Praying Psalms in the Midst of War

By: Scott Armstrong

It’s been hard to pray recently.

If you’re like me, I’ve been consumed by the news coming from Russia and Ukraine. My feelings range from shock to grief to anger. Every day I check updates from our friends and fellow Christians in Ukraine and send them words of encouragement.* They are overwhelmed, but steadfast.

I turn to prayer, but my prayers seem so small. Interceding for the war to stop and for a dictator to stop his lunacy seem especially audacious – and ineffective, frankly – as things get worse and worse.

If only there were a manual of prayers for a time like this, a book that could give us words when we don’t have any.

As I was enjoying my devotional time last week, the lightbulb flipped on over my dense head: PSALMS is that book. The 150 psalms written by various authors were many times sung, but almost always prayed. Some are private, and others are corporate. Joy and praise splash out of some, and lament and desperation rest heavy on others. Although the entire Bible informs and transforms our prayer lives, Psalms is the one book that gives us the widest range of human condition and expression, all in the context of fellowship with God.

Psalm 70 is what I find myself praying most nowadays as I fumble with words to express what I feel and desire regarding the war.

“Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me” (v. 1).

The prayer of the mother embracing her children in a bomb shelter, while explosions pulsate through the night.

“May those who want to take my life

be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin

be turned back in disgrace.

May those who say to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’

turn back because of their shame” (v. 2-3).

We ask, Lord, that Putin and any leader bent on violence be put to shame and confusion! May they turn back in disgrace!

“But may all who seek you

rejoice and be glad in you;

may those who long for your saving help always say,

“The Lord is great!” (v. 4).

The rest of the world has been astonished at the faith and resilience of Ukrainian Christians who are singing worship songs in the subways and others celebrating communion in refugee camps. In the middle of unimaginable devastation, they continue to seek God’s face. They keep on rejoicing and proclaiming that “the Lord is great!”

“But as for me, I am poor and needy;

come quickly to me, O God.

You are my help and my deliverer;

Lord, do not delay” (v. 5).

We echo the words of the New Testament writers and say, Maranatha! On behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters, we ask that you come quickly, Lord Jesus. Help! Deliver! And do not delay!

It is as if the words were written for today. In the five verses of Psalm 70, we have prayed for the hurting and against the oppressors. We have expressed anguish, and yet also praise! We have entered God’s throne room with the urgency of a desperate son or daughter – and that is what we are!

The next day I read the next psalm – Psalm 71 – in my devotional. I should not have been surprised, but I was. Another psalm that appears perfectly written for our situation today?! How can it be?!

When we long to pray but don’t have the words, may we return to the book that expresses our innermost emotions more beautifully than we ever could. Psalms contains the prayers of Ukrainians and Russians. Psalms can be our prayer book, too.

*The last entry I posted was a testimony from one of our Nazarene pastors who is assisting families in bunkers and those fleeing the country.

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