(Houston, Texas) — The year was 1940. The moment was one of the darkest in the history of the English people. More than 300,000 British troops suddenly found themselves pinned down in northern France. Nazi forces were bearing down on them. The Brits didn’t have enough ammunition or supplies. At any moment, Hitler’s forces would launch a ferocious attack. The Brits faced imminent annihilation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his advisors thought at best the navy could rescue 20,000 to 30,000 before it was too late. Others feared even that might not be possible. And the stakes couldn’t have been higher. If so many forces were wiped out, Hitler and the Nazis would invade the British Isles — and win.
So the King of England called for a national day of prayer. That Sunday, an estimated 70 percent of the British people showed up at churches all over the country. They begged for the Lord’s mercy on their fathers and sons, and for their national survival. And the Lord heard those heartfelt prayers and responded with what became known as “the miracle at Dunkirk.” Hitler inexplicably delayed giving his generals the order to finish off the Brits. A great storm over Germany prevented Nazi planes from being able to take off. The British people quickly assembled some 900 fishing boats, yachts, trawlers, and other private and government vessels, and began ferrying the troops of the French beaches and back to England a few at a time. By the grace of God, nearly a third of a million souls were saved as a result, as was the British nation.
“We need another Dunkirk,” said Dr. James Dobson at Saturday’s national day of prayer in Houston as he recounted the famous story and called American Christians to devote themselves to prayer and fasting. ”God answers prayer.” He is absolutely right.
What an encouraging day during such a discouraging week. Against the backdrop of a severe financial crisis and near-crippling political gridlock in Washington, the S&P’s first-ever downgrade of American debt, the increasing prospect of a double-dip recession, and the terrible tragedy of the murder of 30 American special forces heroes in Afghanistan– including operators from the Navy’s SEAL Team Six – more than 30,000 Americans gathered peaceably here yesterday to pray for the Lord to have mercy on our country. They joined together with evangelical Christians gathered at some 1,300 satellite viewing locations in all 50 states. They implored the Lord to spare us from the judgment our many sins deserve. They pleaded with the Lord to pour out His Holy Spirit and give us a Third Spiritual Awakening. They chose, too, to pray for the Lord to bless the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and prayed faithfully and passionately for the peace of Jerusalem.
“The Response” was no ordinary prayer meeting. Personally, I’ve never been to anything like it, and I was blessed by every minute of it. There were no political speeches. No entrance fees. No offering. No fund-raising appeal. No merchandise sold. No light show. No entertainment of any kind. This was simply seven straight hours of prayer and fasting, heartfelt contrition and repentance, Bible reading from the Book of Joel and many other Scriptures, and wonderful worship – both modern praise songs and beloved hymns — with every generation represented along with so many races and ethnic backgrounds. Let’s do more of this.
Some evangelicals were critical of ”The Response.” They urged people not to attend because they have serious and fundamental theological differences with some of those involved in the event. A few emailed me and urged me not to participate. I heard those concerns and I have strong disagreements with some of the participants, too. But the truth is the vast majority of organizers and participants of this prayer meeting were theologically, morally and ethically solid evangelical, Bible believing followers of Jesus Christ. They included some trusted friends and allies that I have worked with over the years like Dr. James Dobson and Shirley Dobson, Vonette Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Pastor Greg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist, Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, among others. Such men and women see the grave crises facing our country. They believe and faithfully teach that the Bible offers the only answers. Together with the governor of an important state, they called the country to pray based on the Scriptures. And many — including the media — paid attention. How often does that happen? How often do government leaders stand with believers and call meetings for prayer and fasting for the rescue of America and the blessing of Israel based on the Lord’s commands in the Book of Joel? How often do 30,000 American believers gather not for entertainment but simply to fast, pray and worship all day long? Yes, some feared the event was going to be political. But it wasn’t. Yes, some feared what would be said or done would be theologically off base. But it wasn’t. I know because I was there. I wish even more had been there, too. We need more pastors and ministry leaders to teach and follow the Book of Joel, not fewer. We need more officials to call for prayer and fasting and to be encouraged for doing so, not fewer.
I’m grateful to Texas Governor Rick Perry for helping call for this event to take place, for encourging people from all over the country to participate, for standing his ground against intense liberal and atheist opposition and even a federal lawsuit (which was dismissed), and for speaking and praying at the event despite many calls for him not to do so. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback deserves credit for coming and speaking, as does Florida Governor Rick Scott for participating by video, and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) for attending in person, as well.
“Father, our heart breaks for America,” Gov. Perry said in his brief message. “We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government and, as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us.”
I was particularly encouraged by the Scriptures that Gov. Perry read to the audience. Let me close with those:
- Joel 2:12-17 — “‘Yet even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.’ Now return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”
- Isaiah 40:27-31 — “Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God?’ Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”
- Ephesians 3:14-21 — “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to knowthe love of Christ whichsurpasses knowledge, that you may befilled up to all thefullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
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