Ep.197: Paul’s Messenger from Satan.

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

Today we look at Paul defending his ministry against his many detractors. He does this by making a strange string of boasts to prove he is the best apostle (2 Cor 11:16-12:10). 

His first boast is that he had been imprisoned, flogged, hungry, naked, and betrayed more than any other alleged apostle (2 Cor. 11:21-29). Wow. That’s a strong resume. 

His second boast is that when the governor of Damascus wanted to imprison him, his friends helped him escape by letting him down the city wall in a basket (2 Cor. 11:32-33). Impressive again, I think. But despite Paul’s shining example, my resume doesn’t highlight times I was a basket case. 

Paul’s third boast is that he has had bigger and better spiritual revelations than his detractors. Why, only fourteen years ago he had this amazing experience that he still doesn’t understand. In that vision, he went to heaven in his body or out of it. “I’m not sure which,” he says, “but I certainly saw amazing things, but I’m not permitted to tell them.”  

Now imagine Paul in a circle of prophets telling recent experiences and visions, discerning the spirits, understanding the times. When it’s Paul’s turn, he says, “I had a good one recently, about fourteen years ago I think, and it was so amazing I didn’t understand it and I can’t tell you what I saw” (2 Cor. 12:1-6). The prophets don’t give this boy much credit for reporting recent revelations in helpful detail. 

Finally, as an addendum to this amazing revelation, Paul says, “It was so great that God sent a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would stay humble” (2 Cor 12:7-8). How would that sound on your resume. “I have this evil thing from Satan that keeps stalking and annoying me so I won’t get too proud.” Nobody else has that on their resume. Nobody else WANTS that on their resume.

Paul calls this messenger from Satan a thorn in the flesh. Three times he asked God to make it go away, but God refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  

Whatever Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, God’s refusal to make it go away leads Paul to a different resolution of the problem. He says, “I will boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9), and he says, “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). 

Let’s pray. 

O father, we don’t understand Paul’s thorn in the flesh, or why you refused to remove it. But we have our own problems we’ve asked you to solve and you refused. Our problems continue, daily proving our weakness. They expose our prayer life as a failure, our vision of the Christian life as deficient, our ability to manage our lives as weak and ineffective. 

We ask you to give us the answer you gave Paul. Give us grace to press on in lives filled with weakness, hardship, and calamity. Give us discernment to know which problems you want to solve, and which you want to leave unresolved. Give us wisdom to see and name the messengers of Satan in our lives. And in our weakness, may Christ’s power be strong in us. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.196: Psalm 88: Darkness, My Friend.

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

Psalm 88 is one of the darkest psalms. Most complaint psalms move forward from a statement of deep trouble to a place of hope and trust. Psalm 22, for example, begins, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and moves toward the thought, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord” (v. 27).  

But Psalm 88 moves in the opposite direction, starting with “Lord, you are the God who saves me” (v. 1), and ending on the despairing note,
    You have taken from me friend and neighbour–
      darkness is my closest friend (v. 18). 

My spiritual director, who experienced dark years with debilitating health problems, said that at one low point in her life, Psalm 88 was her greatest comfort. When her life was all darkness and no light, the words “darkness is my closest friend” gave her permission to remain quietly in that place, not seeking desperately for answers, not searching hopelessly for light, not complaining bitterly to God, just waiting quietly in darkness and pain. 

Author John Monbourquette captures some of this in his book, How to Befriend your Shadow (Darton Longman and Todd: Ottawa, 2001). He says many people spend their lives fighting the shadow side of their experience and treating it as the enemy. For some, the shadow is sinful temptations, evil fantasies, unholy urges. For those who want to appear strong and competent, the fearful shadow may be weakness and vulnerability. Monbourquette suggests that we not fight the shadow, but befriend it, recognizing it as part of who we are. We can listen to what it tells us without acting out every urge. Instead of avoiding and suppressing and denying the darkness,we can receive it and learn from it.  

Sometimes our Christian experience is like the disciples on the stormy lake, rowing endlessly through the night without reaching land. There is a spiritual gift for us in receiving this experience, in befriending the darkness as we row through our night, waiting and hoping for God’s deliverance.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, in his poem The Hound of Heaven, Frances Thompson paints you as a hound dog, tracking him as he escapes into pleasure, human friendship, and nature. In the end when you catch him, he lies naked and vulnerable in the dark, no longer able to run, fearful as he waits the stroke of your punishment. But unexpectedly, he encounters your love, and says of his darkness:
    Is my gloom after all
    Shade of his hand outstretched caressingly?  (lines 179-180). 

Ah Lord, that is what we long for. To know we live in the shadow of your loving hand. To know that when  we experience your absence, when we are tired of running, when darkness is all about us, our gloom is the shadow of your hand, stretched out above us in love. 

We bring to you the darkness we feel today.
– We row at night through a COVID pandemic, not knowing how or when we will reach land.
– We enter another long dark winter, where health care and economics are stressed.
– Hurricanes batter the Carribean, an earthquake shakes Turkey, a divisive election disrupts the United States, a typhoon wreaks destruction on the Philippines. Everywhere the world descends into darkness. 

As Paul said, “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but . . . against the powers of this dark world.” O father, as we feel ourselves sinking, we with the Psalm 88, “Darkness is our closest friend”, for we know that even darkness will reveal your presence to us. With Frances Thompson, we believe that our gloom is shade of your hand, outstretched caressingly. 

Amen.

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

Ep.195: Prayer to the Three-Personed God.

Ep.195: Paul Blesses the Corinthians

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

Today, we look at the blessing Paul prayed over the Corinthians. He said: 

  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
  and the love of God,
  and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).

Because there are three persons in this verse–Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit– some comments on the doctrine of the Trinity are appropriate.  

Like most evangelicals, I tend to have three Gods, not just one. To me, God the Father is a somewhat remote king on a throne of light in a place called heaven. I think of Jesus as a person who lived on earth in a human body, and made enormous, difficult-to-understand claims about his relationship with God. I see the Holy Spirit as the force or power of God that is active in the world and in me. 

It’s possible the New Testament writers had a similar experience of God. They started with the God of the Old Testament, who created the world and gave the commandments, and delivered his people from Egypt. Then came the prophet Jesus, a local Israelite who preached and did miracles and called God his father. Jesus introduced a third personality, a companion he promised would take his place when he left earth. No one saw this companion come, but they recognized the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in the tongues of fire and tongues of languages. 

Thus, the concept of a trinity, one God in three persons, is not actually taught in the New Testament. Instead, it is an attempt to logically reconcile what scripture does teach about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It took the church more than 300 years after Jesus left to develop a clear statement that Christians believe our one God exists in three persons.

Let’s pray to this three-personed God.

Lord Jesus Christ, may your grace be with us. John says the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:16). Your grace to Nicodemus offered him the chance to be born again. Your grace to the woman caught in adultery protected her from stoning and started her on a new life. Your grace to Peter forgave him for denying you and made him a shepherd of your sheep.  

O Jesus, we need your grace. Protect us from evil and give us life. Form us, and reform us, in your image. 

God, our father, may your love be with us. You said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:2). You loved the world and gave your son (John 3:16).  Change our self protecting, self promoting ways, and help us live in the shelter of your love.    

Holy Spirit, we need a new spirit, a new life, new inspiration from God in our inner being. Come to us as breath, giving us life. Come to us as fire, purifying our human spirits. Come to us as the wind of God, blowing through our thoughts and actions. 

Holy Trinity of the Christian faith, come to us in all your persons. 

With Paul we pray, 
   May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
  and the love of God,
  and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all (2 Cor. 13:14).      

Amen. 

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

Trinity > History of Trinitarian Doctrines (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Ep.194: Psalm 87: Jerusalem, God’s City.

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

Psalm 87 is a fascinating but enigmatic poem, about the City of Jerusalem. At this point in the Psalms, Jerusalem is frequently mentioned as a city destroyed by the Babylonians, mourned by the Israelites, mocked by the nations, and ignored by God. 

But in Psalm 87, there is no hint of the destruction. Instead, Jerusalem is the city God loves and favors, almost like a summer cottage on a granite rock, caressed by gentle lake breezes, protected by a forest of evergreen trees. a place of glory and sunshine and life, God’s home on earth. 

This psalm is also amazing for the place it assigns to the nations of the earth. In the poem, God does a brief roll call of nations that have been Israel’s enemies: cruel world-dominating empires like Egypt and Babylon; smaller and closer enemies like Philistia and Tyre; and even the distant Ethiopia, .

God does not threaten these nations with judgement and destruction. Instead he calls them to become citizens of his favorite city, Jerusalem. He says, “They were born here”–that is, they have the same rights of citizenship as native-born Israelites. In our world today, we see nations and rulers making laws that exclude foreigners and undocumented aliens and people from terrorist countries. But in this psalm, King God sends a worldwide invitation for nations to become members of his city and citizens of his kingdom.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Psalm 87 pictures you, the creator of all, welcoming the nations into your kingdom. Nations that have warred against you, who have killed your people, taken captives, and destroyed your city and your temple.

In many psalms, your people ask you to take vengeance on their enemies, but in this psalm you show a heart of reconciliation and peace to every nation. Here you begin to undo the work of the tower of Babel–the confusion of tongues and the scattering of nations. 

O God, we pray today that you will work among our modern nations.
– Heal the hermit kingdom, North Korea.
– Bring your rule to a restored yet corrupt Russia.
– Bring the citizenship of your city to war-shattered Syria.
– Bring peace to the violent nation of Israel.
– Bring hope and land to the Palestinians.
– Bring justice to all refugees of war and violence.
– Bring truth to the United States.
– Bring wisdom to Canada as our politicians descend again into pettiness and foolishness.

O God, make of the nations one kingdom, ruled by your son, speaking the language of peace, paying allegiance to your rule and your fatherhood. 

And may we share the poet’s song, “All my fountains are in you” (v. 7). Yes, the fountains of life are not in the things we own, or the nations we conquer, or the temples we build; they are found in the city of God, in the place where you dwell on earth.  

Amen.

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

Ep.193: Paul Prays for Endurance.

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

Today, we look at Paul’s prayer for the Colossians. He says:
  I ask God to
      fill you with the knowledge of his will
          through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
          so that you may
            live a life worthy of the Lord
                pleasing him in every way,
                bearing fruit in every good work, and
                growing in the knowledge of God,
      strengthened with all power according to his glorious might,
          so that you may have great endurance and patience,
                  joyfully giving thanks to the father,
                      who has made you to share in the inheritance of the saints
                            in the kingdom of light (Col 1:9-12). 

This is another of Paul’s sweepingly broad prayers for the early church. If I submitted it to my editor, he would mark it up as a run-on sentence, and tell me to simplify and clarify. 

Notice what vast territory Paul surveys in his prayer. He wants us to
– know God’s will,
– have spiritual wisdom,
– live a life worthy of the Lord, 
– do good works,
– know God better,
– become strong in God’s might,
– have endurance and patience with joy,
– and be glad citizens of the kingdom of light. 

That’s a grand view of how we should live the Christian life. Rather intimidating, I find it. I wish Paul offered simple steps toward that lofty goal, instead of casting such a large vision I don’t know how to begin achieving it.

A second thing to notice in Paul’s prayer is the word “endurance”. Of all the virtues of the Christian life, endurance is seldom mentioned. Some translations choose the word “persevere”, probably because it sounds more spiritual than “endure”. As in, “We must persevere to the end” compared with, “My life is so overrun with problems I can barely endure it.” 

When a college friend was having a difficult semester, swamped with studies and personal doubts, I said, “As you suffer through this semester, you need endurance.” “Really?” he said. I replied, “Yes. It doesn’t feel very spiritual just to stick it out when times are tough, but Paul says it’s the foundation on which we build character and hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we endure many things. 

We endure Facebook friends who daily post offensive and divisive opinions. Give us wisdom when to endure patiently, when to be silent, when to respond, and when to hit the “unfriend” button. 

We endure endless news of political posturing and accusation and recrimination. The discourse is acrimonious, opinions often hateful. Lord, help us to endure the decay of western civilization. Help us discern the truth, and bear fruit in every good work. 

O God, we have begun to endure a winter of COVID-19 isolation, cabin fever, darkness, and depression. Grant us patient endurance with hope.  

Many of us endure advancing age, deteriorating health, chronic pain, broken relationships, persistent doubts. O God, may we patiently endure all that is wrong with our lives and the world.

And as we endure, may we take Paul’s advice to joyfully give thanks to the father who has made us citizens in his kingdom of light (Col 1:11-13). Thank you that Christ has established your kingdom of light, O God, that we are citizens of his country, and that our journey through this dark world is a journey home to your city of light.

Amen. 

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