Prayers That Have Made History

By William Hirsche

It follows from the fact that when we pray God works, that prayer can become a nation-shaking, history-making, world-moving affair. “Call unto me and I will answer thee, and will show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” It is not that prayer as such is so mighty, but God is, who promises to work great and mighty things if His children will but pray. The Living God with whom nothing is impossible, for He is the Almighty, can change the course of history, transform the life of a nation, and cause wars to cease in answer to prayer. The pages of Holy Writ where we have the story of God’s chosen people and the coming of the Holy One, the promised Messiah, the world’s Redeemer, with the birth of the Church and its world-embracing movement of redemption, give abundant evidence of this fact. The history of Christian missions abounds with examples. So-called profane history is not wanting in proofs of the power of prayer. Let us consider just a few small cases.

When Moses prayed for forty days in the holy mount to which he returned after Israel’s heinous sin in the worship of the golden calf, we read that the Lord said to him: “Let me alone that I may destroy them.” Moses was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure of the Lord (Deut. 9:19), but he did not let Him alone. By no means. He fought one of the mightiest prayer battles of all time. The great law-giver might have relinquished and rested in a self-complacent consciousness of a future glory somewhat personal, for the Lord said: “I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they.” But he was undaunted. His prayer comes to a majestic climax (one that brings to mind the majesty of the One who prayed that His murderers
might be forgiven) in the words: “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Ex. 32:31,32). Little wonder that Moses triumphs. Furthermore, there is added weight and power to Moses’ prayer in the fact that his chief concern was God’s glory. His plea is for forgiveness, “Lest the land whence thou broughtest us out say, Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land which he promised them” (Deut. 9:28). A mighty victory in prayer was the result, a victory the like of which is not to be found in the pages of the Old Testament, which teem with great prayers, and so the destiny of a nation was determined. How true is the saying that our prayers are worth what we are worth. Moses threw in everything that he had even to his own eternal happiness and stood in the breach for Israel. Such prayers cannot be gainsaid even when the future of a nation is at stake.

We have David’s great prayer at the time of Absalom’s revolt when the king had to flee in shame. The cause of the great king seemed lost as the usurper marched triumphant into Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and sat upon the throne of David. But the king was a man of prayer as witness the Psalms. We have the story of David’s anguish and prayer in the third Psalm: “Lord how are they increased that trouble me! …Many there be which say of me; my soul, There is no help for him in God… But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill… I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about… Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.” The victory which later was won on the field of battle and the tragic end of Absalom and the consequent re-establishment of King David upon his throne, was first won in the unseen realm of prayer when to Messiah’s great type the assurance was given that his cry had been heard. Indeed, the destiny of kings and of nations may be determined by the knee that bows in the presence of God, and in the voice of supplication that reaches the throne of grace.

Read the Book of Daniel and see how his prayers shook first the great Babylonian Empire and then the Medo-Persian. He feared not the decree of the king and refused to worship the image that had been set up. He defied wicked political connivers who sought to undo him. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and window being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.” Such
defiance of the king’s decree, for the plotters who had been watching immediately took word to his majesty, brought down upon the prophet the punishment stipulated by the king’s decree, being cast as he was into the den of the lions. I need not go into details over the glorious victory of the prophet. Who does not know of the angel who stopped the mouths of the lions, and of the terrible end of the wicked politicians who had sought Daniel’s life? My point is that the king’s decree resulting from the deliverance that God had wrought must have shaken the empire to its very foundations. “Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and
languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you, I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power the power of the lions.”

Paul’s midnight prayer in that innermost cell of the prison at Philippi made history. It was one of the most decisive moments in the history of mankind, for this man, God’s chosen vessel, was Christianity’s foremost
herald of the Cross. Would he enter Europe with the glad tidings of the Gospel of Christ, according to the call of the man of Macedonia who in a vision had said to the apostle: “Come over and help us”? The powers of darkness had said no! Scourgings and the stocks and a dank prison cell were their answer. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God.” Ah, that settled the matter. Paul would enter triumphantly into Europe to proclaim the message of the Cross. The foundations of the prison were shaken. The prison keeper cried our: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The glad tidings of a Saviour’s love were proclaimed and the voice of this the chief maker of history who laid the foundation of a Christian
order in the great centers of the Roman Empire, was heard in the strategic cities of Greece and later of Europe. Is it not written: “Call unto me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me”?

The greatest prayer of all the years of mankind’s travail was the Son of Man’s cry of agony in the garden. Here it was that the eternal destiny not only of nations but of the entire race was determined. For in that bitter cry, “Father, if it be possible let this cup pass,” was the possibility, humanly speaking, of the abyss swallowing up the children of men in an eternal night of woe, for the Saviour held in His hand the key. He must go to the Cross; He must climb the hill of Calvary. He who knew no sin must be made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. No, it was not the fear of death – death as martyrs are wont to meet it. It was the awful curse of the sin of the world which He must bear. Little wonder the sweat of blood, the awful cry of anguish, and the unrequited quest for a bit of comfort in the companionship of the apostles who slept. But the Son of Man comes forth triumphant. The battle is won. The sinful race with
its pain and its shame and its death shall find deliverance – yea, shall find heaven itself in the remission of sin and an all-inclusive redemption in the blood of the Redeemer’s Cross. What is written of Him shall be
fulfilled. It was in prayer that our Lord achieved the victory which only a few hours later was sealed on Calvary. For the essence of that awful prayer, the most significant of all the ages was not, “if it be possible
let this cup pass,” but “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

But it is not only in the pages of Holy Writ that we find prayers which determined the course of history. Let us turn now to the history of the Church. We choose one case from the abounding myriads. A more critical hour in the life of the Church could not be found than when Count von Zinzendorf began to call upon the Lord in 1714 in Herrnhut, Germany. He was bowed down in an agony of soul because of what he saw among Protestant believers of the different evangelical movements. It was a time of fiery persecution.
Luther had done his work. Calvin had wrought in a mighty way. Huss was a sacred memory. Zwingli had led his followers. But there was confusion and the blood of Protestant martyrs continued to flow. Count von Zinzendorf was a man of affairs and an ardent Christian from boyhood. He decided to open the doors of his great estate to persecuted evangelicals of Europe that they might find a refuge from the storm. Christians came from far and near – believers of every theological color and of all the sects.

Then began Zinzendorf’s travail. He had hoped for love and understanding. What he heard was the voice of controversy. Strife over a thousand and one secondary matters in the realm of doctrine and practice was bitter and unceasing. Zinzendorf longed to see God’s people one even as the Saviour had prayed, and on fire with a holy zeal for missions. As to foreign missions, Protestantism was dead. Her life was being consumed in endless theological strife. Oh, to see the wounds of Christ’s body healed and to see it function in fulfillment of the Church’s marching orders: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.” Von Zinzendorf spent whole nights in prayer. Others caught the spirit and joined him, filling up what was
lacking of the afflictions of Christ.

The answer came on August 14, of the year 1714. Zinzendorf called for a communion service which all might attend. It was in the partaking of the emblems of the Saviour’s broken body that “the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing in his wings.” The glory was more than flesh could bear. Believers were prostrate in the presence of God. The Cross in all its vast significance was unveiled. When the congregation arose an immeasurable transformation had been wrought. Henceforth Christ was all and in all. The so-called Moravian movement got under way. They prayed with the clock, groups taking their turns, twenty-four hours of the day for ten years. The result? In twenty-five years one hundred missionaries had gone forth to all parts of the globe. These Moravians spearheaded a world-wide movement in the preaching of the Gospel which eventually swung Protestantism from polemics to missions. The great century of modern missions owes all to von Zinzendorf and the Morvians. John Wesley, himself a spiritual child of the
Moravians, after the great experience of Aldersgate, went to Herrnhut to observe firsthand what the Lord was doing. He wrote home to friends, saying: “I have found a church in which one breathes the very atmosphere of heaven.” If ever prayers made history, those of Count von Zinzendorf did. Witness modern missions.

Profane history is not wanting in examples of prayer as the determining factor in the great crises that are wont to develop in the course of events, national and international. Dunkirk stands for the darkest hour for
the Allies in World War II. France had fallen and three hundred thousand British soldiers were fleeing toward the channel. Hitler laughed insolently. Yes, the backbone of the British army would soon be
annihilated. There was no hope for Tommy, humanly speaking.

It was then that King George VI decreed a day of prayer throughout the British Empire. Many of us who are not under the Crown took part. Ah, what a day, for God rent the heavens and came down. He laid bare His holy arm and wrought as He alone can. On the side of the German forces came a storm such as had never been witnessed. Every plane was grounded. Tanks were bogged down in mud. In the grip of the storm not a soldier moved. On the British side the channel was like glass. Never was the water quieter. Thousands of boats plied all day long across the channel – even women in small craft came to the rescue. Two hundred and ninety thousand British soldiers were saved. The island was never invaded. Hitler was stopped at
Dunkirk. How? God intervened in answer to prayer, for if ever there was a just cause in the many conflicts which have drenched the earth with blood, which the Lord who governs the universe could righteously favor, it was that of the Allies in World War II. The British soldiers, according to an article which appeared in the official organ of the Officers’ Christian Union, an army organization, seeing the Hand of God working their deliverance, formed circles of prayer to give thanks. It is still written: “…call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Ps. 50:15).

Lord, teach us to pray.

(The above material was taken from Prayer’s Deeper Secrets.)

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