It’s not even a month since Putin issued the orders he has been brooding over for years, turning intimidation and tank manoeuvres into what he still describes in Orwellian terms as a ‘special military operation.’ Is it just me, or do I detect that the news agenda is already beginning to drift into post-invasion fatigue and a whole raft of ‘Now what?’ questions that are more concerned with us and our new problems, rather than the constantly imperilled Ukrainians? We got bored with lockdown and all things COVID, and now we don’t care and we aren’t grateful. COP 26 and the ‘Climate Disaster’ went the same way, and we’re not bothered. Really not bothered. Perhaps mercifully, war mongers are not in fashion in the West, as, apparently, that would mean nuclear weapons- or chemical, or biological weapons. Except we certainly have all three without firing any shots- the new ‘energy crisis’ now means that nuclear power is being pushed back onto the table, we need more oil from Arabs and Venezuelans and probably the Scots too, and fracking, and as sanctions now mean you can’t buy wood chips from the Russians the good folk who installed wood chip boilers will have to chop down local timber instead. Its hard to know who has and who has not lost the plot.
Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God, and that revelation announced by God Himself was slow to gain traction. Understatement? Profoundly so, perhaps. Even the Lord Jesus was surrounded by the small minded and wilfully blinkered. The scripture records that those who did not ignore him brought their ‘petty’ distractions to bother him with instead. “Tell my sibling to divide the inheritance with me. I’ve just bought a field- I need to get the wheat in so there is a harvest and a profit when this mission is over and its back to business as usual. Please would you fix it for my sons to be leader and deputy of the Council? I’m getting married- I’ll come to the Revival meeting after my honeymoon, and I’ll bring my missus. I need to organise a funeral- my dad just died. That is important, isn’t it? Sorry Lord- I will be back. Promise!”
There is a time and a place for all these things, as I said a couple of posts ago, and this is not an awkward admission for the simple reason that the Kingdom of God is Incarnate, through the Son of God made flesh, and through our lives, showing faith by our good working in God’s world. But this is surely a time for urgency and prioritising in partnership with the Spirit of God, for the reasons I’ve alluded to, and more besides.
Several of us met for prayer this Monday morning, as is our habit, and we collated a bunch of concerns and priorities. Someone (all the rest were ladies!) mentioned the men of Issachar, a scriptural nugget beloved by intercessors, from the middle of a fascinating passage from 1 Chronicles chapters 11 to 13, at the crucial season of transition from the rule of Saul to David. The text is full of ‘trivial’ details, though certain phrases should make the unwary jump up like stepping on a land mine. [I hope you don’t consider that in poor taste.]
For from day to day men came to David to help him, until there was a great army, like an army of God.
These are the numbers of the divisions of the armed troops who came to David in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him, according to the word of the LORD. The men of Judah bearing shield and spear were 6,800 armed troops. Of the Simeonites, mighty men of valour for war, 7,100. Of the Levites 4,600. The prince Jehoiada, of the house of Aaron, and with him 3,700. Zadok, a young man mighty in valour, and twenty-two commanders from his own fathers’ house. Of the Benjaminites, the kinsmen of Saul, 3,000, of whom the majority had to that point kept their allegiance to the house of Saul. Of the Ephraimites 20,800, mighty men of valour, famous men in their fathers’ houses. Of the half-tribe of Manasseh 18,000, who were expressly named to come and make David king. Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.1 Chronicles 12: 22-32 ESV (my emphases)
As I say, this is just the section that shows the immediate context of the ‘men of Issachar’. All the folk who come to David’s camp have a very clear sense of the new Kingdom priorities– not only of national pride and personal commitment to David as God’s anointed king, but the conviction that loyalty to King David is very much loyalty to David’s God, YHWH God of Israel, far beyond any sense that was the case with Saul. In the same way, we prayed together this morning that God raises up and empowers intercessors in this moment. As even the enemy of our souls unwisely conceded, in attempting to tempt Christ at the end of His Lenten Fast, God indeed gives angels charge over us, and over the nations. The realisation of this great privilege and great calling is surely a realisation that such a burden for intercession cannot be a part time hobby.
In my waking dreams today, I was alerted to pray against saboteurs and for the failure of assassins in Ukraine. In the Name of God. Amen.
We each brought different priorities, and reflected more widely on the implications as each one shared their tentative insights. As I posted last time, another noted that the people smugglers and traffickers who were exposed on the French side of the Channel are turning to the refugees- women and children without their menfolk, by and large. We hear reports in past years that the unwary and desperate in Moldova have been trafficked to the UK, perhaps even to particular streets in our town, and we pray that those who seek to do such wickedness will be frustrated, caught and properly penalised- especially the leaders, the ‘big’ criminals who reap the profits of such immoral trade in the vulnerable. We asked God for wisdom and good intelligence for Police forces and strategic insight for governmental authorities who seek to oversee the safe passage of the new refugees. We plead for the besieged and captured Ukrainians who Putin plans to ‘relocate’ deep into Russia, a different scale of dastardly trafficking more akin to that of the original Nazis Putin now claims his special military operation is intended to defeat.
One of the effects of globalisation, and especially of the removal of borders locally in the EU, is that no one government can exercise effective authority over international criminality, so we perceive a particular value in praying for divine intervention for the disruption of people trafficking, be it from Moldova to Manchester and Maidstone, or wherever else. After the mass fraud of COVID furlough payments, it ought to be commonly appreciated that there are limits to the extent that local authorities can be speedily effective in vetting the many thousand of people who have signed up with the government last week, volunteering to house refugees from Ukraine who must be brought here in haste. Who knows who else will try to get around these vulnerable people, seeking to exploit both the innocent and those of good will? We pray for God’s sovereign oversight over all this.
We pray for wise heads to be enabled to apply their relevant experience and to speak truth to power where it is needed; for new relationships and effective channels in administrative government to be opened to accomplish this.
Extending our GCSE Geography, we realise the very significant implications for food supplies and infrastructure challenges stemming from this widespread conflict. Even in the west of Ukraine, reports from farms are that the workers are not available to plant wheat this year. Energy disruption to the cold storage facilities means that seed potatoes are rotting, curtailing that harvest as well. Last night, Putin’s missiles destroyed another oil depot, so Ukrainian tractors will be without sufficient fuel. The majority of tractors that the Russians themselves use are sourced from the EU, so they are now cut off by the sanctions from spare parts, as well as imported fertiliser. The Russians will be hungry too.
In all these things we see the corporate effects of individual greed and selfishness- the ways in which small minded anxieties, unholy worrying about tomorrow, all now coalesce into a catastrophe on the global scale. We pray for pivotal people in positions of influence, for the raising up of wise leaders and politicians with wisdom and compassion.
In short, we pray for the emergence of many Josephs, each appropriate to their more local situations, as I wrote here and here and here during the challenge of COVID, which has not, for most of the world, passed at all. The same lessons are also relevant to the developing circumstances.
Nehemiah also offers us a long list of object lessons in these circumstances. The communities in Africa I visited told me that they had not before noticed the practical helps that are to be found in abundance in this book of the Hebrew bible, and were excited by many of the discoveries in Nehemiah’s journey from exile to homeland-made-safe. In contrast to the Joseph account (Gen 36ff), Nehemiah has to deal with significant political opposition, threats of war, and all that comes with international jealousy and rivalries. Joseph’s relational challenges were within his own family, which was test enough for him. God gave Nehemiah and Ezra a great victory through their trials, along with the people they led in God’s grace, and this did not result in war.
But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.Nehemiah 2:10 ESV
As God’s people together- the entire Body of Christ- we can step forward to protect and build spiritual walls to promote the welfare of the whole world, each in our own calling.
Another insight draws on the legacy of the prophet- administrator Daniel, whom I have written on here and here and here. Our intercessory friend referred us to the later section of Daniel’s final vision, a very difficult text which I guess we will only make complete sense of after its all over. What strikes me here is the way in which the powerful who do not act in righteousness, whose motives are for ill rather than for good, are able to act freely up to a point, but God sees and God restrains and God decrees that there will be an end to their working of wickedness. We know the names and see the deeds of many of the key agents at this time, including Putin, and we can make sound judgements about what is right and wrong in regards of his deeds.
And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail, for the end is yet to be at the time appointed. And he shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will and return to his own land.Daniel 11:27-28 ESV
We have not examined what the moral state of Ukraine became prior to the recent turn of events, (though we do know that Donald Trump tried to exploit them and significantly hindered their safety). I am content to accept that there have been corrupt leaders there in the recent past. Some parts of the community may well have been mistreated, without implicating causes from the Russian side, and no one need pretend that the current Ukrainian president was, or is a saint. But the principle facts are clear: Putin has invaded without just cause, and the vast majority of Ukrainians are certain that they do not want to be Russian on Putin’s current terms. Both soldiers and civilians are prepared to stay, even to fight and perhaps to die, in circumstances I thought had been consigned to never-ending reruns of grainy film footage from the 1940’s. The World at War isn’t showing on my TV now. Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelensky has been heard skilfully addressing many parliaments over recent days, in terms specifically tailored to their various cultural perspectives, and yesterday (Sunday 20th) he spoke to the leaders of Israel.
I understand that Zelensky is himself of Jewish heritage, though I know nothing of his personal faith commitment. What I do believe is that God is generous towards us all, and that if we are prepared to engage with Him in terms of righteousness and justice, then God will extend mercy and grace far beyond what we deserve, individually and corporately. Nevertheless, the most profound changes will be wrought in society when leaders are people of profound integrity (note I did not say perfect- and the Spirit of God knows what He is comfortable with), as our prayer partner recalled;
At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.Daniel 6:4 NIV
Some of us listen to or participate in networks of intercessors across this nation and further afield. My friend notes that there have been accounts even from the USA of prophetic words regarding community food banks and power ‘outages’ which were uttered long before the COVID or cyberattacks that led to these phenomena, in a part of the world that seemed to have consigned such things to their grainy past. (Some did hear and obeyed when God told them to prepare suitable resources, including online church resources that were ideally placed for seekers to find in lockdown.) But they and we now all see together that our apparent daily comforts and the blessings of our modern technological lifestyles give us no immunity from a more ‘third-world’ experience, which can arrive in very short order.
We are being called to catch up to God and the current moving of His Spirit to seek supernatural gifting and resourcing, with prophetic direction. The lesson is that God is speaking well in advance of events, giving us ample time to prepare, if we are listening. Instead, we may discover that as we didn’t wait on God, pressing on to work out the present and future by ourselves, we are now empty handed to share in love with those we could and should have helped and served. As Samuel reminds us, God requires obedience rather than striving. Thus we interpret what it means by saying that the sons and daughters of Issachar knew the signs of the times, and could see what Israel should do.
In our meeting of praying people today, we saw that the lessons of preparedness for war (from David and the men of Issachar), for famine (from Joseph), for wise politics in nation building (from Nehemiah) and for spiritually informed moral and ethical service (from Daniel) all synergise in the wisdom of God.
We concluded with the reflection that the Gospel of Mark closes with our Lord’s instruction, “Go, make disciples of all nations.., and these will be the signs…” For the most part, we’ve not walked in the second part, while we can say with joy that there is a new evangelistic ministry in our town. As we witness and as we are open to be used by the Lord in such signs we may fulfil what Jesus prayed for, that each person lights up this present darkness, as bright stars in the blackness in our locality. The challenge is to take our light to shine in all the dark places- perhaps that we Christians (and again, it was the ladies who were making this point) go to the nail bars in town, where the poorly paid recently arrived ladies have found work (whether it turns out they are trafficked or not) so that the place will no longer be spiritually dark because we are there, and we took God in with us!
Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 5:14-16, says that it is we believers who are the light of the world. We may be shocked and surprised by this statement. Being the Light of the World is supposed to be Jesus’ job. I can have a little light of mine, I suppose… but no! You have faith in Jesus- quite properly so. Now we discover that Jesus has faith in us, said Desmond Tutu. Shocking, and wonderful! God’s plan is that people will see Jesus when they see us, because the Body of Christ is Jesus with skin on. We are also to be the City of Lights on the hill.
Or in terms of creation and new creation, its like this. The God Who first proclaimed, ‘Let there be light!’ now proclaims, ‘You are the light of the world!’ And if we will allow it, if those lights come together and shine as one, then the whole world can be full of light that will overcome the darkness completely. In the Name of God.
(c) Stephen Thompson 2022
- 1 James Tissot. David’s Valiant Men. https://blog.daum.net/ksbs/1732 Many more Tissot paintings of biblical scenes at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Old_Testament_by_James_Tissot
- 2 https://www.flickr.com/photos/marcofieber/8062363017 (Moldova CC 2.0) ; https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4436766
- 3 https://picryl.com/media/joseph-is-made-ruler-of-egypt-2f7f4d 1873 http://commons.wikimedia.org/
- 4 https://picryl.com/media/nehemiah-and-hanani-install-levites-as-guards-~-rebuilding-of-the-walls-of-f6d1ee ; https://picryl.com/media/rebuilding-of-the-city-walls-of-jerusalem-fca085 date 1372 Jean Bondol, France. FROM http://europeana.eu/ National Library of the Netherlands.
- 5 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Merian%27s_Daniel_7_engraving.jpg
- 6 L. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8c/Light_of_the_World_Hunt.jpg/1024px-Light_of_the_World_Hunt.jpg C. https://pxhere.com/en/photo/334646 R. https://www.flickr.com/photos/4thglryofgod/11739445273 Sharon Tate Soberon (CC BY-ND 2.0)