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

Ep.253: Psalm 120: Song of the Homeless.

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

Psalm 120 is the first of 15 psalms, which each carry the title, “A Song of Ascents”. It is not clear whether these were songs for pilgrims ascending the road to Jerusalem, or whether it is a musical term, perhaps suggesting a crescendo. 

In Psalm 120, the poet has been the victim of vicious slander and reputational assassination. He says,
      Lord, save my life from lying lips,
        from tongues of deceit (v. 2). 

Then he laments,
    Woe is me that I am an alien in Meshech,
      that I live among the tents of Kedar! (v. 5). 

Meshech was probably in present-day Turkey, and Kedar probably far south-east in Arabia. While it’s doubtful the poet travelled to those distant places, maybe he’s telling us that slanderers and deceivers made him feel like an alien, an outcast in his home country. Hence, he raises his pitiful cry to God:
  Too long have I lived
    among those who hate peace.
  I am for peace,
    but when I speak, they are for war (vv 6-7). 

Those who love violence and make a living by it are unsympathetic to his call for peace. The world that made him feel homeless was a world fascinated by and addicted to violence. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, with the poet we pray,
    Save us from lying lips
      and deceitful tongues (v. 2). 

Where can we find the truth? The media is awash with pandemic deniers and anti-vaxxers. Conspiracy theories abound. Politicians obfuscate, corporations spin. O Lord, lead us to truth. To truth in science, truth in society,  truth in relationships, truth about how to grow healthy and wise. Lead us to truth in our hearts, for our hearts have led us astray, into futile attempts to justify ourselves, to exonerate our motives and defend our actions. Help us live in the light of your truth, letting it burn out the deceits we cling to.   

O Lord, help us understand and resist the spirit of our age: a spirit which polarizes people about politics and morals and race and religion. Help us understand when to defend the truth we know, when to change our opinion, and when to be at peace with ambiguity.   

With the poet, we say:
    Woe is me that I am an alien in Meshech,
      that I live among the tents of Kedar! (v. 5).    
Too long have I lived
      among those who hate peace (v. 6). 

This world is our home, the garden you gave us to tend, but some days we feel like strangers in our own country. We want to live in peace, but many oppose our vision, preferring the pursuit of violence and power. 

Help us build communities of peace, churches of caring, societies of love. Show us the path that leads through our violent world to security and hope. 

Amen.

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.252: The Pleasures of Sin.

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

Hebrews 11 says: 
By faith Moses. . .refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter.    
He chose rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God
  than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 
He considered abuse suffered for Christ
  to be a greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt,
  for he was looking ahead to the reward.
Hebrews 11:24-26

I offer three comments on this passage. 

First, it tells us that sinning can be a pleasure, though it warns the pleasure is fleeting. This differs from my religious education, which focused on teaching that “sin is not really a pleasure”. Methinks they objected too strongly. There is pleasure, although fleeting, in the drugs, sex, and rock and roll they feared so much and preached so admantly against. 

Moses’ experience as prince of Egypt offered him many pleasures–food, wine, leisure, wealth, servants and slaves, and a pompous Egyptian burial when he died.

My second observation is that Moses’ faith made him take a longer view and a harder road. He knew Egypt’s unjust system of politics, power,  and religion would crumble under God’s judgment. He knew his Israelite heritage was based on God’s promises that would outlast the empires of the world.  

My third observation is that yes, Moses was indeed looking for pleasure–but lasting pleasure, the pleasure of achieving something for God, the pleasure of living in community with God’s people, sharing their joys and their pain. And the hope of living in God’s presence in this life and the next. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, teach us to make decisions like Moses, to associate with the poor, the enslaved, and the despised people you have chosen, rather than the politicians and denominations and oppressors of this world. 

Help us to see beyond the fleeting pleasures of our North American luxury to the privilege of being citizens in your eternal kingdom. 

Help us to turn the princely education this world has given us to tasks other than acquiring wealth and pleasure. Help us to discipline our appetites, to walk away from power and privilege in search of the life you have promised.

Overturn our values. Like Moses, may we consider suffering with Christ of greater value than all the riches of the West.  

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

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