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Helping to Process and Pray for Ukraine

N.T. Wright

Guest Writer
Published: May 20, 2022
Helping to Process and Pray for Ukraine

We stand before God with this on our hearts, but we have no idea what to do or how to pray. And that's actually not a bad place to be in prayer.

When things seem to be descending into chaos, as they have been doing, it's only natural that people try to reach out for some sort of framework within which to make sense of things. We were in a similar situation with the pandemic a couple of years ago, and I think we are seeing a kind of chaos come again because what we thought was a relatively stable, geopolitical order has now revealed itself to be totally unstable. It’s like living in an ongoing earthquake, where there's nothing that we can do. 

The Spirit Helps Us Pray

What we’re hearing out of Ukraine is terrifying, and we’ve been horrified by each day’s updates. But those of us who have friends or colleagues there have also seen how their response has been deeply prayerful. So, we try to do the same. We stand before God with this on our hearts, but we have no idea what to do or how to pray. And that's actually not a bad place to be in prayer.  I’m reminded of the passage in Romans chapter 8, where we are told that when we don't know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. 

So, how should we feel about and pray for the world as we look at the situation in Ukraine with Russia? It makes me feel very uneasy and heartbroken for the Ukrainian people. As well as concerned about peace in the wider world. My prayer has been that God, by His Holy Spirit, will guide the world and keep us from running into dead ends. 

I think one of the things we have to remind ourselves of is that today, we know far, far more of what's going on in the world on a day-by-day basis than any of our predecessors have ever done. If you imagine Jesus in the Middle East in the first century or traveling around the Mediterranean world, listening to rumors that were going on, it was all about wars and rumors of wars. And you hear that some great leader is trying to do this, or that, or whatever. It’s the image of a wild animal being unleashed from its cage, as is written about in Daniel, which was the only image that people in the ancient world could find to do justice to the sense that suddenly there was an empire devouring everything in its path. 

Guidance from Scripture

From that point of view, the Old Testament is full of prayers for precisely situations like this, where we have no means of understanding what has happened or what will happen, and all we can do is say, “Oh, Lord, you are from everlasting to everlasting. Will you please watch over us? Will you please bring healing, bring justice, bring judgment?” 

In the Old Testament, there is this constant longing for a righteous king who will do justice and mercy. We have those wonderful images of peace in Isaiah chapter 11, about the wolf and the lamb lying down together. This is about the wild animals being tamed. And it seems to me that as followers of Jesus, we ought to be people who are constantly praying for that ultimate future, to come about both eventually, and in anticipation, as we experience small tastes of it here and now because we are called to be people who live by God's future reign in our personal lives. 

Praying and Seeking

So corporately, we should be seeking ways to say to our leaders, in whatever situation we live, that actually there is such a thing as justice, there is such a thing as mercy, there is such a thing as socio-political wisdom. And let us together pray and seek what that's going to mean. 

Regarding how to pray in the midst of that, it seems that is precisely what so many of the great biblical prayers are about. I think of Daniel chapter 9, where the Israelites were in exile and Jerusalem had been destroyed. Daniel prays a prayer of sorrow and hope, reaches out and holds on to God's Word for God's people, and lays it before God, claiming the biblical promises. 

Facing the reality of what's going on, we have to learn how to pray that way, both individually, and collectively. We have to facilitate times of prayer in our worship services, in which we reach out, embrace the pain of the world and hold it in the presence of our loving God. 

One way in which I’ve tried to help people do this in the past was when we had a communion service, depending on how many people were there, we would gather around the communion table, and we would pass the bread from person to person. I suggested that we each take a step back so that there was a space between each person, and instead of just passing the bread straight to the next person, we took a moment to imagine one person we've seen on television caught in war, one person who is grieving, one person going through strife. We imagined sharing the bread with them, before passing it on to the next person. 

That’s just one example, but we need to take our time and find ways of enfolding the pain of the world within the Gospel message of the broken bread and the wine, which of course, symbolizes and embodies the presence of Jesus crucified. We need to find creative ways, ways of helping one another, to pray for those who are hurting in a fresh new way. We probably always should be doing this, as there's always something going on somewhere in the world, but this comes home to us in Western Europe, very particularly. 

N.T. (Tom) Wright, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars and the author of many academic and lay level books on theology and the Christian life. This is a transcript adapted from a live conversation on the Ask NT Wright Anything podcast from Premier Unbelievable?

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