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”.

Ep.162: Party-Time Jesus.

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

In Luke 15, when the prodigal son returned, his father threw a welcome-home party. When his older brother, who was busy working the farm, smelled the beef barbeque and heard the party music, he was angry. His father was rewarding the prodigal’s evil behaviour instead of censoring and correcting it. Any sensible father would assign the prodigal a stretch of probation with hard labor to ensure he’d really changed. 

The brother said to the father, “This son of yours who wasted your wealth with prostitutes shows up and you throw a party? What about me? I’ve slaved away for you all these years, and I don’t even get a skinny little goat to celebrate with my friends. Isn’t my faithfulness worth more to you than his wastefulness?” 

At a retreat once, I had a similar feeling. The man who got all the interest and attention was a guy who had been an alcoholic and had wrecked his marriage and finances and family with drink and sex and drugs; and then he’d had an amazing and liberating conversion. What a great story! But was anyone interested in my story of plugging away at this Christian thing for thirty years with no tales to tell of a miraculous deliverance or remarkable results?

Perhaps Party-Time Jesus has a message for me and for other older brothers. We have been busy working in God’s field, holding down a job, supporting the church, raising a family. We’ve been serious about living righteously and avoiding the temptations of alcohol, sex and drugs. Why does the father throw parties for prodigals instead of showing a bit of support for us? Aren’t we the ones implementing his program here on earth? 

But Jesus kept showing up at parties and telling stories about parties.
..He made buckets of wine for the wedding at Cana. 
..He went to parties with Levi the tax collector and Simon the Pharisee. He partied with almost anybody!

And in his stories,  
..The shepherd partied when he found his lost sheep.
..The father partied when the prodigal came home.
..The servants waited with lamps lit for their master to come home from, you guessed it, a wedding party (Luke 12:36).
..Jesus starts one story, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Mat. 22:1). 
..And on the night before he died, Jesus was feasting with his crew.

What is it with Jesus and parties?  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we are like the elder son. We resent that we work long and hard for you, but all the attention and fun goes to people with stories of deep sin and miracle salvation.

Ah, Jesus, perhaps we who focus on righteousness need a change of heart. Have we grown bitter, hard, and unlovely in our pursuit of righteousness? (Harry Emerson Fosdick. Meaning of Faith. New York: Association Press, 1917. Cited from Good Press ebooks edition, 2019). Pull up the weeds of resentment that grow in us. Help us to accept our unremarkable lives as  your gift. Teach us to party with the prodigals who come home. May we be glad with everyone you welcome into your big house.

And most of all, as we work for your kingdom, help us to know the father. For though we do the father’s work, we are prodigals from the father’s heart. Teach us to come home to the heart of God.

Amen. 

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

Ep.161: Psalm 71: Praying the Problems of Aging.

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

In one of his books on prayer, Father Thomas Green said he expected as he grew older that faith would grow easier. As a younger man, he did not understand the older priests’ experience of new difficulties and new temptations. But, he wrote, his advancing age brought understanding. 

My experience has been similar. Things once simple and obvious when my beard was black became confusing and unclear as my beard turned white. I discovered that God accommodates many strange points of view I had dismissed, and that he is patient with many souls who drive me to impatience. I have lost my rigid approach to scripture, and I am moving into the mystery of living in partnership with Christ who lives in me. The God I worship today is bigger and wiser and more merciful than the God I worshipped when my beard was black. 

In Psalm 71, the poet shares the same experience. Keenly aware of advancing age, greying hair, and declining strength, he says,
  You have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
        . . . since my youth (v. 5).
    Do not cast me away when I am old;
        do not forsake me when my strength is gone (v. 9).
And he also says,
    Even when I am old and grey,
        Do not forsake me, my God (vv. 17a, 18).

In Psalm 71 the prayer of aging is not a prayer of settled confidence and unshakeable hope. The writer is not rocking away his life on the porch, waiting for a sunset ending. Instead, he prays desperately while his enemies attack; he struggles toward hope and faith. He cries, “My enemies say that God has forsaken me” (v. 11a) They say,
        “We will pursue him and seize him,
        for no one will rescue him” (v. 11b,c). 

In his fear he says:
      Do not be far from me, my God;
          come quickly to help me (v. 12).

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in my senior years I reflect on 50 years of seeking you. Like the poet, 
      You brought me forth from my mother’s womb (v. 6b).
      Since my youth, God you have taught me (v. 17).
And like the poet,
      Though you have made me see troubles,
          many and bitter,
          you will restore my life again (v. 20a). 

Yes, Lord, I have not lived a hugely successful life, arriving at a pinnacle of wisdom and faith. Rather, my life has been dissonant and erratic. I have learned slowly, through many troubles. Sometimes, I felt your great love and care, but often I was angry and desperate and afraid. 

But you have been faithful since my youth, and I am confident your faithfulness will continue. As the poet says,
    . . . I shall always have hope;
        I will praise you more and more (v. 14).
    My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,. . .
        though I know not how to relate them all (v. 15a, 15c).
Somehow in the midst of the years, the habit of hope has grown strong. The clamor of complaining falls silent as the voice of praise grows stronger.

Our father, I feel the weakness that comes with age. My hairline recedes, my beard turns white, the wrinkle cream stopped working long ago, and my strength begins to wane. With the poet I pray,
      Even when I am old and grey,
          do not forsake me, my God (vv. 17a, 18)..
Give me strength against my enemies of criticism and gossip and complaining. Instead of reciting my medical history, may I recite your praises. Instead of despairing at the evil everywhere may I trust in you. Instead of disparaging the young for their shallowness and foolishness, may I pray them on the road to wisdom. As the poet says, help me to:
    Declare your power to the next generation,
        your mighty acts to all who are to come (v. 18b). 

May I finish the journey with confidence, with assurance that you care, with hope that you will welcome me into your presence forever.  

Amen.

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

Ep.160: A Drop of Water in Hell.

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

In Luke 16, Jesus told about a rich man who lived in fashionable luxury and ate sumptuous food. Camped outside his front gate, with dogs licking his sores, lived the homeless beggar, Lazarus.

When Lazarus  died, the angels carried him to paradise and he became friends with Abraham. When the rich man died, he ended up in hell, tormented with fire. Looking across the gulf to paradise, he shouted to Abraham, “I’m in agony in this fire! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue.” 

Now that’s a typical rich man, giving suggestions to another rich man on how to deploy the servants.

But Abraham replied, “It doesn’t work that way any more. You had comforts in life, but now they’re gone. Lazarus had trouble in life, but now he lives comfortably. Besides, there’s no road from heaven to hell, so I can’t send him over.” 

This didn’t stop the rich man. He had another brilliant idea to keep the servants busy. “Why don’t you send Lazarus to my brothers on earth to warn them about the fire here, so they won’t have to join me.” 

Abraham said, “They have the Bible. They can read it.” 

“But they don’t listen to the Bible,” said the rich man. “They need a real shocker, like someone coming back from the dead. Then they’ll listen!” 

“Not likely,” said Abraham. “If they ignore the Bible, they’ll ignore someone from the dead too.” 

This story leaves more questions than answers. 

  1. What did the rich man do to deserve hell? If he left his dead body on earth, why were fire and a drink of water a problem to him?  
  2. How did the beggar earn his place with Abraham? 
  3. Like the rich man, I’m in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy. Does that give me an uncomfortably hot prospect for life after death? 
  4. What does Jesus’ story mean for me, if I’m neither a rich man living in luxury nor a poor beggar with dogs licking my sores? 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the accounts don’t add up in this story. What did the rich man do to deserve hell? How did Lazarus become Abraham’s friend? 

Still, we feel the weight of your story, Jesus. That our store of wealth and status and privilege will soon vanish, that our rich and narcissistic lives will be burned away. That the lonely and troubled will be comforted. 

Jesus, you say that not even someone raised from the dead will convince the comfortably rich to believe. You came back from the dead, Jesus, and how many people listen to you? But we accept your message of resurrection. We believe your plan for the future. We believe that you give our lives meaning, both now and after death. And we believe that you will settle whatever accounts need settling. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.159: Psalm 70: Seekers, Rejoice!

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

Psalm 70 is a short, sharp and passionate cry for help, with only five verses. The first and last verses ask God to come quickly to help. Verses two and three ask God to reverse the fortunes of the writer’s enemies, replacing their power and success with failure and disgrace.  And verse four is an amazing affirmation of those who seek God. It says,
  May all you seek you, God
      rejoice and be glad in you;
  may those who long for your saving help always say,
    ‘The Lord is great!’ (v. 4).

I like that. “May those who seek him rejoice in him.” Often the picture I see in the psalms is a fearful believer, hiding in shadows from his enemies, hoping they won’t attack, crying desperately to God to save him before it is too late.  

In this psalm, the poet counters that fearful view with the strong remedy of faith. May those who seek God rejoice and be glad in him, may those who wait for his salvation say, “The Lord is great.” The writer’s focus is: 

  • not on the enemies, but on God
  • the mood is not desperation, but hope
  • the scene is not fearful hiding, but public praise
  • the speech that was formerly a desperate plea has turned to confident assertion. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we pray first for ourselves. When we cringe because of COVID, when we dread the disintegration of society, when we are dismayed by violent police and protesters, we look to you for salvation. We rejoice in you. You are great, Lord, in your rule over creation. Great in your kingship over the nations. Great in the salvation you bring to your people.

We think of Brazil, where the president is in COVID-denial, not believing the devastation the pandemic wreaks in his country, suppressing the statistics of death, desperately imagining a quick return to normal. Oh Lord, as your people in Brazil see mass graves, as they seek you and pray for your salvation, sustain them in faith and hope. 

We think of Yemen, torn by years of civil war, as Saudi Arabia indiscriminately bombs the Houthi-held territory, as the infrastructure is destroyed and the pandemic runs unchecked. O God, may those in Yemen who seek you and pray for your salvation cling to the faith that you are great. 

We think of Russia where 74 years of Communism failed to extinguish the Orthodox church, and of China where 72 years of Communism coincides with growth in the house church movement. O Lord, may those who seek you under repressive regimes everywhere find joy in your help and salvation.

We think of America, where the T-shirt says, “Don’t mess with my faith, my family, my firearms, my freedom”. Where many Christians have a fatal attraction to authoritarian leaders. Where the myth of freedom enslaves the country to violence and the myth of exceptionalism breeds the sin of arrogance. O Lord, may all who seek you in the culture of firearms and freedom find you and rejoice in you and trust in your salvation. 

We think of Canada, adrift in a sea of moral and spiritual relativity. We are tolerant of everything, except clear moral values and righteousness. We pride ourselves on social progress, but we are progressing toward anarchy where everyone does what is right in their own eyes. We pride ourselves on a multi-ethnic society, ignoring the racial prejudice that simmers below the surface. May those of us who seek you here find joy in your presence and hope in your salvation. 

Our father, this is your world of which we are stewards. This is our world in which we live. Be present and powerful in it. Come quickly to help us. We seek you with hope and joy. 

Amen.

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