Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt. 24:12-13) We in the West have long lived in relative comfort and ease, but that season is passing swiftly, and it seems as though there is nowhere left in the world that is a comfortable place to be. There are many, many things to trouble us in this moment, and many more piling up that would appear to threaten our very existence. How are we live in such days?
Make time for rest whilst you can
Emergency situations are not the time to build up a strong heart. But in the more normal rhythms of life, it behoves us to take time to rest our minds and bodies. As Francis wrote,
“From time to time one must recreate and relax in mind and body . . . To take the air, to go for a stroll, to enjoy a friendly chat, to play music, or sing or hunt . . . are such honest diversions that the only thing needed to utilize them well is simple prudence, which gives to all things their rank, time, place and measure.”
The Lord once said to me, “When I created children with the instinct and young animals with an instinct to play I was put an essential part of My own nature into them. You, My children stray off balance when you do not play.” He was not speaking here of playing as a matter of competition. We are more likely to gain spiritual discernment by picking blackberries or taking the dog for a walk than playing a competitive game. Rest and refreshment can aid our growth, develop our senses and help us to offset and compensate against life’s many pressures. Therefore, as Francis urges,
“Do as little children do, who with one hand cling to their father, and with the other gather blackberries along the hedges”.
Flashpoints that so easily flash into anger
I love what Francis de Sales says about prayer: “Nothing else purifies the intellect of ignorance and the will of depraved affections better than prayer.” The Lord looks for hearts that are sensitive and gentle – but sometimes, the events that we want to pray about can strike deep at that very sensitivity, to the extent that we become riled and find it hard to pray objectively.
Concerning the continual stream of ‘black is white’ lies from Moscow, you will remember the quote by George Orwell in his book, 1984: ‘Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else . . . Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.’ Ouch!!
I have been reading Pravda Ha ha (2019) by Rory Maclean, a travel writer and an expert on Russian affairs, in which he unpacks a wealth of evidence concerning the underlying corruption and mendaciousness that underpins national life in Russia, whilst at the same time maintains its centuries-old sense of being a chosen people. (See also the article on Vranyo.)
The word, Pravda, is infamous as the name of the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, means ‘Truth: the disposition to speak or act truly and without deceit (!)’ What hypocrisy! But our own government is similarly guilty, after holding regular parties while forbidding the rest of the country from gathering at all, not even as loved ones died and people were left entirely uncomforted. The Lord Jesus hated hypocrisy.
Many who have been left reeling by the USA gun lobby’s weasel words and robust defence of itself will consider it nothing short of hypocritical that a particularly prominent senator (who called for prayer for the victims of the recent school shooting), failed to mention that he had himself received $300,000 during a recent election campaign from the NRA, in a bid to ensure that he made no move to restrict the use of guns in America. America is the only country in the world that has suffers such frequent gun attacks in its schools. Yet, as we know, people in Texas, people are still permitted to carry guns with neither permit nor even training.
If I am feeling so riled by these things, how am I to pray well for them? We must not expect either too much or too little of ourselves in this respect. As Francis puts it, “If your heart wanders or is distracted, bring it back to the point quite gently and replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.”
A Selection of Flashpoints
So, with simplicity of heart, let’s come before the Lord in prayer on behalf of many far from simple-to-resolve issues. As always, my strategy is to present a selection of prayer topics to which He might use to inspire your own prayers. You will probably find it best to focus on one or two in depth – it would be challenging to respond to them all! Before we start, however, let’s remember this word from Francis de Sales:
“Do not fail to attend your meditations with hope; otherwise you will both derive no benefit from them. You should never finish your prayers except with confidence, which is the virtue most necessary for praying to God.”
1) Pray that the Lord will find a way not only to bless the millions who have left Ukraine, but to make many of them a blessing to Europe.
Many have been praying for the power of God to be at work amongst those who have been obliged to leave Ukraine, first just to keep them going, but then for what they may bring to the places that the Lord directs them to.
As always it is helpful to have examples to pray for on behalf of a much larger community. This 28-minute report, which was shown on Sky News last night, is moving too.
Lord, watch over refugees everywhere we pray. Especially we pray now for those fleeing Ukraine that Your hand will be on them to bring them to physical safety and into a place of spiritual significance.
2) Pray concerning the growing threat to world food supplies as a result of the Russian blockage of Ukrainian grain, which is set to hurt developing countries very badly indeed.
There are many threats to global food supply, but the war in Ukraine is certainly raising the stakes greatly. We know that Russian forces have seized much of Ukraine’s grain and taken it back to Russia; but one Lithuanian-backed proposal is for non-NATO ships to come as a convoy to take this really seriously needed grain to countries most in need of it (Egypt, Yemen and so on). These are desperately serious issues that must be faced by the whole world. Thank God that He sees and knows and is neither indifferent nor powerless.
Denmark is meanwhile reported to be sending advanced antiship missiles to Ukraine to help defend its shore against the massive Russian fleet. America, however, has ruled out Ukraine’s request to send longer range missiles that could be fired into Russia.
Father, this famine is so entirely avoidable, even as the war itself was. Hear the cry of those most in need of this grain we pray.
3) The UK Government is on the ropes, not only for the long-term damaging effects of its handling of the Afghan crisis but over the whole Party Gate issue. Many would say ‘entirely deservedly’ – but it is obviously not good for a nation to be so distracted from the important things that need to be being debated and implemented. Father, be Lord of how this develops and plays out.
4) Pray for all who are on the front lines in Ukraine today – and for the many who are now obliged to live in towns and villages that have been taken by the Russians.
Father, we give You these residents, many of whom who are in a state of advanced trauma. Grant them grace from moment to moment. Likewise we pray for soldiers on the front line, who know that they are sure to continue sustaining serious losses. We join with the prayers and concern of many that You will keep the main Ukrainian forces from becoming fully encircled by troops that have no business to be in their country.
5) Pray for the naïve Western nations. Lithuania and other Baltic nations have suffered greatly at the hands of Russia, and who continue to feel under enormous pressure, have long been aware of Putin’s violent desires and destructive capabilities. They are astonished at the naivety of Western nations, especially at the extent to which Germany has been such an uncritical player.
Despite the fact that the EU considers China a ‘systemic rival,’ Germany continues to host 60,000 Chinese scientific researchers. It is highly likely that these men and women will take the knowledge they gain back to China’s vast nuclear and military industries.
Lord, there is no excuse for our wilful blindness. We are as blind as Hezekiah was to the rise of the Babylonian empire. Have mercy on us despite our gross naivety.
6) From time to time I have sent out information about the new ‘Ice Curtain.’ It is important to remember the vast Soviet build-up of advanced bases and alarming new weapons in the Arctic, which is, in every sense, a key strategic region. This is just one of many such posts. Father, You designed the ice caps of this world to be pristine places. Forgive us that we are proving poor stewards of them. Protect the world from Russian aggression in the polar region we pray.
7) President Biden’s recent unambiguous declaration that the US would intervene militarily were China to invade Taiwan (which itself would represent a far from straightforward operation, even for the Chinese armed forces) has met with extreme anger from Beijing. Japan, for instance, is repeatedly having to scramble jets after warplanes from China near its airspace – including, on one occasion recently, a combined Russian-Chinese approach.
A US-Sino confrontation remains perhaps the greatest danger of all to world stability.
Lord, you have seen so much violence in this region: Japan’s invasion first of China, and then of the whole Pacific region; more recently China increasingly flexing its colossal military might. We lift the whole Pacific region to You, and the manoeuvrings between the superpower – and with it the future of Taiwan.
8) China’s continuing oppression of the Uighur people – combined with the Chinese government closing down access to Christian digital resources, and requiring believers to use only its own interpretation of the Scriptures.
Strengthen Your people in China, Lord, and let them prosper in spirit despite all attempts to suppress the gospel both there and in North Korea. May Your word never be chained but accomplish all that for which You have sent it.
9)The grave crisis Sri Lanka faces. The country has effectively run out of money, fuel and medical supplies, which is leading to intense distress that runaway inflation is only aggravating. You can read more here, one of many such summaries on the web.
Approximately 6% of the population (1,200, 000 people) are Catholic, which constitutes approximately well over 80% of the Christian population on the island. Lord, watch over this island that has witnessed so much violence in recent years – and watch over your people in all good ways, and provide for them in this time of great distress we pray.
10) Pray for ideas, inventions and pioneers to be recognised.
Father, thank You for people who come up with ideas – especially those that are truly God-given and beneficial to others. May they see the light of day we pray. Help us likewise, we pray, to recognise what You are doing in other people and movements.
Several centuries after Francis de Sales’ passing, a priest of an altogether different character was inspired by his writings and example. Don Bosco set out to fulfil an incredibly courageous vision to reach out to the desperately needy boys who lived on the streets of mid-nineteenth-century Turin, providing them with opportunities for work, and reaching out to the many who ended up in prison during their teenage years.
So far from the priest’s efforts being welcomed by others with open arms, he faced extreme opposition, both from ‘respectable’ society (who regularly play their part as modern-day Pharisees in such circumstances) and from church authorities, who considered him to be ‘poaching’ their own parishioners, despite having made no efforts whatsoever to reach out to these needy ones themselves.
Don Bosco survived various attempts not just to close down his rescue work but even to assassinate him. In the extraordinary way by which these things happen, less than a century later, the Catholic church came to regard him as a saint. He went on to found the Salesian order, which continues to thrive to this day.
It does less than justice to reduce the ministry of courageous pioneers to just a few sentences – but how wonderfully God empowers and accompanies those who are determined to serve Him no matter what the temptations and soul-crushing pressures the enemy sends their way. You can find out more about this man and his ministry here if you would like to do so, but the key point to pray for in this regard is that the Lord will inspire and protect His chosen pioneers, and give them the grace to persevere through their many trials, and to see their visions fulfilled. You may well find the Lord directing your attention to particular such pioneers to lift afresh before His throne.