Ep.188: Psalm 84: Highways of the Heart.

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

Psalm 84 paints some of my favorite pictures of a good relationship with God. Here are three of them:

First, the poet speaks of God’s temple in Jerusalem as God’s home. Of all the words that touch us, “home” is close to the top. The poet begins:
  How lovely is your dwelling place,
      Lord Almighty (v. 1).


The temple is not only God’s home, for the poet continues:
    Even the sparrow has found a home
        and the swallow a nest for herself,
        where she may have her young–
    a place near your altar,
        Lord Almighty (v. 3).

The birds have a safe place near God’s altar. What a wonderful picture! There where sheep and bulls are sacrificed in a river of blood, the flitting swallow makes her home where she can have her young. God’s presence is safe for all who come home to it. As the poet says, 
    Happy are those who live in your house,
        ever singing your praise (v. 4). 

Psalm 84 presents a second picture, the poet’s journey, his pilgrimage to the temple to meet God. He writes:
  Happy are those whose strength is in you,
      in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
  As they go through the valley of Baca,
      they make it a place of springs;
      the early rain covers it with pools (vv. 5-6).

Travelling a dirt road on the way to the temple in Jerusalem, the writer finds strength and refreshment. Because it’s not just a dirt road for his sandals, it’s a highway in his heart. His heart yearns for God (v. 1) and rejoices at the thought of visiting God’s home and the swallow’s home, because that is also where his heart is most at home.

A third picture in Psalm 84 is where the poet says,
  One day in your courts is better
       than a thousand elsewhere.
  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
      than live in the tents of wickedness (vv 10-11).
Better a menial task in God’s home than comfortable lodgings with his enemies. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, when the poet was crushed by powerful enemies and drowning in seas of despair, he prayed psalms of desperation. What a welcome break is this psalm of joy and hope and homecoming. Thank you for shining a light into my darkness, for reminding me of a safe place where even birds can nest, for teaching me that my road to your presence can be a glad highway of the heart. 

We have built other highways of the heart, but today we leave them untravelled. 

One is a highway of fantasy, imagining and longing for easy relationships, wealth, and respect. But that’s a dead end highway, for our reality never matches our fantasies. 

We have built a highway of despair, when we have found life difficult and sad and unendurable. We soldier on in the dark , doing our duty, not daring to hope for the light. This is another dead end, for you are the light of our lives and you lead us on the highway out of darkness.

Some of us have a highway of self-confidence, where we manage our own lives, convinced that hard work and discipline will achieve the outcomes we desire. But that highway leaves us isolated and unhappy, and alone.

Today we choose your highway, the highway of strength. As the writer of Psalm 84 says: 
    Happy are those whose strength is in you, 
       in whose heart are the highways to Zion (v. 5). 
You are our strength, You are our heart’s home. With the poet, we journey from strength to strength. With the birds we rest near your altar.

 Fulfill for us the promise of Psalm 84, our Lord:

    No good thing will you withhold
        from those who walk uprightly. 
    O Lord of hosts, 
        happy is everyone who trusts in you (v. 12).

Amen

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

Ep.187: Invisible Gifts.

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

Today, we look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. 

Here is the whole prayer in chapter 1: 

I ask the glorious father, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.
I pray that he will give light to the eyes of your heart so that you may know
– the hope to which he has called you,
– the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and
– his incomparably great power for us who believe (Eph 1:18-20). 

Interestingly, the prayer asks only for invisible things. It’s not a desperate prayer for God’s help with the latest set of problems, nor is it a grasping prayer for health and wealth. It’s not a national prayer for God to stop Caesar’s political and military madness, and it’s not even a religious prayer for church growth. 

It’s a personal prayer, asking God for invisible and inward gifts of spirit and light.

A key biblical metaphor for the invisible part of human life is the air we breathe. Genesis says that, “God formed the first human from dust, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). The air we breathe is the breath of God, his spirit giving life to our bodies of clay.

In the gospels, Jesus spent three years guiding the spiritual formation of the disciples. Then he repeated God’s life-giving action. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). God formed humans from clay and animated them with his breath. Jesus formed the disciples spiritually and gave them new life through the breath of the spirit. 

Paul continues this theme in Ephesians, praying, “May God give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation so you may know him better” (Eph. 1:18). Yes. May God breathe into us the spirit that enables us to know him.

Paul continues, “I pray that he will give light to the eyes of your heart. . .” (Eph 1:19). As a doctor shines his light into your eyes to see what is in and behind them, so God shines his light in our hearts, not to see what is there, but to create something new within: a new way of knowing, a new confidence in our invisible relationship with him, a new reliance on his care for us. 

Paul prays that we will receive this inward light in three ways. 

First, God wants us to know the hope to which he called us. In a world fixated on chaos and gender and identity politics and disasters, the breath of God in our clay bodies and the breath of Jesus in our spiritual life turns our despair into hope. 

Second, God wants us to know the glorious riches of his inheritance in the saints.God downloads his invisible riches into our hearts. One day when the download is complete, perhaps he will push the “install” button, erasing our program of sin, replacing it with his program of spiritual riches.

Third, God wants us to know his great power. Though our visible lives seem weak and vulnerable, our invisible life in God has strength and staying power. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, breathe your spirit into us until we receive the revelation of your power and glory. Shine your light into our hearts until they are centers of hope and inheritance and power. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.186: Psalm 83: Prayer Against Ten Enemies.

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

In Psalm 83, the poet tells about a time of national crisis, when ten nations around Israel conspired to attack and destroy Israel and claim the land. The poet’s prayer is that God will consume these enemies like a California wildfire, that he will terrify them with hurricanes like those that menace the Gulf of Mexico, that he will make them whirling dust like the tornados that sweep south central Alberta. 

But amazingly, the poet’s last petition is that the enemies will come to know God. He prays:
  Let them know that you alone,
      whose name is the Lord,
      are most high over all the earth (v. 18). 

Let’s pray against some of our enemies today.  

Our father, we pray first against the enemies of the world you created. We pray about climate change, though some question whether it is a natural variation in temperatures or whether it is caused by pollution. Either way, it presents a challenge, as famines and water shortages ravage Africa, as uncontrolled fires consume Brazil, Siberia, and the Pacific Northwest, as hurricanes and cyclones become stronger and more damaging, and as Arctic ice melts away. O Lord, order or reorder your creation for the salvation of humankind.

We pray also against the raging of nations. You made us all of one blood, but you separated the people and the languages at Babel, and we have fought each other ever since. Each tribe and nation protects its turf, and uses race and culture and power to expand territory and diminish neighbors. Lord, still the raging nations. 

A third enemy is religion. In your name, we implement crusades and jihads, killing and conquering, unrighteously building our vision of a righteous society, establishing unjust rule in your name. Lord, bring quickly the rule of your son, who will teach us true religion and just government. 

We pray also against the enemies of your church.  

We pray against divisiveness. Since the Reformation, churches and denominations have split unhappily on lines of doctrine, spiritual gifts, politics, and personality cults. O Lord, bring your church to unity of faith and baptism and purpose. 

We pray against the rationalism that constricts your church. Too often, our Bible studies and sermons are mere intellectual exercises to develop a technical interpretation of scripture, to discover the precise meaning of Greek verbs, to find the most illuminating cultural explanation of obscure sayings. O Lord, lead us back to our plain duty, to love you instead of arguing about the Bible, to love people instead of using scripture to bludgeon them into good behavior. 

We pray against complacency in the church and in our own lives. Fill us with yourself, fill us with the fire of your spirit that will refine us and fit us for your service. Fill us with a fire of love that will consume our heart and soul and mind and strength. 

We pray against the enemies of our souls. Drive from our hearts every stronghold of the world, every lust of the flesh, every influence of the devil.

O Lord, help us to walk today as Jesus walked: to do the will of the father, to discern and denounce evil, to help and heal and pray. 

Amen

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

Ep.185: Paul Cleans Up In Corinth.

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

Today, let’s look at the mess in the Corinthian church and at Paul’s opinion of it. 

First the seven messes in the Corinthian church: 

1. First, the church members had aligned themselves with various religious teachers, arguing endlessly about who was right. Something like the modern arguments about the merits of Bill Johnson’s ministry at Bethel Church in California. The internet is awash and aghast with Christian analyses of why he is a dangerous heretic and where he’s so badly wrong. And there are alternate opinions about what a great Johnson does for God.  

2. Another part of the mess was serious sexual sin, like incest (chapter 5). Today we have internet pornography.

3. Third, Corinthian church members sued each other in the court. Paul thought it was  bad news to mix lawyers and courts into already complicated church relationships and church politics (Chapter 6). 

4. Some church people were unhappy being single; others were unhappily married (chapter 7). Welcome to the human condition. 

5. Fifth, some Corinthians had no problem eating food sacrificed to idols, others wouldn’t touch the stuff (chapter 8). Christians today make similar decisions about Hollywood entertainment.  If it comes from Hollywood, it’s probably been offered to idols, but we Christians have different views on how much violence and sex and language we consume with our popcorn and soda.

6. When the Corinthians threw a potluck to celebrate the Lord’s supper, it was a raucous affair (Chapter 11). Some overate, some got drunk, and some went hungry. 

7. And finally, Paul castigated the Corinthians for misusing spiritual gifts (Chapter 14). If corporate worship degenerates into a random babble of prophecy and tongues, he asked, how does that help anyone learn about the Christian life? If our worship today is an unhappy collection of modern music and spiritual platitudes and Greek exegesis of scripture, do we create a similar babble of tongues? How can we communicate God’s word to needy hearts?

So if you were Paul, what would you say in light of this mess? 

Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians:

“I always thank God for you because he gave you grace in Christ Jesus. He made you rich in every way, with all kinds of speech and knowledge. . .You don’t lack any spiritual gift as you wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:4-8).

Let’s pray. (Scene)

Our father, we see the mess in your church today.
– Divided over the prosperity gospel and which politicians to vote for.
– Divided over gender and inclusion issues, confused about how to live holy lives in a decadent modern culture.
– Divided over the gifts of the spirit, whether you still give the church prophecy, miracles, and tongues.
– Divided over pandemic restrictions that inhibit our freedom of worship.

Our father, instead of despairing over the state of your church, we rejoice with Paul that the gospel has gone around the world, that spiritual gifts are everywhere, even when unrecognized or misused. With Paul, we wait for the Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed, trusting him to bring his modern church to a blameless future, with Paul and the Corinthians, in the day of Christ. 

Amen. (Scene)

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

Ep.184: Psalm 82: God Demotes the “Gods”.

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

In Psalm 82, the poet imagines a court scene where the God of Israel conducts an enquiry into the competence of lesser gods who look after the nations on earth. God, the presiding judge, castigates the rulers of earth for favoring the wicked instead of dealing out justice for the poor and needy. Clearly, these rulers have failed in their role of supervising the nations, so the God of Israel summarily demotes them from god status to mortals who will die (vv. 6-7). 

Author Robert Alter summarizes the worldview of this psalm by saying: “In the ancient world, the multiplicity of nations is associated with a multiplicity of gods: Each nation has its patron god . . . as well as a variety of gods and goddesses who preside over the various realms of nature. But [in Psalm 82] that order has now proven to be judicially and morally bankrupt, and it is the God of Israel alone Who holds . . . all the nations of the earth.” (Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W. W. Norton & Company: eBook, Chapter 82.) 

Alter continues, “…this poem is concerned with the infuriating preponderance of injustice in the world . . .God speaks out in the assembly of lesser gods and rebukes them for doing a wretched job in the administration of justice on earth.” Alter says this poem transitions from a mythology of multiple gods to a monotheistic perspective, as God rudely demotes the lesser gods from their divine status.

The apostle Paul echoes some of the same themes when he urges Christians to put on the full armor of God, because “Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we thought the problems of our world could be traced wholly to the decisions of humans and their rulers. But we see in this psalm an interplay of visible earthly forces and invisible heavenly powers.

In the 1950s when Geoffrey Bull, a missionary to Tibet, was imprisoned for three years in Maoist China, he underwent a brutal program of torture and indoctrination into Marxist thought. But his faith enabled him to believe the abuse and indoctrination were delivered under a false and passing worldview.  His book God Holds the Key describes the battle for his mind and heart, and affirms you, God, as the source of life and truth. 

As you did for him, our God, we invite you to open our eyes to the false politics, the false gods, the spiritual powers that want space in our hearts and minds. Cast down every ruler but Christ, demote every god but yourself, strip away all our beliefs and all our allegiances to any power but you. With the poet we pray,
    Rise up, O God, judge the earth,
      for all the nations are your inheritance (v. 8). 

Amen

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