Last week’s blog contained the Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln made to the United States in 1863 calling for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War. This was actually one of three such proclamations; the first preceding it by two years at the beginning of the war and the third toward the end. Is it possible to say what they achieved? The two aims of the Prayer were clear: “…the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country to its former happy condition of unity and peace”. The second of those two requests was fully answered. The secession of the South with its endemic social structure of slavery was always a very real danger; its armies initially were not inferior to the North’s. But the “divided and suffering Country” was in fact restored and united. At the same time the end of slavery in the South was secured. The united nation went on to prosper greatly. In the blessing of that very restoration and ensuing prosperity we can also see the first aim, the pardon of God of national sins, was also achieved. God gave the nation a new start with its most marked sin of slavery being removed. So prayer was answered. Such is the power released when a whole nation responds to God in time of need.
Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Proclamation and its outcome were not, however, unique. The same sort of thing has happened in our own national history. Few people will be unaware of the new and graphic film “Dunkirk” with its great concentration on the horrific reality of the event. No portrayal of Dunkirk and the deliverance of the British army at that time of complete national crisis will ever be complete, however, without recognition of the request of King George VI for a National Day of Prayer throughout the whole Commonwealth on May 26th 1940. Only two weeks earlier, On May 10th, the Germans had launched their offensive on France and by May 24th they had broken through all the allied defences. The whole British army, over 300,000 men, having lost most of its equipment, was hemmed in at Dunkirk, its only escape port. King George VI, a man of clear Christian faith, called the people of Britain and the Empire to commit their cause to God: the loss of that army would have meant the end for Britain. The Day of Prayer was for the salvation of an army and of a nation. The King led the way on that day, along with members of the Cabinet, to Westminster Abbey, where hundreds queued to get in. All over the Commonwealth this happened. The sequel is well known. Hitler hesitated, a great storm over Flanders slowed the Germans, a great persistent calm over the Channel enabled the smallest of boats to reach Dunkirk, a huge response came from hundreds of seafaring people to face the dangers of the beach at Dunkirk and the result was that a whole army was evacuated and saved. Churchill had estimated that possibly 30,000 might have got away. In fact ten times that number were brought home. A further call to National Prayer was made for September 8th 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain which was reaching its climax. Immediately afterwards an all-out attack was made by the Germans but just when they had achieved a major victory the German air force gave up the battle and the long onslaught of several intense weeks petered out. Another answer to prayer, and recognised as such by senior leaders.
The story of God acting in answer to prayer during those appalling years of World War 2 does not stop, however, with National Days of Prayer called by a godly King, crucial though they were. There is a great deal of evidence available of groups of Christians and individual Christians on their own, giving themselves to prayer and intercession and seeing God move in the most remarkable ways at times of grave national danger. Rees Howells, the Director of a Welsh Bible College was an outstanding example of this continual prayer being offered up by Christians during the war. He turned his college into a remarkable intercessory force and followed through on every major military campaign from Dunkirk to the landings in Normandy and beyond, seeing remarkable answers to prayer throughout the war until Hitler was finally defeated. Derek Prince, known to many as an outstanding Bible Teacher, records his own personal individual intercession when as a medical orderly he served with the British Eighth Army in North Africa at the time when Rommel was on the very point of breaking through into Egypt and then Palestine. He simply gave himself boldly to prayer and fasting that Rommel would be stopped. I suspect there were many others doing the same but unknown to each other! He records the powerful intervention of God which he witnessed as Rommel was stopped within a few miles of Alexandria. Both Rees and Prince were deeply aware of the fact that though the war was in a sense a judgement on Britain, Hitler was an also instrument of Satan against the world-wide spread of the gospel and the survival of the Jews. It was on that account that they felt able to intercede for victory in the war.
Intercessors who hear God are, therefore, people of great importance in the flow of national history, whether operating singly or in groups. They are much to be encouraged, and the need for them is always of the highest. They are still important for a number of reasons:
1 I think it fair to say that in the general flow of prayer in the church generally there is not very much persistent and earnest prayer on national issues, despite Paul’s injunction, “I urge, then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving, be made for ….. kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1). The Sunday services in churches frequently lack any such concerted national intercessory prayer, and this is true of many evangelical churches. It is also frequently neglected in prayer gatherings.
National prayer for rulers and governments is not very high on the agenda. But some need to stand in the gap! Praise and worship is utterly essential, but perhaps we need to reflect on the fact that earnest intercession can have just as much effect in stimulating believers, and convicting and impressing unbelievers.
2 The fact is that we are facing an appallingly threatening time in our history when we need to be alert to the dangers before us. Very few Christians are aware of the judgements that overhang our nation in view of our blatant and arrogant rejection of God.
3 Intercessors still have a critical role even when the nation goes has to through judgement. As in the case even of such majestic prophetic intercessors like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they are not always able to stop God’s decreed judgements (as is, I believe, currently the case with our own nation), but their prayers through the trials of judgement are crucial for ultimate survival and restoration. This was precisely what happened through the intercessors who were praying for our nation during the war
4 Such intercessors are in fact the instruments by which God is able to “in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk) even in the most dire of national straits. Their ministry, mostly hidden remains of primary importance