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 of churches in the region.
During their visit to the United States, I was eager to hear their firsthand perspectives concerning the war in Ukraine. One of the pastors mentioned that he had watched some of our national news since arriving, but his response had been to turn it off—it was discouragingly inaccurate. Both pastors conveyed great 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 the COVID-19 pandemic, but that experience pales in comparison to these pastors’ realities. For no purpose, a church in Belarus had their building taken 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.
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. But 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. I believe what emerges in our immediate future will have more to do with the hearts and the prayers of God's people that with the decisions of those in power.
Many of us are reluctant to invest our time in prayer, thinking it to be a passive response. Quite the opposite is true, actually. Prayer 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!”
While we don’t have tanks in our streets, we do face other battles, and as we do, we must 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.
My pastor friends from Eastern Europe would tell us the best way to support them is to use the freedoms we have to be advocates for the Gospel—upholding our biblical worldview, using our voices, engaging in hard conversations, and taking our faith into our schools, our businesses, our ballparks, and everywhere we go. The decisions and choices we make today will determine the outcome of our lives and the future of our freedoms.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Sandsun
Allen Jackson is senior pastor of World Outreach Church, a congregation of 15,000, and founder of Allen Jackson Ministries, which broadcasts his biblical messages across the world on TV, radio, and the internet. He is the author of Intentional Faith, and his new book, "Big Trouble Ahead," just released from Thomas Nelson in August.