Ep.169: Psalm 75: God Crushes It!

Ep169_Psalm075. Power Images of God.

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

Psalm 75 uses three power images for God: God steadies the pillars of the earth (v. 3); God prepares a potion in his cup of wrath for his enemies (v. 8); and God cuts off the horns of the wicked (vv. 4-5, 10). Let’s look at these three images.

First, God says,
  I will choose the appointed time;
      I will  judge with equity.
    When the earth and all its people quake,
      I will hold its pillars firm (vv. 2-3).

This is God asserting that he will judge fairly. When the earth and its people quake, when world leaders further personal agendas, appointing only judges who agree with them, when nations build bigger bombs and missiles, when people revolt against their leaders; in all these shakings and quakings, it is God who holds the pillars of the earth firm. People may rage and collect guns and propagate fake news, but underneath are the everlasting arms. 

Second, God presents another power image when he says,
  To the arrogant I say, “Boast no more,”
      and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horns.
    Do not lift your horns against heaven;
        do not speak defiantly” (vv. 4-5).
    “I will cut off the horns of the wicked,
        but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up” (v. 10). 

A word about horns. Ranchers remove horns and testicles from cattle to make them less dangerous and aggressive, safer to handle. Hunters hang racks of antlers on their walls. That says it all. You know you’re a real hunter when your wall hangings show the beasts you have conquered. God is the great hunter in this psalm, dehorning proud warrior nations, domesticating them to serve his purposes. 

The poet presents a third power image for God:
  In the hand of the Lord is a cup
        full of foaming wine mixed with spices;
    he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth
        drink it down to its very dregs (v. 8).

God’s wine is a picture of his anger. In his wrath, he makes the wicked drink wine until they are insensibly drunk, unable to strut about and make war and speak defiantly against God. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we prefer to think of you as a loving God, a safe God, but with the poet in Psalm 75, we reflect on your power and anger. We thank you that you are interested enough in human society to throw down the powerful nations and to implement justice. 

As our earth quakes and shakes with climate change, political divisiveness, fake news, drug abuse, and violence, we thank you that you judge with equity and hold firm the pillars of the earth. 

As authoritarian leaders exalt themselves, proudly displaying their horns of power–nuclear arsenals, warships, and armies–thank you, God, that you are the horn-cutter. Stop the arrogance of the wicked, crush their plans, bring the violent to a violent end. Bring wisdom and good governance on earth. 

As we see the greed and immorality of leaders, as they practice favoritism and nepotism and self-aggrandizement, we wait for you, God, to make them drink the wine of your wrath. They are drunk with self-importance, Lord. Pour out on them the wine of your anger that crushes them into submission, the wine of your wisdom that exposes their  foolishness and weakness, the wine of your justice that will put an end to their evil deeds.

O Lord, hold firm the pillars of the earth. Carry us in your everlasting arms.      

Amen.

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

Ep.168: Book Review. Boase: The Prayer of Faith.

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

Today, let’s look at the book The Prayer of Faith  by Leonard Boase (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1976). First published in 1950, the author rewrote, rearranged, and republished in 1976. He comments on his revision: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. The car has been re-upholstered but the engine’s the same.” (p. 9) 

Boase describes prayer as a rope. The purpose of the rope is to pull. It is the pull that matters, not the rope’s color or age or hairiness or smell. In prayer, love is the pull, the most important part. We exert the pull by loving God, as we do thoroughly and with due attention whatever we happen to be occupied with–work, play, suffering, or having a time of formal prayer where we pay attention to God’s presence. 

Boase says that the first stage of prayer is usually “mental prayer”–that is, thinking about God or meditating on scripture to experience his presence. Mental prayer may succeed for a time, maybe even a long time. But then comes the darkness. (p. 23) 

He describes the darkness in a chapter titled “Frustration”, which begins: “There is a crisis in the life of prayer which, for many, spells disaster. There is a desert on this Golden Journey, where nearly everyone wanders lost and parched, and some die of thirst.” (p. 20). 

He continues, “We find ourselves lost, irretrievably lost, in the desert. No efforts, however frantic, seem to be of any avail. Not only do we feel no taste for prayer, but even if, spurred by an uneasy conscience, we override the distaste, we seem to have lost the knack.” (p. 24)  Boase  says about this darkness, “. . .we find that when we try to love God by thinking about him, our thoughts are cloudy and confused, and we cannot focus them on him or anything relating to him. This frustration. . . causes distaste and aversion to prayer.” 

I remember an early experience with this darkness. I decided to pray the Lord’s Prayer for a whole semester. But three quarters of the way through that semester, I was still unable to get past the first phrase, “Hallowed be your name”. I tried to pray almost every day, but my prayer was distracted, inattentive, unfocussed. With anger and frustration and disappointment in myself, I said to God, “I guess I’m just not able to pray. It doesn’t work for me.” 

I felt God reply “I have enjoyed your prayer this semester. It’s been good to hear you pray, ‘Hallowed be your name.’” 

Father Thomas Green makes a similar point. Suppose you plan to spend your birthday with God, he writes. You set aside the day for him and read scripture and pray and try to be present to God. But the whole day is dry and barren. You show up, but God doesn’t, and it feels like a wasted day. Then, Green says, three days later when you’re sitting on the toilet, you unexpectedly sense God’s presence and he fills you with peace and joy and the water of life.

What is it with this darkness and dryness in prayer? Boase says it’s God working in us to build faith, a faith that helps us be present with God in our spirit, rather than our mind or emotions. God wants us to worship in spirit and truth, so he helps us by letting our mind and emotions go dark, and teaches us a new way of experiencing his presence.

The way through the darkness is to keep on praying, to keep listening in silence for God, to reach out to him with our heart, even when our mind is distracted and our feelings are not engaged. 

Leonard Boase calls this the prayer of faith, because it is God’s gift, drawing us into communion with him by a hidden way. Teresa of Avila calls this the dry well. St. John of the Cross calls it the dark night of the soul. If your prayer has begun to be dry or dark, you might find this book helpful. 

It’s The Prayer of Faith, by Leonard Boase. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, wherever we are on the journey of prayer, we ask you to be our companion and guide. Save us from self-deception, from an unhealthy desire for mystical experiences, from imagining we have found the best way to pray. Above all, whether we pray in light or in darkness, lead us deeper into the prayer of faith. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.167: Psalm 74: Crisis of Faith.

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

Psalm 73 described the author’s personal crisis of faith. He felt God was giving the wicked great success, and making his own life miserable. Today’s psalm, 74, describes a community crisis of faith, as Israel remembers how the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed God’s temple. It looked like God rejected his people and his temple, and gave their violent enemy complete success.

Feel the pathos as Israel complains to God about the situation:
    Why have you rejected us forever?
        Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture? (v. 1).
    Turn you steps towards these everlasting ruins,
        All this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary (v. 3).

It is a long, long road from the comfort of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, he leads me beside quiet waters” to this psalm which asks, “Why does your anger smoulder against your sheep?” 

Feel the hopelessness in Israel’s memory:
    Your foes roared in the temple where you met with us (v. 4a).
    They smashed the carved panelling
          with their axes and hatchets (v. 6). 
     They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
          they defiled the dwelling-place of your name (v. 7).

And feel their despair when God doesn’t seem to notice or care:
    We are given no signs from God;
        no prophets are left,
        and none of us know how long this will be.
    How long will the enemy mock you, God?
        Will the foe revile your name forever?  (vv. 9-10).

But the poet does not stop his journey at the station of despair. The chaos in the temple, the chaos in Jerusalem, and the chaos in his life of faith remind him of creation, when God overcame the forces of chaos to create an orderly and beautiful world. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, 

As the poet shifts his focus from the destruction of the temple to your power and your kingship, we say with him: 
    God, you  are our King from long ago,
          you bring salvation to the earth (v. 12).
  It was you who split open the sea by your power. . .
  It was you who crushed the sea monster
      and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert (vv. 13-14). 

You were not weak at creation, God. You wrestled with the waters of chaos, you wrestled with the sea monster, you overcame the beast and cast it into the desert.

You replaced the primordial darkness with order and beauty and light:
    Yours is the day, and yours the night;
          you established the sun and moon.
      You set the boundaries of the earth,
          you made both summer and winter.
You are not a God who leaves things in chaos. You are the author of life, you shine light into the darkness, you create a world with dependable boundaries for the seas and dependable seasons for the climate.

We pray then for our lives, our churches, our society, which are overrun with chaos. Make us a new creation, God. Overcome the darkness, wrestle our monsters to the ground, send us summer and winter, light and darkness according to your design, bring your people out of despair into jubilant hope.

We are the sheep of your pasture, Lord. Lead us from pain and doubt and chaos back to the still waters and green pastures of Psalm 23. 

Amen.

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

Ep.166: How Not To Pray.

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

Luke 18 has one of Jesus’ best-known parables. It goes like this: a Pharisee prayed, “Lord, thank you that I’m not like others –robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even this, this tax collector! . Look at me, O Lord: I fast twice a week and tithe ten percent.” But back in a corner, the tax collector beat his breast for shame, and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

Jesus said, “The tax collector went home justified before God. The Pharisee did not. If you promote yourself, God will demote you. But, if you humble yourself, God will exalt you.” 

What did Jesus mean that the tax collector was justified before God? Since the root word of justify is “right” or “righteous”, let’s consider who is right and who is wrong in this story. 

The Pharisee compared himself with people who were clearly wrong, and explained to God just how right he was. In contrast, the tax collector said to God, “I’m a sinner. I’ve done pretty much everything wrong.” And in a stunning reversal of right and wrong, Jesus tells us that God accepted the tax collector with all his wrongness, and rejected the Pharisee with all his rightness. 

That gets us close to the heart of the story. I think “justify” means that God smiled on the tax collector and thought, “Now there’s someone I can work with.” But he shook his head at the Pharisee and thought, “He’s so full of himself, there’s no room for me in his life!”  

Here are some things to note in the story:

First, if you feel you’re doing pretty much everything right, and that you are better than those of us who are blatant sinners, be cautious about presenting your brilliant conclusion to God. 

Second, if you feel you’ve done pretty much everything wrong in life, do mention this to this God when you pray. Until you become perfect, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner” is a very good way to start praying. 

Third, God’s primary way of dealing with us is not based on our behavior . The Pharisee spent his life studying scripture and improving his behavior, but apparently, God wanted something else.  

Fourth, remember this: Prayer is not just the words we say to God, it is also the tone we adopt in our relationship with him. Do you detect a note of arrogance in the Pharisees’ prayer, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like sinners”? Perhaps God isn’t looking for rigorous spiritual disciplines like fasting and praying and tithing. Maybe God wants soft hearts and sensitive spirits. 

Finally, Jesus says God deals with us on the basis of forgiveness. It is his pleasure to extend mercy to those who know they are wrong and say so. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thank you that we are like other people. However far we have advanced in fasting and tithing and praying, we are still at the beginning with you. 

Today, we need you to justify us, to overlook what is wrong in us, to hear our prayer for mercy, and welcome us with your smile and affirmation.

Amen. 

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

Ep.165: Psalm 73: What is God Good For?

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

The poet begins Psalm 73 by stating his traditional belief that God rewards the good. But he soon introduces a shocking new perspective. When he sees how successful the wicked are, he decides that maybe God isn’t so good after all. 

Here’s what the poet sees when he looks at the wicked. May you sometimes see the same things.
– The wicked have robust health (v. 4)
– They have fewer troubles than the righteous (v. 5) 
– They speak arrogantly against heaven, advocating violence and malice, but God does nothing (v. 6)
– They are popular. People flock to their rallies and praise them (v. 11)
– They say, “God doesn’t see or care” so we can do whatever we want (v. 13)
– And they just keep getting richer and richer. Their stocks go up and mine go down. 

Their success breeds shocking arrogance.
  Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
      and their tongues take possession of the earth (v. 9). 

Now compare that with me, says the poet. I keep the covenant, I avoid evil, and what does it get me? God sends me trials every day and threatens punishment if I disobey. He doesn’t make me healthy or wealthy. This is no way to live! Maybe, like the wicked, I should declare my independence from God. Maybe I should quit paying his taxes and observing his rules. 

But then the poet worships in the temple, where he finds God’s presence and begins to see things differently. 

First, he gets a new perspective on himself. He says, “I’ve been thinking like a donkey”:
    When my heart was grieved
        and my spirit embittered,
    I was senseless and ignorant;
        I was a brute beast before you, God (v.21). 

The writer also gets a new perspective on what happens to those he envies. He says:
    . . . then I understood their final destiny (v. 17)
    Surely God places them on slippery ground;
        he casts them down to ruin.
    How suddenly they are destroyed,
        completely swept away by terrors (v. 19).

And finally, the poet gets a new perspective on what goodness is. Goodness is not the stuff we accumulate or the independence we fiercely defend. Rather, goodness is found in relationship with God. The poet says to God,
    …I am always with you;
            you hold my right hand.
            you guide me with your counsel . . .
      Whom have I in heaven but you?
            And on earth I desire nothing beside you (vv. 23-25). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like the poet we have envied the wicked.
– those to whom dishonesty and wealth come easily, while we work hard for a bare living.
– those who are rich and popular, while we are socially awkward and poor.
– those who have good looks and robust health, while we are sick, depressed, and hurting.
– those who live comfortably with the status quo while we struggle with issues of righteousness and justice.

With the poet we are tempted to say,
  Surely in vain we have kept our hearts pure
      and have washed our hands in innocence.
  All day long we have been afflicted,
      and every morning you correct us (vv. 13-14). 

As we come into your presence today,God, we invite you to change our perspective. Thank you that: 
     …you are always with us,
            you hold us by our hand.
      You guide us with your counsel
            and you will take us into glory.
      Whom have we in heaven but you?
            And earth has nothing we desire besides you.
      Our flesh and heart may fail,
            but you are the strength of our life
            and our portion forever  (vv. 23-26). 

It is good to be near you, O God, our help and our refuge (v. 28). 

Amen.

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