The Martyrdom of Ukraine continues

 

 

New Geo-Political Realities

Windows supplied a dramatic background picture recently that was taken by the Hubble telescope: a massive swirling “cannibalistic” galaxy that has drawn another into its orbit and swallowed it up.

We will not always be sending out such lengthy compilations as recent editions have been, but geo-political realities are changing fast, effectively ending the years of globalisation many parts of the world had been getting used to, and greatly increasing the division between authoritarian regimes and more liberal ones as quite distinct economic and military allegiances develop. With Putin seething and stewing in his anger and resentment against the West (which is doing its best to present a unified front in the face of the threats that he poses), the world is looking very different today even from a few short weeks ago. These changes look set to develop further as Putin increasingly renounces moves away from making Europe its fulcrum, in favour of developing the geopolitical concept of Eurasia – a major shift that is likely only to increase.

Since any overview of this situation presents us with much fuel for prayer, we will accordingly do our best to provide an in-depth analysis of many of the key points.

Many of you will be feeling very strongly about the government’s proposals to send would-be asylum seekers to the United Kingdom on a one-way ticket to Rwanda; many likewise will be deeply concerned about the living conditions of tens of thousands of women in this land who are fleeing domestic abuse but find themselves housed (often for years at a time) in utterly substandard and supposedly temporary conditions. As for what the local council elections are likely to deliver by way of a verdict on our Prime Minister. . . (!)

Because many of us sense that the war in Ukraine could prove to be a stepping stone to still greater challenges for the nations, and a harbinger of things to come, we are therefore continuing to focus on specific aspects of the biggest challenge to world peace to emerge in recent decades.

These are days in which political truth is at a premium as the long-established practice we have shared about before: maskirovka (deception, disinformation and denial), which is assuming ever more intense new shapes and forms on both sides of the conflict. With so much being predicated on complete fallacies (for example the continually repeated mantra in Russia that NATO is an offensive alliance, guilty of the very crimes that the Russian army is itself committing on a daily basis) the battle for truth in a post truth era remains crucial, even as lives are lost for lies in the towns and villages of Ukraine.

May the Lord give each one of us the courage and the willingness to keep alert, and not to be so overcome with grief and horror that we disengage from this profoundly disturbing and ugly conflict, but rather remain at our posts on the walls as watchmen at this time when the nations are jockeying for position in the “new” world order, (not least in the whole Pacific region), and when extreme violence in Ukraine looks highly likely to escalate. We have done best accordingly to make these topics as accessible as possible by dividing them up into a number of key headings.

Why Russia remains less of a pariah than we might have expected

It is dismaying that, despite the overwhelming majority vote in the UN which removed Russia from the Security Council, two thirds of the world population actually live in the 21 countries that refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, whether out of partisan or political interest or out of hope of being able to take advantage of preferential rates or purchasing armaments and fuel now that Russia is losing its Western outlets – including China and India who are taking on major new contracts to purchase fuel from Russia. Pakistan, India, Brazil  this map produced by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit merits serious attention.

From this map we can deduce that Russia is doing its best to position itself at the centre of a new world order with China, India and Brazil and the Gulf States in close tow – or at least not doing anything to actively oppose it. All this is part of the total war that Russia has launched, at both a military and an economic level. (China of course believes that its time has come to be the senior figure on the world stage – more so than either America or its ‘convenient’ ally Russia. We have shared previously on how China is ‘hoovering up’ countries and making them economically dependent on it).

Now that Russia and Ukraine alike have declared that the time for diplomacy is over – (Russia out of pique that Ukraine has accused it of war crimes, and Ukraine because of the war crimes) the risks of this conflict expanding spiral ever wider.

From a purely secular viewpoint, I remember Time Magazine declaring at the time of the Rwanda civil war, “There are no demons left in hell: they are all in Rwanda now.” How often the annals of history reveal such heightened outpourings of evil, when certain tribes and nations go on the rampage. The brutal tactics of the Assyrian warrior raids come to mind; so too those of the Viking raiders, from which derived the medieval prayer for the Lord to deliver from the fury of the ‘Northmen who are savaging our realms’ – even from their first arrival on the shores of Lindisfarne, where they slaughtered the monastic community. No wonder an eighth-century scholar, Alcuin, had no hesitation in attributing the warning in Jeremiah 1:14 to this scourge: “Then the Lord said unto me, out of the North an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.” Even as many in the city of Kyiv prayed, seemingly in vain, for deliverance at a time when the city was first besieged and then sacked by Mongol forces back in the 13th century before sweeping further west.

What Putin’s soldiers are doing most certainly ranks with such oppressors, along with the Japanese and Nazi killing machines. But genocide can take more subtle forms; and we in the West have much to repent of too. We have only to think of that way by which Australia and Canada were among the nations that actively sought to ‘breed out’ first nation peoples. But evil has been unleashed, in Ukraine, and this evil has no limit – as graphically depicted by the slogan daubed on the missile that struck the train station in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, “This is for the children.”

Cruelty towards the enemy has long been systemic in Russian troops – and that culture has only grew strong during the long years of official atheism. There are claims that Putin’s own brother died of starvation in the siege of Leningrad, and that his father was part of a group of soldiers whose purpose was to create scorched earth – in which case this too may have contributed to the stronghold of cruelty and destructiveness that has characterised every phase of Russia’s actions.

With barbarous and widespread torture and killings, these are indeed the days of the Mongols all over again for although Russia is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, in practice we have seen that it has all too often provided no protection.

It is important to remind ourselves of the many occasions in Scripture when the Lord routs much larger forces as a result of people looking specifically to Him. Our trust must never be in the might of either weaponry or human resilience or even past achievements, however, but in the One who is above all else.

Eastern Ukraine and Psalm 74

Drawing on this article from the BBC website, a friend interspersed the report with verses from Psalm 74. They are highly appropriate in the light of the great dangers and discouragement people are facing in the Donbas region.

A deadly race is now underway between Russia, which is doing its best to reconstitute and manoeuvre its badly mauled northern forces to be able to invade Ukraine again from the east, while Ukraine positions its best fighting forces – roughly 40,000 strong – to resist them. With many bridges down for the Ukrainians, and the staging post of Dnipro airport having been destroyed, the supply chain is much shorter for the Russians this time. It’s so important to pray for all that will be happening behind the scenes – and there will be a very great deal. The threats are very real, and people’s fears all gripping.

“Everyone is worried,” the town’s mayor, Volodymyr, tells me.

He says those who have remained regularly call to check he’s not leaving. He is not. He is staying put and organising food parcels for the town’s dwindling population. These are people who are tired, hungry and scared, too scared sometimes to apportion any blame on Russia. “I will not talk about it,” one woman tells me, “because we still have to go home.”

1 O God, why have you rejected us for ever?
Why does your anger smoulder against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember the nation you purchased long ago,
the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed –
Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
3 Turn your steps towards these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.

Volodymyr says the Russians are using similar tactics they have used elsewhere in Ukraine – “creating panic among the local population”. He says “it’s inhuman”. It is now happening right across the Donbas.

4 Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
5 They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
6 They smashed all the carved panelling
with their axes and hatchets.
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling-place of your Name.
8 They said in their hearts, ‘We will crush them completely!’
They burned every place where God was worshipped in the land.

One man proudly tells us he was trained by British troops before the latest war started. He’s confident that Ukraine can win this war.

But I meet another soldier who sounds less assured. The unrelenting Russian bombardment is taking its toll. Another soldier tells us that the Russians have been targeting their positions with white phosphorous shells – which burn into the flesh.

9 We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
10 How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name for ever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

But the landscape of the town that so charms its visitors also offers some kind of protection to its terrified residents. Unlike most of the Donbas region, which is largely flat open landscape, Sviatohirsk is set among hills and forests – providing some natural defences – making it harder for an army to manoeuvre with artillery and tanks.

12 But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
17 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.

There is now a real danger that Russia may soon try to encircle Ukrainian forces in the region who have been fighting Russian-backed separatists in the region since 2014. Ukrainian troops there are among the most battle hardened in the Ukrainian Army. But they, too, are worried that their supply lines could be cut off as Russian forces push in from three different directions.

18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
how foolish people have reviled your name.
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people for ever.
20 Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
21 Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
23 Do not ignore the clamour of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.

Father, as this psalm encourages us to do, we come to you and say, ”Do not hand over your people to wild beasts! Remember the afflicted! Remember that there has been a great move of Your Spirit in Ukraine! May you continue to arise and defend this region, since their enemies continually clamour for victory at almost any cost!”
God, we pray, arise!

As the war intensifies

Putin is desperate to have something more than propaganda to show by 9th May – the Victory Parade. Not only is Russia using bunker-busting bombs and phosphorus weapons in this final stage of the siege of Mariupol, but what makes the whole vicious scenario still more unstable is the risk of Russia resorting to chemical and even nuclear weapons. See especially the second half of this article. Do we have the authority to pray that they will not be used?

Anything that might tell another side to the story, such as the real-life cases being publicised by Amnesty International or Memorial, the Human Rights Watch centre that kept alive the memory of Soviet-era injustices, is being ruthlessly suppressed. The closure of these organisations represents a great loss. It is so important to have access to find out what has happened in the past, and to learn from it. Nations that do not remember well are prone to repeat the sins and errors of the past. But making such memories accessible to all by no means fit in with newly resurgent Russia, which likes to act as though it has little or nothing to be ashamed of concerning its past.

And all the time Mariupol, which at the time of writing is on the point of absolute collapse and starvation, continues its long-drawn-out agony.

The plight of those taken to Russia
With hardened Chechen forces directing the siege of Mariupol (and said to be almost equally as hungry as those they are besieging) confiscating humanitarian relief supplies intended for the citizens adds still more to the grief being unable to evacuate more of the population.

Already, tens and possibly hundreds of thousands have been relocated to ‘filtration camps’ in Russia, a horribly euphemistic phrase, where, deprived of all citizenship and human rights, children are being sent to orphanages, and the plight of those opposed to Russian views does not bear thinking about. The full story of the horrors being committed, and the sad and stunted legacy these will leave, are unlikely ever to be fully known this side of eternity.

How good it is to remember that ‘In all our distress the Lord too is distressed.’ (Isa. 63:9). That verse continues, ‘May the angel of His presence save and carry many of them. May these poor people know that they are not forsaken, that the Lord is still with them and that others are praying for them. May they have great courage to face each day, and leaders to inspire and encourage them, even as the Lord raised up leaders for Judah during their many long years in exile in Babylon.

Lord, have mercy on each one.
In the utter grief and trauma be present.
Where people are deeply mourning their dead be present, we pray.

And may the word that was spoken so long ago over the land of Israel in Isaiah 64:2 shine forth over the ruins of the city of Mariupol, and over Ukraine as a whole: Although you now feel forsaken and abandoned, there will be an end to your sorrow and come a time when your land will be called beautiful.

So many aspects of the world economy became interconnected during the decades of globalisation. The West needs certain raw materials from Russia for many of its hi-tech equipment, just as Russia uses components for its engines, tanks, ships, helicopters and cruise missiles made in Ukraine. These plants are sure to be prime targets for occupation. May the Lord protect many of them from being taken over or destroyed.

Napoleon used to say that morale is to the physical in a proportion of 3 to 1. We know that Russian troops are suffering from extremely low morale, with their soldiers wondering why they are there – and their badly mauled units who were holed up to the north of Kyiv being desperately patched up in order to be thrown back into the conflict. There are signs, however, that this new and better led incursion into Eastern Ukraine may have learnt lessons from their failed attempts up north. Ukrainian morale has been boosted by occasional military successes, especially after the sinking of the Moskva, but that is very different from achieving any real victory.

Has Putin got cancer – and if so, how much will it affect the war in Ukraine?

Much has been made of the circumstantial evidence that has been emerging which appears to indicate that Putin may well be suffering from thyroid cancer. His face looks smooth and puffy, and his oncologist has apparently visited him on at least 35 occasions – and when he travels, he does so with a huge team of doctors, all the while taking a lot of steroids, with all the possible side-effects these can cause depression and hallucinations. The temptation might be to think that were this to develop to the point where he could no longer function, then things would immediately change. Judging by Brezhnev’s ill-judged and ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan, this is not an automatic equation: the violent but pointless war dragged on for several more presidents. So far as one can tell the cancer does not appear to be particularly life threatening apparently, but Putin himself is becoming an increasingly ravaged and erratic human being, undoubtedly in the grip of very strong spiritual forces.

Lord please work Your purposes out in this and every other aspect of this terrible campaign. Have mercy on Vladimir Putin, whose heart is eaten up with the pain of hatred, whatever may be going on in his body. Have mercy on him, and on the tens of millions of people most affected by his decisions.

Thank You that Your Word reminds us that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has NOT overcome it.’

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him!

As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God!

The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them.

Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to God, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.

Summon your power, O God, the power, O God, by which you have worked for us. Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds, the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples. Trample underfoot those who lust after tribute; scatter the peoples who delight in war.

Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. – Psalm 68:1-2,7,19-21,28,30,34

Lord, we thank you for these wonderful words, and we pray that they may be true for the Ukrainian people today. Lord, we beseech you to move in power from day to day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Pray for Odesa

Odesa has clearly been one of Putin’s original targets to capture. With anti-ship missiles making an amphibious landing increasingly risky for him, his forces can only advance when the final defending forces of Mariupol are overcome – something that is expected from moment to moment at the time of writing. This is a historic region. There was a time when Ukrainian and Russian forces fought side by side against the Nazis – though they were not strong enough to prevent the massacre of tens of thousands of Jews in the region around Odesa in the autumn of 1941, at the hands of German and Romanian occupying forces. It is a truly grim story.

Before the war, 200,000 Jewish people had been living in Odesa – one third of the whole city. With Zelensky himself being a Jew, this would make a good focus to pray about the whole antisemitic issue, which lies at the heart of Putin’s increasingly Eurasian outlook.

Father, we seek mercy for the city of Odessa in this conflict now. Please protect the people and grant wisdom and creative ways of obstructing the demolition of vital infrastructure. We believe in the invisible armies of the heavenly host: blow the trumpet, scatter and confuse this enemy and provide a way forward for the people there. In Jesus’ Name.

We are concerned for Western weapons to reach Ukraine – but what can they do to demolish strongholds in the mind?

How the conversion of Cornelius released entirely new blessings and overturned prejudices in all directions

I am reminded that the official newspaper of the Soviet Union was called Pravda, which means, wait for it, ‘Truth: the disposition to speak or act truly and without deceit’ (!) Or as George Orwell put it in 1984: ‘Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else… Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.’ Ouch!! This is such an important issue to be aware of and to be praying into.

The celebrated philosopher Descartes actually got his whole starting point wrong when he declared, ‘I think therefore I am’. (It should, of course been the other way round: ‘I am therefore I think.’) It takes something enormous for truth to dawn on those who are fully indoctrinated.

It was so hard for so many Germans to accept that their Fuehrer had been misleading them that some never managed to face realities. I suspect that something of the same seismic shift of thinking would be required to convince millions of Trump loyalists that there simply is no basis of evidence whatsoever for believing that the last election was ‘stolen’. One rhythmically repeated slogan has succeeded in misleading millions

But tens of thousands of ordinary Russians are now taking part in efforts to put it about in every possible way that NATO is an aggressive alliance committing the very war crimes that, in reality, the Russian armed forces are guilty of carrying out, and therefore to justify Russian actions.

Lighten the darkness of many we pray. We remember how You sent an angel to Cornelius, telling him to “send to Joppa for Simon Peter who is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner who lives by the sea, who will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 10.32 and 11:13).

Thank You, Father that prejudices, ignorance and unbelief fell away as Your Spirit moved then.

Putin is a street fighter; so as far as access to outside information is concerned, he is effectively turning his own nation into a North Korea 2.0, both savagely and subtly, with the result that the majority of people in his brainwashed country basically believe that things are going well for it.

It will truly take something very special for somebody under its influence to move out into first questioning and then seeing right through it. Even now it causes my jaw to drop to hear and watch the utter lies propounded on Russian television from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn, denouncing NATO as an entirely offensive organisation that is committing all the vile sins that, in reality, Russians are committing.

It is a new embodiment of Goebbels’ mantra – that if you are going to tell a lie, you should make it a very big one, and keep repeating it until people finally acquiesce and accept it.
I am struck by the references in the first two chapters of 2 Thessalonians to deception, culminating in vs 10-12 of chapter 2 concerning the hold that great delusions acquire through the failure to believe the truth and the willingness to believe lies. We can imagine that these extend all the way from the political to the spiritual.

But how extra intense it is when an organisation, church or nation commits great atrocities, whilst simultaneously claiming to be acting as representatives of truth and of good.

We have been so acutely aware of the extent and parameters of the delusion that has come on Russia, and which is spreading far beyond its borders, contaminating many other nations, and providing yet another blueprint for denials.

So far from Russian people turning against the war and against Putin, such evidence as there is appears to show a great consolidation of support for him, and an increasing percentage of the population in favour of the war. It is going to take something very dramatic to break this mental and spiritual deadlock.

Father, we are so concerned for Western weapons to reach the theatre of war – but what can they ultimately do to demolish strongholds in the mind? It is propaganda-busting weapons that we need more than anything else now.

Raise up your strategy to address this issue, lest otherwise believers in that land simply end up taking hold of entirely reputable scriptural truths and assuming that they have the right to apply them to confirm the rightness of whatever actions their armed forces take.

So for example, Russians profoundly influenced by the constant propaganda might be tempted to take passage such as Zechariah 5 concerning the flying scroll and the face of wickedness, or the passage directly after it in which wickedness is clearly exposed and named as such (and the people apparently carted off to Babylon) and justify their actions accordingly.

How careful we must be in labelling and appropriating such verses, lest we end up (mentally I mean of course) with something along the lines of the heavily redacted ‘Slave Bible’ of the early nineteenth century, which was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves. Vast swathes of the Old Testament, and even of the New are omitted in this in order to justify their masters’ stance towards the institution of slavery, and to inveigh against any form of rebellion or liberation.

But the Lord’s tactics have often been to sow the seeds of doubt in people’s minds, individually and collectively – just as Amos skilfully probed the conscience of the nation in the opening chapters of his book to make the people critically aware of their own shortcomings.

May the Lord who is Truth, probe and probe in order to choke and displace wrong thinking, and to give truth a fertile seed bed in which to grow.

May Russian believers have the discernment to see as You see, to see the truth, to discern the lies, and enable them not to succumb to the propaganda.

May they love their Ukrainian brothers and sisters in word and deed and not to hold back and be rendered powerless by the lies that assail them on every hand.

History teaches us that civil wars – which is what this conflict nearly is – can be every bit as bloodthirsty vicious as any other. We pray likewise for every Russian soldier who is opposing his brothers so violently, may their conscience kick in to cause confusion and even to challenge orders as the sense of kinship reaffirms

As divisions become increasingly pronounced, may Your people, those called by Your Name, seek to show a different way. May we continue to be united across cultural and national divides, putting Your Kingdom above all else and praying for His will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Even the Lord came to Cornelius, we pray for many supernatural encounters to occur for many Ukrainians and Russians alike. May His truth be like a beacon on the hills, setting many free from the bamboozlement of the enemy’s deception.

Since the enemy is the father of lies, may the light of truth dispel the darkness and expose the lies that are being told on all sides, so that many may come to know the real truth that sets people free.

‘Labelling’ as a satanic strategy that paves the way for excess

If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked. (Prov. 29:12)

A Deputy of the Russian Duma, Nikonov (a grandson of Molotov), has said they embody the forces of good, they are on the side of good against absolute evil. This is partly because the American Satanic Temple from Salem has announced that they support Ukraine, so Nikonov concludes that his is a holy war against Ukrainian Nazis, a just war, a war that is not only just but righteous even, which Russia has to win.

These are messy and muddying times – and once a nation begins to label another individual, let alone a whole nation as being evil, it becomes very much easier to use the label to justify the most extreme actions. We are on full alert to pray for Ukraine, but let’s also take some time out to consider whether we ourselves may be wrongly ‘labelling’ certain people and movements, and failing to recognise what the Lord is doing in and through them.

During the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, He experienced intense and specific assaults. When these temptations failed to deter Him from His mission, the powers of darkness broadened the scale of their attacks by putting it into the minds of the Pharisees that He must be casting out demons by the hand of Beelzebub.

Labelling Jesus ‘evil’ made it easier for them to justify pursuing Him to the cross. Cults and despots have always attempted to justify their most extreme actions by branding opponents as ‘evil’, thereby making them appear lawful targets. The devil hoped that by subjecting Jesus to the shattering indignities of a trial before a corrupt and prejudiced court, He would be driven by the intense physical and mental pain to retaliate against those who were treating Him so brutally, and, more important still, to give up on His mission to save the world. Mercifully, these plans failed – because Jesus recognised what was going on and was resolute in staying true to His calling. Longing, as any one of us would, to avoid the agony He knew He had to face, the Lord Jesus did the highest thing a man can do: He turned from His own dread and yielded Himself afresh to what He knew to be His Father’s will.

It is always good to remember Oliver Cromwell’s plea to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, ‘I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.’

After all, so much of the harm that has been done in the world has come from those who are so certain that they are right that they brook no challenge – and all too often as a result of their religious beliefs.

We all look at labels these days, on supermarket shelves just as we wisely read reviews of certain products before we buy them. Such ‘labels’ have much to commend them, just as address labels on our possessions do, but the wrong kind of labelling can bring many of its own attendant dangers, subtly diverting our focus onto externals.

Rather as the Russians have got it wrong about many Ukrainians, let’s ponder for a while certain ‘labels’ that we have consciously or unconsciously given to others. Are they justifiable? Or a gross simplification of the person or people concerned, and hence a misrepresentation?

Ukraine itself is by no means lily white

We have shared before that this is not a straightforward contest between saints and sinners. It is important that we are not blind to any of this, but neither are we to label Ukraine in the way that Russia has done.

There are many most unpleasant Nazis and far-right leaning factions in the country – but it is not a Nazi country. There has likewise been widespread Mafia influence, as well as a huge amount of sex trafficking. But that is not the sum of it. We know that there are very many who love the name of our Lord in both countries

Father, forgive first of all the deep things that Ukraine has done, which have been grist to the Russian propaganda machine – the extreme far-right ethos of the Azov battalions and others – the widespread racism – the deep wounds caused by the trafficking of women, and the widespread violence and corruption associated with the Mafia.

Yes, Lord, use even this terrible conflict to purge a measure of these things from the land, so that when it finally rebuilds it may be that much the purer and the freer we pray.

We fully recognise the damage done when labels are put on. All the abuse, violence and irreparable harm that Russia has already inflicted on the Ukrainian people and which now impose an obscene oppression on the soul of both nations, regardless of whether or not they recognise it. From the depths we cry to You, Lord. Unless You come in might and mercy, the destruction will be intense, not only in Mariupol, but in many other towns and places.

And still somewhere, somehow, we pray for a willingness to lay down the oppressive weight of these labels, and for courageous pioneers and influential people to resist the narrative that perpetuates the splits and divisions, and which paves the way for there to be a constructive reaching out across the great divides, even though now for the moment both sides have declared diplomatic attempts to be at an end, or at least on hold, leaving all to be settled on the field of battle.

Is there any hope of a change of heart for people like Vladimir Putin? (i)

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Death bed or late-in-life conversions are rare amongst tyrants. In the vast majority of cases, the strongholds they have built, or fallen into, succeed in entrapping them like a Venus fly trap, causing events to take their own course.

Or, as Proverbs 29 puts it, ‘Evildoers are snared by their own sin . . . Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.’ (Pvbs. 29:6,1)

Rare indeed are those who escape the strong gravitational pull satanic forces exercise through indulging evil practices. But it can and has happened at various points in history. I think you will find these accounts interesting.

We can take some encouragement from Hezekiah’s long reigning terrible son, Manasseh.

The following report concerning the reported repentance of William the Conqueror is not entirely verifiable because it was written afterwards by someone with a vested interest in portraying Norman kings in a good light. According to the chronicler Orderic Vitalis, however, William, whose terrible depredations in the north of England, known as the Harrowing of the North, match for horror and brutality the Holodomor tactics of Stalin and Putin in starving and destroying the Ukrainian people, confessed his terrible crimes against the people of England in these words as he was about to meet his Maker:

“I treated the native inhabitants of the kingdom with unreasonable severity, cruelly oppressed high and low, unjustly disinherited many, and caused the death of thousands by starvation and war, especially in Yorkshire….

In mad fury I descended on the English of the north like a raging lion, and ordered that their homes and crops with all their equipment and furnishings should be burnt at once and their great flocks and herds of sheep and cattle slaughtered everywhere.

So I chastised a great multitude of men and women with the lash of starvation and, alas! was the cruel murderer of many thousands, both young and old, of this fair people…”

What then of Vladimir Putin, the principal architect and executor of these terrors? There is as yet not the slightest sign of any softening in his heart that we can see in his attitude towards the Ukrainian people, let alone of true repentance.

Speak clearly one last chance we pray before it is too late. For there is no limit to what can happen when You infill the Russian people with Your power and beauty. Yes, awake people’s consciences we pray. Wake them up, bring about whatever challenges and encounters are required to break the spiritual deception and paralysis! For perhaps it would be true to say that we are only truly living in a state of grace to the extent that we are prepared to forgive those who have most wronged us – or for whom we have no obvious worldly benefit to gain by being willing to bless and forgive. If that itself is a thought that leads on to other considerations, it is worth unpacking.

Is there any hope of a change of heart for people like Vladimir Putin? (ii)

How several leading Nazis came to faith before they were hung

Have you come across this remarkable story of how an American Army Chaplain sacrificially led several top Nazis (following their condemnation to death in the Nuremberg trials) to a living faith in the Lamb of God? it is a wonderful testimony to the shed Blood that avails for all – even those who have committed deeds we would be quick to denounce as being truly unforgivable.

For more detail of this remarkable ministry, see this link and this link

Is there any hope of a change of heart for people like Vladimir Putin? (iii)

How the Lord set the bar high for Corrie Ten Boom in terms of practising forgiveness

We know that Jesus commands us to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. (Matt. 18:35) Easter is an excellent time of the year to remind ourselves of what happened next – and to see what this powerful testimony of grace prevailing may have to say about some of our own more hard-hearted attitudes.

You may well have heard of the occasion when Corrie Ten Boom, who had embarked on a series of sacrificial outreaches to the German people in the profoundly gloomy aftermath of their defeat, came face to face with one of her tormentors: a Nazi guard who had brutally persecuted her sister in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Since the war he had come to experience the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus – but could she also forgive him? When he asked for her forgiveness and stretched out his hand to her, she knew that effectively her whole ministry hung in the balance. Humanly speaking everything inside her wanted to hold her back from embracing him.  But everything she believed inwardly about forgiveness challenged her to respond and reach out.

May many turn to you and be saved, whether Russian or Ukrainian. May there be a turning to you and may lives be transformed by the truth of your Gospel! Give us and all your people boldness – particularly give boldness and pour out your Spirit on the Ukrainian church at this time! May forceful men lay hold of Your Kingdom!
Many of us will feel uncomfortable with Franklin Graham’s political beliefs and associations but praise God that he preached an Easter message in Ukraine  that went out on satellite television.

Pointers and Parallels from the Peninsular War

I have been urging that we remember to pray for France, currently a very divided nation, rather as we were over Brexit, that it may be protected from falling into one of its periodic descents into authoritarianism. This article takes up this theme by dipping into certain aspects of one of the great upheavals that swept through Europe at the start of the nineteenth century as the result of French expansionism: the Peninsular War, from 1807-1814.

Other themes it encourages us to pray about include deducing something of a comparison with President Putin, as well as the crucial need for effective guerrilla warfare by the Ukrainian people.

I felt led the other day to study aspects of the Peninsular War, when Napoleon was at the height of his powers. Alert and concerned Christians then might well have inferred from their reading of Scripture that this must be the Antichrist himself. After all, here was a conqueror who had entered every capital in Europe, except Moscow and London, and who longed to launch a spectacular invasion of England.

But though he sought by his skilful generals and ruthless determination to bring his own vision of unity and uniformity to the whole of the European continent, what he actually succeeded in doing was to turn great swathes of Europe into something more akin to a vast prison house – and to sow seeds of intense nationalism in many places.

In conjunction with its ally Spain, French armies had invaded Portugal, before turning against Spain too and placing Napoleon’s brother Joseph on the throne. At very great cost the British came to their rescue. The tide of battle ebbed and flowed.

Utterly outclassed in open battle, (which they would have done much better to have avoided) the Spanish rapidly developed exceptionally successful guerrilla tactics, willing to lay down their lives, despite so many of their homes being destroyed, and their wives raped.

The courage and ferocity of these Spanish patriots greatly undermined the invaders’ morale, causing them to divide their forces thinly.

Following major setbacks, (in the aftermath of initial successes) it looked for all the world as though Portugal would be lost. A great clamour arose back in London for British forces to be withdrawn. This is a perfect example of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man.’ Arthur Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington) was certainly not the most loveable or approachable of men, but his iron discipline and profoundly realistic awareness of the strengths and limitations of his men were precisely what was required to hold the British Army together at this time – combined with his diplomatic skills, which kept the British government on track in supporting his efforts, eventually enabling him to emerge victorious in his strife.

When Napoleon set off with a huge army on his ultimately disastrous Russian campaign in 1812, Wellesley, after years of stalemate, advanced from Portugal into Spain. His leadership, combined with incessant Spanish attacks on French supply lines, ultimately proved too much for the militarily far superior French.

And then, when Napoleon was driven all the way back from Moscow to Paris, his remaining army of 70,000 found themselves up against a massive Coalition army of 400,000 Russians, Austrians and Prussians. After just one day’s warfare in the French capital, Napoleon was obliged to surrender and to go into exile. (Although, as we all know, he would live to fight another day, culminating in the battle of Waterloo the following year – 1815).

Keep Praying for President Zelensky

In 1 Maccabees (a book that is included in the Catholic and Orthodox versions of the Bibles) Judas Maccabee’s resistance greatly reinforced the morale of the people of Judah in his day. If you are not familiar with the book, I think you would find the parallels with the first five or so chapters extremely poignant in the light of what those fighting to defend Ukraine are facing. It is there that you will find the quote I referred to in a recent Mashal that “in the sight of Heaven there is no difference in saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army of victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. In the face of utterly relentless attack, Ukrainians are going to need both tactical awareness and exceptional courage in the days ahead.

May President Zelensky stay strong and fit and well in mind, soul, body and spirit, no matter how long this conflict endures, and serve as a latter-day Judas Maccabees. May he be the best leader that he can be, and continue as the figurehead of great strength and hope – not just for the Ukrainian people but indeed for all those in Europe who fear and oppose what Putin is doing as he unleashes larger and much better marshalled forces against one region after another, threatening to encircle and overrun Ukraine’s outnumbered and outgunned forces (which are something like 40,000 strong) as they advance from the north and the south, as well as the East. This is now a critical phase in the fighting now that the so-called ‘Butcher of Syria’ has taken command of the Russian war effort. This man’s track record in terms of human rights is quite appalling. Even the mention of Syria is a poignant reminder of repeated Western failures to do anything to protect Syria at the time when we had the opportunity to have made a real difference.

At long last the first of the highly effective British Star Streak anti-aircraft missiles have been delivered to Ukraine. One cannot but wonder how many tens of thousands of lives, let alone properties, could have been saved if more such weapons had been delivered earlier?

Let’s keep praying, folks.

We recognise that the dangers are ever increasing as Russian forces surge into the country, repeating the ghastly sins and crimes of its invading armies in times past. Knocking out Dnipro airport has made it much harder for Ukraine to bring up supplies for its own troops, whereas on this occasion Russian forces are right on the doorstep of Russia itself, from which they can be easily serviced.

May the Lord intervene to confuse and confound the Russian advance, Lord. There are no words to say how much bloodshed will occur if this does not happen. Almost the whole world has heard the two wave-skimming missiles that sank the Moskva, whilst that ship’s radar attention was being diverted by drones approaching from a different angle – the flagship warship of the Russian Black Sea fleet. See this article for an update of that engagement.

These missiles clearly functioned as they were designed to do, but the factory that makes them has been destroyed. And of themselves they by no means guarantee victory against an enemy which is determined not to lose, and armed to the teeth with chemical, phosphorous and nuclear weapons.

All of which is to say that the outlook remains grim – and the danger of escalation constant. Ukraine upped the ante by hitting a large Russian fuel depot actually inside Russia – as well as presumably being the ones responsible for an explosion at an arms depot in the same town. Putting new anti-aircraft missiles to good use they promptly shot down a Mig helicopter. When you think how many of Ukraine’s own fuel depots have gone up in flames, it is no wonder that they seized this opportunity to strike at the resources that would be used to fuel a fresh invasion of Eastern Ukraine.

Has the West done enough this time round? Although we have done much this time round, history will judge us once again I think for being too dilatory and too cautious. Please pray accordingly, both into what is happening on the field of battle, but also into many of the issues that they raise.

Testimonies from Ukraine and Belarus

Our friend Anna from Shetland came across this update from a couple who have churches in Belarus and Ukraine. Anna found these people’s testimonies really gripped her. (The lady is one of 14 and had one tiny New Testament as she grew up). They talk about how the Ukrainian Christians are not just fighting for their own freedom but for all of us in the West. And how the ones who have been chased out of the country will be taking the gospel into the rest of Europe. Anna says that it is really challenging and humbling and has helped her to pray.

God wants to use Ukrainian refugees to bring the Gospel to us – and to hear this confirmed was so encouraging. As they encounter sleepy churches in Western Europe, may these not act as a dampener on the fire of their faith, but rather may their love and faith ignite many whom they meet. May the Lord fill and anoint them, and pour out His living water in and through them.

Praying for the disabled
Very few of the two and a half million disabled people in Ukraine appear to have made it out of the country. There is considerable cause for concern here that the majority may have been trapped and left behind, unable to fend for themselves. Let’s pray for the Lord to be especially close to those who cannot move and cannot protect themselves.

Meanwhile, well over 300 Ukrainian hospitals have been hit – always a favourite target for Russia in recent wars. This is truly horrible. Be with all who are currently in hospital – and those forced to leave due to the destruction of medical facilities.

Praying for Russians abroad

There are so many aspects to this war. Just as we are concerned for the many who have been deported to Ukraine, let’s also remember the significant number of (primarily youngish) Russians who fled the country because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Many of these went to Turkei, where they feel safe . . . But their visas are only for 90 days, and the fear is that they may be sent back to Russia again after that.

Given that they have already been denounced as fifth columnists and traitors by Putin, and often have parents who refuse to speak to them now that they have spoken against the invasion, it is really important to pray for doors to open up to pave the way for more permanent arrangements. How strange to be looking to a country for help whose own track record for civil rights is so poor. Remember these people, Lord – and keep our own nation from becoming phobically anti-Russian.

Almost Holy

‘Almost Holy’, is a film about pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko who rescues children on drugs in Mariupol.

The children’s home is now a bomb shelter.
He is on FB and gives updates on what is happening.

I believe he has managed to take a goodly number of children now and escape from Mariupol.

A New Integration Project for Eurasia: The Future in the Making’

Shortly before Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, Putin gave an interview to the makers of a state-produced documentary called The Second Christianisation of Rus, which charts the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the last 25 years. Whilst our media might imply that Putin’s actions are simply to do with his own craving for power, and that to be rid of him will cause Russia to come to its senses, we forget that Putin himself is being driven by a powerful ideology. This ideology outworks itself in a form of neo-Eurasianism (which is also known as The Fourth Political Theory).

In Izvestia on 3 October 2011, Vladimir Putin wrote an article entitled, ‘A New Integration Project for Eurasia: The Future in the Making’. The article proclaimed the ambitious goal of building ‘a powerful supranational association capable of becoming one of the poles in the modern world and serving as an efficient bridge between Europe and the dynamic Asia-Pacific region’. (For more detailed information, read Three Faces of Russia’s Eurasianism, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

In an article in the Telegraph on 3 April 2022, Yale historian Timothy Snyder claimed that, just as troops were being prepared to invade Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin sent all of Russia’s senior officials and regional governors a copy of Our Tasks, in which the philosopher Ilyin predicts the emergence of a “national dictator” who will be “the living organ of Russia”.

It does indeed appear to be neo-fascist ideology which is driving Putin, who perhaps sees himself as a messianic figure, bent on reconquering the old Russian Empire and shielding Russia from Western influence. This model is now central to Russia’s foreign policy. It is a collectivist, religious and autocratic ideology that specifically rejects Atlanticism, US control and liberal ‘democratic’ values.We can see the same religious and autocratic forces at work in the Republican party in the States too … It is another source of deception that many ‘lazy christians’ will not identify …

The main advocate of this neo-Eurasian ideology is Aleksandr Dugin, an intellectual who some describe as a neo-fascist, whose writings and talks are gaining popularity in other autocratic states, such as China, India, Turkey and the Republic of Iran, as well as other nations which perhaps identify with greater Eurasia. Dugin regards Russia as a heartland state within Eurasia which is in a pole position to engage in alliances with various Eurasian powers to confront the liberal powers of the West. He believes that Turkey and Iran are both vital for this task and that Turkey must reorient away from the West, something which is in the heart of President Erdogan.

More than just a political movement, Aleksandr Dugin sees this as a moral crusade. Hence the call to save the world from the West’s loss of moral compass – and most particularly its acceptance of gay marriage. In this, he and the Russian Orthodox Church are at one. It is noteworthy how silent the Orthodox Church has remained on the whole matter of sexual violence towards conquered Ukrainians, however. Disturbingly, antisemitism lies close to the heart of the neo-Eurasianism.

Dugin’s writings certainly seem to have influenced Bishop Tikhon, who is reputed to be Putin’s own confessor. In 2008 Bishop Tikhon released a documentary on the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, called The Lesson of Byzantium, in which he argues that the primary reason for the collapse of Byzantium is that it failed to stay true to the Orthodox faith. Putin is a fan of the novelist Dostoevsky, who believed that Russia would one day reconquer the Byzantine capital Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). We can see all these strands and trends therefore working powerfully together.

To render this situation still more challenging, Neo-Eurasian idealists also include Muslims – particularly Iran, who, of course, see themselves as taking the spiritual lead in this.

It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia and many other Gulf states are amongst those who have not condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

For many years we have seen the danger of anti-Christian forces converging and coalescing; May the Lord place spikes to keep political and military Islam and Putin apart, at this time when neither UAE nor Saudi has condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

Father, we recognise that a new geo-political norm is developing. Overrule in all ways how this pivotal reallocation of world power works itself out we pray.

With regard to the antisemitism that lies close to the heart of the neo-Eurasianism, it is important to be aware that although this manifests as racism, its whole origin and focus is anti-God, anti-Truth as God originally ordained it.

This article published in the Jewish Chronicle reports that political theorists believe that “Aleksandra Dugin derives his worldview from that of German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who joined the Nazis and greatly influenced the University of Heidelberg to implement “racial” exclusions.”

This short video is worth watching if you are in search of an overview.

As we have shared before, China will have a rather different interpretation of Eurasianism, for although President Xi and President Putin pose as close buddies, the Chinese Premier’s own underlying goal is to be number one himself. May the Lord overrule.

Interestingly Eurasia is one of the three locations mentioned in George Orwell’s highly influential book ‘1984’ (which was written in 1949).

There are many significant strands to unpack in all this, not least Putin’s desire not only to recreate the Soviet empire but also the still more idealistic dream of recreating and promoting the Byzantine empire – with his own church at the centre of it. More than 300 Ukrainian Orthodox priests have signed a petition refusing to submit to the highly compromised ‘Quisling’ Patriarch in Moscow, and demanding that Kirill be submitted to trial for blessing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here is surely an example of what Paul is talking about in the continuation of his quote in 2 Timothy 3:5 about ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ – or rather a mixture, for there are many in the Orthodox tradition who love the Lord dearly: where devotion triumphs over power structures.

The reference to Martin Heidegger is historically significant. Heidelberg University was the cradle of Nazi thought and propaganda, which spread swiftly from there in the 1930s to the other universities, and from there filtered down into mainstream thinking in schools, and outwards into society.

As we have repeatedly shown, Putin has been to great lengths to shape and control the propaganda flow. It is impossible to overestimate the extent to which critical thinking about the behaviour of the Russian army has been eliminated from mainstream thought, the penalties now being so exceptionally high. Of course there are many in Russia who see through it all, but what platform have they left in which to express it now in a society that has so vigorously sought to close down every possible hint of seditious deviation from the party line?

I have shared in previous editions, the experience of William Shearer, the American journalist in Berlin who lived through the years of intense propaganda that Goebbels subjected the nation to during the 1930s. His experience was that it is extremely difficult to resist the power of the official party line, when it is endlessly repeated, even when one knows, deep down, that it is completely false.

Verses from Lamentations – Have they ever made so much sense before?

Back in 1980, when the Lord first gave us his ‘Message for our times’ concerning the state of the world, He likened the Russian army to the Babylonians. The verses he gave sounded as though ‘The Russians are coming’ imminently – just as Jeremiah warned for forty years that the Babylonians were coming. Whether the author was Jeremiah or some other, many of the verses in book of Lamentations, which describe the desperate situation in Jerusalem after the Babylonians had come, are of immediate relevance for Ukraine’s plight.

At the time, there was no hope of restoration for a full 70 years for Jerusalem, but on an earlier occasion, when Jerusalem had been surrounded and shut up by the forces of Sennacherib and his grim Assyrians, the Lord did a great miracle through Hezekiah and Isaiah to outwit and thwart the invading army. May the Lord act and move on behalf of these beleaguered cities. His Word is full of battles that were fought against the odds, but in which victories were won because people trusted in Him. May many in the Ukrainian army will likewise look to Him for help.

Lamentations is surely the right book to go to for when praying for Ukraine, including the brief but welcome glimpse of light in 3.22-27.

You have shown your people desperate times;
You have given us wine that makes us stagger.
But for those who fear You, You have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow. (Ps. 68:34)

How deserted lies the city,
once so full of people!
How like a widow is she,
who once was great among the nations! . . .

All her people groan
as they search for bread;
they barter their treasures for food
to keep themselves alive.
“Look, LORD, and consider,
for I am despised.”

My eyes fail from weeping,
I am in torment within;
my heart is poured out on the ground
because my people are destroyed,
because children and infants faint
in the streets of the city.

They say to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
as their lives ebb away
in their mothers’ arms.

Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.

Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at every street corner.

“Young and old lie together
in the dust of the streets;
my young men and young women
have fallen by the sword.

My eyes will flow unceasingly,
without relief,
until the LORD looks down
from heaven and sees.

What I see brings grief to my soul
because of all the women of my city.
Those who were my enemies without cause
hunted me like a bird.

They tried to end my life in a pit
and threw stones at me;
the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish.
I called on your name, LORD,
from the depths of the pit.
You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears
to my cry for relief.”
You came near when I called you,
and you said, “Do not fear.”
You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life.

LORD, you have seen the wrong done to me.
Uphold my cause!

You have seen the depth of their vengeance,
all their plots against me.

Moreover, our eyes failed,
looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
for a nation that could not save us.
People stalked us at every step,
so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
for our end had come.

Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.
The LORD’s anointed, our very life breath,
was caught in their traps.

We thought that under his shadow
we would live among the nations.
Remember, LORD, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace.

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
We have become fatherless,
our mothers are widows.

We must buy the water we drink;
our wood can be had only at a price.
Those who pursue us are at our heels;
we are weary and find no rest.
We get our bread at the risk of our lives
because of the sword in the desert.
Our skin is hot as an oven,
feverish from hunger.
Women have been violated in Zion,
and virgins in the towns

Lamentations 1:1,11; 2:11-12; 19, 21; 3:9-60; 4:17-20; 5:1-5; 9-11.

For the way that Europe develops

Given that Russia can count on the support of many developing countries the role of NATO, and its need to stand firm and resolute, has never been more important. That is why the French presidential election assumes ever greater significance, given that Marie le Pen has spoken of detaching France from the NATO Alliance’s integrated command structure “so as to be no longer caught up in conflicts that are not ours.” Although le Pen did condemn the invasion of Ukraine, there is no question but that she has long enjoyed cosy relations with the Kremlin – including receiving loans for her party from a Russian bank.

The truth is that Ukraine is not the decisive factor in most people’s voting intentions. Marie Le Pen has run a shrewd campaign to portray herself as an almost centrist candidate – whereas if people actually read her manifesto, they would soon realise just how extreme her right-wing views really are. Most people don’t look that far, of course, being influenced rather by her populist appeal. Although she is cautious in what she says openly on the subject, the possibility of a ‘Frexit’ becomes a real possibility were she to be elected.

We will soon know the result of this election of course, but it will be good to continue to remember to lift up France and NATO countries generally. The following are a few pointers to inform our thinking. How grateful we can be for the recent shows of unity we have seen in Europe. It is maintaining that stance that is our challenge now. The need for NATO to stand firm and resolute has never been greater.

Apart from bravely cancelling the Nord Stream 2 project, Germany has shown little appetite to make serious sacrifices when it comes to making the most telling sanctions of all against Putin’s regime because of its reliance on Russian gas and oil. Heavily influenced by images of shelled Ukrainian buildings which vividly remind the older generation of what German cities looked like in and after World War Two. The sight – and plight – of a third-of-a-million refugees pouring into German train stations are also a vivid memory of many people’s parents or grandparents being forced to flee the depradations of the advancing Russian soldiers in 1945.

Despite having a really ‘awkward’ coalition to manage, Germany has dramatically reversed its guilt-laden pacifist tendencies and committed itself to dismantling its pro-Russian ties and to implementing a truly astronomical planned hike in spending on its defence forces, (100,000,000,000 euros this year) – a proportionately still higher figure than the equally radical planned expansion in Australia – symbolic of nations that had taken their eyes off realities and which are needing to catch up fast.

The need to set Germany free from its immense dependency on Russian gas and oil is clearly primarily, since the hundreds of millions of dollars a day it is continuing to pay for them is continually refuelling Putin’s war chest. The loss of these would be have more far of an immediate effect than all other sanctions combined.

So as we reach the end of this lengthy edition, we lift Europe and other NATO nations to the Lord, and pray for a unity of heart and purpose, which in itself enables conditions that are favourable for the sharing and living out of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In Viktor Orban, Hungary has overwhelmingly re-elected itself an avowedly hugely illiberal and pro Putin leader. It continues to refuse to permit weapons to pass through it.

Longstanding tensions with Brussels look set to increase.

The Slovakian Prime Minister has been courageously up front in supporting its Ukrainian neighbours, despite being nearly 90% dependent on Russia for its fuel. It has given Ukraine its s300 Soviet era but still advanced air defence systems and various other important help, even to the point of including its aging fleet of MiG-29 Soviet fighter planes. (These would only be of short-term use as they rely on Russian parts to keep them going, but they would provide a significant boost in the short term.)

Father, thank you for those who are standing up to oppose Russia in the face of unparalleled psychological and military threats.

May the Lord protect Slovakia at this time, and all the countries around about – including Moldova, from whose unrecognised Putin-leaning breakaway province, Transnistria, from which Putin is demanding a fresh supply of soldiers for the eastern front, the deeply alarmed Baltic States, as well as Finland and Sweden, as they consider becoming members of NATO.

Britain has made itself the special target of Putin’s ire by taking the lead in bellicose language.

America is divided, and though supportive now at the heat of the crisis, always in danger of swinging away from Europe in favour of the Far East. While Biden, for his part, is taking a strong lead in making large supplies of liquified gas and oil available from the States, his ability to act freely is hampered by hostility on the home front, with 41% of Americans saying that he is to blame for increased fuel prices, as a result of imposing sanctions on Russia.

President Biden has come off the fence in his support for Ukraine in recent weeks, unlike many other leaders, who refuse to denounce what Russian troops are doing. He is quite right in claiming that this, along with Covid, is a major factor in the recent spike in inflation rates amongst western nations.

The atrocities we have heard about and seen this week, make us sick and cry and angry.

Lord, intervene, give courage, mend the broken hearts and bodies. Lord, have mercy!

And we pray that just as you brought a standstill to the convoy to Kiev, we pray that you would do the same as Russian artillery and troops make their way to the Donbas region. May vehicles fail, run out of fuel, or even be sabotaged. May supplies reach Ukrainian troops, and may they and their families be protected.

May supplies reach them. Give them strategies from heaven. Even though so many have already died, may the Lord continue to miraculously protect many.

And may all our prayers – which are also our weapons in our hands and the Lord’s – rise to Him as incense! Praise Him for the encouragement of seeing many prayers already answered; and that He is always present in our suffering. So we come again to the Lord of Hosts to ask for more of His endless grace and mercy for the peoples of Ukraine – and for all who are caught up or affected by this horrendous conflict.

Come to Me – a raw meditation from the shell holes of the First World War

Between concern on the one hand for the millions of disabled and other people trapped in a country where it is becoming increasingly difficult to move around, as the result of Russians destroying road and rail logistics, and the immense danger that those on the front line are daily facing, this seems a poignant moment to release another of Studdert Kennedy’s (rightly) raw reflections from the First World War – a conflict which feels strikingly near and familiar in the light of the trench warfare now in Eastern Ukraine.

COME unto Me, He said,
And I will give you rest.
Dear Lord, is that the best
That Thou canst give
To those who follow Thee,
To stand and see
The strife,
The everlasting war of Life,
Pass by as in a picture or a dream?

It is not thus I deem
Life should be lived;
It is not that I crave,
Not Rest, but strength to save
The wounded and console their pain,
To strive with evil and then strive again,
Until the far-off victory is won.
Not rest from life,
But strength for strife,
A strife unending till its task is done.

That is my quest,
Dear Lord, not Rest.
Not rest but strength,
Thy strength, O God, I seek,
For I am weak,
My spirit’s weak,
My flesh is weaker still,
My body plays the traitor to my will,
And fails me at my need,
As though some fate decreed
That I should never be
The man I long to be,
Or see
The very vision that I seek.

And when my spirit’s fain to fill
The measure of my manhood, still
I fail,
And, like the Holy Grail,
The Vision shines on yet ahead
And calls me on;
And I must tread
Where it has led,
However rough the road may be.
There may be rest for Thee,
My God, but not for me.

For I must fight
It is not right
That I should cease,
And rest in Peace,
A Peace my soul has never won.

My task can ne’er be done
Till I have found perfection at the least
‘Tis Thou hast made me so,
‘Tis Thou must surely know
The sources of the strength I crave
To seek, to help, to save
The wandering and restore the lost,
Bring back to shore the tempest-tossed
And set their hungry bodies down to feast.
Give me, O Lord, a soldier’s rest;
Who lies uneasy on the crest
Of some bare shell-swept hill,
And with the earth for pillow waits until
The dawn of battle breaks.

Then for his country’s and his children’s sakes
Goes forth to death,
While all around him heaves and quakes
The torn and battered earth,
And battle belches poison breath,
For in his soul finds birth
The Better Rest,
Which comes of Trust in one who leads,
Great joy in gallant knightly deeds,
And Love of that great cause for which he fights.

Oh, I have seen such sights
As make me long to know
The secret of that Rest
Which gives men strength
To suffer and endure the length
Of endless misery that war entails
For that were best,
To take that strength
And use it not to slay but sow
The seed of better worlds to be;
o use it, not to kill,
But rather fill
Men full of finer life,
The life that never fails;
To open their blind eyes
And make them see
The Vision of the Highest as He is,
To seek and find the better way
By which men go forth not to slay
But save men from their miseries.

O God, is hate more strong than Love,
And is the life that’s born above
So weak that it can only wail
The wreckage that strong hatred makes?
It shakes the earth,
And men’s hearts fail
For fear of what it brings to birth,
The horror of great darkness–blood–and pain.

Again – again
I see the proof that hate is strong
And Love is weak;
The opposite of what I seek
Is round me everywhere,
To give the lie to all my dreams.

If life be what it seems,
A slaughter-house and not a school,
An El Dorado where a fool
Is suffered to play havoc at his will,
Can there be rest?

Still – still
The endless, aimless struggle must go on,
And men, pale, haggard, wounded, wan,
Must stagger on to die,
And where they fall must lie
Unburied for the maggots and the flies,
Those hosts of flies;
And the cries
Of men in agony
Must insult the summer skies,
And all the beauty of the world with doubt,
Black doubt of God,
Lest He who rules us with His rod
Be just a fiend of boundless cruelty,
A demon in an angel’s dress
Who makes the world a wilderness
For His wild sport,
And laughs to see men caught
And torn to pieces in the meshes of His net
A God without regret,
Or bowels of compassion like a man.

That doubt destroys all rest;
It makes men weak,
It bids them seek
No longer–what is best,
But gather from the ruin what they can.

It starves the soul to selfishness
And bitter blank despair,
It taints the very air
We breathe as do the dead,
And all that we have read
Of God in Christ seems lies,
It makes us cynics,
And lays bare our souls for flies
To fatten on–for lustings
That wax gross and foul,
Like those great super-flies that buzz and prowl
About the long-unburied carcass on the field.

We are but weak, and yield
Our best to their foul lips,
Our faith in Pity and our trust in Love.
Doubt comes and grips
Them by the throat and leaves them dead:
The world seems red–blood red
How can we rest?
Come unto Me, He said.

How can we come? ‘Tis dark,
So dark, the day has fled
And left a bloody trail back in the West.
The way to Rest
Is faint and hard to find,
Like those dim tracks that wind
Across a dreary battlefield at night.
Men travel round in circles and get lost,
Come back to where two tracks had crossed
An hour ago,
And so
In weary circles wend their way,
Still longing for the light,
Still calling in the night
To comrades wandering hopeless like themselves,
Dim shapes that loom up sudden in the dark,
And stand out black and stark
Against the sky.

They cry
For guidance,
And perchance one thinks he knows
And goes,
Blind leader of the blind,
Down yet another track,
Which doubles and turns back
To where he started from,
And leaves the band of wanderers in the night.
Such is our plight
Who search for Thee
Across the bloody battlefields of Life.

Come unto Me
It sounds like mockery,
A voice that calls a wounded man
Across a weary space
He cannot travel o’er;
For we would come to Thee,
We long to see Thy face,
But we are wounded sore,
And evermore
Our weakness binds us,
Darkness blinds us,
We stretch our hands out vainly toward the shore,
Where Thou art waiting for Thine own.

We groan, and try, and fail again,
We cannot come–we are but men,
Come Thou to us, O Lord.
Come Thou and find us.

Shepherd of the sheep,
We cannot come to Thee.
It is so dark.
But hark,
I hear a voice that sounds across the sea.
“I come.”