficult semester, swamped with studies and personal doubts, I said, “As you suffer through this semester, you need endurance.” “Really?” he said. I replied, “Yes. It doesn’t feel very spiritual just to stick it out when times are tough, but Paul says it’s the foundation on which we build character and hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we endure many things. 

We endure Facebook friends who daily post offensive and divisive opinions. Give us wisdom when to endure patiently, when to be silent, when to respond, and when to hit the “unfriend” button. 

We endure endless news of political posturing and accusation and recrimination. The discourse is acrimonious, opinions often hateful. Lord, help us to endure the decay of western civilization. Help us discern the truth, and bear fruit in every good work. 

O God, we have begun to endure a winter of COVID-19 isolation, cabin fever, darkness, and depression. Grant us patient endurance with hope.  

Many of us endure advancing age, deteriorating health, chronic pain, broken relationships, persistent doubts. O God, may we patiently endure all that is wrong with our lives and the world.

And as we endure, may we take Paul’s advice to joyfully give thanks to the father who has made us citizens in his kingdom of light (Col 1:11-13). Thank you that Christ has established your kingdom of light, O God, that we are citizens of his country, and that our journey through this dark world is a journey home to your city of light.

Amen. 

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

Ep.192: Psalm 86: U-turn Prayers.

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

In the first four verses of Psalm 86, the poet references himself twelve times. His prayer focuses on himself and his needs. God is almost an outsider in this psalm, a distant being who might be persuaded to help. Listen to the prayer. 
     Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
        for I am poor and needy (v. 1).
    You are my God, have mercy on me,
        for I call to you all day long (v. 3). 

By verse 8, the poet’s focus has done a U-turn. In three verses at the centre of the poem, every line speaks of God, and the poet does not appear even once. Listen to his praise:
    Among the gods, there is none like you, Lord;
      No deeds can compare with yours.
    All the nations you have made
      will come and worship before you, Lord;
      they will bring glory to your name.
    For you are great and do marvellous deeds;
       you alone are God (vv. 8-11)..  

I like the way this psalm shows the shifting focus of a person who is seeking God. We often get fixated on ourselves–our problems, our poverty, our needs, and how God could help if only he would listen and respond. Then somehow we find grace and wisdom to let go of ourselves, if only briefly, to focus on the great God we serve. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like the poet we tell you our complaints. We have heard great things about how amazing it is to serve you–but today we are stuck in the mud again. The scriptures are dry as dust. Our prayers are meandering and unfocused . Our lives are anxious and distracted. We fear the isolation of a long COVID winter. We worry about worldwide failures in politics and economics, about civil unrest and disappearing freedoms.

Our father, as we grow older, we have not discovered the joys we hoped for, only new difficulties and new sorrows. As Fosdick describes it, “…our Edens are behind us with flaming angels at the gate. We have had friends and lost them and something has gone from our hearts that does not return. . . ; we have sinned, and though forgiven, the scars are still upon us; we have been weathered by the rains and floods and winds” (Fosdick, Harry Emerson. The Meaning of Faith. Good Press: Ebook, 2019. Original work published 1917). 

But with the poet, we turn our focus to you. You alone are the God of creation, who hung our little planet in space, and set it spinning night and day, circling through the seasons. You alone are the God of salvation, who unexpectedly became a pilgrim in our world, and set up housekeeping among us, and died like a criminal. But you rose again and you offer us the gift of resurrection life. You alone are the God who gives us breath, who  hears the prayers we breathe, who breathes your Holy Spirit into us, who sends us news of your kingdom and your coming. 

Oh God, we need fresh news of you. Do not forget us. Send us your compassion and grace, be slow to anger and full of love and mercy toward us. With the poet we pray,
  Give us a sign of your goodness,
      so our enemies will see it and be put to shame,
      for you, Lord, have helped us and comforted us (v. 17). 

Amen.

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

Ep.191: Pray with Heart, Mind, and Intuition.

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

Today, we look at Paul’s prayer for the Philippians. He says: 

  I pray that your love may overflow more and more
        with knowledge and depth of insight  
        and that you may discern what is best,
  so that you may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,
        having produced a harvest of righteousness
            that comes through Jesus Christ
            to the glory and praise of God (Phil 1:9-11). 

When Paul prays for overflowing love, does he expect that love to come from the heart or the mind or the intuition or the will? Trick question. We live under God’s command to love him with heart, soul, mind, and strength, so all our faculties make a contribution to love. 

I think Paul understands this when he prays for the Philippians to grow in love. 

He wants to see love that overflows. Under the influence of wine, my behaviour overflows into sleepiness. Under the influence of rain, rivers overflow their banks. Under God’s influence, our hearts overflow with love. The request is not for love to be better informed, more rational, or more carefully planned and managed. It is for love to overflow, to be life and energy, to express itself widely and freely. Like new wine, busting old wineskins.  

Jesus talked about the overflow of human hearts when he said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, and slander” (Mark 7:21). In Jesus’ view, sin is a state of the heart, not just a set of behaviors. Bad behavior overflows from a bad heart. On the other side, Paul says good behavior flows from a loving heart, so he prays that our hearts will overflow with love.

Paul also prays that this love will be shaped by knowledge and insight. Love is the feeling and the motivation, but our motivation needs to consult our minds and respect our intuitions or insight. 

The New Testament uses the word “agape”, meaning “love”, in a way that illustrates this. 

Jesus used the word “agape” to complain that some of the Pharisees wouldn’t acknowledge him because, “They loved the praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). Their “agape” love was misguided, because they preferred human praise to divine. Their knowledge and intuition told them that social respect and allegiance to their religion was more important than acknowledging Jesus. 

Paul also used the word “agape”. Writing from his lonely prison cell he said, “Demas has deserted me, because he loved this world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas acted a love that led him to abandon the soon-to-be-executed Paul in favor of a safer and more comfortable life in the world.

Someone else who loved the world was God. Of him, John says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son” (John 3:16). This version of “agape” love expresses itself in giving

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Paul prays that our “agape”, our love, will overflow with knowledge and insight. Not like the Pharisees’ fearful love, hiding from Christ behind their culture and religion. Not like Demas, running from Paul’s trouble for the safety of a secular city. Fill us with your love, our God, the wise and unselfish love with which you loved the world and gave your son. 

Jesus said he brought light into the world, but people loved darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Help us to run from the shadows of our dark hearts. Help us to run to your light, O Christ. May our hearts overflow with love, in knowledge and depth of insight.

Amen. 

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

Ep.190: Psalm 85: Turning Back.

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

Today we look at Psalm 85, which uses the phrase, “Turn back” five times. 

Verse one says to God, “You turned back the captivity of Jacob”. Verse three says to God, “You turned back your fierce anger.” Do you ever feel it would help if God changed his attitude toward you, if he turned your life around? Perhaps he might turn back his anger toward you, or free you from captivity to guilt and fears and obsessions.  

The next two occurrences of “turn back” ask God to turn us around. Verse four says, “Turn us again, God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us”. Verse six says, “Will you not turn us again, revive us, that we may rejoice in you?” Yes, we need to turn a corner in our lives. Perhaps we need revival, a u-turn in our life toward God. Perhaps we need to turn our plodding emotional experiences to a habit of rejoicing.  

The final occurrence of “turn back” is in verse 8: “God promises peace to his people, but let them not turn back to folly.” 

Let’s pray some of the words and phrases from Psalm 85. 

Our father, revive us, turn us, so we may rejoice in you (v. 6). Your gift of new life is not just a package you deliver to our doorstep; it is the gift that Christ himself comes to live within us. As Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). O Christ, live your life within us, help us to live your life as our own, help us to hear and obey your voice within. 

As the poet says, 
  I will listen to what God the Lord says;
      he promises peace to his people. . .
      but let them not turn to folly (v. 8). 

O Lord, our world resounds with noise and folly, the noise of hurricanes and politics and video games and advertisements. We are deafened by the  noise within–anxiety for family and friends, concerns for finances, stresses about the future, the noise of temptations and obsessions and lust. Teach us to turn down the volume on our noise. Teach us to listen to your voice within. 

In the quiet, we hear you promise peace to your people. As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you” (John 14:27). O Lord, make us a people of peace. Help us walk in your peace through a winter of COVID-19, help us discern your peace in our conflicted lives, help us knit our families together in peace, to build our communities in the peace of your Spirit. 

As the poet says,
    Love and faithfulness meet together;
      righteousness and peace kiss each other (v. 10).

O Lord, in our war-torn world, in our conflicted lives, how good it is that we do not choose between righteousness and peace. For in your vision of the world, righteousness and peace kiss each other. Love and faithfulness meet together. Help us to be peaceably right and lovingly faithful to you, to your word, and to Christ within. 

Grant us the blessing Psalm 85 promises:
  The Lord will indeed give what is good,
      and our land will yield its harvest.
  Righteousness goes before him
      and prepares the way for his steps (vv. 12-13).. 

Amen.

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