A Vision for History-Shaping Prayer
by LESLIE LUDY
It was the spring of 1940. The island of Great Britain was facing the most dire threat they had known for more than a thousand years. Hitler was in the full height of his power, conquering one nation after the next, and was seemingly invincible. Now he was preparing to cross the English Channel to invade Great Britain. His military strength was far greater than the British forces. If the Nazis crossed the Channel and overcame the vulnerable Brits, they would have total control of the continent. And since Great Britain was the last resistance standing against Hitler, the rest of the world would inevitably fall to Nazi control. The people of Great Britain were facing a dark future with a merciless tyrant controlling most of the world.
As the threat of Hitler’s invasion grew more ominous by the day, the mood across Great Britain became more and more bleak and despairing. Some, including a junior member of Winston Churchill’s government, even prepared suicide pills because they were convinced that Hitler would be successful in crossing the Channel — and they would prefer to die rather than live under the Nazi regime. The majority of British people were totally paralyzed by fear and saw no hope of deliverance.
Meanwhile, a small and seemingly insignificant Bible college in Wales was taking an entirely different approach. Rees Howells and his small band of prayer warriors had committed themselves to intercede for the future of Great Britain — and for the rest of the world that seemed to be crumbling under seemingly unstoppable forces of evil.
Rees explained, “‘The world became our parish and we were led to be responsible to intercede for countries and nations.’ We have also seen how the Lord was preparing in the company at the College a special instrument of intercession for the coming world crisis.”
There was no doubt that the world was in crisis; one of the greatest in history. But instead of despairing, these prayer warriors chose to stand boldly against the darkness that was threatening to wash over their country like a tidal wave. They continued to wrestle for victory even when their prayers didn’t seem to be making a tangible difference. The college journal offers brief glimpses of the day-by-day battles they fought on their knees:
“Things are very black on Continent. We pray on until 11 a.m., and come back at 2:30, 6, and 9 p.m. We ask the Lord to deal with Germany.”
Two days later they wrote, “Very grave on Continent and in London. Meetings at 9 and 11 a.m., and 6 and 9 p.m. We plead with God to deal with Hitler and the German nation, and to bring them to [account].”
And the next day: “Situation regarding European crisis very black, all the countries are disagreeing with each other, burden is coming on very heavy … Meetings at 9 a.m., 6 and 9 p.m.”
Rees Howells challenged his fellow prayer warriors to take their prayer battles just as seriously, with just as much self-sacrifice and surrender, as the soldiers fighting on the frontlines in the war. During the peak of Hitler’s threat toward Great Britain he told his students, “I want to fight this enemy again this weekend as if it were the end of civilization. You don’t leave anything to chance in this. Don’t allow those young men at the Front to do more than you do here.”
And that is just what those courageous men and women did as they interceded day after day, week after week, month after month, even in the face of seeming defeat. They chose to stake everything on the faithfulness of God when nearly everyone around them was crumbling in fear.
On May 21,1940 Rees told his students, “Yesterday was the darkest day in the history of this country, especially after the Prime Minister’s speech. Everyone in town is expecting the enemy to invade this country. We have told the Lord, ‘our lives for victory.’ … The French Premier says tonight, ‘It is only a miracle that will save us.’ The test is, whether the Bible is true. I am willing to risk my life to prove it, and I want to tell you tonight that it is quite true. See that your believing is right, and if it is, you don’t need to have any fear.’”
On May 22,1940, the college journal records, “The world is in a panic today, and certainly we would be too unless we were quite sure the Lord had spoken to us. The destiny of England will be at stake today and tomorrow.”
There must have been moments when these faithful, praying Christians were tempted to wonder whether they could possibly make a difference in such history-shaping events. Could such a little band of prayer warriors really push back the tsunami of darkness that was threatening to sweep over the entire world?
Rees Howells believed that the battle was first and foremost spiritual, and he knew that victory would only come when God’s people were willing to relentlessly fight on their knees. His biographer recorded, “From the night of May 22 to 25 Mr. Howells no longer came to meetings; other members of the staff took them. He went away alone with God to battle through, and, as others have testified, the crushing burden of those days broke his body. He literally laid down his life.”
As Rees and his students continued to sacrificially intercede for the protection of England, God brought him to a place of robust faith even when there was no physical evidence of victory. On May 30, 1940, he wrote, “Oh, for God to lift us up tonight! We are not to run into any panic thinking the Nazis are going to win … We may have to go through far greater sufferings yet, but I am not going to doubt the final issue. We state in the plainest terms: The enemy will not invade Christian England.”
Such a statement in the face of such a seemingly undefeatable foe no doubt would have sounded preposterous to most of the country. But miraculously, those bold words became reality. Though the Nazis attacked Britain by air, they were never able to cross the English Channel, and Great Britain never fell to Hitler, though the odds were entirely stacked against them.
Looking back at the historical events that led to this outcome, government leaders and historians agree that it was nothing short of Divine intervention that kept Hitler from his purpose. That Divine intervention was no doubt a direct answer to the tireless intercession of praying saints like Rees Howells and his faithful students. It wasn’t just the island of Great Britain that was saved. The entire outcome of the Second World War was affected. Rather than invading Great Britain, Hitler chose instead to attack Russia — a decision which ultimately led to his demise.
What might the world look like today if God’s hand had not held back the Nazi threat that loomed over Britain in 1940? How would things have been different without relentless prayer warriors behind the scenes who refused to give up hope even when things were at their darkest?
Rees Howells’s biographer recalled, “When we look back now after these years, many in Britain still recall the terror of those days … how thankful we are that God had this company of hidden intercessors whose lives were on the altar day after day as they stood in the gap for the deliverance of Britain.”
1940 Principles for 2021
When I first studied the story of Rees Howells and his small praying Bible college during World War II, I was impressed by their dedication to prayer, but I never fully understood the incredible historical significance of their intercession, nor the life-or-death spiritual battles they found themselves engaged in on an hour-by-hour basis, often for weeks or months at a time.
Now in 2021, I am beginning to grasp it more. The events of 1940 are hitting far closer to home for me now than they ever have. In 1940, the world was in turmoil — and in 2021, the world is in turmoil once again. It’s not just the “COVID crisis” and everything the past year has entailed; to me that is merely the tip of the iceberg. There is an intense spiritual battle raging throughout the world today; a spiritual tug-of-war between darkness and light, between truth and deception, and between hope and despair.
Our world no longer feels like a relatively peaceful and predictable place to live, dream, and plan for the future. Instead we have been suddenly thrust into a tense and unpredictable battlefield where the world feels like it has been turned upside-down and evil often seems to be getting the upper hand. Many of us can now personally relate to what the people of Great Britain felt when Hitler’s invasion and control seemed inevitable. Despair. Hopelessness. Fear. Paralyzation.
And perhaps the worst one of all — helplessness. After all, what we can possibly do against such strong and powerful forces of darkness? How can we possibly make a difference when our voice seems drowned out by the thunderous worldwide tumult? The enemy’s message is clear: Your only choice is to be silent, to give up, and to get out of my way while I wreak havoc on the world.
But God has another message if we are willing to stop and listen to it. It’s the same message that Rees Howell and his students heard in 1940. “If My people who are called by My name will … pray and seek My face … then I will hear from heaven…” (2 Chron. 7:14).
That promise is just as true in 2021 as it was in 1940. Those words should never become just a nice-sounding Christian cliché. When we find ourselves in a worldwide crisis, our commission from God is clear. It’s not merely dinner-table praying we are called to in such a time as this. We are called to tirelessly engage in history-shaping intercession; to fight a spiritual battle on our knees with just as much dedication as soldiers on the frontlines of a physical war. The specifics of our praying may not be exactly the same as Rees Howells and his Bible college students. But the very same passion and dedication should mark our praying.
It is high time we realize that we are not helpless in the midst of crisis. We must remember that it is a proven fact that the prayers of God’s people can move Heaven and shape history.
In the book of Esther, when Haman convinced King Ahasuerus to destroy all the Jewish people, the situation seemed completely hopeless. Esther 3:13 vividly describes the details of the plot against the Jews: “…letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women…” In other words, there was no loophole, no hope of escape — not even for Esther who was the wife of the king.
But then the Jews started to pray. They wept, fasted, and cried out to God. And when Queen Esther decided to go before the king to fight for her people, she didn’t underestimate the power of prayer. She said to her uncle, Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews … and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king…” (Est. 4:16).
Those fervent prayers not only stemmed the tide of destruction against the Jews, but turned the plot of the evildoers against them with Haman being hung on the very same gallows he had built for Mordecai.
Our prayers today can have the same outcome. Why? Because we serve the same God as Esther and Mordecai.
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…” (2 Chron. 16:9).
Do we believe our God? Then let’s show it right now by getting on our knees. It is there, and only there, that the battle will be won.