Prayer for those in extremis
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people, who keep His commands and remain faithful to Jesus. (Rev. 13:10, 14:12)
What terrible things are done in the course of war! During World War 2, fighting on the eastern front resulted in multiple millions of fatalities amongst Russians, Ukrainians and Germans alike. Death is to be expected in war. But the atrocities that were committed by all sides were very terrible.
And there is such suffering there is today in the no-holds-barred war between the deeply dug-in, if seriously under-resourced, Russian troops, and the Ukrainian soldiers who are seeking to regain the initiative and reoccupy territory that has been snatched by Putin.
Most of us have a pretty good grasp of the basics, and daily updates are available online. There is no doubt, for instance, that the recent meeting between Putin and Kim Jon Un will result in a boost to Russia’s arsenal, and thereby enhance its capacity to prolong the war, and to inflict still further death and misery. The updates also keep us informed about just how exhausted the relatively small number of Ukrainian troops are after a year and a half of ceaseless conflict, whilst the Russian forces are being continually reinforced by hundreds of thousands of new recruits (although we can imagine that Russian supply chains are having the greatest difficulty keeping up with the pace of all this).
You may well have heard that Andrii Kostin, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, estimates that roughly 90% of the many Ukrainians taken prisoner by the Russians, ‘have been subjected to torture, rape, threats of sexual violence or other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment.’
With the news from Ukraine no longer quite so central, it is easy to slip back into continuing as ‘normal:’ our lives continue, after all, somewhat as they always have done. But the Scriptures present us with a challenge: ‘Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’ (Heb. 13:3)
This day, as we go about our daily business, myriads of Ukrainians are suffering intensely at the hands of their Russian captors – just as multitudes are suffering as a result of Hamas’ invasion.
The terrible plight of those captured by the Russians is graphically described in this report from Sky News. It makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing, yet these things are happening to precious people, some of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s be willing to remember them as if we were suffering, and come before the Father to ask Him to send each one His supreme sustaining power and support in truly miraculous ways.
Even though these appalling abuses are now well known, it is grievous that so many nations still refuse to condemn Russia for initiating them. Are not similar blind eyes turned toward China and the cruelties of the Chinese Gulag because business interests (or political allegiances) win out over justice and righteousness? What will it take to open people’s hearts, minds and, where helpful, their lips?
Father God, we are asking You too to be a father to the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children who have been forcibly removed to Russia. You have always cared for the exile, and remembered where each one came from and their family trees: these things are precious to You. We commit each of these dear children to You, Lord, that You might do a work of special grace in their hearts and lives and futures.
Even seemingly trivial events can prompt us to seek the Lord more earnestly. One night, a few weeks ago, several dozen daddy-long-legs ‘invaded’ the cottage where I was enjoying my first retreat in several years. I could not believe how noisy and distracting they were as they beat against the ceiling and crash-landed on my face.
One after the other soared from their concealed hide-outs and into action, and it was tiring to intercept them hour after hour – though I was able to intersperse my insect-defence tactics with some really worthwhile writing. The net effect was to remind me strongly of the multiple drone attacks on Ukrainian cities, and to prompt prayer to go that little bit deeper.
Other people who experienced unusual power cuts or loss of satellite signal for their TVs, likewise found themselves praying more deeply for the situation in Gaza. Today, Father, and whenever You prompt and summon us, we pray for all the many people who face extreme pain and misery in times of captivity or severe deprivation. Be with them and their loved ones, and cause many to move beyond their agony and anger to seek You still more earnestly. Let it be that as they seek they find.
The simple fact is that there are many who will not see out this day, whether in Israel-Gaza or on the Russian-Ukraine front. Pray for souls to be made ready to stand before their Maker.
So here are a selection of verses that we can use on behalf of those in extreme need.
I initially compiled these verses with the men and women taken prisoner in eastern Ukraine in mind, together with the Ukrainian children who have been removed to Russia. These cries for help and deliverance have been ascending before the throne of God for thousands upon thousands of years, and remain as heartfelt as ever. The Lord hears the cry of those who call out to Him with all their heart.
Let’s remind ourselves of the promise below from St Paul, and then use these verses to help us cry out to the Lord on behalf of those who are suffering.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Rom. 8:26)
A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord:
Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to You. (Ps. 102:1)
Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in Your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. (Ps., 143:1)
The groans of the dying rise from the city,
and the souls of the wounded cry out for help. (Job 24:12)
May the groans of the prisoners come before you; with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die. (Ps. 79:11)
The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from Heaven He viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death. (Ps. 102:19-20)
You hear the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry, (Ps. 10:7)
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into His ears. (Ps. 18:6)
In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from Your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to You for help. (Ps. 31:22)
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.
Rescue me, O LORD, from evil men.
Protect me from men of violence,
who devise evil in their hearts
and stir up war all day long.
They sharpen their tongues like snakes;
the venom of vipers is on their lips.
Guard me, O LORD,
from the hands of the wicked.
Keep me safe from men of violence
who scheme to make me stumble.
The proud hide a snare for me;
the cords of their net are spread along the path,
and lures are set out for me. (Ps. 140:1-5)
Hear my prayer, Lord, listen to my cry for help; do not be deaf to my weeping. I dwell with You as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were . . . Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice . . .
Praise be to the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. (Ps. 39:12, 55:17, 28:6)
I know that the LORD upholds justice for the poor
and defends the cause of the needy.
Surely the righteous will praise Your name;
the upright will dwell in Your presence. (Ps. 140:12-13)