Ep.242: Psalm 113: Who is Like You, God?

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

Psalm 113 is the first in a sequence of six psalms of praise. At the end of the book of Psalms,.we will encounter another sequence of six. If you have felt, as I have, that the book of psalms has tilted too much toward grief and laments and enemies and trouble, then fasten your seatbelts. From here on the psalms will fly through the skies singing God’s praise instead of moping in the pit of despair. 

I’m not sure I’m ready for this. I have grown accustomed to the dark, to praying from deep in the mud rather than flying on wings of praise. The psalms have been a welcome companion in my darkness, but the poet doesn’t build his home there. He doesn’t give the last word to despair, but praise. God’s faithfulness is a lamp, his loving kindness a light.  Let’s go to that place with the poet. 

The first three verses of Psalm 113 are overloaded with calls to praise. Repeating his favorite word five times, the poet urges us to: praise, praise, praise, bless, and praise the Lord. Do you catch the hint? The poet praises God in time, both now and forevermore (v. 2b) and he praises God in space, from the rising of the sun to its setting (v. 3). Everywhere, every time, is a time for praise. No exceptions. 

The remaining six verses of Psalm 113 explain what God does that deserves our praise. 

Who is like our God, the poet asks, seated high above the heavens, looking a long way down to heaven and earth? God sees the poor in the dust and he lifts them up, he sees the needy on the dunghill and he makes them sit with princes. He sees the barren woman and he makes her a mother of children.  

Praise the Lord. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we welcome this day to look away from our pandemic ridden world, away from our menial employments, away from our cares for self and family. In the routine of life, we have become drudges, stuck in darkness, focusing on what is wrong, weary of pressing on. With the poet, we lift our eyes to you, rejoicing in what is right.

You, our God, are still above the heavens, above the dictators and presidents of the world. You watch this play we stage on earth, the politics we invent, the drama we generate. You see our exits and entrances. We praise you that you write the script and direct the play we stage.

We praise you for what you do. You see the needy and provide a food bank, the homeless and you create a home. You see the jobless and give them a vocation with princes. The childless woman you make a  mother. To struggling church members, you give grace. To the mentally ill a new life. To the war-torn countries you bring peace.  

Lord, if we look with cynical eyes, we see endless poverty and injustice. But in our moments of faith, we see Christ’s work of compassion and healing, delivered in medical missions and social programs and church potlucks and neighbourhood parties. With the poet, we praise you for every person who has a place to call home, has enough to eat, and a job and a family. Look upon those still in the dust and dung heaps of the world, and lift them also to a new life.

With the poet, we praise you as the God of nations and the God of individuals, the God who sustains the life of the world, who intervenes in the muddled mess, who creates joy and beauty. 

Who is like you, O God? We praise your holy name. 

Amen.

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

YouTube video with links to podcast at: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.241: The Tent-Dwellers.

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

Hebrews 11 says:
  By faith Abraham,
      when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,
      obeyed and went,
      even though he did not know where he was going.
  By faith he made his home in the promised land
      like a stranger in a foreign country;
      he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob,
            who were heirs with him of the same promise.
  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
      whose architect and builder is God (vv. 8-10). 

This passage contrasts Abraham’s moveable tent with the permanent city he was looking for, a city with foundations built by God. 

This picture appeals deeply to me: Abraham on his life journey, not knowing his destination, camping out, looking for a city to call home. I have tried to settle in my city and build foundations. But my settling is unsettled as the world changes around me. My neighborhood, at the edge of town when we moved in, is now surrounded on all sides by city. Our once reliable spring and fall seasons shift with the shifting climate. The beautiful and innocent babies we brought into the world are adults now, making complex choices in a morally confusing world. The body that served me well for years begins to recycle itself into dust. 

This is my tent. Perhaps not as temporary and moveable as Abraham’s tent, but my life is makeshift and transitory. 

The Gospel of John says that Christ was made flesh and pitched his tent among us. Was his tent the body he lived in for thirty-three years? Or is it a picture of Christ as an immigrant, far from his father’s country, living in a refugee camp with fishermen and housewives and tax collectors? 

All of us tent-dwelling refugees are looking for a city with foundations, for a life of permanence, for a fixed theology. But like the tower of Babel, our most solid constructions are makeshift and temporary, doomed to disintegrate in the river of time and the winds of change.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, like Abraham, we are strangers in a strange land.The old song says,
    This world is not my home,
      I’m just a-passing through. . . 

Abraham reminds us to pass through with faith. Faith that our small slice of time finds meaning in your eternity. Faith that our narrow plot of land is a gift from your creation. Faith that our little tent is your promise of an eternal home. Life is worth living, and death worth dying, because Jesus’ life and death give meaning to ours. As Paul said, when our earthly tent is destroyed, we will have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven, not built by human hands (2 Cor 5:1). 

Amen. 

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

Ep.240: Psalm 112: Happy.

Ep241_Psalm112. Happy.  

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

Psalms 111 and 112 are alphabetic acrostic poems, in which each line begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 111 concludes:
  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. . . .
      To him belongs eternal praise (v. 10). 

Psalm 112 begins by repeating these themes, saying:
    Praise the Lord.
    Happy are those who fear the Lord,
      who find great delight in his commands (v. 1).

First, a comment on the word “happy”, a difficult word to translate well. The translation “blessed are those who fear the Lord” may sound pretentiously spiritual to modern ears, though we who are religious do long for God’s blessing. Translating it as “content” sounds lame –”content are those who fear the Lord”. How about “joyful”? Might be a good choice, but it unhappily limits the verse to one fleeting emotion among the many we experience. 

The sense of the original word is that in our life journey, those who honor God and keep his commands are on a path, a good path that leads to wholeness, integrity, health, and happiness. 

Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon promise similar results to serious shoppers, but it does not happen. Purveyors of health food and natural medicines promise a simple, whole, and healthy life. Practitioners of yoga and meditation promise lower stress and more enjoyment, a place where body, mind, and soul are at peace. And the prosperity gospel treats Christianity as a vending machine with automatic and repeatable transactions: you do right by God and God will do right by you. A sweet package where God delivers health and wealth and success.

Psalm 112, in contrast, is about wholeness, not riches and health purchased by right living, but the fruit of a life lived humbly before God, a life that is the outcome of participating in community with God and others. “Happy are those who fear the Lord”–not because God immediately and conclusively delivers them from evil and pain, but because their lives move consistently against the curses and evil, against the river of self, moving toward the wholeness God intends for his creation. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the relentless onslaught of news gives us  police brutality, pandemic deaths, economic disaster, and dysfunctional politics. With the poet we look for life as you intended, a fruitful life in a just society in a friendly world you created and continue to supervise.

With the poet, we reflect on your promise:
  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
      for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
  Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
      who conduct their affairs with justice (vv. 4-5).

Idolaters of old sacrificed to fertility gods to get a good harvest. We, the new idolaters, prescribe the right theology and the right prayers, hoping for a happy life on earth and a comfortable place in heaven. 

O Lord, help us to lose our mechanical, transactional, and legal views of how you operate. Help us approach you daily with respectful and trusting hearts. Help us live with grace, compassion and righteousness in the world you created. Help us build societies of mutual respect and cooperation. Help us participate fully in the life of the world and the blessings of creation.

Happy are those who fear you, O Lord. Bring us to that deep sense of wholeness and integrity which flows from a rightly ordered life. 

Amen.

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

Ep.239: Psalm 111: Heart and Soul.

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

Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem, in which each line starts with the next  letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Its main theme is the mighty acts of God, which elicit praise from the poet’s mind and heart. 

The poets describes God’s mighty acts like this:
  – Great are the works of the Lord (v. 2)
  – Glorious and majestic are his deeds (v. 3)
  – He has caused his wonders to be remembered (v. 4)
  – He has shown his people the power of his works (v. 6)
  – The works of his hands are faithful and just (v. 7)
  – He provided redemption for his people (v. 9) 

The poet  responds to God’s work with statements like these:
  – I will extol the Lord with all my heart (v. 1)
  – His works are pondered by all who delight in them (v. 2)
  – He provides food for those who fear him (v. 5)
  – All his precepts are trustworthy (v. 7)
  – Holy and awesome is his name (v. 9) 

Let’s join the poet in a prayer of praise. 

Our father, we praise you for your great redemption. As you delivered the Israelites from slavery, so you have redeemed us from slavery to sin, adopting us into your family. 

With the poet, we ponder your works. You work in those  we love. Whether they seek or ignore you, they display your image in acts of kindness, in faithfulness to spouse and children, in sensible and honest approaches to life and work. Others we know seek you amid problems of physical and mental health, anxiety and trouble. We have felt the broadening and softening movements of your spirit, changing us from harsh judges to quiet companions as we travel through life, deterring us from becoming curmudgeonly and irritable as we age. 

With the poet we fear you. Not with the fear of a slave for a cruel master, nor with the fear of one held at gunpoint, but a fear of respect as your light penetrates the dark places in our minds and hearts. We fear you with awe as we ponder the vast unknowable universe. We fear you with desire, as we hunger to participate in your goodness, and with dismay as we feel our propensity to sin. Receive our fear as the worship that is due you, our praise as our expression of honor.

The poet says,
  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
      All who follow his precepts have good understanding (v. 10).

O Lord, the foundation of our knowledge and understanding is not science that explains the laws of physics, nor artistic exploration that explores human potential. Our modern technologies bring knowledge and entertainment, but not wisdom and understanding. Modern psychology brings insight but not clear moral standards. You alone are the source of wisdom. Understanding follows obedience to your laws. A good life is one that seeks you. 

With the poet we conclude:
    To you belongs eternal praise (v. 10). 

Amen.

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

Ep.238: Yessing Our God.

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

Hebrews 11:6 puts this verse in the middle of three Old Testament stories:
  Without faith it is impossible to please God,
      because anyone who comes to God must believe
          that he exists and
          that he rewards those who seek him. 

The first story is about Abel, Adam and Eve’s son. His brother, Cain, brought God an offering of grain and vegetables which God rejected. Abel offered a sheep, which God accepted. Cain was angry at God, so he murdered Abel. The author of Hebrews commends Abel as a man of faith, because he had insight into what God wanted. 

The second story is about Enoch, who lived a long life that pleased God. So instead of letting him die, God took him straight to heaven. 

The third story is about Noah. When God warned him about “things not seen” (Heb 11:7), Noah built an ark. 

John G. Stackhouse defines faith as “yessing”. He says faith is the “yes” we say–or, even better, the “yessing” we keep offering to God–as we walk in step with the Spirit” (Stackhouse, John G. Blog post “Faith as Yessing,” April 10, 2021, blog post at: https://www.johnstackhouse.com/faith-as-yessing/)

Abel pleased God by saying “yes” to God’s choice of offering, Enoch pleased God by organizing his whole life in a way that said “yes” to God. Noah pleased God by saying “yes” to an unknown water-filled future. 

The author of Hebrews comments, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” God rewards those who say “yes”. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, we say “yes” to you with our hearts and minds and strength. 

Our thoughts are often scattered, we meditate more on our plans and problems than on your Word. But we pause to think of you, to feel the life-giving power of your word in creation, to feel the joy and beauty of your word in scripture, and to say “yes” to you and to your good gifts with our minds. 

We say “yes” to you with our hearts. We are wounded by broken promises, abusive relationships, dysfunctional churches, and our own narrowness. But we choose to say “yes” to you in our hearts. Yes to a relationship with you, yes to loving the people you made, yes to living your way in your world. 

We say “yes” to you with our strength. We choose not to live in despairing lethargy, not to give up because so many of our projects fail, not to abandon our search for you because we so seldom find you. Instead, we say “yes” with our strength, yes with Abel to doing what is right, yes with Noah to building for an unknown future, yes with Enoch to living fully in your presence and care. 

We say “yes” to you, O God. 

Amen. 

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