“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:6-8)
In June, 1992, our daughter Helen and her husband Jonathan were living in Altadena, California, and Jonathan was a Ph.D. student at Fuller Seminary in nearby Pasadena. There was a violent earthquake1 that rocked their house and much of the surrounding area. It emptied their shelves of books, cups, and glassware. They weren’t hurt, but they were badly shaken. The previous month, they’d experienced a violent uprising all around them, after the acquittal of four police officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. When the riots ended, 63 people had been killed, 2,383 had been injured, more than 12,000 had been arrested, and estimates of property damage were over $1 billion. Helen called me and said, “Dad, we’ve had fire, mudslides, riots, and an earthquake—can we come home now?”
I understood completely. A part of us always yearns for peace and tranquility, a ‘peaceable kingdom,’ yet we seem to be forever disappointed. In that remarkable poem of William Alexander Percy written in 1924 after the horrors of the first World War (Hymn #661 in Hymnal 1982), he captured this conflicted longing:
"They cast their nets in Galilee Just off the hills of brown, Such happy, simple fisherfolk Before the Lord came down … The peace of God, it is no peace, But strife closed in the sod. Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing – The marvelous peace of God."
In the past two years, we have witnessed a global pandemic, economic disintegration, deadly terrorism, and now an unfolding war in the Ukraine that could draw much of Europe, and perhaps the world beyond, into a deadly struggle. How are we as Christians, as those called to minister hope, to respond?
The first thing that we must acknowledge is that, in spite of all of the remarkable progress we have made in technology, healthcare, transportation, etc., we are still confronting the same issues of human sinfulness and the resulting conflicts between peoples and nations that we have confronted from the beginning. This makes the ministry of Gospel proclamation and reconciliation, to which we all have been called, forever relevant. It also reminds us that while our hope is secure in the Lord of the Universe, we will always be disappointed if we put our ultimate trust in the leaders of the nations. We must also heed the warning that Jesus gives – all of these events are preliminaries to the time when the whole world as we know it will come to an end.
Second, we must recognize that the freedoms we enjoy in this nation and much of the Western world have never been free and cannot ever be taken for granted.
On February 17th, our granddaughter’s husband Mike successfully completed the US Army Special Forces training and received his highly-prized Green Beret. As part of his graduation ceremony, he joined with all of the other graduating soldiers in reciting the Special Forces Creed that has insights for all of us:
- I am an American Special Forces Soldier!
- I will do all that my nation requires of me. I am a volunteer, knowing well the hazards of my profession.
- I serve with the memory of those who have gone before me. I pledge to uphold the honor and integrity of their legacy, in all that I am – in all that I do.
- I am a warrior. I will teach and fight whenever and wherever my nation requires. I will strive always to excel in every art and artifice of war.
- I know that I will be called upon to perform tasks in isolation, far from familiar faces and voices. With the help and guidance of my faith, I will conquer my fears and succeed.
- I will keep my mind and body, clean, alert and strong. I will maintain my arms and equipment in an immaculate state befitting a Special Forces Soldier, for this is my debt to those who depend upon me.
- I will not fail those with whom I serve. I will not bring shame upon myself or Special Forces.
- I will never leave a fallen comrade. I will never surrender though I am the last. If I am taken, I pray that I have the strength to defy my enemy.
- I am a member of my Nation’s chosen soldiery. I serve quietly, not seeking recognition or accolades. My goal is to succeed in my mission – and live to succeed again… De Oppresso Liber!
I am very grateful for Mike and the thousands of other young men and women who have made and are making similar commitments.
Third, if we ever needed a reminder, now is the time for intense and ongoing intercessory prayer for all those caught up in the conflict. We must pray for those who will be called to provide practical help for what will surely be a humanitarian crisis – a number of mission agencies are already preparing to engage. We must also pray for the many governments, non-governmental agencies, and military leaders who are already wrestling with the fallout from this crisis.
At a time when the world was far from settled, the apostle Paul wrote, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2)
Our prayer book also provides resources that I hope you will use in the coming weeks, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have suggested the following prayer for the people of Ukraine:
God of peace and justice,
we pray for the people of Ukraine today.
We pray for peace and the laying down of weapons.
We pray for all those who fear for tomorrow,
that your Spirit of comfort would draw near to them.
We pray for those with power over war or peace,
for wisdom, discernment and compassion
to guide their decisions.
Above all, we pray for all your precious children, at risk and in fear,
that you would hold and protect them.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen
Your brother in Christ,