We have all been following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. How could we not? It has been plastered across our media screens since Russia began amassing its forces at the Ukraine border and we have been kept graphically informed ever since.
A few days after Russia invaded Ukraine, I saw footage of a Ukrainian couple who rushed into emergency with their 18-month-old child bundled in a bloody blanket. The child had been injured by shrapnel in the shelling. Although the hospital did everything they could, that little life was lost. The keening of the grieving mother is still etched deeply in my mind.
A nation has been violently subjugated, its freedom stolen. So many innocent lives have been lost; so many homes; so many of the nation’s treasured buildings. There is no food, no water, and no power for heating in the thick of a Slavic winter. Now Russia is even preventing Ukrainians from fleeing – unless of course they flee to Russia. The rest of the world is incensed. Sanctions have been imposed, but nations have stopped short of antagonising Russia to the point where she might deploy her nuclear weapons.
I find myself thinking grimly, ‘He who dares, wins’. It’s not right, to win at such incredible cost. So many of us are feeling angry, aggrieved and completely helpless.
Yet as God’s people, we are not helpless. In Psalm 106, the psalmist recalls the Israelites rebelling while Moses was on Mt Sinai with God. They made a golden calf and worshipped it and God was angry.
v23 Therefore he (God) said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
The Israelites did it again, and worshipped Baal. Again, God was angry, and a plague broke out among the people. But then we read,
v30 Then Phinehas stood up and interceded,
and the plague was stopped.
My point is not that Ukraine has angered God, and that he has sent the Russians to punish them – my point is about the power of intercessory prayer. In the case of Russia and Ukraine, the power of prayer from people willing to ‘stand in the breach’ between the oppressor and the oppressed; people willing to intercede for the nation of Ukraine. My point is that prayer moves the hand of God.
A great story of intercessory prayer is in Acts 12. Peter had been imprisoned and the new church was gathered in prayer for him. An angel miraculously set Peter free.
v12 … he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognised Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’
Jesus encourages us to pray and believe – and we will receive what we pray for (Mat 11:24); Paul tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess 5:17). Stories of miraculous answers to prayer abound in Christian literature and in our own lives. We know God responds to the impassioned, persistent prayers of his people. (Luke 18:7) Although there is no formula which will enable us to manipulate God to do what we want, we can always be confident that if we pray, God will hear us.
We don’t have to watch the unfolding tragedy in Europe and feel there is nothing we can do. There IS something we can do and it’s more powerful than any threat of nuclear war. We can pray, and trust that our loving, compassionate, and almighty God hears us.
Watchman Nee, author of The Normal Christian Life, once said, ‘Our prayers lay the track down which God’s power can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.’
A prayer from the service of Compline – slightly adapted – moved me this evening.
Come, O Spirit of God, and make this world your dwelling place and home.
May its darkness be dispelled by your light,
and its troubles calmed by your peace;
may all evil be redeemed by your love,
all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ,
and all dying glorified by his risen life. Amen
Let us stand in the breach for Ukraine – and pray!