Ep.251: Psalm 119: Words About the Word.

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

With 176 verses, Psalm 119 is the longest psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. Though he doesn’t agree, Author Walter Brueggemann comments that this psalm is “notoriously rated to be boring, repetitious, and without plot development.” That’s how I have viewed the psalm; it’s never been one of my favorites.

But now, re-reading the psalm, I am struck by the author’s heart for God. Though almost every verse talks about God’s law or his word or his promises, the poet moves through and beyond the written word to touch God’s heart. 

The poet uses the word “love” 19 times in this psalm. Ten times he says he loves the scriptures, which he describes variously as God’s law, his promises, or his wisdom (vv. 47,48, 97, 113, 119, 127,140, 159, 165, 167). Eight times he talks about God’s love for people (vv. 41, 64, 76, 88, 124, 132, 149, 159). 

Surprisingly, the poet sees God’s law as a love letter, not just a bunch of rules to obey, not just an irritating collection of regulations, not just strictures that lock down his freedom. Rather, the law is a channel through which God’s heart communicates with his heart, and his with God’s. It is a pathway by which he approaches God and God approaches him. It is the messaging app of his soul that gives him constant access to God. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we have often found that your law nags our conscience, reminds us of our failures, creates expectations we cannot accomplish, and requires purity we cannot achieve 

Today, we receive your law as your language of love, in which we hear your heart, and respond from our hearts. With the poet we say, 
     The earth is filled with your love;
        teach us your decrees (v. 64). 

     May your unfailing love be our comfort,
         according to your promise to your servants (v. 76). 

We receive your law as our guide to a wholesome and complete and honorable life. With the poet we say: 
     Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
        and your servant loves them (v. 140). 

     Great peace have those who love your law,
        and nothing can stumble them (v. 165). 

Through the scripture, you show us the path of wisdom.
      Your word is a lamp to our feet,
          a light on our path (v. 105). 

We choose to walk in the light of your word, in the light of your presence, to live in dialogue with you, our God. With the poet we say,        
I have hidden your word in my heart,
            so I won’t sin against you (v. 11). 

Teach us to experience the circle of longing and delight that the poet finds in your word as he says:
    I long for your salvation, Lord;
          your law gives me delight (v. 174). 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.250: Psalm 118: The Praise Perspective.

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

Some of the most familiar Bible verses occur in Psalm 118. Which of these do you recognize? 

   This is the day that the Lord has made,
      let us rejoice and be glad in it (v. 24).

  The Lord is my strength and my song,
      he has become my salvation (v. 14). 

   The stone the builders rejected
      has become the cornerstone (v. 22).

    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). 

  The Lord has chastened me severely,
      but he has not given me over to death (v. 18). 

Psalm 118 is the last in a string of six praise psalms. It repeats many themes from the earlier psalms. 

Let’s pray some of these themes. 

   Lord, you are our strength and our song,
      you have become our salvation (v. 14).

When we feel the frenzy and angst of modern life, when pandemic lockdown silences our song, when life is uninspiring and we  grow discouraged, you are our strength and song and salvation. You rescue us and give us new life.

   This is the day that the Lord has made,
      we will rejoice and be glad in it (v. 24)

Forces of darkness threaten our world, but you are unwavering light. Our short lives decay into dust, but you are eternal life. O God, hear our prayer, hear our songs about your greatness, hear our words that praise your love. This is the day you made. We receive it with joy and thanks. 

    When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
      and he brought me into a spacious place (v. 5).

From birth to grave, we litter our narrow lives with failed and unfinished projects. Our years are marked by conformity to cultural and religious and political rules. Our understanding is limited by the few books we have read, and the fewer we have understood. Our prayers are defined by brevity and desperation. O Lord, bring us out of our narrowness into a spacious place. May our hearts beat with the pulse of your heart. May we extend ourselves for your kingdom. May we be generous to all you have created.

   The stone that the builders rejected 
      has become the cornerstone (v. 22).

When the poet was rejected and scorned, you rescued him and made his story of salvation a cornerstone of temple worship. When Christ was rejected by religious and political leaders, you made him the foundation of your kingdom. Look also upon us, small and insignificant, and build us like living stones into a spiritual house, a living priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). 

   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26).

O Christ, the Palm Sunday crowd that cheered your parade into Jerusalem shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. Two thousand years later, as we follow your work in the world, we wait for another parade in which you will come as king.

Blessed are you, Christ, for you come in the name of the Lord. Come quickly. 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.249: Psalm 117: Small Psalm, Big Themes.

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

Psalm 117 is the middle chapter in the Bible, the shortest chapter, and the shortest psalm. It reads:
  Praise the Lord, all you nations,
    extol him, all you peoples, 
  For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. 
(Ps 117:1-2).

I comment briefly on three big themes in this small psalm.

First, the God of Israel is affirmed as the God of all nations and all peoples. In many psalms, God is praised for the power of his kingship. But in this psalm, he is presented as the God who deserves praise from everyone. Worship, not world domination, is in view. 

Second, the reason for praising God is because of his love and faithfulness. The psalms address God as the fearful judge of individuals and nations, but they also remind him that he is also a God of love and compassion. They cite our reliable earth as a sign of God’s generosity: we count on the oceans to stop at the shore, on seasons to bring seedtime and harvest, on the sun and moon to mark day and night. The psalms encourage God to keep up the good work, and to extend his faithful  generosity to people: relieving poverty and distress, protecting in danger. Psalm 117 summarizes these themes by citing God’s great love and his enduring faithfulness. 

A third big theme, stated in the psalm’s final two words, is God’s relationship to time. His faithfulness endures forever. God provides an unending supply of goodwill. Not the partial and fickle goodwill we see in politicians and business leaders, not generosity prompted by election cycles and business cycles. God’s goodness is forever. 

Let’s pray. 

God of the nations, we praise you. 
– Not because the world is at peace, for it is not. 
– Not because rulers implement your plans, for they don’t. 
– Not because history moves in an orderly progression of empires and cultures, for it does not. 

We praise you as God of the nations by faith.
– Faith that you established Christ as your king and your judge
– Faith that though empires rise and fall, you watch and wait and supervise the outcomes.
– Faith that though the world does its worst, you are busy doing your best.
– Faith that creation’s groaning is but a temporary interlude in the rise of your kingdom.
– Faith that our praises invite your presence and work in the world. 

God of faithfulness, we praise you. 
– Not because you have worked out our lives to our satisfaction, but because you are working them out to your satisfaction. 
– Not because you have made our road smooth, but because you travel it with us.
– Not because we see an end to our problems, but because you know the end from the beginning, and you are preparing a hope and a future for us. 

O God of eternity, we praise you. 
– Because our short lives on earth participate in your eternal plan.
– Because you do not count our lives in minutes and hours, but in the honor we show you.
– Because our small loves are a shadow of your great love for us.

We praise you, God of the nations, God of faithfulness, God of eternity. Remember us as we remember you.

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.248: Patriarchs Predict the Future.

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

Hebrews 11 says: 

    By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
    By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons,
        and worshiped as he leaned on his staff.
    By faith Joseph, when his end was near,
        spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt
        and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
                Heb. 11:13-16  

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had this in common: while preparing to die, their faith looked to the future which God promised the next generations. 

Let’s start with Isaac, who made a plan to pass God’s blessing to his older son, Esau. While Esau was off hunting game for a celebration meal, his brother, Jacob, impersonated him and tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing. When Esau returned from hunting, he was so angry he threatened to hunt Jacob. Father Isaac, fearing a rerun of the Cain and Abel story, unhappily sent Jacob and his blessing to a distant land to live with relatives. 

Does that sound like what the author of Hebrews describes? Isaac, man of faith, blessing his sons? Or does it read like a story of the weak patriarch in a dysfunctional family, haphazardly bestowing his blessing on a deceitful son? 

Next, look at Jacob. After deceiving his father and running away from home, he lived with Uncle Laban, cheating and being cheated, until many years later he returned to his birthplace, still fearing Esau’s anger. Fortunately, Esau had lost his anger. But Jacob’s family continued the story of dysfunction. His favorite son, Joseph, was hated by his ten other sons, so they sold Joseph as a slave into Egypt and generated fake news about his death for father Jacob. Fortunately, God intervened, promoting Joseph as a ruler of Egypt. Joseph invited his family to Egypt to wait out the famine. 

When Jacob was dying in Egypt, Joseph brought his sons to receive a blessing. Joseph positioned them so that his father’s right hand would be on the elder son, giving him the greater blessing. But Jacob crossed his arms and gave the blessings backward. Joseph was displeased, but Jacob said, “That’s how it is. The younger will be greater.” 

Jacob, the younger son who stole the blessing, now gives preference to another younger son. Is Jacob manipulating history? Or as the book of Hebrews says, are his blessings an act of faith?

Finally, Joseph, when he was dying, predicted that God would bring Israel back from Egypt to the Promised Land, and requested that the Israelites repatriate his bones. But Joseph didn’t see what his bones saw in Egypt–four hundred troubled years until God took his people to their home. 

So what do these patriarchs teach us about faith? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, perhaps faith is not a gift that solves our problems. Perhaps it is a gift that believes you are present in our confused and troubled lives. As you did with Isaac, work through the blessings we confer in our confused way. As you did with Jacob, work through the deceits we perpetrate and the lies we live. As you did with Joseph, bring about the future we see dimly, but you see clearly. Like the patriarchs, our road has been long and winding, our character often weak and naive. But we trust our lives to your promises, for the present we see and for the future we hope to see.  

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.247: Psalm 116: I Love You, Lord.

Ep247_Psalm116.  I Love You, Lord.

Psalm 116 begins with the confession, unusual in the psalms, “I love the Lord.” 

Given the central Old Testament command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” (Deut. 6:5), I find it surprising that more psalms don’t focus on the poet’s love for God. 

Perhaps this is because any relationship with God is complex and intangible. Few of us experience a deep, conscious love of God all our lives. Instead, like the psalms, we often experience ambivalence toward God, which sometimes tilts strongly to annoyance and distrust, and at other times embraces deep and intimate feelings. 

Perhaps it’s like courtship and marriage. After the initial burst of love, the partners encounter intractable differences in perspectives, values, cleanliness, and expectations. The two who had so much in common quickly discover how little that much really is. But if they persist in caring for each other, and permit themselves to grow and change, love may take root quietly under the surface. Not a visible and expressive love like young courtship, but a deep confidence in the goodness of their relationship, despite the disappointments and changes life brings. 

So too with the poet’s relationship with God. His expression of love is not youthful infatuation, it is the mature reflection of one who has walked with God on life’s long road. The poet says he loves God because God listened to his desperate prayer. One surmises that this is only one experience of many in which the poet prayed and God helped. He says,
  The cords of death entangled me;
        the anguish of the grave came over me;
        I was overcome by distress and sorrow. 
  Then I called on the name of the Lord (vv. 3-4a). 

God responded. The poet says,
  You, Lord, delivered me from death,
      my eyes from tears,
      my feet from stumbling,
  that I may walk before you
      in the land of the living (vv. 8-9). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in our years of seeking you who we do not see, in the mystery and quandary of prayers answered and unanswered, in the bewilderment of issues resolved and unresolved, you have found your way deep into our hearts. You are present to us in places we didn’t know existed until you moved in. 

We love you because you listen when we cry to you. How rare it is that anyone listens to us, especially to our irritating litany of complaints. But you, Lord, hear our voice, you hear our cry for mercy (v. 1). 

We love because you give us life. When the fear of death enslaves us, when our lives seem hopeless and worthless, you rescue us and show us meaning in your grace and justice and compassion. With the poet we say,
    Return to your rest, my soul,
      for you, God, have been good to me (v. 7). 

We love you because you rescue us. We despair at relationships we bungle, at our faithlessness in seeking you, at our slowness to give up favored sins. But you seek us out, you release the chains that bind us, you draw us close to yourself. 

And so with the poet:
  We lift up the cup of salvation,
      and we call on your name, O Lord. 

We love you. 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube