Ep.047: Psalm 15: Sanctuary

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

Today we look at Psalm 15. Unlike most of the psalms before, the poet is not in crisis. There is no hint:
of enemies pursuing,
of despair overwhelming,
of being stuck in the pit,
or of God hiding and not paying attention.

The poet starts by asking, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may stand on your holy hill?” In a quiet, meditative way, the poet reflects on God’s temple and God’s promises. Do you do that sometimes? Do you spend a quiet day with God, away from work and friends and family? It’s helpful to do that in our busy lives.

The poet says his heart’s desire is to live in God’s sanctuary, to stand on God’s holy hill (v. 1). The sanctuary and the hill are “thin places” where God’s space intersects with human space, where God’s life mingles with human life. The poet wants to find that space and live in it, but it’s not as simple as pitching his tent close to God’s tent. It is not as easy as becoming a priest so he can enter the temple. The way to live close to God is to obey his law, so the poet outlines the way of life that lives in God’s space.

It goes like this:

In God’s space some behaviours are unacceptable and will get us thrown out. Slandering, doing wrong to neighbours, casting slurs on people, and giving bribes are unacceptable behaviors that disqualify us to live near God (vv. 3, 5). These are things we’re not supposed to do, like Google’s old motto, “Don’t be evil.”

But it’s not enough just to avoid bad actions. In 2015, the Google companies added a new motto, “Do what is right”. The poet agrees. Living in God’s space requires us to be active and purposeful in doing good. The poet says:
walk blamelessly,
do what is right,
speak the truth from your heart,
despise vile people,
honor people who fear the Lord,
and keep your promises even when it hurts (vv. 3-4).

In summary, the way into those thin spaces where earth and heaven meet, the way to live close to God, is: Don’t do evil. Instead. set your heart right, then do good from a good heart.

Let’s pray.
Our father, like the poet, we have moments when we feel close to you, when we are  in a thin space where our world intersects with yours. These have been for us moments of grace, moments of peace and trust, moments when we sense you are near, when we feel you holding us in your love.

Sometimes these moments occur in the beauty of nature, sometimes in church, sometimes when reading scripture or listening to music, sometimes in conversation with family and friends. In these moments we recognize you in our lives, we feel your spirit in our souls, we hear your voice in our world.

Help us receive these moments as your gift to us.
Help us live in the light these moments shine on us.
Help us shrug off the habits that move us away from you.
Help us acquire the habits of mind and heart that draw us into your presence.
Help us to live in your temple, to stand on your holy hill, to dwell in the spaces where earth meets heaven.
And help to grow in this way of life, until we experience the promise of Psalm 15, “The one who does these things will never be shaken” (v. 5).

Amen.

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

Ep046: Prayers of a Moment, Prayers of a Lifetime

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

Not long after 600 BC, the Babylonian empire conquered Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many people captive to Babylon. This Babylonian captivity of Israel lasted about 70 years (Jer. 29:10) until Persia overthrew Babylon and implemented a new empire.

During this time, an Israelite exile name Nehemiah worked as cupbearer for the king of Persia. His job was to taste the king’s wine to see if enemies had put poison in it. The upside of his job was that he tasted the best wine in the country. The downside was that nobody would sell him life insurance.  

When Nehemiah heard a report about the poverty and disgrace of the Israelites back in Judah, he fasted and prayed, reminding God of his promise to bring Israel back from exile. That’s the first type of prayer we see Nehemiah use: an extended campaign that included fasting, to draw God’s attention to a matter of deep concern.

During Nehemiah’s prayer campaign, the king said to him, “Why are you looking so sad?” Nehemiah was afraid, because looking sad wasn’t part of his job description and he didn’t have any life insurance. But he answered honestly, “Because the city of my ancestors is in ruins.” The king said, “What do you want?”

“I prayed to God and answered the king,” said Nehemiah (Neh. 2:4-5 )  This kind of prayer is a quick and silent plea in an unexpected moment of crisis. Nehemiah said to the king, “I want to go back to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem.” The king gave permission, and even offered an armed guard to escort him on the journey.

So Nehemiah led a group of Israelite exiles to Jerusalem, where he acted as governor, organized a work crew, and started rebuilding the walls. The local governors were angry and annoyed that political competition was moving into their territory, so they stirred up trouble to hinder construction. They mocked the small crew of wall builders: “If even a fox climbs on your wall, it will fall down.”  Nehemiah prayed, “Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (Neh. 4:4-5). This is another Nehemiah prayer, pointing out his enemies to God and asking God to punish them.

The enemies escalated the situation by planning to attack Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s response: “We prayed to God and posted a guard” (Neh 4:9). Sometimes our prayers may need a bit of military support or other practical measures.

After the wall was rebuilt, Nehemiah declared a day of fasting and prayer in Jerusalem, where the people confessed the sin of their ancestors and renewed their commitment to serving God (Neh. 9). This brings Nehemiah’s prayer life full circle, from fasting and praying by himself in Babylon, to fasting and confession with the community in Jerusalem.

After the wall was completed, Nehemiah restored the house of God in Jerusalem and turned the Sabbath from a day of business back into a day of worship.  He prayed, “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” A remarkable prayer, asking that his life’s work would not be wasted. He wanted God to remember the good work and the man who did it.

Let’s pray.
Our Father,
Fasting and prayer are out of fashion today. We’re better at short spurts of prayer in moments of crisis. Work in us, God, so our lives will become like Nehemiah’s, a long campaign of service strengthened with prayers of many types.
Amen.

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

Ep.045: Psalm 14: Reinvent Yourself!

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

A Google search for “Reinvent Yourself” returns links to “Three ways to reinvent yourself”, “Five steps to reinvent yourself”, “10 Suggestions”, “15 Ideas” and even the “Ultimate cheat sheet on how to reinvent yourself.” But Psalm 14 beats them all. It has a guaranteed one-step method.

Psalm 14 tells us, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” There it is. The one-step method. You don’t even have to say it out loud — it’s enough to say it quietly in your heart. You can say, “I don’t need God — he just gets in the way. I’ll set my own priorities, plan my own progress, measure my own success. The possibilities for my life are sweeter and more interesting without God. Who needs his laws and rules and love?”

And will this self-managed life turn out well?  Not really, says the poet, because we didn’t create ourselves, God did. Trying to live without him is living a lie. And living a lie puts us on a slippery slope. Without God, the good life disappears. Evil floods in. People begin treat each other like they have been treating God — as annoying obstructions, as goods to be used and discarded.

But God is watching, says the poet, whether we believe in him or not (v.2).. He is present in the company of the righteous, he is their refuge in trouble, he brings them salvation (vv. 5, 6, 7). But he will overwhelm the wicked with dread (v. 5).

Let’s pray.

Our father,
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that there is no God. He writes that human goodness can flourish without you. And he argues that religion is the root of all evil.

We are not competent to judge Dawkins’ heart and motives, but we hear with striking clarity your judgement, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (v. 1) and “… all these evildoers know nothing” (v. 4).

In his book Sapiens author Youval Noah Harrari concludes: “We humans are more powerful than ever before, but have very little idea what to do with all that power. Worse still, humans seem to be more irresponsible than ever. We are] self-made gods wreaking havoc on our fellow animals and on the ecosystem, seeking our own comfort and amusement, yet never finding satisfaction.” ( Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Signal: Toronto, 2014) pp. 415-416, paraphrased)

Harrari asks, “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?” (Sapiens, p. 416).

O God, we have reinvented ourselves, but what poor gods we make. And Psalm 14 agrees. When we reject you and set our own course, disaster is the certain outcome.

Our father, what are we to do? We cannot prove your existence, we cannot prove the rightness of your laws. But in the gospel we have come to know you. Jesus lived a human story on earth. Through him we live in the larger story that includes his life in heaven. Help us to live not by intellectual proofs that you exist, but by the truth of our duty to love. Teach us to love those who journey with us. Teach us to love you, our God in heaven.
Amen.

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