In light of the current events we face, especially those in countries neighboring Ukraine, I thought it appropriate to share a few thoughts. We have all heard, and perhaps even spoken, the following words in the past few days: pray for Ukraine. However, we might benefit from reflecting on two crucial questions: 1) Why ? and 2) How?
Why should we pray for Ukraine?
1) We should pray for Ukraine because it is right.
We serve a holy and just God that calls us to emulate his character in all things. While it is true that all things, including the invasion of Ukraine, are within God's sovereign control and that even these incredible images of horrendous events we have seen in the past days are within his secret decrees; it is also true that our God will punish all injustice and destroy all evil. While He permits this suffering and oppression, these immoral acts will not be without consequence. God calls us to be on the side of good, on the side of those suffering and the oppressed in word and deed. Isaiah 1:17 tells us to "Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor, Obtain justice for the orphan, Plead for the widow's case." God entreats us through the prophet Micah (6:8) "He has told you, mortal one, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" Therefore, we pray for those who are the victims of evil; we pray and serve and fight if need be because we have a God of justice and good that calls us to stand up for what is right.
2) We should pray for Ukraine because it is for our good and the good of the Kingdom.
In the first epistle of Paul to Timothy, he gives his young protege the following instruction (1 Tim 2:1-2): "First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." Look at Pauls reasoning for why we should pray for "all people," meaning all sorts of people, including or perhaps especially "for kings and all who are in authority." Paul argues that we should do this "so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity." In other words, we should pray for the situation in Ukraine, for the Ukrainian president Vladimir Zelenskyy, for the president of Romania, and all the other world leaders in the hopes that we, as Christians, all Christians around the world, can live out our Christian lives in peace.
We are under no delusions; the evil forces driving president Putin do not rise up only against Ukraine but against all values of good and pure manner. While those suffering today are mostly the Ukrainian people fighting for their freedom, we cannot forget that less than 75 years ago, Europe was in a battle for its life against the diabolical regime of the Nazis. Or that only decades ago, a significant part of Europe was under the ungodly control of soviet communism, which sought to irradicate not only capitalism but all Judeo-Christian ethics and replace them with the "new man." Ironically many Christians until recently, and sadly some even now looked to Vladimir Putin as the savior of Christian values. So we pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ within Ukraine may have the freedom to live godly lives in peace; and so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms we currently have. We pray for Ukraine because, despite our leader's slow and timid response in aiding them, the reality is they (the Ukrainians) are fighting for all of us.
However, we are not left on this earth merely to live peaceful goldy lives. We have a mission, a calling. Our Lord has commissioned us to: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations" (Mat 8:19). Therefore, we pray for peace not only because we want to see an end to human suffering but because we desire the best context in which to be able to spread the Gospel. We want to have the opportunity to spread the good news of Jesus Christ freely with those near and far. Freedom of thought, religion, speech, and conscience are essential values to us because they accord with the intrinsic worth and dignity that our creator has given each one of us. We oppose all leaders, regimes, and influences that would seek to limit these. However, these values are essential because they allow for a life of dignity and create conditions in which the Gospel can freely spread.
How should we pray for Ukraine?
1) Keep your priorities in order. Remember the eternal perspective.
Considering the immense human suffering we witness, it is easy to lose sight of the spiritual and eternal perspective. It is good to care about suffering. It is right to want to see an end to suffering. John Piper, however, had it right when he said: "Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering." The reality is that every day, on both sides, people are dying. However, it is equally true that death is only the beginning of eternal suffering for most of them. So while it is essential to pray for the end of temporal suffering, we should pray for the souls that will be eternally condemned to hell. We pray that God may awaken the Ukrainian and Russian people to the truth of the Gospel, that he may grant many not just a reprieve from physical death but give them eternal life.
2) Pray for what accords with God's revealed will and trust that "His will be done."
We are not called to know the secret things of God. Those belong only to God. We trust that he works all things for good. We are, however, called to pray according to His revealed will. We pray for peace and end to suffering, and we beg for mercy. We pray for the conversion of sinners and for justice to be done. We pray for things that seem impossible because all things are possible with God. We pray and do not despair even when there appears to be no end to the violence, no end to war, even when it seems hopeless. We pray without ceasing.
We pray, and we trust that His will be done. We rest on the sovereignty of God, knowing that he is still in control. He is still king and ruler of the universe, from the greatest to minute details. We lean on the knowledge that even though this horrific turn of events has shaken our world, He is in control. This is why we can pray and wait without despair. We know that although we cannot comprehend, we believe that all of this is not in vain. There is a cosmic and divine purpose beyond our ability to understand, but we trust it is for good.
We pray, and then we act!
There are times when all we can do is pray, and wait. However, this is not one of those times. Christians don't just pray as a sterile exercise in piety. We pray as preparation, and then we act. Looking in the new testament, we will see that all the imperatives to pray for the oppressed come with matching imperatives to serve them. We are to pray for the persecuted, but we must also be hospitable and open our homes to them. We are to pray for those in need, but we must also be generous to supply those needs. In short, the Christian does not just pray for what is right, but he acts doing what is right. The Christian does not just pray for love; he acts in love. The Christian doesn't merely pray for justice; he sacrifices for it. The Christian doesn't simply pray for peace; he fights for it.