Ep.214: Psalm 98: Sing a New Song.

Ep214_Psalm098. Sing a New Song.

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

Psalm 98 begins,
    Sing a new song to the Lord,
        for he has done marvellous things (v. 1a). 

The poet’s suggestion for a “new song” answers traditionalists who say, “What’s with this modern music? The old hymns are better–more singable, more substantial than this fluffy modern stuff.” Consider, however, that the psalms model many of the most criticised features of modern worship music:

– Too repetitive? Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “His love endures forever” 26 times.

– Too much complex instrumental music? Psalm 150 is all about instrumental music and dancing. Perhaps churches should add worship dance to their contemporary music.

– Too much emphasis on personal experience, too little on doctrine? Psalm 133 is all about the unity of God’s people; God is just a footnote in the last verse.

– Too much emphasis on personal emotions, too little on God? Psalm 40, “Why are you downcast, O my soul” is about personal depression. Psalm 100, “Shout for joy to the Lord” is exuberant, and probably too loud for the traditionalists in many churches. (inspired by Rant About Worship Songs | Jeremy Pierce | First Things). 

Traditional hymnals speak the cultural and musical language of an older generation. However good that culture is and however regrettable its loss, the church needs to move on, translating the gospel into new words and cadences that speak to moderns. The lost tribes of the Amazon need the Bible translated into their language. The lost tribes of western civilization need to hear and see the gospel in their lyrics and their culture. 

The  happy-clappy hymn, “In my heart there rings a melody”, was page 276 in the hymnal I grew up with. It is a lasting testament to the fact that every generation needs exuberant songs of the heart, even if they don’t teach sober doctrines. Perhaps God approves us translating the heartfelt melody into contemporary English accompanied by contemporary music.  

“Sing a new song,” the poet tells us. Don’t stay stuck in your old way of doing things. 

Let’s pray. 

Lord, I too am stuck. Week after week I pray familiar psalms in a similar manner. Teach me a new song, new words to speak to you, new melodies in which to live my life, new metaphors to communicate to the modern world. 

O Lord, we are all stuck in complaints about our churches and their style of worship. The sermon is too long or too short, the music too old or too modern, the church culture too traditional or too irreverent. 

O Lord, teach us to know you and love you and to experience you in the ways the poets did in the psalms, in the ways the hymn writers wrote and sang about, and in the ways our modern music speaks of you. 

Teach us to
  Sing a new song
      for you have done marvellous things!

Amen.

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

Ep.213: Suffer and Obey.

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

Hebrews 5 says
  [Jesus] offered prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears
      to the one who could save him from death,
            and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
  Though he was a Son,
      he learned obedience from what he suffered,
      and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation
            for all who obey him . . . (vv. 7-9). 

Here are two observations about this passage. 

First, the word “obey” occurs twice: Jesus learned obedience through suffering, and he saves those who obey him. I find it interesting that Jesus learned obedience, and that suffering was part of the lesson plan. We don’t talk a lot about Jesus growing and maturing and learning during his human life on earth. 

After pointing out that Jesus learned obedience, the Book of Hebrews says he saves those who obey him. This is not a description of instantaneous salvation by faith. It’s an invitation for us to learn and grow as Jesus did, to respond to our sufferings by learning obedience, and to receive the promise that he will save those who obey him. 

A second observation is that this passage presents prayer as a paradox. “Jesus prayed. . .to God, who was able to save him from death, and God heard him because of his reverent submission” (v. 7). From this verse, you might conclude, “God heard Jesus’ prayer and saved him from death.” 

Bad conclusion. Jesus prayed at Gethsemane that God would bypass the way of the cross. But that’s the very thing God, “who could save him from death”, didn’t do. 

This is the paradox of prayer. If we are on the path of salvation, obeying Jesus with reverent submission, God hears our prayers, as he did Jesus’ prayer. We are confident God is powerful enough to grant whatever we ask. But for reasons of his own, he often refuses to give what we ask, and sometimes he even gives us the opposite. 

Why bother to pray, then? Because prayer is part of our path of obedience. As we learn obedience through suffering, part of our pain is that God often lets the suffering continue, declining to release us from it or to fix the problems that cause it.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, after Jesus asked you to bypass the cross, you refused his request, and you made the cross the centre of his story. You place a cross at the centre of our story too, for Jesus told us to take our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23). Since he provides salvation for those who obey him, we must live the story of our cross, abandoning our fantasies of comfort and riches and pleasure.

Help us then to learn obedience through the things we suffer, as Jesus did. And bring us to eternal life with him.     

Amen. 

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

Ep.212: Psalm 97: God’s Storm.

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

In Psalm 97, God shows up in a storm and earthquake, like he did at Mt. Sinai when he gave Moses the Ten Commandments. The psalm says:
  The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; 
     let the distant shores rejoice. 
  Clouds and thick darkness surround him; 
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
  Fire goes before him
    and consumes his foes on every side.
  His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles (vv. 1-4). 

Exodus tells us that when the commandments were given, “There was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain. . . . Mount Sinai was covered with smoke. . . and [the mountain] trembled violently” (Exo 19:16, 18). Here, in Psalm 97, God uses similar special effects, as he comes to the temple in Jerusalem to establish Zion as the seat of his kingdom, and to rule the nations of the earth.        

God’s rule brings Israel security, good government, and joy. He plans the same for other nations, to deliver them from false gods and injustice. The poet says:
  Zion hears and rejoices [at your coming, God],
      and the villages of Judah are glad
      because of your judgements (v. 8).
   Light shines on the righteous
      and joy on the upright in heart.
  Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
      and praise his holy name. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in scripture you often appear in a storm. On Mt. Sinai you delivered the law with darkness and clouds and lightning and earthquake (Exo 19:18). When Job finished talking and started listening, you spoke to him out of a storm (Job 40:6). Jeremiah predicted that that “the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a driving wind swirling down on the heads of the wicked” (Jer 30:23). On the Sea of Galilee, Jesus slept through a storm, until his fearful disciples woke him. Then he rebuked the wind and raging waters, and asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:23-25). 

Father, our faith is in your storm-like presence in our lives. We experience you as a hurricane blowing away the lies we construct, as an earthquake destroying the religious systems we build, as a fire burning impurities out of our lives until we become like gold. O God, be the lightning of love that destroys our selfishness, be the fire of holiness that burns away our sin, be the refiner’s fire that melts away our dross and makes us holy and beautiful. 

Father, your presence is a storm in the church, a storm that would overturn comfortable evangelicalism and make it into an army of God. You are the cyclone that devastates lukewarm Christiantiy, and calls us to be hot or cold (Rev 3:16). You are the breath of the Holy Spirit that blows through our stale lives, opening them to the wind of God.  

Father, you are the storm at the end of the world, for you promise, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” (Heb 12:26 quoting Haggai 2:6). 

Thank you that you come not only for destruction, but to rebuild and protect and save. As the poet says,
    You, Lord, are the most high over all the earth,
      you are exalted far above all gods.
    You guard the lives of your faithful ones,
        and deliver them from the hand of the wicked (vv. 9-10).  

With the poet we pray, 
        Let your light shine on us, Lord,
          Give us joy.
        Teach us to rejoice in you,
            For we praise your holy name (vv. 11-12). 

Amen.

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

Ep.211: Faith, Temptation, and Mercy.

Ep.211: Hebrews 4: Faith, Temptation, and Mercy. 

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

Hebrews 4 says,
  Since we have a great high priest who has gone into heaven,
      Jesus the Son of God,
      let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable sympathize with our weaknesses,
    but we have one who was tempted in every way, just as we are–
       yet he did not sin.

    So let us approach with confidence God’s throne of grace,
      that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need 
                    (vv 14-16).

Hebrews tells us here to find help in our time of need by confidently approaching God’s throne.

What is our time of need? Hebrews describes two. 

The first time of need is when our faith is slipping. Hebrews pictures faith, not as something we acquire and possess it forever. It’s more like an investment that we can hold or sell. When the stock market falls, it’s tempting to sell off our investments at a loss before they lose all their value. 

Similarly, our investment in faith sometimes goes up in value, and other times seems to go down. And down. And down. Hebrews advises us to hold on to our faith, because it has great value, even when we feel like it is worthless, and we’re ready to sell it off as a lost cause.

A second time of need is when we are tempted. Our temptations vary from simple things like stealing or lying or eating too much chocolate, to more complex activities like holding grudges, letting ourselves sink into hopeless depression, giving up on difficult relationships, or needlessly squandering mental and emotional energy on news and conspiracy theories. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus faced the same temptations we do. He knows how weak our faith is and how susceptible we are to temptation. As our high priest, he leads us to the throne of a merciful God who helps us, not an angry God who judges. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we hoped that faith would be a simple journey, but we find it fraught with difficulties. Scripture points us to you, who we cannot see. We sift through its ancient stories looking for food to nurture our faith. But how seldom the Old Testament law, and the mystical teachings of Jesus, and the rational rhetoric of Paul bring us life or hope or give us strength against temptation. 

We thank you that our faith is in you, God, not in the book that tells us about you. Not in the systematic theology that explains the book, nor in the stories that fill it. Today we come to the throne of grace, where you are king and father, helper and savior. Teach us to hold fast to the faith we profess. 

At the throne of grace, we remember the temptations that assail us.

– We are tempted to immerse ourselves in anxiety-inducing news and conspiracy theories and social media, and to respond with outraged shock or quiet despair at the state of our world. O Lord, save us from the news and social media and ourselves, reveal to us Christ and his kingdom. 

– We are tempted to despair at the state of your church, to avoid the community of your people because of its petty politics and vested interests and endless arguments. Give us grace for other Christians, for they too are gathered here at your throne of grace. 

– We are tempted to draw back in relationships, to isolate ourselves. Teach us to actively love the people we live with, to initiate conversation and friendship and acts of love for neighbors. To seek people out on Zoom when we cannot visit them in person. Help us to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

We pray this confidently, at the throne of grace, in the strong name of Jesus our high priest. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.210: Psalm 96: God, King of the Nations.

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

Psalm 96 celebrates God’s kingship and says that the kings of the earth worship gods that are not gods at all. These kings must answer to the real God, the one strong enough and wise enough to create a world out of chaos. This God will again exert his creative power by judging the nations righteously and fairly, deposing the kings of earth. 

We share the poet’s  great religious and political hope, that one day God will set the world right–economically, socially, racially, politically. 

James Dobson, founder and former head of Focus on the Family, was shocked and disappointed at President Trump’s defeat in the US election. In a post-election newsletter, he wrote that millions of evangelicals prayed Trump would be re-elected. He couldn’t understand why God didn’t answer their prayer. How could God let the presidency be overrun by the most leftist regime in American history, he asked. (https://www.drjamesdobson.org/newsletters/november-newsletter-2020).

Then Dobson says, quoting from his book When God Doesn’t Make Sense: “We must never forget that [God] is God. He is majestic and holy and sovereign. . . . He is not an errand boy who chases the assignments we dole out. He is not a genie who pops out of the bottle to satisfy our whims. He is not our servant—we are His. And our reason for existence is to glorify and honor Him . . . even when nothing makes sense” (ibid.).

We may not agree with Dobson’s politics, but his description of God’s greatness mirrors Psalm 96. God is king of the nations, even when he doesn’t support our political candidates or answer our political prayers, even when evil and injustice carry the day. As Christians we pray that God will protect and guide our country, but that is secondary to the larger prayer Christ taught us: “Your kingdom come, God. Your will be done.”

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the poet tells us
    You will judge the world in righteousness,
      and the people in faithfulness (v. 13). 

We point out to you some of the poorest nations in the world who need a righteous and faithful judge, an honest king. 

Sierra Leone is still suffering the effects of a decade-long civil war that  destroyed much of the infrastructure, from an ebola epidemic, and from corrupt governments. Liberia, famous for its activity in the nineteenth century slave trade, has suffered civil war and ebola and allegations of government corruption and abusive. In Burundi, where over 80% of the people live by subsistence agriculture, deforestation, soil erosion, climate change, and political instability make their livelihood risky and uncertain. And the list goes on, through Malawi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger and Eritrea and South Sudan. O God, with the poet, we ask you to judge the world in righteousness and the people in faithfulness. 

We think also of refugees and victims of oppression in Asia. The Myanmar army viciously attacked the Rohingya ethnic population, forcing them to leave their homes and go to refugee camps in Bangladesh. Yemen is engaged in a brutal six-year civil war, with the Houthi ethnic group fighting an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia. The Chinese government oppresses the Uyghur Muslims, suppressing the Islamic religion and indoctrinating the people into Chinese culture and values. In Iraq, home of ancient Babylon where the Israelites were exiled, racial and religious violence have run rampant since the United States deposed Saddam Hussein, but was unable to replace him with a functioning democracy. O God, bring your righteousness and justice to these ancient corners of the world. 

Bring it also to North America, where we too wish an end to political posturing, to right wing and left wing populism, to divisiveness and hate in politics and culture. Rule the nations Lord, set the world right.

Amen.

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