Ep.268: Psalm 128: Straight and Narrow.

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

Psalm 128 says:  

   Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
      who walk in obedience to him.
  You will eat the fruit of your labor;
      blessings and prosperity will be yours.
  Your wife will be like a fruitful vine. . .
  Your children like olive shoots
        round your table 

Two comments on this passage. 

First, the good life God gives to those who fear him is not wealth nor success nor power. The poet describes the good life as a life of sufficiency, not excess, as a domestic life enjoying the fruits of one’s labor, as a life at peace with one’s spouse and children. It’s a stretch to suggest that today, God’s blessing and prosperity should include a big car, a big house, a big bank account, and a vacation cottage. 

My second comment is about the fear of the Lord. What does it mean to fear God?

Recently, I hiked to Sarrail Ridge in the Rockies. On a 6-kilometer trek, we gained one kilometer of elevation. Standing on the Sarrail Ridge, looking down a steep, rock-strewn cliff to the lake a kilometer below, I got that queasy feeling of vertigo, and stepped back from the edge. Then we sat on a rock overlooking the cliff, munching potato chips and sandwiches, enjoying the view.  

The hike reminds me of my walk with God, mostly trudging uphill, avoiding roots and rocks, stepping over fallen trees, trying not to slip on shale and gravel. Occasionally the path winds past a serene mountain lake or through a rippling stream. Gravity is present on the journey, ready to pull me to the ground if I stumble, quick to dump me over a cliff if I give way to vertigo. On the journey, I am careful, but not fearful. 

God is always with me, just 10155like gravity, but my response to him is not fear of his power and punishments. God is present in the air I breathe and the world I live in. He gives me freedom to act, he encourages me as I take each step in life, in relationships, in work, or rest. If I run afoul of his laws of spiritual gravity, if I consistently ignore or wander from his path, I will experience consequences. But God’s attitude to me is father and friend and guide, encourage. He gives me his Spirit, he leads me through his high country, he picks me up when I stumble. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, creator, as you built the universe with a strong force of gravity, so you created human life for true morality. Help us to walk in love you and our neighbors. May the gravity of that task not weigh us down and crush us, but may it show us the way to go. May we experience it, as Frances Havergal wrote:
  The narrow track upon the mountain side,
  With ever-widening view, and freshening air,
  And honeyed heather. . . 
        from Frances Ridley Havergal, “The Two Paths,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
        Accessed 27 August 2021. https://ccel.org/ccel/havergal/keptuse.h5.html  

We fear displeasing you, father, we fear to incur your anger. But we trust that you are for us, not against us. Walk with us through this life, correct us where we are wrong, encourage us to do right. We are not fearful children, but trusting. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.263: How to Perfect Faith.

Ep.263: Hebrews 12: How to Make Faith Perfect.

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

Hebrews 12 says:
  Therefore, since we have a great cloud of witnesses
    let us lay aside everything that hinders
              and the sin which entangles, and
     let us run with patience
              the race that is set before us
  fixing our eyes on Jesus
              the author and perfecter of faith.
    (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Our cloud of witnesses is the heroes of faith highlighted in Hebrews 11. We could imagine them peering down from heaven, cheering us on in our race of faith. More likely, the author means that their lives witnessed to the faith we have taken up. We keep the faith by emulating their encouraging stories. 

How to do this? The author’s advice: think like a long-distance runner. Strip down to the essentials–running shoes, shorts, shirt. Pace yourself for the long haul. Lay aside everything that hinders and sins which entangle.

So, why don’t we disentangle ourselves and run freely, successfully, in the faith? I look to several reasons in my experience.

I go in fits and starts rather than running a long, patient race. If I begin a new program of devotions on Monday, by Friday I’m either sleeping in or surfing world news instead of reading scripture or praying. 

If I decide to use my time more wisely and efficiently, I soon become confused about what to do next. Before I know it, the afternoon is squandered playing computer Scrabble. 

I think of the people I could phone or meet. But first, maybe, a nap. 

Perhaps I should try harder, beat myself up, or look for new strategies to get stuff done. 

The author of Hebrews suggests a better approach. He says, simply: Look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

Easier said than done. How can I look to Jesus? Hebrews 11 says Moses persevered because he saw him who was invisible (v. 27). 

I don’t have Moses’ skill of seeing the invisible. But here is one way I look to Jesus. I’ve always been plagued with memories of wrongs I committed, people I’ve failed, opportunities squandered, time lost, lack of progress in things material and spiritual. Those memories come unbidden, unwelcome, triggering self-condemnation. Recently, when I think of those things I pray,
    Jesus, I leave my past at your cross,
      trusting you
            to forgive all my sin,
            to heal all my disease,
            to fix all that is broken. 

That’s it. My simple discipline of turning, or repenting, or fixing my eyes on Jesus. 

Let’s pray. 

O Jesus, we live by seeing the invisible, by inhabiting metaphors of salvation. We eat your body and drink your blood, and work in your invisible kingdom. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to believe, and courage to live the life of faith. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.262: Psalm 127: Unless the Lord Builds the House.

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

Psalm 127 begins: 

   Unless the Lord builds the house,
      the builders labor in vain.
  Unless the Lord guards the city,
      the guards keep watch in vain.
    In vain you rise early
      and go late to rest,
      eating the bread of anxious toil;
      for he gives his beloved sleep (vv. 1-2). 

The poet has quickly disposed of the myths of the self-made man, the lone ranger, and the workaholic. Success is not the result of human effort alone; success comes when God and people work cooperatively. 

The Taliban recently returned to power in Afghanistan, quickly filling the vacuum left by departing Americans. The United States spent twenty years and billions of dollars building and supplying the Afghan government, Afghan infrastructure, the Afghan army, the house of Afghanistan. But it all imploded in one week in August. As the poet says, unless the Lord builds the house, unless the Lord guards the city, the army and the politicians labor in vain. 

The second half of the psalm talks about family:
  Children are a heritage from the Lord . . .
  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
      are sons of one’s youth.
  Blessed is the man
      whose quiver is full of them. 
  He will not be put to shame
      when he contends with his enemies in the gate. 

In an ancient, patriarchal, agricultural society, it was good to have sons to work the fields, protect the family, and defend the city from enemies at the gates. The poet gives God credit for building the family: children are indeed a heritage from the Lord.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, how often we append a prayer to our plans, asking you to bless them. But the poet sees a more cooperative process, in which we build the house when you are building, or we guard the city you are guarding, or we leave our work undone when you invite us to rest. Give us, we pray, that inner sense of how to cooperate in the work you are doing.  

How different was the poet’s life from ours. We are less patriarchal, less agricultural, more technological. No walled cities. No enemies gathering at city gates. Instead, the threats to our religion and way of life are corrupt ideologies, lying conspiracy theories, and violent fundamentalist movements in Islam and Christianity. The lure of hedonism calls our sons and daughters away from the godly heritage we have tried to give them. Our children are a heritage from you, our city and country a gift from you. Guard our heritage as we try to preserve what is good and resist what is evil. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.261: When Faith Doesn’t Work.

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

Hebrews 11, the great chapter about faith, says: 

   What more shall I say?
  I do not have time to tell about
    Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,
    who through faith
          conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised;
    who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of flames,
            and escaped the edge of the sword;
    whose weakness was turned to strength. . .

  There were others who were tortured,
    refusing to be released so they might gain a better resurrection.
    Some faced jeers and flogging, chains and imprisonment.
    They were put to death by stoning; they were sawn in two;
                they were killed by the sword.
    They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,
            destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
            the world was not worthy of them.
                – Hebrews 11:32-38a

There it is: two sides of faith. One is a glorious and victorious side, where the faithful do mighty works to conquer kingdoms, escape death, and turn weakness into strength. 

And then there’s the other side, where the faithful are abused, punished, imprisoned, and killed. 

Which faith outcome do you prefer? Do you think God presents a smorgasbord of options so you can choose your own meal? 

The prosperity gospel emphasizes one part of faith. It says that by faith you can become “all God intends you to be”. Live inspired. Reach your dreams. Don’t associate with naysayers and doubters. Let faith lift you to success and happiness and wealth. 

Fortunately, Hebrews tells the rest of the story. Some by faith faced jeers and flogging, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawn in two, killed by the sword; destitute, persecuted, mistreated–the world was not worthy of them (vv. 37-38).   

I try to live in a safe zone between these two options, these extremes. A place of North American riches. . .but not too rich. A place of comfort. . .but not too comfortable. A tolerant society where I am not persecuted for my faith. A peaceful life where I don’t try to conquer kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, or quench the fury of flames. 

How does that old doggerel go? 

  The high soul takes the high road and the low soul takes the low,
  And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
          (John Oxenham, The Ways, paraphrased).

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we do not understand our motives. Satan accuses us, as he did Job, of following you because you’ve made our lives easy. We have tried to be faithful, but our faith has not conquered heights or faced persecution. 

Is there room in your kingdom for us average people? For those of us on the misty flats, surviving but not thriving, faithful but not outstanding, honest but not to a fault? 

The apostle Paul’s description of faith includes slaves who work for their masters, women who endure unreasonable husbands, men who try to be kind, church leaders who are helpful and sober. 

O Jesus, are these works of faith? Receive our lives as we live them, our hearts as we offer them, our goods as we give them, and our prayers as we pray, “Your kingdom come”.  

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.260: Psalm 126: Song of the Dreamer.

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

Psalm 126 begins, 

  When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
      we were like those who dreamed.
  Our mouths were filled with laughter,
      our tongues with songs of joy.
  The Lord has done great things for us,
      and we are filled with joy (vv. 1-3).  

The poet doesn’t tell us what recent disaster needed God’s intervention and restoration. But he does say how it felt to see God’s work: It felt like living in a dream! Who could believe God had showed up after the awful happened, and changed it all to good. 

And now the poet needs another miracle. He prays,
  Restore our fortunes, Lord,
      like streams in the Negev (v. 4).
Once again the poet’s circumstances require God’s intervention. “Like streams in the desert” he says–streams that most of the year are dry and dusty; but when the yearly rains come, they fill with refreshing water.

Then the poet gives another image of the yearly cycle.     
Those who go out weeping,
        carrying seed to sow,
    will return with songs of joy,
      carrying sheaves with them (v. 6). 

I have always wondered why anyone would sow with tears. I once heard a missionary say: As planting time approaches and the family food supply runs low, the father protects their precious stock of spring seed. Yes, it could be used to meet immediate needs, but the farmer resists the crying of his family, and in sorrow sows the seed in hope of harvest. 

When harvest happens, it is another example of God restoring the fortunes of the poor. The farmer returns with sheaves of wheat, singing songs of joy. He too is a dreamer, who can hardly believe that the long year has brought fruition to his dreams. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, my dreams of late have been anxious: I am late to class, unprepared, unclothed, and fearful. Where do these dreams come from? Restore my fortunes, drive out my anxieties, bring me back to peaceful dreams. 

Father, I have a small garden this year, with tomatoes I grew from seed and scarlet runner beans and a raspberry bush that has withered in the heat. I did not sow in tears, but I feel the power of the poet’s metaphor. There is a season for sowing and one for harvesting, and a time for weeping and time for joy. 

Be with us in these seasons of our lives. Tend us as we grow, remember us in your harvest at the end of the age.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube