War in Europe. We’ve become so accustomed to peace - broadly speaking - that you only expect to read that sentence in a history book. At this point, we’re not seeing the beginning of World War III, nor are we in physical danger in the U.S., but as we watch things unfold in Ukraine, we can’t help but be rattled by the devastating and gruesome sights of war.
From one perspective, the peace we’ve enjoyed is the exception, not the rule. Over the course of history, people have very rarely been at peace. This fact of life is what made the Pax Romana so remarkable. Since the end of the Cold War, the Pax Americana has been a similar historical anomaly.
The judgment of history is that war and unrest have been the experience of far too many. This invasion in Ukraine has brought us face to face with the brutality of conquest. Any student of history will tell you that things will likely get worse. Watching a war in the social media age means the atrocities previously reserved for the soldiers in trenches and the medics scrambling across the battlefield are now showing up in your pocket. We are all watching snippet versions of the war on our phones and TVs. Because of that, we are going to be confronted with something we’re not used to seeing on our screens, war-torn despair.
War is not like the movies. The good guys don’t always win in the end. The courageous hold-outs don’t always get rescued. From what I can tell, the likeliest end game in this conflict is that Russia grinds down the Ukrainian resistance through cold brutality until they take uneasy control of the country and embark on years of guerilla unrest. We all hope for a different outcome, but we have to prepare for what’s likely to occur. The people of Ukraine have shown themselves to be some of the bravest people on earth. President Zelensky has proven that he should be remembered alongside history’s courageous heroes for standing up to Putin’s tyranny. As much as I hope that may be enough to thwart Russian aggression, even their steely resolve may not triumph in the end.
Why confront these grim realities? For one reason, they compel us to pray biblically. What’s happening in Ukraine right now is evil, but it’s far more similar to the situation in so many passages of our Bibles than our normal American lives. The books of the Bible were often written during the same kinds of hardships. The prayers of the Bible were prayed against the same dim odds. If there’s one thing we should remember as we pray for this war, it’s that the Bible was often written in the face of death - and as a promise of the victory over death. Although it’s easy for us to say so far away from Ukraine, we need to pray with them and for them in the coming days.
The Israelites were threatened with sieges and conquering armies. They were faced with the prospect of being killed for no other reason than the fact that they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the first centuries of the church, Christians were subject to torture and death and cried out to God - only to have him answer their prayers! Even as many of them died.
The Bible is well-stocked with prayers for heart-breaking and desperate times. In 2 Kings 18-19 Hezekiah brought a message of invasion before God in the temple and he answered. In the book of Esther, the people cried out to God in the face of an exterminating army and he answered. In Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace because they would not worship the king and God answered.
One comfort we can find as we turn to the Scriptures is that God’s words hold up in the worst circumstances. We serve a God of miraculous salvation. He’s proven himself against the worst odds, the strongest powers of the world, and the most impossible circumstances. We pray for peace, for an end to war, for strength and nearness for the Ukrainians, for judgment on the invading forces. We take up the imprecatory prayers of the Psalms - written for times just like this one - strike the oppressors on the cheek, bring judgment on the ungodly, bring vengeance on behalf of the oppressed!
Open up the whole arsenal of biblical prayer against the evil Russian invasion. Our God is faithful and present in the very worst circumstances. Let’s go to him on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Our God is able to save his people from a worse fate than invasion; he has promised to raise the dead. We don’t diminish the real suffering in the world when we remember that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. God is also on the other side.
Here are some ways to continue to pray:
Bring this war to an end (Ps. 46:8-10)
Send visions, dreams, and pathways for the Gospel to the people who are perishing (Acts 8:26-39)
Send the Word to speed ahead and be honored, even among evil men (2 Thess. 3:1-3)
Save those in the jaws of the lion and turn the leaders to you (Dan. 6:1-27)
Standby and strengthen, even to death (2 Tim. 4:16-18)
Give the peace that surpasses understanding (Phil 4:7)
Be near to the brokenhearted (Ps. 34:17-18)
Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.