The Battle of Britain
Though fighting on our knees is essential, passion for the gospel must be our motive for conducting spiritual warfare.
My recent visit to the birthplace of the Welsh Revival has prompted me to add a third reflection on that great movement – with particular reference to the ministry of Rees Howells, whose biography I have recently rediscovered; a veritable treasure half-hidden on our bookshelves.1
Rees was a product of the 1904 revival whose influence spread across the globe, but is perhaps best remembered for the intercessions he led during World War II which, in the opinion of many, probably did more for Allied victory than any amount of military firepower.
But when Rees and his Bible College students fought the great battles of the war on their knees, it wasn’t just for our freedom. Their prime motivation was to clear obstacles to the preaching of the gospel, because Hitler’s regime blocked the path to fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.
Not only was the Nazis’ atheistic ideology the very antithesis of Christianity, but the upheaval of ongoing war would continue to distract people everywhere from a consideration of their soul’s destiny.
And because the Swansea college’s chief concern was for the gospel, they were also greatly burdened for the Jewish people, who were under threat of genocide. After all, the gospel is “to the Jew first…” (Romans 1.16). And if the Jews were destroyed, they could never be restored to their ancient land as the prophets had predicted, and Jesus could not return, for the Bible clearly states that the Jews must be back in the Holy Land before this happens (see Zechariah 12-14).
The college company, however, knew what must take place (it is so important that Christians are familiar with Scriptural prophecy) and thus had confidence to pray for victory as the Holy Spirit led them.
Their prayers during the Battle of Britain, for example, were informed by a very clear scriptural goal: “Every creature is to hear the gospel; Palestine is to be regained by the Jews; and the Saviour is to return.”2
Time and again the German forces were on the point of winning crucial battles when, quite inexplicably, the tide suddenly turned – and the only reasonable explanation was that God must have intervened miraculously in response to prayer.
These Bible students were laying down their lives as much as those young men at the front. From the time of Dunkirk, through the rest of the war years, the entire college (about 100 strong) prayed every evening from 7 o’clock to midnight, with only a brief interval for supper, in addition to an hour-long prayer meeting every morning, and very often at midday.
I have already mentioned how the Welsh Revival was ignited (humanly speaking) by passionate young people determined for God to come down and use them as his instruments.
Tragically, few of the UK’s young generation have even heard the gospel, but among the few are outstanding men and women whom God has already touched, and the mantle is falling on them to usher in a new era of radical Christianity, filling the vacuum created by the hopeless, lifeless and meaningless ideologies of secular-humanism.
Will they be up for the task? Remember Gideon, who only needed 300 men to defeat the enemy, and young David – the anointed ancestor of Messiah Jesus – who required just a single well-aimed stone to slay an intimidating giant. I have met, come to know and even work with some passionate young people who are up for the fight. And I am reminded of Churchill’s famous speech after the Battle of Britain, in which (referring to the brave Spitfire pilots) he said: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”
Just as the 1939-45 battles were fought chiefly by young men, so must the spiritual warfare for our nation be fought in the main by millennials.
If we are to pray for nations, we must first have the kind of passion for individual souls that Rees possessed in bucket-loads; he would fast and pray for a tramp, or drunkard, or village trouble-maker until he had gained victory – however long it took. He also learned to walk by faith for every move he made, refusing to make his financial needs known, trusting God for every penny. In the case of the Bible College, he began with just two shillings and saw God send him £125,000 (the equivalent of millions in today’s money) over the next 14 years.
In 1915 he and his wife Elizabeth went out to Africa as missionaries – under the auspices of the South African General Mission founded by Andrew Murray – and witnessed marvellous revivals, accompanied by extraordinary healings, blazing a trail for a future student, Reinhard Bonnke, who would see millions drawn into the kingdom through his huge rallies across the continent.
Even the Queen of Swaziland came to faith. Rees reported: “I told her that God had one Son, and he gave him to die for us; and we had one son, and had left him to tell the people of Africa about God. She was very much affected by hearing that my wife and I loved her people more than we loved our own son.”3
The Bible says: “Anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.37) It’s that sort of commitment to which we are called.
Some of the issues that burdened the intercessors at Swansea are very similar to those we are faced with today. Anti-Semitism is once again raising its ugly head all over the planet, though no longer led by Nazis but by an unholy alliance between the hard left and fanatical Islamists. Are we going to let these tyrannical groups complete what Hitler failed ultimately to achieve – the destruction of the Jewish race and of civilization as we know it?
Those wartime intercessors prayed Israel back into their own land, where they would be safe. But now the 70-year-old Jewish state is surrounded by implacable enemies bent on their annihilation. And even in Britain their future is threatened as a potential Prime Minister is apparently unable to deal with anti-Jewish sentiment in his party.
How can we forget? We hold Holocaust Memorials every year so successive generations will learn from history, but it cuts no ice with God-haters. The reason they despise the Jews is because they reject the God who has chosen them as the apple of his eye. He is, after all, the God of Israel, whom we Christians also worship. He wrote the Law on how to live – summed up in the Ten Commandments – at Mt Sinai. But the brave new world has replaced it with an ideology that makes our genes responsible for bad behaviour.
We are no longer categorised as either male or female, but there are now some 70 other ways to identify our gender – all of which makes Alice in Wonderland sound positively sane. No wonder we are faced with a shattering breakdown of the family along with a vicious attack on the sanctity of life and sexual morality.
But the Word of God teaches that we are born sinners whose natural tendency to rebel needs dealing with. This was achieved by Jesus on the cross, where he took the full punishment for our sins, paying for it with his blood. God’s own precious Son chose to die in our place so that we would not perish, but inherit eternal life.
The devil tries every trick to prevent us from acknowledging our deep need of life, love, hope and peace which can only be found at the cross.
When, as a church and nation, we recover a passion for the gospel as the only means of mending our broken society and restoring truth and righteousness to our once great country, then I’m sure revival will follow.
Most Western Christians have only a blurred vision of what the gospel stands for, but our focus must be sharpened to the point where we are prepared to lay our lives on the altar for its truth, and for the freedom to proclaim it on our streets, in our prisons, in our churches, and in our schools and universities.
With such a sharpened vision, we will also gain a fresh understanding of God’s great end-time purpose for the Jews and be better prepared for the return of our Lord to this troubled world. Come, Lord Jesus!
Notes 1 I am indebted to Rees Howells, Intercessor by Norman Grubb (published by Lutterworth Press) for much of the background to this article 2 Quoting the prayer journal entry for September 14, 1940 3 Samuel was brought up by Rees’s uncle and aunt, and later succeeded his father as Bible College director.