Ep.326: Prison Prayers.

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

In Ephesians 6 Paul calls himself an ambassador for the gospel. To which capital city was he posted? And what residence did they provide? This ambassador was posted to Rome, and his residence was a prison.

As a prisoner wrote to the Ephesians, “Pray for me. . .that I may fearlessly make known the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Eph 6:19-20).

I have wondered about Paul’s wisdom making the journey that landed him in jail. In every city he visited, the Holy Spirit warned him that’s exactly what would happen. Listen, and marvel, at his attitude: “My life is worth nothing to me; my aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me. . .” (Acts 20:24). Paul’s life was worth nothing to him? What is your life worth to you?

Paul heading obstinately for Jerusalem echoes Jesus who said, “I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:34). 

What’s with these prophets, drawn irresistibly to Jerusalem to flirt with death and imprisonment? 

Paul’s stay in Jerusalem was eventful. The Jews accused him of temple sacrilege. When they tried to kill him, the Romans threw him in prison and spirited him away to Caesarea. Felix, the Roman governor of Caesarea, wanting to placate the Jews, kept Paul in prison for two years (Acts 24:27). 

Festus, who succeeded Felix, ordered a new trial for Paul, during which Paul appealed to Caesar. Festus’ friend King Agrippa, after reviewing the evidence against Paul, said, “This man could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). So they sent Paul to Rome where he preached the gospel as a Roman prisoner under house arrest. 

Was it wise of Paul to go to Jerusalem despite the warnings? Was it helpful to accept Roman protection and appeal to Caesar? A modern life coach would probably have told Paul to set reasonable goals for his life and ministry. Perhaps Paul could have lived a quiet suburban life writing his memoirs. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, few of us manage our lives the way life coaches recommend. And we who have tried the management advice soon descend into mismanagement and chaos. 

Scripture teaches that the cross was essential to Christ’s journey, and that you, God,  were Paul’s companion on the long road to Jerusalem and Rome. 

Take these wandering lives of ours. Give them meaning by the light of the gospel and the grace of your spirit. Be our life coach. Be our wisdom and righteousness (1 Cor 1:30).


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.325: Battle Dress.

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

Ephesians 6 says, “Put on the full armor of God.” Reminds me of the Sunday school song,
    I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery,
    But I’m in the Lord’s army. 

The battle dress Paul recommends is like a SWAT team uniform as they prepare to  storm a drug dealer’s urban fortress. Paul lists six pieces of armor: shoes, belt, vest, shield, helmet, and sword.

Here’s Paul’s description of these pieces.  

The armored boots of peace. Really? Do peaceful boots storm the house, break the door and shoot up the interior?  

The bullet-proof vest of . . . righteousness. A SWAT team wearing a righteous vest? 

The belt of truth. I hope the SWAT team has true intel about the drug house, but I want their belt to hold up their trousers, not provide insight into truth. 

A ballistic shield and a bullet proof helmet. Not accessories I would link to faith or salvation. 

And finally, the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. Swords are outdated, so our SWAT team uses assault rifles, tear gas, and tasers. 

Why does Paul use this vision of violence to outfit his Christian soldier? I have two observations. And a warning. 

Paul’s world was violent. He says, “Five times I was whipped, three times beaten with rods, once pelted with stones, and another time, shipwrecked” (2 Cor 11:24). 

Paul doesn’t blame the devil and his army for the violence, but he does say, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies” (Eph 6:11-12). The source of violence was not simply the Roman soldiers who imprisoned Paul and the Jewish elders who had him flogged. There is a larger picture of evil that includes an unseen hierarchy of invisible evil forces.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force” (Mat 11:12). Paul and Jesus both used metaphors of violence to describe the Christian’s place in a violent world. 

A second observation is that Paul’s instruction is not for us to form Christian SWAT teams and invade heavenly territories held by evil forces. Instead, he tells us to stand firm. Our armor, including the sword or assault rifle, does not prepare us for a conquest of enemy territory. It enables us to stand firm in the faith. 

Which leads to a warning. Some teachers and pray-ers try to map out the geography of darkness, name the hierarchies of evil and fight them. While this fits our SWAT team analogy, it goes beyond Paul’s instructions to stand firm in our armor. 

Let’s pray.  

Our father, today we put on the belt of truth. May it expose the lies of the liberal left and the conservative right, the lies of governments and industry, the lies of conspiracy theories, and the lies of the devil. 

Expose the falsehoods we hold dear because they help us simplify and cope with a complex world, a complex civilization, and our own complex emotional makeup. 

Many things we do not understand. But we trust you Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Be our truth. Be our way. Be our life. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.324: Slavery.

Ep.324: Slavery.

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

In Ephesians 6, Paul says, “Slaves, obey your masters with respect and fear and sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” And to masters he says, “Treat your slaves well, because their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Eph 6:5,9). 

I make four comments on the Bible and slavery. 

First, Old Testament Hebrew slavery, New Testament Roman slavery, and American civil war slavery, each treated slaves in different ways, some better, some worse. Hebrew and Roman slaves had more rights than African slaves in America, but they too were subject to abuse. 

Second, John Murray, in his book on Christian ethics, says the Bible teaches that a slave’s labor belongs to his master, but the slave’s person belongs to God. The master forgets this at his peril. Paul warns the master, “You are a slave to God; treat your slaves the way God treats you” (Eph 5:19).

Third, I was a wage slave at Alberta Motor Association for a quarter century or so. For a third of each day, my time and labor belonged to AMA and I lived under the corporate threat that said, “You’re dispensable. Get along with people, be productive, and don’t complain, or we’ll fire you.” Sometimes when I was implementing bad decisions made by my masters, I was comforted by Paul’s words to slaves, “Work with your whole heart as working for the Lord. . . .For it is the Lord Christ you serve” (Col 3:24). 

Not mine to question why. Mine to serve wholeheartedly, and trust the outcome to my master Christ. And yet, I wish I had spoken up more about bad decisions. There was, and is, room for reason and discussion.

Fourth, the story of God freeing Hebrew slaves from Egypt and guiding them to the Promised Land informs much of the Old and New Testaments. It is a grand vision of an oppressed and enslaved people on a journey through desert and hunger and thirst and war to find a new place to live and new way to be. 

That’s us. Paul tells us we’re slaves to sin. And if we have courage to face the desert and the dryness and the warfare of a journey, God will bring us to a new place to live and a new way to be. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the prophet Micah painted a picture of peace and justice, saying:

Everyone will sit under their own vine
         and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid. . .  (Micah 4:4) 

Bring quickly that time when justice will rule the earth, when no one will threaten the poor with war and famine and theft, when assault rifles will supply steel for garden shovels, and tanks will be used as tractors. 

Meanwhile, teach us to be cheerful in our daily duties, as we serve others, and in them serve you. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.323: Submit.

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

In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as the church submits to Christ” (Eph 5:22-24). To husbands he says, “Love your wives as Christ loves the church” (Eph 5:25). 

I read this passage at the wedding of a theologically liberal friend. On a lovely sunny summer day, in a yard that backed onto a golf course, I read  to a modern crowd “Wives, submit to your husbands”. I was shocked at how out of place it sounded in that context. 

The preacher who followed me said, “Of course in our culture we don’t model marriages the way Paul describes.” 

Recently, when my wife and I encountered this passage, she said, “We haven’t done very well following that model.” 

So what to do with Paul’s statement about wives submitting? 

In his book On Marriage, Tim Keller, with his unusual skill for taking the sting out of a difficult word like “submit”, presents a conservative position that makes Paul sound almost reasonable. 

He points out that American independence was not just a tea party to throw off the yoke of British taxes and move into a space of unrestricted freedom. Rather, it was an agreement to submit to a new constitution and a new array of laws. And Americans are still arguing about what that constitution means, and how to submit to it. 

Marriage is similar. Entering into a common law or legal marriage means surrendering some personal freedoms to make way for shared concerns. It just might matter to your partner if you are out all night without explanation, or if you skip the birthday planned they planned for you. 

And like the American lawyers who argue about the constitution, Christians who subscribe to the “submit” model argue over its meaning and application. Should a partner submit to abuse, alcoholism, or adultery? Or just to reasonable requests? And who defines reasonable

Once when I told a friend about a difficult situation in my marriage, he asked why I didn’t just point my wife to the submit verse. I replied, “Because she would point me to the verse that says I’m supposed to love her as Christ loves the church. I don’t think I’d survive long in that comparison.” 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.” But we want to think about freedom, not service and submission.

Teach us to give up our self-serving ways. Help our marriages to be companionable and friendly. Help us lead ordered lives, in service to each other and the church. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.322: Full of the Spirit.

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

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Don’t get drunk on wine. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). I’ve never found a satisfactory explanation of what it means to “be filled with the Spirit”, but in this passage, Paul gives a couple hints. 

His first hint contrasts spirit-fullness with drunkenness.

In Shakespeare’s play MacBeth, McDuff wakes a sleeping porter late in the morning. The porter says he’s tired because he caroused and drank until the rooster crowed. Drink, he said, provokes nose-painting, urine, and lechery. “Lechery it provokes and unprovokes,” he says. “It provokes the desire but takes away the performance” (MacBeth, Act 2 Scene 1). 

I’m not competent to comment on the porter’s view of alcohol and sex, but parts of it line up with Paul’s view that drunkenness leads to debauchery. Clearly, Paul doesn’t condone carousing until the rooster crows. He suggests a lifestyle of being filled with the Spirit.  

Paul’s contrast between spirit-fullness and drunkenness, contains a second hint, because it’s not just a contrast, it’s also a comparison. To be drunk is to be “full of wine” in a way that influences attitudes and behavior. Being full of the Spirit also influences behavior. It prompts music in your heart, music in community, and constant thanksgiving to God. As Paul puts it, “Be filled with the Spirit and speak to each other in psalms and hymns and spirit-songs. Make music from your heart to God. Always give thanks to God” (Eph 5:19-20). 

But what about the vexing question of how to be filled with the Spirit? Some groups say it occurs when you are born again. Others say it happens when you first speak in tongues. Others suggest it occurs when you submit fully to Jesus as Lord of your life. 

As for me, I don’t see much of a connection between such experiences and the positive habits of heart-music and thanksgiving Paul proposes. I see spirit-fullness as a lifelong journey. As I empty myself of wine and greed and lechery, I make room for the Spirit, who fills me with himself. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I like music in my heart and music in the community and a settled attitude of thanksgiving. Empty my heart of anxiety and swearing and the songs of debauchery, and fill me with spirit-music and love for community. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.321: The True Light.

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

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Live as children of the light. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Eph 5:8-11). 

The James Webb Space Telescope, which started looking into deep space last year, has a heat and light reflecting structure the size of a tennis court. This prevents sunlight and heat from interfering with its view of the universe. 

Paul suggests the opposite for Christians. He recommends facing into the light of Jesus and living as children of the light. “Have nothing to do with deeds of darkness” he says. Do not focus on the deep space of depravity and sin. Orient yourself toward God!” 

John the gospel writer said of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of humankind. The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it” (John 1:4-5). People who met Jesus didn’t understand him. Something like me trying to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity. I just don’t have the smarts to process it. The light of science shines brightly, but somehow it doesn’t illuminate my darkness. 

In one of my favorite verses, Paul says this about God’s work of creation: “God who said, Let light shine out of darkness made his light shine in our hearts” (2 Cor 4:6). God had to do a new work of creation to put the light of Christ in my heart. 

The New Testament has three statements that tell us who God is. It says, “God is spirit”, “God is love”, and “God is light”. Because of this, those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth. Those who follow God must love as he loved. And those who serve God must walk in his light. In my better moments, I heed those expectations. 

But the call is not so pressing when I wake up, lazy and warm in bed, reluctant to face the day. Shall I sleep in? Skip morning exercises? Bypass morning prayers? Sip a leisurely cup of coffee while doomscolling the internet? 

Paul delivers a stinging rebuke: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14). An odd instruction—”rise from the dead!” Looks like I have a choice: wake up, rise from my dark deadness, and move into the light of Christ. I do wake up eventually, but I’m pretty sure the effort I exert rates low on the scale of “Rise from the dead.” 

Let’s pray. 

O father, when you said, “Let there be light”, you swept away the darkness. Not long ago you said to my heart, “Let there be light”, and Christ shone on me. But ever since I vascillate between my old darkness and Christ’s light. 

Teach me to reject the deeds of darkness. Teach me to come to the light. Let this be my experience: that darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (1 Jn 2:8). 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.320: Fake It Till You Make It?

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

In Ephesians 5, Paul says, “Imitate God, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1). Imitate God? Mimic him?  Maybe? 

Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Sounds like me, using my mediocrity to imitate God’s love and forgiveness. I doubt my feeble imitations flatter God.

Less cynically, and closer to Paul’s point, George Bernard Shaw said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery . . . it’s the sincerest form of learning.”

I like that. I learn about forgiveness when I try to forgive others. I learn about healing when I try to restore broken relationships. I learn about holiness when I try to step away from obscenity, foolish talk, greed, and immorality (Eph 5:3-5).

In the last 1,500 years, the most popular and widely used devotional book is The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis. Listen to how he begins:

He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, says the Lord. These . . . words . . . teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from . . . blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.    

Thomas a Kempis

Yes. To Thomas a Kempis, following Jesus is to imitate his life and character. 

And when CS Lewis was on his unintended journey toward Christianity, he discovered he needed to move beyond mere philosophy. He said there was “something to be neither more nor less nor other than done. An attempt at complete virtue must be made.” Though he had yet to believe in God or Christ, he began his imitation of God as an attempt at virtue.  

He continues, “For the first time I examined myself with a serious practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a hareem of fond hatreds. My name was legion.” (CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy, Chapter XIV: Checkmate”). 

Or, as Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or impurity, or greed” (v. 3).  

It was a long road ahead for CS Lewis. It’s a long road ahead for us. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, we want to become holy and loving and forgiving like you. Give us grace to shun the evil that clings to us—resentment, envy, sexual obsessions. Give us grace to imitate you in holy thoughts, in loving speech, and in gracious living. 

Supervise and guide us so we may soon grow to be like you. May we not “fake it till we make it”, but may we grow in the new life you gave us. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.319: Religion or Relationship?

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

Growing up as a conservative evangelical, I often heard that “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.”  

But Paul in Ephesians 4 doesn’t make that point. Listen to the list of dos and don’ts in the religion he teaches:
    Put off falsehood.
    Speak truthfully.
    Stop stealing.
    Get to work.
    Share your earnings
    Don’t blather on uselessly.
    Say something helpful.
          (Eph 4:25-29) 

Sounds to me like a religion—a list of rules to guide our speech and actions. 

Eventually, though, Paul does get relational when he says, Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30).  

Then he promptly resumes his list:
    Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice.
        (Eph 4:31)

So what is Paul’s model for a Christian life? In this passage, the obvious way to not  grieve the Spirit is to keep all the rules. Is Paul saying our job as Christians is to make God happy by toeing the line, by obeying his laws? 

Is this what they mean when they say Christianity is a relationship, not a religion? 

A different way to approach this passage is to start at the center and work our way out. At the center is the statement, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). 

A personal relationship differs from rules because a relationship wants me to be concerned about someone else’s feelings, not just their behavior. A relationship requires me to work with others, to know others, to share something of life with them.  

I can keep rules with the attitude, “I’ll do it because I want to, not because you tell me to.” I can build relationships with an attitude that says, “Yeah, it’s tough to share your values, but I’m willing to learn.” 

A relationship is more than the sum of its rules, more than a collection of acceptable behaviors. Many people keep the same rules I do about stealing, lying, adultery, and murder. But I neither have nor want a relationship with most of those people. Like Anne of Green Gables, I want kindred spirits, not just other humans.

Paul tells me that Christ lives in me. Have I developed a kindred spirit with him, a relationship that doesn’t grieve his Spirit? I want the Spirit to be at peace in me, not restless because I violate his goals and values. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, do I need a relationship app to improve my interactions with you? Or are there already too many people surfing dating sites and lists of rules in hopes of finding a a relationship? 

O Spirit of God who lives in me, make my heart alive to your movements and your moods. I want to know when I grieve you. I want to know when you approve. I want to be a kindred spirit with you. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.318: A New Wardrobe.

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

In Ephesians 4 Paul says we need a new wardrobe. Not furniture, as in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, but clothes as in “chuck out your grubbies and give yourself a new look.” 

Or, to quote Paul,
    Take off your old self, which is being corrupted by deceitful desires;
        be made new in the spirit of your mind, and
    put on the new self, created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.”
              (Eph 4:22-24)

I’ve always been nervous about shopping for clothes. And Paul makes me even more nervous when he talks about clothes. He doesn’t suggest updating my wardrobe. He suggests updating me. He tells me to ditch my old self, the way I trash old running shoes and old jeans. He tells me to put on a new self.

Old self, new self? Does Paul think I have two personalities? Am I like “Malcolm in the Middle”–sometimes an unruly, snarky, ego-driven teenager, and at other times intelligent and mature? 

Paul says, Take off the old frayed self! But that person is not so easily discarded. I’ve found it’s way easier to discard bits of my frayed wardrobe than to discard the frayed bits of me.   

Paul is not finished.

He says, Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Eph 4:23). My mind is the part of me that thinks and feels and believes, so the spirit of my mind must be my underlying disposition, the tenor of heart I bring to mind. 

And what spirit do I bring? Do I bring an open mind, ready to receive and meditate on God’s word, ready to hear and obey? Or do I bring a spirit of distracted busyness or dismissive rejection or outright unbelief? 

My new self sends my cynicism and unbelief to the laundry; and approaches life with hope and faith. It’s a new way of thinking and feeling, a new spirit of mind, a new self.

This new self is not simply a better behaved version of my old self. It’s not just new clothes on an old body. Rather, it’s a new way of approaching at life, a new attitude, a new person living in my old body. When my new self becomes fully and properly dressed, the pointing fingers will no longer say, “The emperor has no clothes!” 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, I wish the Christian life were as easy as a change of clothes. Then I could donate my worn garments to Value Village, and shop at Eddy Bauer. 

But when I buy new clothes, they always look like my old ones. Why do I choose practical, drab, conventional garments? I don’t know how to dress fashionably. I don’t know how to look like a new man. 

O father, renew the spirit of my mind, give me the gift of your spirit. Help me see my poor fashion choices–the conspiracy theories and cynicism and unbelief I wear. Help me receive a new wardrobe, in the fashion of your kingdom. The belt of truth, the shirt of righteousness, shoes of peace, hat of salvation, and shield of faith (Eph 6:14-16). Help me become a well-dressed man.


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.317: A Life Worthy of God’s Calling.

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

In Ephesians 4 Paul says, “Live a life worthy of God’s calling.” A lofty goal, indeed. But what does this worthy life look like? 

Paul says it is a life lived in community, using the gifts God gives.  

First, community. In the evangelical circles where I grew up, the word “community” was not used much. I think we assumed that when we excluded bad Christians, Roman Catholics, liberals, and cults, we’d be left with a tribe of true believers that would automatically be a close and loving community.

Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. We didn’t become a close community. We became a  closed community. Stricter rules and rigid doctrine created arguments and exclusions instead of growth and fellowship.

As I said jestingly to a friend, “I think it’s just you and me who have got things right. And I’m beginning to have doubts about you.” 

In Ephesians, Paul presents a simple list of things to believe. He says, “There is one body and one Spirit,. . . one hope. . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6). Perhaps we try too hard to pin down the details, deciding which baptisms to include in the one baptism, and which body is the real body of Christ. But God is over all, and in all, and through all.  

Paul says, “Be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2-3). We build community through patience and unity; not through excluding those we disagree with. 

Besides being a life in community, Paul describes the life worthy of God’s calling as a life which recognizes and uses God’s gifts.He says, “To each of us, Christ has given a measure of grace.” Then he quotes an obscure psalm:
    When he ascended on high,
      he took captives in his train
      and gave gifts to people (Eph 4:8, quoting Psalm 68:18). 

Christ gives to the community people who help it become mature–apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. He also gives each member of the community a 

a measure of grace, a gift to be shared with others. The community grows as we recognize and value Christ’s gift of others, and Christ’s gifts in others.

Let’s pray.

O father, our Christian community is a stumbling, inefficient, wounded collection of misfits. As Paul said, God did not call the wise, the influential, the noble, the strong. He chose foolish things to shame the wise, the weak things to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:26-27).

Jesus, you built your community with small-time fishermen, a political agitator, and a thieving treasurer. Give us your vision, help us receive your gifts, grant us wisdom to build a remarkable community with the unremarkable people you choose. 


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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube