Pausing to Pray for Ukraine
For good reason, Psalm 46 has been a cherished song across the ages of the church. This Psalm of holy confidence has even been deemed “Luther’s Song”, as it was the inspiration behind the reformer’s timeless hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” It was said of Martin Luther that in his many times of trouble and danger he would cheerfully exclaim, “Come, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” He would go on to explain:
“We sing this Psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us, and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word, against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.”
Almost two millennia later, the great pastor and key leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., would often employ Psalm 46 as a warning to unjust leaders that God would “rise up and break the backbone” of their oppressive power.
Yet for our current generation of Christ-followers, we can also draw upon the timeless truths of this Psalm and apply them in prayer over the turmoil, uncertainty, and tragedy that our brothers and sisters are facing in Ukraine.
A Three-fold Pause
A careful reading of Psalm 46 renders a clear three-fold division curiously marked out by the familiar word, Selah. Occurring more than 70 times in the Psalms, the term Selah is one of many mysterious musical terms that often punctuate the divine songs. While one cannot be dogmatic on its interpretation, a great deal of scholarly agreement has surmised that Selah conveys a sort of musical pause or interlude in the song meant to provoke reflection and meditation.
So as we consider these three pauses in Psalm 46, I believe that they provide us with three themes of prayer that can be applied to the trouble and turmoil we see happening in Ukraine and throughout the world.
Pause to Praise and Surrender (verses 1-3)
This first emphasis focuses our attention on who God is and what He is doing. The comforting truth that God is our refuge and strength speaks both to the external protection He provides and the way He empowers us in our weakness. God without and God within. He is the one who is “ever-present” or a “well-proved” help in times of trouble. Our God is a present help who gives a future hope.
Our God is a present help who gives a future hope.
We would do well to remember that while the presence of evil is real, it is also limited. But God’s presence is never limited. He is omnipresent. So while evil may be close by, our God is closer. While trouble may be great, our God is greater. While wickedness might be strong, our God is stronger. Even now, while millions of Ukrainians are fleeing their homes for safety, we can be assured that our God is there, ever-present as a heavenly refuge and divine strength. We can join them at this moment praising God for being a well-proven help in this time of trouble.
We would do well to remember that while the presence of evil is real, it is also limited. But God’s presence is never limited. He is omnipresent. So while evil may be close by, our God is closer.
God’s presence permeates this Psalm, and the first response it invites is to surrender fear. The confidence-infused “therefore” in verse 2 charts a fearless path forward, even though utter chaos surrounds. We can pray along with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine for the presence of the Almighty to release them from the grip of fear and provide security at the soul level.
Pause to Trust in God’s Sustenance and Security (verses 4-7)
The turbulent description of the world’s roaring sea is now contrasted with God’s calm flowing stream. The river symbolizes the spiritual sustenance and security that God’s presence provides. God is front and center among His people and demonstrates His sovereign authority over the tumult of the nations.
The first of a twofold refrain serves as an exclamation point for this second stanza in verse 7. In Psalm 46, the “Lord of hosts” speaks of God’s transcendence, while the “God of Jacob” points to His immanence. We can pray for heavenly sustenance and security to invade our earthly reality. This is especially true as we pray for God’s presence and safety to become tangible in Ukraine.
In Psalm 46, the “Lord of hosts” speaks of God’s transcendence, while the “God of Jacob” points to His immanence. We can pray for heavenly sustenance and security to invade our earthly reality. This is especially true as we pray for God’s presence and safety to become tangible in Ukraine.
Pause to Behold, Be Still, and Believe (verses 8-10)
The word behold is meant to arrest our attention and give witness not only to the visible works of God but also to see through what God is doing into the spiritual realm. While our real enemy is a spiritual one, God also dismantles and disarms the enemy’s schemes that are physically present in our world. This reality fuels our prayer for God to bring justice and establish true peace.
While our real enemy is a spiritual one, God also dismantles and disarms the enemy’s schemes that are physically present in our world. This reality fuels our prayer for God to bring justice and establish true peace.
In what is perhaps the most popular verse in the Psalm, the tone shifts in verse 10 from the inspired chorus writing about the Lord to God speaking directly with a sovereign imperative. The command to “Be still and know that I am God” is often expounded among biblical scholars as having dual directions.
To God’s people, it is a command to stop striving and trust that the Lord of hosts will powerfully act on their behalf. It’s a command of comfort, rest, and an invitation to intimacy with the Almighty. For there is a certain quality of knowing God that can only come through stillness.
But to the enemies of God, it’s a stern warning meant to awaken them from their illusion of control and halt their lust for power.
This command is followed by the prophetic pronouncement that sums up history’s trajectory. God utters a double “I will” statement declaring that He will be exalted among all the nations of the earth. This certainly includes Ukraine, Russia, all of Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Do we really believe this?
If so, we can boldly pray this future reality into our present moment and ask the Lord of hosts to awaken the nations to a fresh recognition that He is God!
This divine song of confidence closes with the second repetition of this hope-inducing refrain:
“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
May we move forward today with open eyes to stay current on the facts of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine. But may we also move into the week with frequent pauses and open Bibles and hearts set on interceding for the nation of Ukraine, trusting that God is and will continue to be a very present help in this time of trouble. And may our prayers also lead us in the coming weeks towards Spirit-led tangible action to generously give, serve, and persevere in prayer.
Copyright © 2022 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved.
Justin most recently served as a pastor and professor at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, MN. He led hundreds of young adults, along with other staff, in the rhythms of prayer and the ministry of the word. Before serving in his role at Northwestern, Justin spent 10 years in pastoral ministry at a local church, where he was first introduced to Strategic Renewal; he is a graduate of two coaching cohorts. Along with being a board member, he also serves on our speaking team. Justin and his wife of 12 years, Maddy, have three kids and live in St. Paul, where they get to experience all the wonderful seasons God has created!
 As quoted in: “The Treasury of David.” Spurgeon, Charles. Vol 1. Hendrickson Publishers. Peabody, MA. p. 344
 Cited on: https://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/back-issues/volume-15-no-1-march-2016-public-scripture
 Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 205.