Ep.102: Raising the Dead.

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

In John 11, Lazarus was very sick, so his sisters sent word to Jesus. He said to his disciples, “This sickness won’t end in death. It is for God’s glory.” Then he ignored the sisters’ request for two days, and finally said to his disciples, “Ok. Time to head south to Judea.”

The disciples said, “Whoa! They tried to kill you last time you went there.” Jesus said, “Not a problem. And by the way, Lazarus has died. But good news! What happens will increase your faith.” 

The disciple Thomas said, “Let’s get on with it then. We can follow Jesus to Lazarus’ death, and his death, and probably ours too.” Not much faith there. 

When Jesus arrived in Judea, Lazarus’ sisters said to him, “If you had been here, our brother wouldn’t have died.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” And Jesus wept. Perhaps he wept for the sorrow of death, perhaps out of compassion for the sisters, perhaps he wept for the lack of faith everywhere he looked. 

Then he went to Lazarus’ grave, got them to roll the stone away from the entrance, and he said to the decomposing body, “Lazarus, come out.” And out he came, wrapped in linen grave clothes. 

When the Pharisees heard, they were not impressed and they said, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take our temple and our nation.” Caiaphus, the high priest, said, “You’re right about that. It would be better for this man to die, and the nation will be saved.” 

John, the gospel writer, explains that this was an unintentional prophecy. He says, “Caiaphus was right. Jesus will die to save the Jewish nation, and not only that nation, but also the scattered children of God. He will bring them together and make them one.” 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, along with Lazarus’ sisters, we wonder why you don’t show up sooner in our sickness and pain and sorrow, before death does its final work.

With Thomas we are tempted to despair and cynicism. “We’re going to die anyway. Might as well follow Jesus to Lazarus’ death, and his own death, and probably ours too.”

With the Pharisees we want religion. But not religion out of control. Jesus, your person and teachings push the boundaries of everything that makes life stable and predictable for us. You challenge our view of sickness, of religion, of faith, of death.

We hear you say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus, we believe in the resurrection of the body. But what do you mean, that you are the resurrection and you are the life? We come to you looking for healing not death, for clarity not questions, for a religious system we can believe in, not a person who throws our lives into turmoil and weeps over the grave. 

Jesus, today we receive you as you are, the man of resurrection and life. We receive you into our dying bodies, into our troubled minds, into our wayward spirits. We trust you to bring the scattered children of God together and make them one. Jesus, be our life in this age and in the age to come.  

Amen. 

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

Ep.101: Psalm 42: Deep Calls to Deep.

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

I first looked at Psalm 42 when I was in my early twenties, thanks to the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1964) by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. At the time, I was looking for solutions to depression, loneliness, and introversion. In the first chapter, imaginatively titled “General Consideration”, Lloyd-Jones said, “[Psalm 42 gives] an extraordinarily accurate picture of spiritual depression. You can see the man looking cast down and dejected.” You see that drawn, haggard, vexed, troubled appearance (Lloyd-Jones, p. 13). At that point, for better or worse, I was hooked on the book and on Psalm 42. 

Three aspects of the psalm spoke to me. 

First, the poet describes his depression.  His emotional experience is turmoil, confusion, despair. Twice he says,
Why are you downcast, my soul,
  Why so disturbed within me? (vv. 5, 11)

His spiritual experience is also in disarray. He says his tears have been his food day and night, and people keep asking, “Where is your God?” (v. 3). In his sadness he says to God, “Why have you forgotten me?” (v. 9).

The poet’s social experience is a disaster too. He continues: 
“Why must I go about mourning,
  oppressed by the enemy?” (v. 9).
The poet’s friends and enemies both say, “Clearly, God is not showing up to help you,” (vv. 3, 10) and his own soul echoes the question, “Have you forgotten me, God?” (v. 9) and “When can I go and meet God?” (v. 2). This is the poet’s depression: lonely, troubled, taunted by enemies, no help from his friends, his thoughts and life in turmoil, his relationship with God non-existent. 

A second part of the psalm that spoke to me is the poet’s surprising awareness of things that encourage and give him hope. He starts the poem with an amazing upward and outward picture:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
So my soul pants for you, my God (v. 1).
His depression is not only a dark, inescapable pit. It is also a thirst, thirst for God. Perhaps God will give him a drink of water if he asks.

Later he says to God,
Deep calls to deep
            In the roar of your waterfalls
All your waves and your breakers
have gone over me (v. 7).
The poet feels himself drowning, but he hears God’s voice in the waters, “Deep calls to deep” (v. 7). In his trouble and depression, he feels God’s waterfall speaking to him, God’s waves washing over him. It seems God is both the storm that drowns him and the water that saves him. 

The third thing I found helpful in Psalm 42 is how the poet manages his depression. He manages it by talking to himself! Perhaps that’s a skill I need to learn. When the poet’s dark feelings talk to him, he talks right back to them with a different message. He doesn’t submit to feelings hopelessness, he doesn’t sink into despair. He questions his feelings, he questions himself, he redirects the conversation.
Why are your downcast, my soul,
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God. (vv. 5, 11). 

The poet also speaks to God, questioning God’s silence.
I will say to God my rock
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning?” (v. 9).

The wonderful message of this psalm is that when our experience is dark, when God seems silent and uninterested, we can still talk to him. We can invite him into our darkness, we can call on him to resume caring for us. 

Let’s pray.  

Our Father, so often in the psalms we have been stuck in the pit of despair, our feet lodged in mud, our mind imprisoned in darkness. But today’s psalm brings the language of hope to our prison. Perhaps our unquenchable thirst is our heart panting after you. Perhaps our feeling of drowning is your waves and your breakers washing over us. Perhaps our painful and vulnerable situation can be addressed to you, “God, you are my rock, why do you let my feet slip and my enemies harass?”

With the psalm we say,
  By day the Lord directs his love
at night his song is with me (v. 8).

And with the poet we pray,
  Why are you downcast my soul?
  Put your hope in God
  for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God (v. 11).  

Amen.

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

Ep.100: Suffering and God’s Glory.

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

At the beginning of John 11 when he heard Lazarus was sick, Jesus said, “This sickness is for God’s glory.” 

Do you think Jesus was stating a general rule? That the purpose of human sickness is to give glory to God? In John 5, a paralyzed man suffered 38 years until Jesus healed him. In John 8, a blind man suffered his whole life until Jesus healed him. Now in John 11, Lazarus got sick and died, until Jesus raised him. Can you explain God’s glory in all that suffering, or is Jesus’ lesson too hard? Perhaps God only gets glory when Jesus heals someone. If so, God is missing out on a lot of glory!

Kate Bowler in her book, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (New York: Random House, 2018) describes her journey with Stage IV cancer and the prosperity gospel and faith. She often sounds like the psalms, ranting at God for life’s unfairness, angry with her enemy cancer, unhappy with comforters who spout unhelpful platitudes.

Facing death and grieving that she wouldn’t see her baby son grow up, she tells this story: 

When I was in the hospital, a neighbor told my husband that everything happens for a reason. “I’d love to hear it,” he replied.
  “Pardon?” she said, startled.
  “I’d love to hear the reason my wife is dying,” he said in his sweet and sour way, effectively ending the conversation. The neighbor stammered something and handed him a casserole. (Bowler, pp. 112-113). 

Bowler continues, commenting on the “reasons” people give why she might be suffering. She says,

There are three life lessons people try to teach me that, frankly, sometimes feel worse than cancer itself. The first is that I shouldn’t be so upset, because the significance of death is relative. A lot of Christians tell me that heaven is my true home and I want to ask them if they would like to go home first. Maybe now? (Bowler, p. 116).

The second lesson comes from the Teachers, who focus on how this experience is supposed to be an education in mind, body, and spirit. (Bowler, p. 117). One man bluntly writes, “I hope you have a ‘Job’ experience.” But I can’t think of anything worse to wish on someone. God allowed Satan to rob Job of everything, including his children’s lives. Do I need to lose something more to learn God’s character? (Bowler, p. 118).

Bowler says the third lesson comes from the Solutions People, who are already a little disappointed that she is not saving herself. “Keep smiling! Your attitude determines your destiny!” says Jane from Idaho, and I am immediately worn out by the tyranny of prescriptive joy. (Bowler, p. 119). A Nigerian woman writes that she sits through weekly meetings that encourage her to “talk faith-talk,” but she wants to acknowledge that, outside her office window, the bodies of abandoned babies are being collected and hauled away in black garbage bags (Bowler, p. 119).

Bowler continues, 

The letters that really speak to me don’t talk about why we die, they talk about who was there when they were dying. A man wrote to me about being taken hostage with his family and watching helplessly as the intruders pressed guns against his children’s noses and threaten to rape his wife and daughter. But God was there and he can’t explain it. He can’t explain who loosened the ropes, letting him escape with his family. He will never understand why he survived when a neighbor was found outside hanging by a rope the next morning. He doesn’t rationalize why some people were rescued and others were executed. He doubts there is a way that God “redeems” situations by extracting good from them. But he knows God was there because he felt peace, indescribable peace, and it changed him forever. He ends his letter to Bowler saying, “I have no idea how this works, but I wish this for you as you move forward.”  (Bowler, p. 120). 

Let’s pray. 

Jesus, I can’t begin to John’s theme that you get glory from human suffering–from Kate Bowler with Stage IV cancer, from Job who lost everything, from dead Nigerian babies, from a hostage who escaped and one who didn’t. Jesus, we bring our sufferings to you, not trying to explain them, not trying to understand how they might contribute to your glory. Instead, we ask you to be present with us, to share your life with us, to live your life in us, to walk with us through this endless valley. 

Amen. 

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