Ukraine has been our home for the past 12 years. I would love to be back there now, if not for the ongoing military conflict in that country. But currently, we are back in Canada and we do not know when we will be able to return to our home in Ukraine. How can we continue to participate in ministry in Ukraine if we are located thousands of kilometers away? There are many good answers to that question. Some of them can be found on our mission organization’s webpage on Ukraine. In this post, I would like to focus on intercessory prayer.
Praying for Ukraine
For the past several months, my email signature has said “Pray for peace in Ukraine” with a link to our mission webpage. That webpage gives a couple of resources to guide our prayers for the crisis in that country. Using the PrayerMate app, I have been using the prayer list entitled “SEND 40 Days of Prayer for Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and the World.” I also have a reminder set on my phone that dings a few times throughout the day to remind me to pray for Ukraine.
Many of you are also doing something similar. Frankly, I have been amazed at the number of people that have assured me that they are praying for Ukraine. I hope that we are not simply praying for a military victory for one side of the conflict or the other. My prayers are for the safety and spiritual resilience of the believers who have fled and those that remain. I pray that the vision of mobilizing Ukrainian believers to the unreached peoples of Eurasia and Europe will become reality. I pray that God will turn this horrible tragedy into something that will bless the world.
Do my prayers matter?
But is praying for people in another country, particularly if we don’t know them by name, all that significant a help? I mean, don’t the prayers of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters reach the throne of God with even more passion and urgency than my prayers? Why is it necessary that I also participate in this practice of presenting the needs of Ukraine before our loving and sovereign heavenly Father?
Paul relies on the prayers of others
I am not going to get into all the theological reasons for intercessory prayer. But I want to share something that I noticed in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.2 Corinthians 1:10
Paul’s convictions about prayer
We don’t know what this deadly peril was. But whatever it was, Paul was confident in God’s deliverance. But he also believed that the Corinthian church needed to pray for him. God would deliver him from the danger “as you help us by your prayers.” Paul is confident that deliverance could come through intercessory prayer. He is also convinced that the Corinthians need to be included in that number of intercessors.
This conviction is fascinating in and of itself because in the letter it is clear that Paul has not always been confident in the Corinthians’ endorsement of his ministry as an apostle. At times, it seems that he is seeking to prove to them that he is really worthy of being an apostle. He goes to great lengths to explain the cruciform nature of his ministry. He fears that they may have been led astray by the “super-apostles” who are seeking to promote themselves.
But nevertheless, Paul relies on and invites the prayers of this church for him, his circumstances, and his ministry.
Paul does not hide behind the facade of a superman who pretends that he can survive quite well on his own without help from anyone else. He has no qualms about expressing his desperate need for their prayers. Paul is firmly convinced of prayer’s power because he knows that God listens, responds, and delivers.David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, The New American Commentary, 29:82.
Collaborating in prayer
Furthermore, Paul indicates that their prayers for him would make them his co-workers. We find the Greek word for “help” (synypourgeo) only here in the New Testament. But it is the verb form for “co-worker”, which Paul uses repeatedly throughout his epistles. It essentially means “to collaborate”, “to join in serving” or “to cooperate with”. The Corinthians would be collaborating with him by praying for him.
Based on this verse, we can safely conclude that intercession for someone is a collaboration with them in the work. This is not only praying for the success of their work, that is, for fruit from their labors. Asking God to deliver them from danger is also part of collaborating with others. In praying for them, we are doing more than what spectators do at a hockey or football game. We are not just showing our support for their heroic efforts. We are actually participating in the struggle with them.
Participating in the struggle through prayer
I am reminded of the way that Paul describes Epaphras’ ministry to the Colossians. Since Epaphras was sending greetings through Paul, it is clear that he is not currently in Colossae. Epaphras had planted the church in this city and maybe in a few other places as well. But now he is far away, unable to continue his teaching and pastoral ministry to them.
However, Epaphras continues to “work hard” for this church and this work is his fervent prayer on their behalf.
Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.Colossians 4:12-13
Continuing to serve after we leave
Thankfully most cross-cultural workers do not end up as “war refugees” like those of us who were living and serving in Ukraine. But almost all of us will one day face the day when we will leave our adopted home in another country and culture and move back to our passport country or to another place of ministry. How will we continue to help the churches we leave behind? This is a question we had to face when we moved from the Philippines to Far East Russia in 1998. Then we dealt with it again when we relocated from Russia to Ukraine in 2009.
[This topic is developed in much more detail on this blog in a series by my colleague, Gary Ridley. This series is on the topic of following up with church plants. In particular, see the post on praying for churches as part of the follow-up with those churches.]
I am very thankful for the many opportunities that I have been given to return to both the Philippines and FER to visit the churches in which we served. However, I do not know when we will be able to return to Ukraine, even for a visit. But I am assured by Paul’s words to the Corinthians that we can continue to collaborate with our Ukrainian, Russian and Philippines brothers and sisters through prayer.
Paul concludes his plea for “collaborative intercession” by noting that when God does deliver him from this “deadly peril”, many will give thanks to God.
Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.2 Corinthians 1:11
As more people pray for this deliverance, attention to God’s glory and fame will increase. More people will recognize that God has answered their personal prayers for Paul. So, they will be encouraged in their faith. They will bless God’s name for his amazing faithfulness and graciousness.
These intercessors will recognize that they had a part in bringing about this amazing result. The same is true today when we pray for those who are going through a “deadly peril” in Ukraine or facing some other crisis in another country. We participate in the battle when we pray. We become co-workers through our intercession. In this way, the exciting work of resisting the Evil One and advancing the kingdom is not just happening far away “on the mission field”. No, we have been helping in the struggle through our prayers. God receives more praise – and we feel the thrill of participating in the victory.