War in Ukraine: How should we pray?
Updated: Mar 23
A simple combination of colours caught my eye in multiple places today.
I opened my phone to find that the Microsoft Launcher wallpaper for the day was a field of yellow sunflowers beneath a clear blue sky.
I opened my emails to find one from a Christian organisation discussing implications of conflict in Europe and noticed the headings were split over two lines - the top one with a blue background and the bottom with a yellow one.
I went into a local shop to post something in the Post Office inside and glanced at the coffee machine to see a message saying 'Love Peace' - the V in 'Love' was a heart with a blue upper half and a yellow lower half.
These were just three of several moments when those two colours side-by-side caught my attention. I'm sure you know these colours are those of the flag of Ukraine. Each of these messages implictly expressed support for Ukraine.
In other places the messaging was more explicit. A message on the log-in page of my website provider saying it 'stands with Ukraine' and inviting me to add a badge to my site. A banner at the top of the website of a Christian organisation calling us to 'pray for Ukraine'. The news that Meta (the social media company formerly known as Facebook) has removed its block on messages inciting violence when they are calling for people to fight back against the Russian army in Ukraine.
It is truly remarkable how the conflict in Ukraine has caught our attention. It is entirely understandable, of course, and we must, as God's people, turn to prayer. But how should we pray? We need to be thoughtful in our prayers and in this context I suggest five ideas derived from the Apostle Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:1-7 that may help us to be so:
Pray for people. We cannot, strictly speaking, pray for a nation state. We certainly must not assume that God sees the world in terms of countries and borders as we do, that He is resolutely on the side of one nation or another, or that the borders of modern nation states are fixed and unchangeable. We must have humility to recognise that whilst we think in such terms, God's ways are higher, his perspective longer and His wisdom deeper than ours. But we can pray for people. We can pray that those who are set on doing evil will be halted and that their hearts would turn to the Lord and through finding peace with Him learn to love peace with others. We can pray for those who are injured, bereaved and displaced from their homes to know the comfort of God's presence and love. We can intercede for believers, that they may stand strong in their faith, testify to a greater hope and loyalty, show love in practical ways to thsoe who are suffering and be peacemakers.
Pray for all people. The Apostle Paul calls us to make prayer for all people a priority because "God our Saviour [...] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth". I appreciate the calls I saw today to pray for Ukrainians (albeit that they stated it "pray for Ukraine"), but we must be equally exercised in praying for Russians. The evildoers we want to see halted and changed are found on both sides and none. The mourners we long to know comfort are parents, siblings, spouses and children of both Ukranians and Russians. The believers we intercede for that they might have strength are also found in both Ukraine and Russia and among Ukrainians and Russians.
Pray especially for those in power. Paul's call to prioritise prayer for all people continues to specify "kings and all who are in high positions". We should pray for Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Vladimir Putin. I have no reason to believe that either man knows Christ as Saviour and Lord. We must pray for them to acknowledge Him and know His saving power. We should pray too that they will recognise what is true and just and what is compassionate and kind and act accordingly. The rhetoric from both sides has been aggressive and combative, without grace or mercy. We must pray too for leaders in the USA, the EU, the UK, China and globally, that their actions would not provoke greater hostility but pour oil on troubled waters. That from among those in high positions will emerge some who seek to take the low position of humility and servanthood and to work for peace while others call for violence.
Pray that people might live in peace and righteousness. Paul holds out four words as the goal we are hoping for when we pray for those in power: peace, quiet, godly and dignified. These are the qualities of life God wants people to have. I suggest they are in two pairs. We might be tempted to think that the end game is peace and quiet - an end to violence and a return to life as normal. Of course we should long for that. But God desires more than that. He wants people to live in godliness and dignity. To live as He created them to live, reflecting the dignity that comes from creation in His image and becoming like Him in character and priorities. Pre-war Russia and Ukraine were not paragons of godliness and dignity any more than the UK is. Perhaps for different reasons, but neither country and neither the Russian or 'European' (read 'EU') spheres of influence that Ukraine is torn between uphold godly standards in every aspect. I'm sure you can think of areas in which each is deficient. So, we cannot simply pray for Ukraine to get back to how it was or to have freedom to self-determine, not because those are bad ideals, but because they are not enough. Just as peace is not simply an end to conflict but the presence of true wellbeing under God's good rule.
Pray that the gospel might spread. Ultimately, our prayer must be for people to come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul continues his call for prayer with these words: " For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." Paul's priority was always the gospel. His loyalty was always to Christ. His urgent task was to present Christ in the gospel to people (especially Gentiles) in faith and truth. We must pray for Christians to be doing that in Ukraine and in Russia and in the surrounding countries into which refugees are flowing. And when we speak to our friends and neighbours about what we see in the news, we must strive to centre our conversations on Christ too. If we do not speak with faith - showing people our confidence that God is in control and that Christ is Lord - and truth - both truth about Jesus, but also truth about what is happening (which includes a readiness to admit that, frankly, we don't know exactly what is happening in totality) because trustworthiness grows from consistent integrity.
So, here is my suggestion concerning how we can pray in response to the conflict in Ukraine:
We should pray for all people, especially those in power, so that people might live in peace and quiet, godliness and dignity and the gospel might spread.
And here is my attempt at a suggested prayer we might use (I'd love to hear yours too):
Our gracious and holy Father in Heaven,
We bow before you with heavy hearts as we reflect upon the news we hear from Ukraine.
We confess our limited understanding of what is happening and why and our inability to see a way for lasting peace to come.
Save us from prejudices we might hold or wrong assumptions we might make.
We trust in Your goodness and power and we thank you that we can have confidence that You will bring peace and justice when Christ returns in glory.
Save us from our doubts and despair.
We long for that day when every injustice will be put right and when your goodness and the faithful service of your people will be vindicated.
Save us from placing our trust in men rather than in You.
May the qualities of your good reign come on earth, with people living in peace and in godliness, free from war and the threat of death and free from sin and the fear of death.
Save us from thinking that peace without godliness is enough.
We know that this kingdom living can only come through lives that are transformed by the gospel and we thank you that despite conflict on earth your Word is not chained.
Renew our trust in Your Word and empower us to obey it.
Strengthen Your people in Ukraine, Russia and surrounding countries to seek first Your kingdom, to testify to Christ and to serve others in love, even their enemies.
Renew them in Your grace and truth.
We pray too for those in positions of power and influence, especially presidents Zelenskyy and Putin, to turn to you, to lead in righteousness and mercy, and to seek peace.
Save them by Your grace and truth.
And help us too, Father, to learn to see the news through Your eyes, to love people with Your heart, to speak to people with Your words and to serve people as Your instruments.
Renew us in Your grace and truth.
Help us especially to love those who are our enemies and to know how we can act in practical ways to bring help and hope to people who are affected by this war.
Save them by Your grace and truth.
Father, these things are impossible with man, but all things are possible by Your Spirit.
Renew our dependence on the Spirit and empower us to follow Him.
In the mighty name of the Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace, we pray,