Ep.139: Psalm 60: Desperate Times.

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

In Psalm 60, the warrior-poet experienced desperate times. He says,
    Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us
      and no longer go out with our armies?
    Give us aid against the enemy,
      for human help is worthless.

The poet was accustomed to God giving his army victory, but unexpectedly his army started losing. This surprised  and shocked the poet. He was offended that God stopped helping his army. So he prayed: “God, do things the old way! You are supposed to make our army winners. Losing is no fun. Start helping us again.” 

Has God ever caught  you by surprise like that? Perhaps he’s always given you good health, and suddenly the doctor delivers a scary diagnosis. Or unexpectedly, your comfortable finances are exploded by unemployment and a pile of bills? Or your children who have done well in the past are now throwing your life into chaos. 

Today, the coronavirus pandemic has created desperate times for entire nations. A third of the planet is on coronavirus lockdown, millions are unemployed, health systems are overwhelmed, business are at risk, and governments are mortgaging the future to flatten the curve. Do you, like the poet, ask God what this is all about? Do you say to him, “Why don’t you look after us better?” Do you wonder if maybe he is judging the sins of civilization? 

Author N. T. Wright titled a recent article Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To. He says. “Rationalists . . . want explanations; Romantics . . . want a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer.”  (N.T. Wright article at Time.Com: Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To (Time.com, 29 Mar 2020). https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/)

Let’s use Psalm 60 to pray a lament over the pandemic.

Our father, 
   You have shaken the land and torn it open;
      mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
  You have shown your people desperate times;
      you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
  But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
      to be unfurled against the bow.
  Save us and help us with your right hand,
      so that those you love may be delivered (vv. 2-5). 

O God, look at our society as it staggers under the pandemic. Look at the charts where the death toll goes steeply up and the stock market steeply down. Look at the body bags coming out of New York hospitals straight into refrigerator trucks. Look at us keeping social distance, being isolated, tempted to fear and anxiety. Lord, our whole world groans. What can we do but cry out to you? 

In Psalm 60 you proclaim your victory over the poet’s enemies. You say:
  Moab is my washbasin,
      over Edom I toss out my sandal
      over Philistia I shout in triumph (v. 8).

O God, we wait in hope for you to bring healing to our broken world. . 
    Who but you will bring us to a time of health?
      Who but you will lead us through the valley?
    Give us aid against our enemy
        for human help is worthless (vv. 9,11, paraphrased). 

Amen.

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

Ep.138: Hidden Treasure.

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

In Matthew 13, Jesus uses stories and metaphors to explain the kingdom of heaven. He doesn’t tell us where God’s kingdom is or how to find it, he doesn’t explain how to become a citizen or tell us what the laws are or how to vote. 

So what does Jesus tell us in his stories? I think he tells us to understand the kingdom of heaven by participating in it, not by defining it. 

Much religion in Jesus’ time and in ours is concerned with defining things. What are the right beliefs? If you have the wrong beliefs, will God let you into heaven? 

This is right-brain thinking like my GPS unit does when I drive to Calgary. It computes the route and says, “You will arrive in 2 hours and 59 minutes.” But the unit doesn’t know I need a mid-trip bio break, complete with coffee and Pringles.

Jesus doesn’t provide a GPS-type map of the kingdom of God. Instead he tells us that God’s kingdom is hidden, and that God works in mysterious and circuitous ways. His processes are organic, not linear; the results are relationships not products. 

Here are three stories Jesus told to draw us into the kingdom of God. 

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a man who plants corn. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  As soon as the corn is ripe, he harvests it” (Mark 4:26-29). 

Again Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it he sold all he had and bought that field” (Mat. 13:44).

And again, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he sold everything he had and bought it” (Mat. 13:45). 

The stories are simple, the pictures vivid. But what do they mean? I think Jesus is inviting us to reflect on life-long issues like these:


– The farmer planted his fields, then spent the summer doing absolutely nothing while the corn grew to a harvest. That’s not how many pastors tell people to live the Christian life. They say God’s kingdom will grow in your life if you attend church and pray and give money and get involved in church programs. Why aren’t their stories like Jesus’ story?

– The man who found the best pearl ever and the one who found treasure in a field sold everything to acquire it. I certainly haven’t sold everything I own to get a piece of God’s kingdom. In what way does Jesus want me to sell everything? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, thank you that your kingdom is not just another human project we schedule and manage and implement. It grows organically while we sit and watch. Grow your kingdom in our hearts and lives, in our churches, in our world. 

We thank you for the great value of your kingdom. We look for hidden treasure in the lottery and antique shops and attics filled with junk. Show us your hidden kingdom, God, and help us to sell all we have to buy it. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.137: Psalm 59: To Howl Or Sing.

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

In Psalm 59, the poet describes his enemies this way:
  They return at evening
      snarling like dogs,
      and prowl about the city,
  they wander around looking for food
      and howl if not satisfied (v. 15). 

In contrast the poet says of himself,
    I will sing of God’s strength,
      in the morning I will sing of his love (v. 16). 

The word pictures of howling dogs and a singing poet highlight the story of Psalm 59. It begins with the poet’s enemies roaming the city like vicious dogs, snarling and howling over the garbage, threatening anyone who gets in their way. The poet says he has done nothing to deserve their violence. He describes himself as honorable and righteous, saying:
      Fierce men conspire against me
      for no offence or sin of mine, Lord.
    I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me (vv. 3-4).  

The poet urges God to act on the basis of the covenant he made with Israel. Listen to his outspoken appeal to get God’s attention. 
    Get off your couch, God,
        Look at my plight.
    Rouse yourself from your lethargy,
        Punish the nations (v. 4-5). 

The relationship between God and his people is like the traditional marriage covenant: “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” The poet feels he is keeping his side of the bargain, but God is sleeping on the job. The poet reminds God that things are getting bad down here. He is sick with worry and poor in resources. If God is truly committed to a “better or worse” relationship, now would be a good time for him to act. 

If God does this, the poet’s “worse” will turn to “better”, his dog-like enemies will stop howling, and he will sing his praise to God. 

Let’s pray. 

    Deliver us from our enemies, O God;
        be our fortress against those who attack us.
    Rescue us from evildoers
        and save us from those who are after our blood (vv. 1-2).

O God, as the Coronavirus ravages the world, we turn to you. Do you see what’s happening down here? Do you care? 

We remember other pandemics. In the 12th century, the Bubonic plague killed a third of the people in Europe.  In 1918 the Spanish flu killed 50 million people. And now the Coronavirus is pandemic, fueling the media with news and the people with fear and the economy with uncertainty. Lord, look upon your world as we fight this enemy of disease. 

With the poet, we shift our focus from our strong enemies to you.
  We will sing of your strength,
      in the morning we will sing of your love,
  for you are our fortress,
      our refuge in times of trouble (v. 16).
 
Amen.

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