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Painful Helplessness

My wife and I were sitting together on our sofa catching the evening news. My upper arm began to twitch. Since her arm was touching mine, she felt my worries in each twitch. 

“Man,” she said, “this is really affecting you.”

I knew my usual cheerful mood was being affected, but I hadn’t realized the degree to which my nervous system was alerting me to the bleeding of my soul.

The global turmoil showcased by the previously veiled, deeply entrenched, systemic racial inequities, the hate-filled walls erected between brothers and sisters “in Christ” divided by pandemic protocol ideologies, and now, the recent unfolding war tragedies have stretched my sensibilities to injustice to their limits.

Witnessing too many well-armored Goliaths beating down Davids has taken a toll on my soul.

Some quick remedies might be to stop watching or listening to any news and to focus on my own small life in the tiny corner of the globe — the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, denial does not stop the bleeding. It only serves to mask an unjust reality that demands action.

I have felt increasingly helpless as I’ve watched the progression of increasing violence against a growing number of innocent civilians. Every fiber in my body is calling me to DO SOMETHING!

I have been praying that, as God sent an angel to the Assyrian army who had besieged Jerusalem and killed 185 soldiers (2 Kings 19:35), He could also send just one angel and send those young boys some temporal illness to cause them to return to their homelands.

I have also been intently praying for a history repeat—just like during the days of Elisha, when the Syrian army had come to surround the city of Dothan, Elisha prayed, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.’ And He [God] struck them with blindness, according to the word of Elisha” (2 Kings 6:18). Scriptures tell us that the whole Syrian army came into the city in single file formation blinded, docile and harmless. They were fed and the entire humiliated army went back home. The Father of lights can do the same thing to the Russian army.

I am totally cognizant that God has one-thousand ways to solve this Ukrainian crisis. However, days have turn now into weeks and the loss of innocent people and the destruction of beautiful cities continues.

God has a strong, resilient heart; however, any parent out there knows that the pang of suffering is most severe when one of our beloved children is the victim of the injury, and we find ourselves helpless to stop the pain. Can you imagine the bleeding going on in the Holy Family?

We are urged by one whose skin knew the sting of unjust beatings and persecutions, “three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea” (2 Cor. 11:25).

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Paul reminds us that our action plan must include the deployment of petitions, prayers, intercession AND THANKSGIVING!

Prayer is a POWERFUL ACTION! We are called to pray for everyone.  

For the victims, yes of course, we do this instinctively. However, we need to intercede for the “kings and all those in authority” who are perpetrating atrocities to feed their sin-bent, merciless egos.

Prayer humbles us. Prayer changes us. Prayer postures our hearts to hear the cries and disparities of those who are different from us and frees us to attune to their suffering, even as we take that collective suffering to the foot of the heavenly Mercy Seat and intercede for all that suffer.

Paul’s commendation to the Philippians has been a powerful antidote for me in this challenging planetary season.

“Don’t fret or worry (your name). Instead of worrying. PRAY. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into PRAYERS, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it (your name), a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s WONDERFUL what happens when CHRIST displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Phil. 4: 6,7, MSG). Name and capitalization added for emphasis.

I’ve been deploying my petitions laden with worry and concern for my Ukrainian brothers and sisters, along with my praises for the 1.1 million ways God’s army of angels and His comforting Spirit are manifesting His abiding love to all those caught in the crossfire.

I’ve been reshaping my prayers into praises that look something like this:

Father, I praise you for coming close to those who most desperately need to know there is a loving God watching over them.

Father, I praise for the millions of angels that are working 24/7 to bring hope and comfort to the suffering.

Father, I praise you for the presence of your Spirit encouraging and empowering the hearts of those who have put their trust in YOU.

Paul’s words are true. When we follow God’s directives, to pray instead of fretting or worrying; when we let petitions AND praises shape our worries into prayers, something amazing happens, “... before we know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, WILL COME and settle you down. It is wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” (Phil. 4:7).


César De León

North Pacific Union vice president for Hispanic ministries and ministerial director