Ep.258: Psalm 124: The Big If.

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

Psalm 124 talks about the Big If. It says,
  If the Lord had not been on our side
      when people attacked us,
  they would have swallowed us alive
      when their anger flared against us;
  the flood would have engulfed us,
      the torrent would have swept over us,
  the raging waters
      would have swept us away (vv. 1-5). 

That’s the Big If:
   If the Lord had not been on our side (vv. 1a, 2a).        

Occasionally, the Bible encourages us to imagine a different reality than the one we are experiencing. God did this before the flood, when he saw endless evil in his humans. He regretted he had made them (Gen 6:5). Clearly, he imagined a different reality, a reality where people would love him, honor one another, and respect creation. So God decided to start over with the righteous Noah to see if his imagined reality might become real. Sadly, it didn’t. The sin infection ran just too deep in the human race. 

In today’s psalm, the poet imagines a different life than the one he is living. What would have happened if God had not been on the side of his people? What if God had ignored their needs, or sided with their enemies? The poet imagines the disasters that would have come–swallowed alive, like a snake swallowing a mouse. Trapped, like a bird in a snare.  Swept away like a tsunami, destroying life and property.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, our lives are haunted by the Big If.
– What if we were born into poverty instead of riches?
– What if we were born to war instead of peace?
– What if we were born to drug addiction and homelessness?

And what if we had made different choices? Choosing
– Despair instead of faith?
– Hatred instead of love?
– Darkness instead of light?

Our father, with the poet we shift our gaze from the things we imagine to the things that are. You have watched over us so that: 

   We have escaped like a bird
      from the snare of the fowler,
  Our help is in your name, O Lord,
      maker of heaven and earth (vv. 7-8).

Thank you for being our helper and guide, for delivering us from evil that might have occured, for leading us to a place of peace, for promising us a place called home.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.257: Psalm 123: Servant’s View of God.

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

In Psalm 121, the poet said, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills.” Now, in Psalm 123, he says:
  To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens (v. 1). 

Then the poet prays to this God in the heavens: 
  As the eyes of slaves
      look to their master,
  as the eyes of slavegirls
      look to their mistress,
  so our eyes are on the Lord our God
      until he grants us mercy (vv. 2-3).

This is one of the quietest, most peaceful, most hopeful prayers in the psalms. It doesn’t reek of desperation, it doesn’t try to cajole God into action, it doesn’t petition God for help or advantage. Instead, it waits quietly and patiently for God to acknowledge the poet’s gaze and respond. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we are distracted people. We have business to conduct, food to prepare, news to read, and the internet to surf. Places to go and people to meet. Is it not your job to smooth our way and monitor our schedule and bless our activities?

But today, with the poet we take a break from our restless activity. We look to you, we wait for you. 

My dog waits patiently by the door, watching intently as I tie my boots, get a water bottle, put on sunglasses and hat. He knows that good things are coming soon–a walk in the smells of summer, the society of other dogs, a picnic table where he will share my muffin. But for now, he’s patient, waiting for my signal to go. 

Perhaps I could live with my eyes on you, God, waiting for you to look at me, waiting for your signal. Like the poet, I could be quiet and at peace with you. 

With the poet we pray,
  Grant us grace, O Lord, grant us grace,
      for we have been objects of contempt.
  Long have we suffered
      the ridicule of of the arrogant
      and the contempt of the proud (vv. 3-4).  

O Lord, we do not seek the riches of the stock market, nor the fame of Hollywood, nor the respect of politicians who game the system. Grant us your grace to lead humble, quiet lives, looking only to you.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.256: Who Had Faith?

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

Hebrews 11 says: 
  By faith the Israelites passed through the Red Sea as on dry land
      but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
  By faith the walls of Jericho fell,
      after the army had marched round them for seven days.
  By faith the prostitute Rahab,
      because she welcomed the spies,
      was not killed with those who were disobedient.
– Hebrews 11:29-31

The passage tells us the Israelites passed through the Red Sea by faith. And that the Egyptians, lacking faith, were drowned. 

This sounds like a different story than the Old Testament tells. Exodus highlights the Israelite’s fear and doubt, not their faith. They complained that Moses should have left well enough alone, instead of leading them to certain death, caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. If there was faith, it was not the people, but Moses, who stretched his rod over the sea and parted it. And stretched it again to drown the pursuing army.     

Did Rahab have faith when she hid the Israelite spies? Her explanation was that she heard about the plagues God sent on Egypt, and about the military victories he gave the Israelites. She wanted to place her bet on the winners and their God, instead of siding with her local team. Which, judging from her occupation, wasn’t treating her all that well anyway. 

Did the Israelites have faith when they marched around Jericho? They were obeying Joshua’s instructions, but did they really expect the walls to fall down?

Let’s pray. 

Our father, our prayers often feel like an endless march around Jericho, but the walls we circle don’t fall in seven days. 

Our prayers often feel like Rahab. In uncertain times, we place our bet on the party we think will win.

Our prayers often feel like the Israelties by the Red Sea, caught between an impossible ocean and Pharaoh’s army.  

Lord, we invite you to accept our fears, our calculations, and our marching round and round. We do it in your name, trusting that you will hear us and answer our prayers. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.255: Psalm 122: Jerusalem, Jerusalem.

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

Psalm 122 celebrates the excitement of a pilgrim entering Jerusalem. The pilgrim rejoices in the majesty and tranquility of the city, and looks forward to worshipping at the magnificent temple. 

When Psalm 122 was written, Jerusalem was the capital of southern Israel, ruled by the house of David, home to the temple where God’s special presence resided. To a pilgrim, Jerusalem symbolized everything that was good–safety and security, political stability, just laws applied justly, and worship at God’s temple.

The name Jerusalem means city of shalom, that is, city of peace and well-being. But its history tells a different story. King David conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites (1 Chron 11:4-5), launching a three-thousand-year history of national and international violence. David’s son Absalom staged a coup against King David. His grandson Rehoboam implemented policies that split the kingdom. And so the story goes, until David’s line of kings failed when Babylon sacked Jerusalem. And then the city fell again and again:  Persia, Greece, Rome, Arabia, the Crusaders, and the Ottoman Turks. Israeli democracy today continues the problems: internal strife, and ongoing violence in Palestine, Iran, and Syria. Where is the peace of Jerusalem?

Let’s pray. 

Our father, with the poet we say,
    I was glad when they said to me,
      “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
    Our feet are standing
      in your gates, Jerusalem (vv. 1-2).
The psalm reminds us of glad times when we experienced your presence in church or conferences, when you revealed yourself in preaching, sacraments, and worship music. 

But the poet’s joy in Jerusalem reminds us how transient such experiences may be. When has Jerusalem lived up to its name: city of peace and well-being? Even Jesus cried, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill prophets and stone those sent to you. I have longed to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing” (Mat. 23:37). 

The poet urges us to pray for the shalom of Jeru-shalom, saying:
  Pray of the peace of Jerusalem:
      May those who love you be secure.
  May there be peace within your walls
      and security with your citadels” (v. 7).  

Yes, Lord, in our transient lives, we look for a city of peace. In our dangerous world, we want a place of security . . . in our conflicted world we look for community . . . in our unstable world we look for a firm foundation. O Lord, help us be instruments of your peace. Help us to create:
  peace in our families,
  harmony and good works in our churches,
  neighborliness in our communities,
  righteousness in our cities. 

O Lord, help us fulfill the promise of Jerusalem, to build a city of peace in a war-torn world, a temple of worship in a civilization of idolatry, a place of truth in a world of lies. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.254: Psalm 121: Daytime Heat and Midnight Madness.

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

Psalm 121 is a favorite, perhaps second only to Psalm 23. It begins,
    I will lift up my eyes to the hills.
        Where does my help come from?
    My help is from the Lord,
        maker of heaven and earth (vv. 1-2). 

The poet is not hoping for help from the hills. He is looking beyond them to the hand that created them, the hand that is strong and present and willing to help. 

And what kind of help is on offer? That helper is God, acting as your bodyguard, or keeper. 

The poet celebrates the protection service God provides. Here’s his the menu of services:  – He watches you, guarding you round the clock, 24/7 (vv. 3-4).
– He protects you from all harm, or evil (v. 7).
– He protects you from burning daytime heat, and from night time crazies caused by the moon (v. 6).
– He guards your life (v. 7b).
– He watches over your travels–your coming and going (v. 8).
– He’s locked into a permanent contract, watching you forever. He doesn’t plan to quit or retire (v. 8). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we lift our eyes to the hills, and to you who live beyond them. With poet we say,
    My help comes from you
        who made heaven and earth.
    You guard us with unsleeping vigilance,
        You watch us all day and all night (v. 2, 4).  

Lord, we sleep but you watch wakefully. 

We have attention deficit disorder, but you are always attentive.
We lose focus and get confused, but you multitask with ease. 

We forget what we are doing and lose track of our goals, but you are always there to guard and guide us. 

With the poet we believe that:
    The sun will not harm harm us by day
      nor the.moon by night (v. 6). 

This week’s heat wave in western Canada is setting record temperatures in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, burning up wheat and canola crops, baking those of us too cheap to install air conditioning. But we trust your promise, that the sun will not harm us by day 

You also promise, “The moon will not harm you by night.” Save us then from our midnight madness, from the anxieties that trouble us as we go to sleep, from the dreams that disturb our peace, from the darkness that invades our souls. Be to us a God of sunlight and sweet dreams. 

With the poet we say,
  You will guard us from all evil.
  You will guard our lives.
  You will guard our coming and going
            now and forevermore (vv. 7-8).

Guard us then, Lord, as you have promised. Watch our wandering wills and conform them to your will. Watch our wandering ways, and direct them on a straight path. Watch our wandering lives and teach them to bear fruit for you. Guard us with unsleeping care until we find our home in you.

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube