I recently met with two trusted friends who are church leaders from the Ukraine and Belarus area. We have stood together in ministry over the last twenty years—beginning when they planted their first church, to now, as they help lead dozens.
During their visit to the United States, I was eager to hear their firsthand perspectives concerning the war in Ukraine. One mentioned that he had watched some of our national news since arriving, and his response had been to turn it off—it was discouragingly inaccurate. There was emotion in their tone as they provided clarity concerning Socialism and Communism, having grown up under its rule and its opposition to Christianity. But most stark was their courage and boldness—attributes Christ-followers in their part of the world must exhibit to lead a life of faith.
We had a taste of hardship when our churches had to make alternate plans to gather during the height of COVID, but that experience pales in comparison to their realities. For no purpose, their government took their church building from them, leaving it vacant still today. Undeterred, the church resolved to meet in the parking lot, which they have been doing for over a year now, often in subzero temperatures. When the war began and two church congregations gathered to pray, the authorities intervened. More than one church congregation meeting together is prohibited. Following Christ is a powerful force for freedom, and authoritarians are aware of this fact.
I listened to their stories and thought about how we live with freedom, yet we still seem hesitant to tell our Jesus story in the public square. I invite you to watch my conversation with them. I think their words will be as helpful to the Church in our nation as they were to me.
In this time of widespread deception and the rise of authoritarianism, it’s difficult to know where to turn for the truth or security. But please don’t imagine that Russian tanks are a greater force than the Spirit of God. I assure you they are not. The threats of dictators—no matter the nation—do not intimidate our Lord, but they do create instability in our world. In those struggles, there are opportunities. That is the story of Scripture.
Most of the heroes in our Bible were asked to step into the breach when the need emerged. In a similar way, God has called us to be His advocates in this pivotal time in history. More than the decisions of those in power, I believe what emerges in our immediate future will have more to do with the hearts and the prayers of God’s people. Many of us are reluctant to invest our time in prayer, thinking it to be a passive response. It’s quite the opposite. It is an assertion of spiritual intent; an invitation for God to bring His outcomes into our lives. When we pray, all of heaven moves—angels are dispatched, the courses of nations are changed, the destiny of our children is altered.
There are multiple places in Scripture where God says the prayers of His people led Him to intervene. Consider the king’s response, when Jonah went to Nineveh and proclaimed that in 40 days, the city would be overturned:
“When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “… Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” — Jonah 3: 6-9
The king didn’t defend their evil ways and their violence. He didn’t excuse it. He didn’t justify it. He humbled himself and influenced the people of his kingdom to do the same, and God spared them.
What do you suppose would happen if statements like the king’s started coming from the most powerful or influential people in our land, and from the hearts of God’s people? Church, it’s time to stop wringing our hands and pondering what we should do. Instead, we should pray: “God, be merciful. God, please give us a Nineveh response!”
As we face more challenges in the days ahead, continue to watch, listen, think from a biblical perspective, and prepare to act accordingly. To be effective in our assignment, we’re going to have to be awakened to something beyond just attending church and being polite. We’re going to have to understand what it means to be the people of God, to take up our crosses, and to stand against the darkness.
The decisions and choices we make today will determine the outcome of our lives and our freedom. The American Church has a tremendous amount of potential that we have not yet unleashed.
Onward in Him,
Pastor Allen Jackson