Let us now pray… for Putin and his regime to die. Even better, let’s pray for him to live and suffer a humiliating defeat. Even more, let’s pray for him to be brought before justice, and made to face those whose lives he destroyed. Let’s pray for the Russian people to rise up and say “no more!” Let’s pray the way they did in the Bible. Let’s pray for justice. Let’s pray for the fall of tyrants.
War comes. We cower. Church leaders pray in soft tones. Something terrible happens and Bishops write carefully weighed words and ambiguous prayers for peace. They send out monochrome letters and unemotional prayers. Stuff that!!! Let’s show some heart. Let’s have some empathy. Let’s pray for justice.
Let our churches name evil and pray against it. Let our churches pray in a way that empathizes with victims; that stands with the refugees of war and weeps with those who weep. No more nice empty words. Let’s pray with heart. Let’s pray with the confidence that we can truly say what we think to God (Heb 9:22) – and that God will understand an interpret (Rom 8:28).
Not long ago I was at a meeting of pastors. The leader asked us to share an encouraging story of prayer. I shared how I was isolated by floods while my wife repeatedly rang on the phone crying as our house became water damaged. I was upset that my family should have to face this without me. I cried out in prayer to God, “It’s not fair! Why would you separate us at a time like this?” That prayer received a surprising gracious answer but that’s not the point. The point is the platitudes. As soon as I said that I had prayed to God “it’s not fair” one of the pastors interrupted, “surely you didn’t talk to God that way?” Of course I did! Abraham did. Moses did. Hannah did. David did. Jesus did on the cross. God is grace and love, right? So, we have confidence to vent, to rage, to express our heart to God – without fear of judgement. Prayer is not a place to be nice and to sugar-coat things. Prayer is a place to tell God everything – even if our thoughts turn out to be wrong! Prayer is a place for truth. But unless we put away the platitudes, the silly ritualized ways, and just come as we are, we’re not giving the Divine Healer permission to work on us. Prayer is a place for being truthful about your heart, even if it is wrong, so God can work on it.
So let us pray for Vlad to get his just desserts. I may not have a full grasp of the situation. But like you, I desire this tyrant gone and his war ended. I may have the wrong end of the stick. But I bring my honest heart before God. At least when I pray this I honour the people of Ukraine with something better than a placid prayer for peace!
I’ll prove my point from the Bible in a moment, but just one clarification. It is good for us to honestly pray for evil to be destroyed. But we do not talk to God as if our opinions or perceptions are unquestionably right. That’s why Jesus suggested we should follow the words ‘your kingdom come’ with ‘your will be done’. We need to be careful not to think that God’s kingdom will match our ideas of it. When we pray for Putin to be crushed, we must always be open to God correcting our views. We must be open to God crushing ‘the Putin within’ us too. This is not a prayer for God to make the world how we want it. This prayer is not a ‘fatwa’ or a curse. This is an expression of hurt. This is a prayer for Divine justice. When we pray this way there is an attitude in our hearts that says “God as you bring justice, I’m open to being humbled and changed.” Every time we pray for a tyrant to fall, we should include the prayer that the tyrant within us would fall too. Whenever we pray for mercy and justice, we are committing ourselves to learning justice ourselves.
Let’s pray gutsy honest prayers of the heart. This is what we see in the prayer-book of the Bible – the book of Psalms. It shows us the confidence, frankness, and honesty that prayer involves. So here are some things it is OK to pray for…
It’s OK to pray for God to stop hiding:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised… Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer. Call their wickedness to account till you find none.
It’s OK to pray and say you feel forsaken:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
It’s OK to pray that evil people will fail and get what they deserve:
Give to [the evil] according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds. Give to them according to the work of their hands, render them their due reward.
It’s OK to pray for propaganda to be silenced:
Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
It’s OK to pray for God to make the way of the wicked dark and slippery:
Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me, fight against those who fight against me! Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! Let them be like chaff before the wind with the angel of the LORD driving them away! Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
It’s OK to pray for aggressors to fall on their own sword:
The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
It’s OK to pray with those who feel forgotten:
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!
It’s OK to pray for evil rulers to look in the mirror and see the horror of their actions:
Kill them not, lest my people forget, make them stumble by your power and bring them down, Lord our shield! For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more…
It’s OK to pray that the evil they do will rebound upon them:
Let their own table before them become a snare and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually… May their camp be a desolation, let no one dwell in their tents. For they persecute him whom you have struck down, and they recount the pain of those you have wounded. Add to them punishment upon punishment, may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
It’s OK to pray out your fear and hurt and stand with victims of war:
O my God, make them like whirling dust, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest, as the flame sets the mountains ablaze, so may you pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your hurricane! Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek your name, O LORD. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.
But let us pray these things with humility, knowing that when we ask God for justice we are asking for God’s love to begin in our own lives. Let us pray, not in a way that judges others, but admitting that we could be oppressors too. Let us not pray our judgement on evil. Let us never take revenge. But let us openly cry out for God’s justice. Let us be who we are, real hurting people who cry out to God who seems to have ignored Ukraine. Let us stand for something. Let us speak the truth that we want Vlad and his horrific war machine to be smashed. Then let’s trust God with that. And while we’re at it, let’s remember that prayer might actually achieve something! Amen.