Psalms and Prayers for Times of War

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How can we pray in times of war?

Sadly, this question is always relevant because, on this side of eternity, war is always with us.

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Jesus himself reminds us that, before his second coming, there will be “wars and rumors of wars” and that “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matt. 25:6-7), and for two millennia since he spoke those words, it has constantly been true. There is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).

In recent years, the ongoing wars resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the brutal terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas have elicited distress, anger, lament, and mourning worldwide. A glance at any day’s newspaper or TV news report has us long for the promised day when

…they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

Praying When We Don’t Have Words

The emotions that arise from war and other mass tragedies often leave us without words to pray. It staggers us. How does one pray in the face of such evil? In such a time as this, Anglicans across the centuries have turned toward Scripture, specifically the Psalms, and the Prayer Book collects.

Praying From the Psalms

The Psalms have been a resource for prayer for three millennia. In addition to psalms that are fitting to pray during grief, those below particularly suit times of war. The selected quotes are from the New Coverdale Psalter in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer.

Psalm 10

Psalm 10 laments the wickedness of oppressors and their violence against the helpless. It pleads for God to arise and bring justice to the afflicted and to

Break the power of the ungodly and malicious; *
search out his ungodliness until you have brought it all
to light.

Psalm 44

Psalm 44 reflects on past victories of Israel and questions why they are now facing defeat and humiliation. It expresses confusion and distress in the face of war and asks God to wake up and help them:

Rise up, O Lord! Why are you sleeping? *
Awake, and cast us not away for ever.
Why do you hide your face *
and forget our misery and trouble?
For our soul is brought low, even to the dust; *
our belly cleaves to the ground.
Arise, O Lord, and help us, *
and deliver us for your mercy’s sake.

Psalm 58

Psalm 58 is categorized as one of the “imprecatory psalms,” which call on God to judge or inflict vengeance on the wicked. These psalms often feature vivid language that can be offensive but which also reflects the anguish of the oppressed and the cry for justice:

Break their teeth, O God, in their mouths, *
Smite the jawbones of the ungodly…

When reading Psalm 58 or other imprecatory psalms, it is essential to remember that Christ calls on his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), and that the scriptures repeatedly affirm that vengeance belongs to God and not to man (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:6, Hebrews 10:30).

Psalm 79

Psalm 79 mourns the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Not for the faint of heart, it describes the city’s desolation after an invasion in graphic detail:

The dead bodies of your servants have they given to be meat
for the birds of the air, *
and the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the land.
Their blood have they shed like water on every side
of Jerusalem, *
and there was no one to bury them.

Psalm 94

Acknowledging that vengeance belongs to the Lord, Psalm 94 calls upon God to see the plight of his people and rise in their defense:

O Lord God to whom vengeance belongs, *
O God to whom vengeance belongs, show yourself
Arise, O Judge of the world, *
and reward the proud according to their deserving.

Psalms 120–134

Psalms 120–134 are collectively known as the Songs of Ascents. While they do not specifically lament war, they often express themes of distress, longing for peace, and the challenges faced by the people of Israel, which easily relate to the context of war. Psalm 122 is particularly appropriate for the conflict in Israel and Palestine:

O pray for the peace of Jerusalem; *
they shall prosper that love you.
Peace be within your walls *
and plenteousness within your palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, *
I will wish you prosperity.
Indeed, because of the house of the Lord our God, *
I will seek to do you good.

Psalm 144

Psalm 144 is a prayer for deliverance and victory in times of conflict. It acknowledges human frailty and dependence on God for strength and protection:

Save me, and deliver me from the hand of strangers, *
whose mouth talks of vain things, and whose right hand
is a right hand of falsehood…

Praying from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: International Edition

In a Time of War

O Almighty Lord, who art a most strong tower to all those who put their trust in thee: Be now and evermore our defence. Grant us victory, if it be thy will. Look in pity upon the wounded and the prisoners, cheer the anxious, comfort the bereaved, succour the dying, and hasten the time when war shall cease in all the world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

To Be Said Before a Fight at Sea against Any Enemy

O most powerful and glorious Lord God, the Lord of hosts, who rulest and commandest all things: Thou sittest on the throne judging right, and therefore we make our address to thy Divine Majesty in this our necessity, that thou wouldest take the cause into thine own hand, and judge between us and our enemies. Stir up thy strength, O Lord, and come and help us, for thou givest not always the battle to the strong, but canst save by many or by few. O let not our sins now cry against us for vengeance, but hear us thy poor servants begging mercy and imploring thy help, and that thou wouldest be a defence unto us against the face of the enemy. Make it appear that thou art our saviour and mighty deliverer, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In a Time of Calamity

O God, merciful and compassionate, who art ever ready to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in thee: Graciously hearken to us who call upon thee, and grant us thy help in this our need, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Justice

O God, who wilt set the glory among the nations and cause all the peoples to see the judgements of thy right hand: Have mercy upon those who are persecuted by the wicked and unrighteous, and so cause justice to prevail among men, that the meek may inherit the earth and the redeemed praise thee for thy deliverance, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Peace of the World

O God our Father, look with mercy upon all thy children; purify our hearts from all hatred, falsehood, and prejudice; and so guide us by thy loving wisdom that peace and righteousness may be established among all men, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Reign of Christ

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that all the peoples of the earth, though now divided and in bondage to sin, may be made free and brought together under his most gracious rule, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Praying from the Book of Common Prayer (2019)

For the Peace of the World

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

For the Peace of the World

Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your kingdom may go forward, till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Civil Authorities

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, send down on those who hold public office [especially _________] the spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice; that with steadfast purpose they may faithfully serve in their offices to promote the well‑being of all people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Those in the Armed Forces

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Our Enemies

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.

In Times of Social Conflict or Distress

Increase, O God, the spirit of neighborliness among us, that in peril we may uphold one another, in suffering tend to one another, and in homelessness, loneliness, or exile befriend one another. Grant us brave and enduring hearts that we may strengthen one another, until the disciplines and testing of these days are ended, and you again give peace in our time; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Those Who Serve Others

O Lord our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served, but to serve: We ask you to bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others [especially _________]; endue them with wisdom, patience, and courage, that they may strengthen the weak and raise up those who fall, and, being inspired by your love, may worthily minister to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the sake of him who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

For Those Who Inform Public Opinion

Almighty God, your truth endures from age to age: Direct in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may speak your truth to make the heart of this people wise, its mind discerning, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Absent

O God, whose fatherly care reaches to the ends of the earth: We ask you graciously to behold and bless those we love who are now absent from us [especially _____]. Defend them from all dangers of soul and body, and grant that both they and we, drawing nearer to you, may be bound together by your love, in the communion of your Holy Spirit and in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Coming of God’s Kingdom

Hasten, O Father, the coming of your kingdom; and grant that we your servants, who now live by faith, may with joy behold your Son at his coming in glorious majesty; even Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.


Image: Massacre of the Innocents by Leon Cogniet (1824).

Published on

October 11, 2023

Author

Jacob Davis

The Rev. Jacob Davis is the editor of Anglican Compass. He is a priest in the Diocese of Christ Our Hope and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as assisting clergy at Grace Anglican Church.

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