Briefings for Intercessors

 July 2023

 

It is a joy to pray for specific people and their ministries. For most of us, this is the heart and substance of our prayer life, the ‘bread and butter’ of it, as it were. In our regular Briefings for Intercessors,  however, we frequently take a panoramic sweep around the world in order to look at frameworks and trends rather than individual details – albeit often referring to specific people as examples of those wider trends and developments.

There is rarely anything glamorous about such outer structures, but where would any organisation or, indeed, nation be without them? Injustice thrives where frameworks, systems and borders are ill-kept. So we are considering a number of boundaries in this edition: literally in the case of national borders; and metaphorically in the case of such things as artificial intelligence or the reach of diplomatic relations between nations.

You will find interesting articles and detailed reports on many matters of global import in this substantial digest, which will hopefully inspire you to pray about situations you may have been aware of but had not thought particularly to pray about. All this makes for a very rich edition, despite the gravity of so many of the situations we refer to.

Extremes of drought, heat and flood

Photo by YODA Adaman on Unsplash

Perhaps as we were growing up, we took our tap water for granted and thought that worrying about water supply was primarily the concern of desert nations and of providing overseas missions with the wherewithal to dig boreholes for villages in remote places. But while such considerations remain utterly important, now that two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025 according to the WWF, every nation needs take urgent measures to conserve and make the most of dwindling supplies of this God-given gift of ‘blue gold’.

Drought is a topic that features prominently throughout the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. It is clear that the biblical authors look on rain in season as a sign of God’s continuing blessing, while they interpret drought as the exact opposite. (See for instance, Jeremiah 14, and Amos 7:4-6)

Once again, though, as on several previous occasions, droughts are anything but the sole domain of the ancient world. With the news bringing us daily accounts of so many pulverising droughts around the world, (the word pulverise comes from the Latin pulvis – to break up or turn so thoroughly into dust that it becomes it useless) I have increasingly found myself thinking in apocalyptic terms, my mind often dwelling on Revelation 16, which speaks of the outpouring of God’s bowls of wrath upon the Earth, where we read of the sun having the power to ‘scorch people with fire.’ (Rev. 16:4,8) It is an extremely uncomfortable chapter to read, but one which we would do well to remind ourselves of, at this time when climate scientists are daily warning us how very much worse things are shortly set to become.

It goes without saying that not all believers think along the same lines regarding these things. Our differing theologies and outlooks may lead to widely differing perspective about the factors involved, and what we consider matters most.

Some will focus more on the climatic or ecological causes (many quite rightly, though some to the point where it has become their primary ‘religion’). Others will be more concerned with the spiritual implications behind events. Surely we will bless the Lord and serve His Kingdom best when we recognise and respect one another’s different angles of prayer!

Scorching heat

We are getting used to seeing meteorological records being broken in these last few years, but the pace of them is outstripping anything we have seen before. China’s prolonged summer heatwave climaxed with the temperatures above entirely unparalleled 52 degrees. Temperature records have been broken in India too, while in Canada, over 900 wildfires have devastated huge areas, with smoke from them choking the atmospheres thousands of miles south in American cities.

Southern and western America itself has been beset by an intense heatwave that has lasted for well over a month. Argentina and Uruguay have been seriously affected by searing heat, with reservoir levels being critically low in the capital city of Montevideo. So much so that salt water is now having to be added to tap water.

Uruguay water crisis: Drought, climate change and poor planning collide (dialogochino.net)

What is happening in Uruguay in terms of drought feels like a huge wake up call for many nations to steward their water resources more efficiently. So dire is the situation in parts of Spain, for instance, that Euro news Witness has reported  the digging of illegal wells in the south of the country – the region where a high percentage of Europe’s berry crops are grown – and where drought conditions have put large parts of Spain risk at serious risk of desertification.

In our own country, the sale of water risks becoming become more important than providing the additional resources that are actually called for. The National Drought Group warn that although Britain’s water needs are increasing year on year, and whilst new regulations are gradually being implemented concerning existing supplies, nowhere near enough is being done in terms of providing the new reservoirs that are clearly called for.

See this hard-hitting indictment of the effects of privatising water supplies in England.

Pray for strategic thinking and appropriate and timely action – that is, in time.

Father, whether by regulation or out of good will or even sheer necessity, may institutions put service ahead of profit we pray.

Effect on the oceans

Last year’s European heatwave is reckoned to have been responsible for more than 60,000 deaths. What will be the toll for the ominously named present Cerberus that has been afflicting the whole of Southern Europe? (In Greek mythology, Cerberus is a multi-headed dog that guards the gates of hell.)

We will all be aware of global sea levels rising rapidly as a result of both polar ice caps (and glaciers) melting far faster than anyone predicted, and feel a great concern for low lying islands and regions.

Another effect of all this is on the ocean currents that play such a vital role in regulating the global climate, as they carry cold water from the poles and warm water away from the Equator. We have relied on the oceans to absorb much of the solar radiation that reaches the Earth, and to release the heat in safe ways over many months.

How pinpoint perfectly the Lord has designed the world! Everything is so finely calibrated, with the temperatures needing to remain within certain clearly defined limits to enable such things as coral reefs, for example, to flourish in. This year, however, scientists have been alarmed by a much higher rise in sea temperatures: a staggering 3 to 4°C above average for this time of year along some coasts of the UK and Ireland, for example.

The excessive temperatures in 2016 led to the loss of a significant percentage of the Great Barrier Reef through ‘bleaching’ – just as is happening this year in Belize, and which now looks as likely to happen now to the coral reefs of Florida.

Behind every extreme temperature lie real heartbreak stories – those who are dying of heat exhaustion or flood, or who have lost everything as a result of it – not least those in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, of course.

Other countries, such as Japan, like Pakistan last year, and now South Korea have been having the most terrible floods. The huge city of Delhi has been ‘drowned’ by a mighty river flowing through it – and already a heated ‘blame game’ has set in, even while Modi landed in France for a major summit meeting with President Macron. Pray for people in all these nations.

Given that these extremes of temperature are occurring, and that it is for each person and for each agency and government to adjust their practices accordingly, so to must we seek to understand these things as best we can work out in their minds, theology, prayers whether these things are a sign that we are living in the ‘end times’, as many prophets suggest that we are. For whilst countless people’s lives have been turned horrendously upside down as a result of devastating fires, floods and famine for others life has continued on a more or less even keel. But isn’t that what Jesus said would be the case?

“As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. And they were oblivious, until the flood came and swept them all away. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt. 24:37-39)

Politics, theology and perspectives

A Gallup poll conducted in July 2022 revealed that while around 80% of American Democrats believe that global warming is underway, the percentage of Republican voters who think this to be the case is less than 45% – with only a minimal 29% amongst the over-55s. Such contradictory views inevitably have major political consequences and affect long-term decision-making in terms of preparing for the effects of climate change and whether or not America moves away from the technologies that ecologists would argue massively advance global warming. It can hardly escape people’s notice that that the funding of the GOP (Republican Party) is heavily dependent on revenue from fossil fuels.

When it comes to interpreting such things from a spiritual point of view, those who jump to hasty conclusions that every weather event is evidence of a divine judgement do well to remember Jesus’s insistent reminders that victims of disasters are no more to blame than anyone else – and that there always will be famines, earthquakes and disasters. (Luke 13:4-5; 21:11)

On the other hand, those who, by nature and theology, incline to see the unmistakable reality of recent heatwaves and floods as being a purely ‘natural’ outworking of climatic cycles, might do well to ponder the words of many modern-day prophets who are warning that we have long ignored and provoked the Lord at our peril through the cardinal sin of unbelief, (John 3:18) as well as by indulging in specific practices the Lord does not endorse.

I was rereading recently the end of 2 Chronicles 36 as a description of what comes when the warnings of the Lord are constantly ignored, and causing even His patience to wear extremely thin.

Compare that with Jesus’s denunciations and literally fulfilled predictions against the cities of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Korazim of what happens when people fail ‘to recognise the hour of their visitation.’ cf Luke 23: 28-31) Beyond Jesus’ awesomely powerful and explicit warnings here lie the acute awareness of what Revelation 16 shows us is yet to come when the angels pour out the bowls of God’s wrath on the world that should make us so single minded and concerned.

Whatever our theology and viewpoint, for the sake of the planet and its people, the matter of the terrific heat and terrible droughts we are seeing around the world is something we need to be bringing urgently to the Lord in our prayers. The temperatures are so blisteringly high that people in southern Europe have compared the terrible heatwave to living in a pizza oven.

Despite all we have done to distance ourselves from You, Lord, please let Your hand of blessing remain over the lands of Europe, and its people. We cry out in repentance for the very considerable part we ourselves have had in causing this climate crisis, and pray for Your mercy to bring about many creative developments as well as spiritual breakthroughs – so that many fields and pastures that are brown and scorched now, both physically and spiritually, may become green and lush in your sight. Praise You for the restoration of Planet Earth that you will ultimately bring about.

Father, we give You every victim of flood, fire and drought, and ask You to draw very close both practically and in spirit. Surround with the clarity of Your leading, the help of friends, and the kindness of strangers, and grant both emergency and longer term help we pray.

Father, we pray for all people who are being so horribly affected by extreme temperatures, especially the young, the old and the sick.

We pray for those who are being driven from their land and homes by climate change. Keep them from cursing You, Lord, as Revelation 16 warns us can happen so quickly at such times.

Strengthen and equip them with all they will need to find a hope and a future, and lead them to the place You have for them. Multiply Your resources to all those in special need today. Like Hagar in the desert, may they find oases in the desert, and havens in the wilderness. (That is particularly important for those sleeping rough on dangerously hot pavements) Please revive those who are in agony of body, mind and spirit we pray amidst dry and barren lands. Even a few drops of Your water of life do such wonders to restart this process of restoration.

Grant concerted and strategic responses we pray to develop initiatives that offset at least some of the damage from sun and floods. In Your mercy wake up many who are still inclined to doubt and question the reality of the climate change that is clearly here to stay to engage in changes that are truly called for, and to initiate measures and projects that will really help in the short, medium and longer term.

See also the important post we sent out previously on how water supplies can so easily lead to great tension and even Wars over water with neighbouring nations.

The creative mind of God and the rise of Artificial Intelligence

In Paris, towards the end of 1976, I had a heavenly encounter with the Lord. In my awed naivety, one of the first questions I asked Him was whether He could be appearing to people in Australia in the same way and at the same time that He was to me. When He said that He could, it blew my mind still more. Is He ‘only a God nearby and not a God far away?’ (Jer. 23:23) Of course not!

What an unbelievable ability He has to be able to oversee the present and eternal destinies of so many billions of people, to be at one and the same time rejoicing with those who are newly marrying and those who are experiencing the deepest pangs of bereavement. No man-made machine or system can even begin to compare with our God, nor with the way He is able to bring into being all He desires to, with a magnificent, inimitable perfection of the most minute detail of design, space and time!

Heaven, God’s home until He makes His dwelling on renewed Earth (Rev. 21:3) is vast! Scripture records that the heavenly city alone measures 1500 miles by 1500 miles by 1500 miles: a truly vast place.

How wonderful it will be to be able to visit our fellow servants of God, both those we have known on Earth, and those we have heard of and are eager to get to know, as well as those whom He is eager to introduce us to! We will know their stories and they will know ours, and there will be no shame or concealment. Neither will the enormous distances be any kind of obstacle, because we have all the energy and capacity we could ever need to walk its golden streets and parks, and to travel with the power and speed of thought. What joys we have to look forward to – and what an incentive to live with that perspective in mind, as Peter reminds us:

In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

As we see in Ezekiel 15:3 and Revelation 11:1 and 21:15, angels are interested in measurements. See also Zech. 2:2 and Ezek. 40:3. Ellicott wrote of these verses:

‘The allusion here is to the angel mentioned in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 15:3); the reed, or measuring rod, is of gold, that used in Revelation 11:1 was not said to be of gold; the measurement there was the symbol of preservation amid impending danger; the measuring here is more glorious – it is measuring which exhibits the beauty and proportion of the city which is now dwelling at peace. Gold is one of the features of the city; the street is gold (Revelation 21:18; Revelation 21:21); it may stand, as a token of the wealth (Psalm 72:15; 1Kings 10:14-21) of the royal city; but the real wealth of that city is love.’

This is the city whose doors are ever open wide, and whose architect and builder and is none other than God Himself. (Heb. 11:10) As Jesus directed His servants to go out into the highways and byways to invite people in, so multitudes will come to serve Him now on Earth and then to be with Him in His eternal city – which is the ultimate source and home of all wisdom and knowledge.

You have come to . . .the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. (Heb. 12:22-23)

Meanwhile, here on Earth knowledge is developing at an unparalleled speed as a result of – you’ve guessed it – AI: Artificial Intelligence. (See Dan. 12:4)

Artificial intelligence

Although there have always been those who have thought themselves cleverer than God, the very best of human knowledge can never even begin to approximate to His wisdom, despite all that humanity has accomplished and is now developing with the aid of ‘technical systems [that are able] to perceive their environment, deal with what they perceive, solve problems and act to achieve a specific goal.’

The challenge of relating to something that is increasingly being seen as something of almost equal power and influence as our own species is something that many of us are still struggling to come to terms with. The implications are huge.

As believers, however, we know ourselves to be spiritual beings with a spiritual purpose and future; we know we have a God-given conscience, as well as nimble bodies and able and retentive minds that all His gift to us. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that AI has nothing at all like the power and influence of people who are made in the image of God, whatever some of its creators might have us believe. In other words, AI does not, and cannot, have ‘apparently almost equal power and influence as our own species’ (to rebut the claim above).

This understanding alone enables us to view the matter of AI, and the multitude of concerns that are being expressed about it, from ‘above’ (a heavenly perspective that is), rather than from ‘below,’ as if the whole of our humanity is at threat.

The potential for misuse is a genuinely fearful prospect, to be sure, and not to be downplayed, but fear should not be the determining factor in how we think about these things: indeed, if we do allow ourselves to think that way, then AI has already won major battles and taken significant ground on behalf of the enemy. Jesus suffered and was persecuted, as so many martyrs have been since, but He and they were not beholden to the powers that opposed them, but rather to the love and will of God who permitted and even planned their painful paths. Do we trust Him, even in the face of the threat from AI?

AI is not almost equal to ourselves, then, but neither it is something we can afford to ignore. It used to be that one programmed a computer in such a way that if X was true, then Y – and Y alone – would follow. But the newer generation of AI is able to ‘think’ for itself, and choose from a variety of outcomes. And this is where the potential for mass control arises. Even since I wrote an article on AI a few weeks ago, it seems as though still more rapid advances have been made. I am reminded of the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel – we are seeking to reach the paradise of knowledge by our own (and now AI-enhanced) resources. (Gen. 11:6-9. It pays to remember that Babel sounds like the Hebrew word for confused).

Warning from those in the know

If you want to hear warnings about organisations, it is good to look to those who have been at the heart of them: former Grand Masters of Lodges for example to understand certain aspects of Freemasonry, or one of the founders of Stonewall, who warns passionately now of its present-day agenda and intentions.

When it comes to AI, the following interview with Eric Schmidt, is really revealing.

As the former Chairman of Google, Eric is obviously acutely aware of the benefits and possibilities of AI – but in no way holds back from warning that it also poses existential risks to humankind. It is well worth following his reasonings as he explains why this is so.

For a very short clip, see this link.
Eric makes the very important point that so many of the algorithms powering social media are specifically designed to stir up outrage and hostility. Why? In order to induce people to revisit their sites and so make more money.

However much the Lord can make use of some of the information shared – provided we are prepared to mentally ‘filter’ it for bias, truthfulness, sensationalism and party spirit – these are far from godly aims. (See also my note further on about Unherd)

Perhaps the most obvious and greatest danger is the whole way by which AI can be harnessed not only to promote particular causes positively, but also to penalise those who think differently. We are currently seeing this being played out in the furore over certain people’s bank accounts being closed because externally sourced agencies have scrolled through their transactions, and decided what are acceptable beliefs and behaviour, and what is not. Praise God that the government is springing swiftly into action now to try to limit the immense damage this causes when no criminal irregularities are involved.

Chatbots: An extreme example of how AI can lead people astray

Newspapers and other media have reported recently that the crossbow intruder who broke into Windsor Castle in order to kill the Queen did so as the result of the encouragement he had received from his AI chatbot ‘girlfriend.’

These bots learn the characteristics of our personality and reinforce it through their responses, without all the benefits of God-given reserves of conscience and understanding that would be normal in a relationship between one person and another.

One early AI pioneer, Joseph Weizenbaum, who designed a therapy chatbot as long ago as the 1960s, warned that “extremely short exposures to a relatively simple computer programme can induce powerful delusional thinking in quite normal people”.

This is a very short but serious prayer. Please take it on and develop it as the Lord leads.

Lord, please overrule the whole way that these immensely popular ‘tools’ develop, and the checks and balances that people seek to introduce to monitor, apply and restrain them.

Help people to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction – and to resist the lure to do things that would make a splash and make people the centre of public attention.

Electoral Matters (i) in the UK

‘I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be offered for everyone— for kings and all those in authority—so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ (1 Timothy:1-4)

On the night before the by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton just over a year ago, when Boris Johnson was still clinging to office, I felt the Lord telling me clearly that those results were going to be a very significant marker. The scale of the swing away from the Conservatives this morning (21st July 2023) has re-emphasised that, being roughly twice that which is needed to secure Labour an overall majority were that to be repeated at the General Election.

The huge majorities for the Liberals in Somerton and Froome, and for the Labour Party in Selby do indeed feel like something more far-reaching than any mid-term blues reaction vote. It is so important for us to be committing Britain’s future government to the Lord, not least with regards to foreign and domestic policies, very much including the specific impact that government decisions will have on Christian practice in this land.

Andrew Neil has suggested that Britain could well be heading for ‘seismic’ electoral reform that will keep the Left in power forever, as opposed to the far healthier alternation of power that has long characterised the election process in this country. Read his article in the Daily Mail here.

Electoral Matters (ii) in the US

One of the more amusing cartoons I have seen recently showed a couple of bored millennials looking at a big screen, where an aged Jo Biden was squaring up for a fight with an equally geriatric-looking Donald Trump. As one millennial complained to the other, ‘Why do they keep inflicting second time round shows on us that nobody wants to watch?’

Many will appreciate that ‘insight.’ We have often lamented over America’s current inability to raise up an inspirational contender for the Presidency. Just as it is never too early to begin praying for Britain’s future government, so also it is good to pray for the next incumbent of the White House. So many lives, not least in Ukraine, may depend on this.

We will all have noticed how prone Biden is to making gaffes. Many of us are too – but we are not the President of the United States! I watched a press conference at which he could not remember the question he had been asked, and it is clear that going ‘off cue’ is not a safe route for him – which hardly inspires confidence in him having the mental agility and virile leadership that the world so badly needs.

Biden lightly laughs such things off, saying, ‘better that than to have a serial liar in charge’! All the same, it is not reassuring. Vice President Kamala Harris likewise leaves one feeling more is needed. And all the while, Donald Trump continues to garner huge sums of money and the promise of more votes, despite facing an number of increasingly serious legal challenges.

As always in matters of key leadership, secular as well as spiritual, the winds blow higher at altitude.

Important Themes and Thoughts from Journalists and International Correspondents

Photo by Joppe Spaa on Unsplash

Unherd

We have occasionally featured articles before that are published by Unherd, which was founded by Tim Montgomerie, the former comment editor at The Times, and the founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, the Centre for Social Justice and Conservative Home.

Unherd is concerned to report on stories that are receiving less attention than they merit, and is conceived as an intentional response to the fact that ‘US news producers are paid almost exclusively by results, with news (and celebrity scandals) chasing juicy headlines and pulling in viewers with its lucrative advertising, rather than being of intrinsic value in itself.’

I remember praying for Tim Montgomery many years ago when he was one of a group of eager young Christians who were deliberately entering the political fray in order ‘to make a difference’. In his case, this was not as an MP but as a commentator and influencer. As Tim puts it, his aim with Unherd is to challenge how we as readers approach the news because, in his view, ‘what is latest is rarely the most important.’ Instead, UnHerd ‘is dedicated to helping readers to understand what is coming next.’

Alex Crawford in Mexico and Stuart Ramsey in the Myanmar jungle

Many of you who are blessed with good memories will be aware of the great gratitude and respect I have for the reports that Stuart Ramsey and Alex Crawford, Sky News’s senior international correspondents, dispatch from the world’s most dangerous places.

Again and again these two courageous reporters and their small teams have brought matters to our attention that we would not otherwise have known anything at all about, or at least in such detail, providing us with a wealth of information that we can so easily turn into prayer.

Alex Crawford shares utterly compelling accounts of a very different kind of war to that we are witnessing in Ukraine: continual violence against women in Mexico – together with the staggeringly courageous stance being taken by one female mayor as she takes on some of the most ruthless criminals in the world despite endless threats against her life.

For his part, Stuart planned and prepared for several years to make the trip inside the jungles of Myanmar to be able to film first-hand experience of the utter devastation being caused by the civil war there. It is so important we do not forget to pray for the critical plight faced by so many, including many believers in Myanmar (Burma).

Concerning Russia

Russia is in the news these days for all the wrong reasons, but let’s carry in our hearts the far more glorious prospect the Lord showed Hudson Taylor, the celebrated pioneer missionary to China. It is available on many websites; this one is taken from God Encounter Ministries.

While on a ministry furlough in England, Hudson Taylor suddenly stopped in the middle of a sermon and for a few moments stood speechless with his eyes closed. Finally, he explained to his audience:

I have seen a vision. I saw in this vision a great war that will encompass the whole world. I saw this war recess and then start again, actually being two wars. After this, I saw much unrest and revolts that will affect many nations. I saw in some places spiritual awakenings. In Russia I saw there will come a general, all-encompassing, national, spiritual awakening, so great that there could never be another like it. From Russia I saw the awakening spread to many European countries, and then I saw an all-out awakening followed by the coming of Christ.

As Tim Finch prayed,

‘Lord, You know how this conflict with Ukraine will end. I believe You will eventually rescue Russia and the Russian people from men with grossly inflated egos, who have become the homes of the enemy of God. I believe (and pray) that what we are seeing now are the signs of this, and we pray and for the outworking of Your God’s true plans for the Russian people and the Church in that land – Orthodox, Catholic, Pentecostal and Independent alike’.

Yes, Lord, may a true spiritual awakening come to Russia and encompass Europe just as the great pioneer missionary Hudson Taylor saw. Even as the vision was accurate concerning the two world wars, may the vision be true concerning the following great awakening!

Russia forbids sharing the gospel

Whilst it is good to carry this word in our hearts, it is also important to remember where Russia is at presently with regard to spiritual matters, not least as a result of the draconian laws introduced by Putin in the summer of 2016, outlawing sharing the gospel outside of church. This is roughly where things are up to in that respect, I believe.

Many Russians DO know the truth about the war with Ukraine

As this report shows, millions of Russians are aware of what is going on in Ukraine – and hate what their armed forces are doing. ( TV Rain was one of the last sources of uncensored information, before it was closed down).

One good thing that has come out of Prigozhin’s mutiny has been the bold and very public admission he made that the Russian Ministry of Defence has been deceiving the Russian people all along by launching a war against Ukraine, when, in reality, neither Ukraine nor NATO had the slightest intention of launching a war against Russia – thereby making a mockery of President Putin’s repeated claims to the contrary. Why then did was Prigozhin willing to throw away so many thousands of Russians lives in such brutal ways, except that he be a brutal warmonger, committed to a Russian victory and for promoting his own personal glory?

For its part, Turkey has been walking its own tight rope, not least as a result of trading with Russia annually to the extent of $60,000,000: a source of revenue it dare not lose. Its recent change of heart towards permitting Sweden to join NATO was predictable following strong bargaining from President Erdogan. The not so hidden quid pro quo of this deal has been that the US has approved the sale of no fewer than forty F16 fighters to Turkey.

In the light of Turkey’s recent military undertakings, and the massive and overt threats it has made against Greece, another NATO country.

This sale is therefore a sign of just how keen the United States are for Sweden to be fully incorporated into NATO. It remains a concern and a high risk strategy though.

Lord, we ask You to overrule what happens to these planes, and any purpose to which they are put, and in the hearts and minds of those who have the power to say how, where and when they may be deployed. We pray You will watch over how Turkey seeks to balance its need to keep close ties with Russia with its ongoing commitments to NATO.

Cluster Munitions

As you will have heard, Biden has determined to address Ukraine’s crippling shortage of ammunition by supplying it with cluster munitions. Russia has been using these same weapons against Ukraine, but most European countries have long since outlawed them because they have the capacity to spread destruction over a very wide area. They will no doubt incite great fear amongst Russian troops now that they are being used. But what about their long-term effects?

In Ukraine itself over 330,000 landmines have so far been removed, but many more remain, spread over an area twice the size of Austria. Although they have promised to make a careful note of wherever they are used, unexploded munitions will remain a threat for decades to come.

We give you every one of these weapons Lord, and every life that will be threatened, maimed or taken as a result of them. Stretch our Your hand over all that happens in the terrible killing zone that Eastern Ukraine has become. Protect future generations we pray, even as we give You what is happening on the fields of battle right now.

The World in Peril

With Putin reckless in his frustration and desperation, there is always a serious risk of global peril. We have already been shocked by his deliberate destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam. Well-known Ukrainian MP Kara Riduk has been repeating President Zelensky’s warning concerning the possibility of a localised explosion at the huge nuclear power plant in Eastern Ukraine.

While we should not underestimate the pleasure Putin takes in dangling threats, we must also be aware that his holding of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is a serious concern, and has led to America increasing the number of its own nuclear weapons in Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe and Turkey. The risks from this ‘game of Russian roulette’ are escalating all the time.

Putin is now escalating matters in new directions by denying Ukraine the freedom to export its grain to needy nations around the world, and is even threatening to sink neutral ships that are heading towards Ukrainian ports. Such action will have a massively detrimental effect on the income of Ukrainian farmers, whilst at the same time boosting the sales of Russian grain and other foodstuffs. (Putin, of course, claims that sanctions against him force his hand: ignore his weasel words: in reality, Russian grain is specifically exempt from being sanctioned).

All that is desperately serious in itself, but there is still more: several African nations may well be tipped into famine as a result of these measures. And that in turn is likely force many to attempt to seek asylum in Europe. Weaponising food supplies in this way is yet one more sign that human life and wellbeing is clearly of no importance to President Putin, and many across the world will suffer as a result of this harsh measure.

Lord, please have mercy on the farmers of Ukraine, and the hungry people of the world. Bring to an end, we pray, this cycle of tyranny and violence. Grant Your wisdom to Western and world leaders to know how to proceed in the light of these developments with great unity, determination and well-thought out plans.

The Wagner Revival

Many are astonished that Putin has allowed his former chef and Internet troll master to ‘get away’ with making such inflammatory remarks in a country that is usually so quick to arrest or even do away with anyone who makes the least criticism of military actions. In all probability, the vast majority of Prigozhin’s men had no idea what they were doing when they set off for Moscow. We must certainly continue to pray for what happens next; the fact that Putin has met with Prigozhin since the march on Moscow is a sign of just how badly he needs Wagner’s experienced fighters – and that they well be in some sort of a co-dependent relationship that threatens no good at all for Ukraine.

Lord, have mercy! Confound any wicked counsel and turn it into foolishness. Raise up Hushais to confound the plans of the enemy (2 Sam 15). Restrain the wickedness and break down unholy alliances we pray!

Following Western sanctions increasing on Russia after the invasion of Crimea in 2014 (which Prigozhin was heavily involved in), Russia began an active charm offensive in Africa and elsewhere, not least as a way of getting round those sanctions.

One of Russia’s particular goals was to gain access to Sudanese gold. As Al Jazeera have noted plane loads of gold have been shipped out of Sudan to help bankroll Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Evidence has long since emerged, too, that the Wagner group have been actively supplying the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group with missiles to boost its takeover attempt in Sudan.

As Wagner bosses vow a new beginning in Belarus, Prigozhin is anything but a spent force

Himself very much in the fascist mould, Yevgeny Prigozhin has been inveighing loudly for weeks against the corruption in the Russian military high ups – with implicit insistence that he could do the job berry much more effectively. May the Lord overrule what happens with regard to Wagner personally, and the whole of the nefarious organisation that he leads.

Tyumen, the city in Siberia where one of Wagner’s two recruitment agencies are based are still open for business and recruiting. Prigozhin and many of his men now appear to be in southern Belarus – and this is a major new concern for Ukraine. See this most recent and anything but reassuring update from Belarus.

“This is not the end. This is only the beginning of the biggest work that will be carried out very soon. Welcome to hell!”

It has, after all been the Wagner group that have been doing the vast bulk of the fighting for the last six months, while the main bulk of the Russian forces, well over 300,000 in total, have been constructing really serious lines of defence almost twenty miles deep. Ukraine’s forces have (predictably) had the greatest difficulty in making much in the way of progress against such formidable lines, let alone in approaching the main defensive line.

According to this detailed report in British Forces Net, Ukraine is losing a staggering 10,000 drones every month as the result of Russia’s sophisticated Electronic warfare measures (EW), which have ‘at least one major system covering each 10 km of the front.’ And that is just one aspect of their ring of defences. The one thing it does not take into account is the low Russian morale.

Defence matters for Britain

Meanwhile Britain is quite simply running out of ammunition. Current projections indicate that it would take ten years just to replace the munitions sent to Ukraine. It is completely unacceptable that insufficient funds or effort is being devoted to the defence of the realm. Is this not the huge mistake that Britain (like France) made during the late 1920s and 1930s, at a time when trying to police the Empire and to attend to the economic impact of the Great Depression were the main preoccupations?

Father, it is easy to be all but overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges, but You are mighty and all is in Your hands. Though we don’t deserve it, we plead for mercy. Daniel cried to You, and the battle was so strong that it took weeks for the answer to come, but come it did, and we cry ‘Come!’ Send Your angels, and hold back the terrors of evil, even as the day of Your returns draws that much nearer. Have mercy Lord, have mercy – but may western rulers and governments not fail in their responsibilities at this time for the defence of the nation.

Will this become an ongoing ‘frozen’ war, such as England endured during the twenty long ‘years of anarchy’ that prevailed while Steven and Matilda slugged it out for to be crowned the undisputed monarch on the English throne back in the late 12th century? Neither side was quite strong enough to win the civil war outright then – is that to be the fate in Ukraine too?

Father, we know that evil always has the seeds of its own destruction within it, and we remember how You have often used internal divisions in the past to accomplish collapses and to bring about change in ways that could not otherwise have come to pass.

We continue to pray against the very real possibility of someone still more belligerent coming to power in Moscow. We ask You to take control and direct everything to do with this country that is now caught in the tentacles of the same demonic powers that were behind the revolutionary days of the Soviet Union.

Be Lord of all these developments, and all that they lead to in Jesus’ name, we pray. For even this day very many Ukrainians, as well as Russians, will end up standing before You as a result of this cruel and quite unnecessary war.

(We may want to ponder what all this has to say in the light of the clear Scriptural teaching that the Lord allows people’s wickedness to rebound on their own head.) A serious matter indeed.

‘Sī vīs pācem, parā bellum – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’ – Sweden’s putative permission to join NATO

Once Sweden expressed its desire to join NATO, we prayed that Turkey would move away from its strong opposition to this happening. Sweden’s defences have long been probed by Russian submarines, and even though, along with the rest of western Europe, it had allowed its spending on defence to decline dramatically, it has dozens of patrol craft in addition to submarines and other significant naval assets – often tested by Russian naval forces – a powerful Airforce, and an army that is nearly as big as our own, all of which would greatly complicate Russian expansionism.

Let’s pray for Sweden’s yet-to-be-confirmed-but-well-on-the-way-access to boost and bolster NATO greatly.

Meanwhile, Poland has been boosting its defence forces against any potential threat from Prigozhin. Britain has stationed Army and RAF forces in Estonia and Poland, while Germany is sending out 4,000 troops to boost NATO defences in Lithuania – its most significant overseas deployment since the Second World War.

For those who are interested in purely technical defence details, see this report on NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance.

For those more interested in a wider understanding of the situation see the following articles by Unherd: How American influence has been taken to new levels across and over Europe in recent months,  and Why the NATO mindset leads to war.

Pray for effective diplomacy with China

In a previous edition, I mentioned the outstanding example of a ninth century Orthodox believer who is known as Symeon the Translator, who served with unrivalled skill as an astute diplomat, protecting the Byzantine Empire from bloodshed against the many militaristic Arab tribes that threatened it. For his efforts Symeon received the highest praise possible.

Do you remember the heroic work that Jimmy Carter did at Camp David over eleven days (much longer than originally scheduled) to secure a seemingly impossible entente between President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel, who had promised settlers before he left for America that he would sign nothing? This was the work of a truly determined and prayerful diplomat succeeding against all the odds, which led to a peace treaty that has held remarkably well for decades.

Tony Blair and his team likewise put in much hard work to reconcile many streams and strands to make the Good Friday deal possible in Northern Ireland: another peace deal that has lasted – although it has been under increasing pressure in recent days.

How we need something along those lines these days when relationships with China have been at such an all-time high.

Giving diplomacy a chance: Fu Cong is one of the key people to pray for

And now we have Fu Cong, China’s newly appointed ambassador to the European Union, apparently intent on showing China to be a reliable trade partner, and ‘neutral’ as regards the Ukraine war. He even went so far as to inform the New York Times that previous promises from Beijing that there are ‘no limits’ to the friendship between China and Russia were “nothing but rhetoric.” Mmmm . . . Chinese diplomacy is often anything but transparent, and there are likely to be strong differences of opinion amongst high-ranking Chinese leaders about the best way to proceed.

At the present time, the free world remains deeply concerned about the extent of Chinese hacking. This too is an issue that the blessedly still free press in Britain is beginning to address overtly. See for example the BBC Panorama programme: ‘Is China watching you from here’? and this article in the Daily Mail: ‘Is China spying on Britons through their fridges as Beijing ‘weaponizes’ everyday items?  and this report.

Whether Fu Cong himself is genuine or bluffing, Lord, You know where the truth lies. Raise up godly diplomats for our day: men and women who are prepared to dig deep to bridge seemingly irreconcilably divided people and causes, and to genuinely begin to lessen the tensions between the global superpowers, to ward off the sharply worsening crisis over Taiwan and the South China Sea, which many feared could be heading towards a hot war.

Attempts to stabilise the relationship with China

At this time of greatly increased tension with China, we were obviously praying for the visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Beijing, where he held high-level meetings, aimed at stabilising the intense rivalry between the world’s leading super powers.

It is disappointing that China has not responded thus far to the request to set up emergency lines of communication between the respective militaries – which is so important in these days of numerous ‘near misses.’

It was a blessing to see a much less abrasive tonality between the teams, as well as the subsequent equally ‘successful’ visit by Treasury Secretary, Janet Yelland. This informative and well-balanced BBC article is a concise and pithy summary of the benefits achieved by those visits, as well as highlighting the hugely delicate negotiations that must be continued, if this relationship is indeed to prosper – being flexible but without making inappropriate compromises.

Antony Blinken himself is Jewish, with his late step father being a Holocaust survivor. Unlike Donald Trump, he is staunchly pro-European, and speaks fluent French having attended school there. It would be good to remember him from time to time in our prayers.

Praying beyond the Turmoil in France – An historical Perspective

I am sure you were disturbed by the recent nights of violence in France: the world’s favourite holiday destination. The long-standing expressions of discontent associated with the gilet jaunes, which were already deeply disturbing, have been exceeded by the far worse rioting of recent days and weeks. I saw images of a large health centre in Lille, for example, that had been completely burnt out. It looked as though it had been destroyed by a missile.

In amongst the widespread damage to shops, other commercial property, town halls and so on, schools found themselves resorting to putting out notices saying, ‘Please do not destroy our buildings.’ No surprise, then, that the police gave advance warning towards the end that they were going into active combat mode with the rioters.

The problem is that the police are, and have long been, a large part of the problem. Describing the rioters as ‘vermin’ has not made things any easier.

After the fifth night, we launched a prayer call for the Lord to ‘douse down’ the wanton destruction. This did indeed happen, for which we can be grateful, but of itself, of course, it does nothing to bring about the clearly needed investigation of racism amongst the French police force, a measure which they are currently resisting.

The French Revolution

Recent events recall historic revolutions in Paris and France, all the way from the reign of terror at the end of the 18th century, through the July revolution of 1830 that restored a Monarch who was initially popular (the horrific events depicted in Les Misérables took place in 1832) and then again, in 1848, as part of a whole series of revolutions across Europe.

The 1848 revolution was both fiercely antimonarchist and staunchly nationalistic, as French citizens demanded greater inclusion in political and economic reforms. It led to Bonaparte’s nephew being elected president, and then, four years later in 1852, to him setting himself up as the dictator-emperor of the Second French Republic. This was a period when those who had nothing made fierce and vociferous demands on those who were seen as having more; terror reigned on the streets of France.

Napoleon III’s reign came to an end in 1870, while Paris was being besieged in the terrible Franco-Prussian war: a precursor of the two twentieth century wars. Paris finally fell to the Germans early in 1871.

Prayer for France

Lord, we remember the strongly anti-clerical spirit which has prevailed in France for well over two centuries now.

We cry to You concerning this revolutionary spirit that is never far below the surface in France. We confess that so many in France, as in our own country, has for a long time been drinking from the wrong sources, but we pray that the profound passion of the French people may be harnessed for Kingdom purposes.

Bless all who are involved in reaching out to France, especially those who are running one of the numerous and highly promising Alpha courses.

Thank You that there have always been many among both Catholics and Protestants who have loved You dearly in this country. Continue to raise up new works by the power of your Spirit we pray, and bring new life to France. Protect people and places from the extremes of violence that lurk so close behind the pretty facades of this beautiful country. In Jesus’ name, we ask.

[God is using these Alpha courses, and it is important to pray for them, but, as this far reaching analysis from Redcliffe Bible college explains, it can never be a perfect model, given cultural differences. I met Amy, the author of the report, in Perpignan fifteen years ago.

Pray for Israel

Pray for Israel at this time when Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that he would lose a straight election now, and is therefore dependent for his political career on not alienating the extreme right wingers with whom he is in coalition.’

What power our decisions have, personally and even internationally. There is probably little about the situation in Israel in

This letter from Heather Cox Richardson, whom we have often referred to before, serves to clarify matters, and to keep them at or near the top of our hearts and minds in prayer.

This is what we wrote back in April about the situation in Israel.