Ep.167: Psalm 74: Crisis of Faith.

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

Psalm 73 described the author’s personal crisis of faith. He felt God was giving the wicked great success, and making his own life miserable. Today’s psalm, 74, describes a community crisis of faith, as Israel remembers how the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed God’s temple. It looked like God rejected his people and his temple, and gave their violent enemy complete success.

Feel the pathos as Israel complains to God about the situation:
    Why have you rejected us forever?
        Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture? (v. 1).
    Turn you steps towards these everlasting ruins,
        All this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary (v. 3).

It is a long, long road from the comfort of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, he leads me beside quiet waters” to this psalm which asks, “Why does your anger smoulder against your sheep?” 

Feel the hopelessness in Israel’s memory:
    Your foes roared in the temple where you met with us (v. 4a).
    They smashed the carved panelling
          with their axes and hatchets (v. 6). 
     They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
          they defiled the dwelling-place of your name (v. 7).

And feel their despair when God doesn’t seem to notice or care:
    We are given no signs from God;
        no prophets are left,
        and none of us know how long this will be.
    How long will the enemy mock you, God?
        Will the foe revile your name forever?  (vv. 9-10).

But the poet does not stop his journey at the station of despair. The chaos in the temple, the chaos in Jerusalem, and the chaos in his life of faith remind him of creation, when God overcame the forces of chaos to create an orderly and beautiful world. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, 

As the poet shifts his focus from the destruction of the temple to your power and your kingship, we say with him: 
    God, you  are our King from long ago,
          you bring salvation to the earth (v. 12).
  It was you who split open the sea by your power. . .
  It was you who crushed the sea monster
      and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert (vv. 13-14). 

You were not weak at creation, God. You wrestled with the waters of chaos, you wrestled with the sea monster, you overcame the beast and cast it into the desert.

You replaced the primordial darkness with order and beauty and light:
    Yours is the day, and yours the night;
          you established the sun and moon.
      You set the boundaries of the earth,
          you made both summer and winter.
You are not a God who leaves things in chaos. You are the author of life, you shine light into the darkness, you create a world with dependable boundaries for the seas and dependable seasons for the climate.

We pray then for our lives, our churches, our society, which are overrun with chaos. Make us a new creation, God. Overcome the darkness, wrestle our monsters to the ground, send us summer and winter, light and darkness according to your design, bring your people out of despair into jubilant hope.

We are the sheep of your pasture, Lord. Lead us from pain and doubt and chaos back to the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. 

Amen.

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

Ep.166: How Not To Pray.

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

Luke 18 has one of Jesus’ best-known parables. It goes like this: a Pharisee prayed, “Lord, thank you that I’m not like others –robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even this, this tax collector! . Look at me, O Lord: I fast twice a week and tithe ten percent.” But back in a corner, the tax collector beat his breast for shame, and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

Jesus said, “The tax collector went home justified before God. The Pharisee did not. If you promote yourself, God will demote you. But, if you humble yourself, God will exalt you.” 

What did Jesus mean that the tax collector was justified before God? Since the root word of justify is “right” or “righteous”, let’s consider who is right and who is wrong in this story. 

The Pharisee compared himself with people who were clearly wrong, and explained to God just how right he was. In contrast, the tax collector said to God, “I’m a sinner. I’ve done pretty much everything wrong.” And in a stunning reversal of right and wrong, Jesus tells us that God accepted the tax collector with all his wrongness, and rejected the Pharisee with all his rightness. 

That gets us close to the heart of the story. I think “justify” means that God smiled on the tax collector and thought, “Now there’s someone I can work with.” But he shook his head at the Pharisee and thought, “He’s so full of himself, there’s no room for me in his life!”  

Here are some things to note in the story:

First, if you feel you’re doing pretty much everything right, and that you are better than those of us who are blatant sinners, be cautious about presenting your brilliant conclusion to God. 

Second, if you feel you’ve done pretty much everything wrong in life, do mention this to this God when you pray. Until you become perfect, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” is a very good way to start praying. 

Third, God’s primary way of dealing with us is not based on our behavior . The Pharisee spent his life studying scripture and improving his behavior, but apparently, God wanted something else.  

Fourth, remember this: Prayer is not just the words we say to God, it is also the tone we adopt in our relationship with him. Do you detect a note of arrogance in the Pharisees’ prayer, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like sinners”? Perhaps God isn’t looking for rigorous spiritual disciplines like fasting and praying and tithing. Maybe God wants soft hearts and sensitive spirits. 

Finally, Jesus says God deals with us on the basis of forgiveness. It is his pleasure to extend mercy to those who know they are wrong and say so. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thank you that we are like other people. However far we have advanced in fasting and tithing and praying, we are still at the beginning with you. 

Today, we need you to justify us, to overlook what is wrong in us, to hear our prayer for mercy, and welcome us with your smile and affirmation.

Amen. 

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

Ep.165: Psalm 73: What is God Good For?

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

The poet begins Psalm 73 by stating his traditional belief that God rewards the good. But he soon introduces a shocking new perspective. When he sees how successful the wicked are, he decides that maybe God isn’t so good after all. 

Here’s what the poet sees when he looks at the wicked. May you sometimes see the same things.
– The wicked have robust health (v. 4)
– They have fewer troubles than the righteous (v. 5) 
– They speak arrogantly against heaven, advocating violence and malice, but God does nothing (v. 6)
– They are popular. People flock to their rallies and praise them (v. 11)
– They say, “God doesn’t see or care” so we can do whatever we want (v. 13)
– And they just keep getting richer and richer. Their stocks go up and mine go down. 

Their success breeds shocking arrogance.
  Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
      and their tongues take possession of the earth (v. 9). 

Now compare that with me, says the poet. I keep the covenant, I avoid evil, and what does it get me? God sends me trials every day and threatens punishment if I disobey. He doesn’t make me healthy or wealthy. This is no way to live! Maybe, like the wicked, I should declare my independence from God. Maybe I should quit paying his taxes and observing his rules. 

But then the poet worships in the temple, where he finds God’s presence and begins to see things differently. 

First, he gets a new perspective on himself. He says, “I’ve been thinking like a donkey”:
    When my heart was grieved
        and my spirit embittered,
    I was senseless and ignorant;
        I was a brute beast before you, God (v.21). 

The writer also gets a new perspective on what happens to those he envies. He says:
    . . . then I understood their final destiny (v. 17)
    Surely God places them on slippery ground;
        he casts them down to ruin.
    How suddenly they are destroyed,
        completely swept away by terrors (v. 19).

And finally, the poet gets a new perspective on what goodness is. Goodness is not the stuff we accumulate or the independence we fiercely defend. Rather, goodness is found in relationship with God. The poet says to God,
    …I am always with you;
            you hold my right hand.
            you guide me with your counsel . . .
      Whom have I in heaven but you?
            And on earth I desire nothing beside you (vv. 23-25). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like the poet we have envied the wicked.
– those to whom dishonesty and wealth come easily, while we work hard for a bare living.
– those who are rich and popular, while we are socially awkward and poor.
– those who have good looks and robust health, while we are sick, depressed, and hurting.
– those who live comfortably with the status quo while we struggle with issues of righteousness and justice.

With the poet we are tempted to say,
  Surely in vain we have kept our hearts pure
      and have washed our hands in innocence.
  All day long we have been afflicted,
      and every morning you correct us (vv. 13-14). 

As we come into your presence today,God, we invite you to change our perspective. Thank you that: 
     …you are always with us,
            you hold us by our hand.
      You guide us with your counsel
            and you will take us into glory.
      Whom have we in heaven but you?
            And earth has nothing we desire besides you.
      Our flesh and heart may fail,
            but you are the strength of our life
            and our portion forever  (vv. 23-26). 

It is good to be near you, O God, our help and our refuge (v. 28). 

Amen.

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

Ep.164: The Big Banquet.

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

Luke 14 reports that a prominent Pharisee invited Jesus to a Sabbath lunch. A sick man was there, probably because the Pharisees wanted to see if Jesus would break their rules about how to behave on the Sabbath. 

Of course, Jesus healed the man. Then he sent him away, because the Pharisees just wanted him as a prop and not as a guest. Facing the Pharisees’ disapproval, Jesus said, “Why shouldn’t I heal a man today? If your ox falls in a well, you would pull it out on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you?”  

The Pharisees had no reply, so Jesus gave the host some advice. “When you plan a  lunch,” he said, “don’t invite important people, and rich people, and relatives. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you will have a reward in heaven.” 

Oooh. Looks like all-around rudeness here. The Pharisees set up Jesus to heal on the Sabbath so they could complain about his Sabbath-breaking, and Jesus replies by criticizing the guest list.  

Then Jesus told this story:  

A man prepared a banquet and sent his servant to collect the guests. But all the guests had excuses. 

The first one said, “I just bought a field and have to inspect it.” Really? Did this man trust the realtor’s description without bothering to look at the property first? Most people prefer to have a look before signing the deal.

Another invited guest begged off by saying he’d bought five yoke of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another lame excuse. When you buy a used tractor, do you test drive it before you pay for it or after? 

Still another guest said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.” What’s up with that excuse? Hard to say.

When the servant reported that no one was coming to the banquet, the master got angry and said, “Go out into the streets and alleys, and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” Soon the servant reported back, “All done. But there’s still room in your banquet hall!” “OK,” said the master, “Go into highways and byways and compel them to come in. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will taste my banquet.” 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, the Pharisees tried to sign you up for their banquet of rigid Sabbath rules and frequent hand washing and social distancing from outcasts and the unclean. You went to their luncheon, Lord, but you subverted their program. You rudely rejected their social exclusions and violated their system of rules. 

And you extended a counter offer, inviting them to come to God’s banquet. But they made endless lame excuses. God’s banquet didn’t suit their interests or their culture. 

Like the Pharisees, Lord, we have served you by throwing banquets for our friends, by social distancing from the poor and needy, by building rules to tell us who’s in and who’s out. 

Lord, help us lose our desire for social status. Help us relax our obsession with rules. Help us see the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. We accept the invitation to your banquet. Help us to be friends with everyone who attends. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.163: Psalm 72: Politics and the Poor.

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

Psalm 72 is a royal psalm, a psalm about the king of Israel. Part of the king’s job was to represent God to the people by keeping God’s covenant and by creating a just political and economic system. The psalm uses hyperbole to express the king’s greatness: he is compared to the sun and the moon and mountains and rain. The poet prays that the king’s rule will extend from sea to sea, and from the River (v. 8, probably the Euphrates) to the ends of the earth. He prays that the king will reign as long as the sun and moon rule the skies.

One of the king’s responsibilities was to show God’s heart for the poor and needy, for the disadvantaged and the oppressed. His God-given goal was to create a government that constrains the greedy rich and sustains those without resources. God’s desire, expressed through the king, was a socially responsible economy, not a free market where the rich lobby the government to protect their acquisitive greed, leaving the poor defenceless and fending for themselves. The king was not to be a power-hungry, narcissistic, self-promoting despot. He was supposed to be God’s servant for the well-being of the country. 

How far ancient Israel strayed from that vision. How far our world has strayed from that vision of good government.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, with the poet we pray:
    May the mountains bring peace to the people,
        and the hills the fruit of righteousness (v. 3).
The majestic Rocky Mountains with their green foothills and emerald lakes watch over our land, reminding us that you watch over our lives, bringing peace and prosperity. Be our guard, our guide, our source of beauty.

The poet says of the king,
    May he be like rain falling on a mown field, 
        like showers watering the earth (v. 6).
Teach our rulers that true strength is not acquiring and hoarding power, but in building a nation of peace and justice. May our leaders be like showers that water the earth, not like acid rain that impoverishes and destroys. 

The poet describes the king’s care for the poor: 
    He will take pity on the weak and the needy
       and save them from death.
    He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
       for precious is their blood in his sight (vv. 13-14). 

Our father, in your sight the blood of the poor is precious. Every street person dying of fentanyl overdose, every indigenous person harmed by police violence, every pensioner killed by COVID, every woman scarred by domestic violence: each of these lives is precious in your sight, Lord. Rescue them from oppression and violence. Rescue our society. 

We remember those forced by COVID into unemployment. We remember immigrants and the poorly paid working in COVID infected meat packing plants. We remember the aged facing the pandemic in nursing homes.We remember the poor in India and Brazil in crowded slums without money or jobs or food. 

As COVID forces millions into desperate poverty, Lord, increase your care for them through wise leaders of the type our psalm prescribed for Israel.. 

We remember your promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), which Psalm 72 applies to the king:
    All nations will be blessed through you,
      and they will call you blessed.
Our father, in our time, may the nations bless each other, instead of cursing and blaming and building walls. We look to that time when your king will reign, blessing every nation with wise and compassionate government. 

Amen.

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