Message from Rev. Thornley

Psalm 33:16-19. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
The time will come, when thou shalt lift thine eyes. To watch a long-drawn battle in the skies, While aged peasants, too amazed for words, Stare at the flying fleets of wonderous birds. England so long the mistress of the sea, Where wind and waves confess her sovereignty, Her ancient triumphs yet on high shall bear, And reign, the sovereign of the conquered air. Thomas Gray 1737, ( an amazing prediction 50 years before the hot air balloon)

Sunday 13th September is a special day for the Royal Air Force, for the Commonwealth Air Forces and the Royal Air Forces Associations around the world. It is Battle of Britain Sunday, the Sunday closest to the 15th September – a date in 1940 which marked not only the turning point of the Battle of Britain, it was the turning point of the whole war. It was the day the Battle of Britain reached its climax when the Royal Air Force (RAF) downed 56 invading German aircraft in two dogfights lasting less than an hour. The costly raid convinced the German high command that the Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over Britain, and the next day daylight attacks were replaced with nighttime sorties as a concession of defeat. On September 19, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler postponed indefinitely “Operation Sea Lion”–the amphibious invasion of Britain. Although heavy German aid raids on London and other British cities would continue through spring 1941, the Battle of Britain was effectively won. In the midst of the devastating toil of war there were those who believed emphatically in the power of prayer. Such a person was His Majesty King George VI. At the height of the crisis in France when the troops were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, the King, in a stirring broadcast, called the people of Britain and the empire to prayer. The whole nation responded. The churches were packed. The scene outside Westminster Abbey was remarkable—photographs show long queues of people who could not even get in, the Abbey was so crowded! So much so, that the following morning the Daily Sketch exclaimed, ‘Nothing like it has ever happened before.’ In its hour of deep distress a heart-cry from both monarch and people alike was going up to God in prayer. And that cry did not go unanswered. For very soon, at least three miracles were seen to happen. (1) Hitler stopped his general advance, (2) a storm of extraordinary fury grounded the German Air Force on May 28, and (3) a great calm settled over the English Channel for several days. 338,000 men of the British army were evacuated from Dunkirk. This was called Operation Dynamo.

A German Officer Luftwaffe Generalmajor Paul Weitkus had this to say. “Dunkirk was a stroke of luck for you. We saw you getting the troops away in rowing boats, yachts, rubber boats, everything that floated. The ocean was quiet and our airfields covered in fog most of the time. It was so bad that even the artillery which had been brought forward could not see the target.(Excerpt from Strike for the sky – Alexander Meke) Was it a stroke of luck or something else?

As the Battle of Britain grew more intense, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command, was asked: What are your plans for defeating an overwhelming number of the German Air Force? He replied: “I believe in God. And then there is radar.” On 30 August 800 enemy aircraft darkened the skies of southern England, flying in to put key airfields out of action. By September 6 Fighter Command was in serious trouble. The King, as if gifted with some foreknowledge, had expressed the wish that Sunday September 8 should be fixed as a National Day of Prayer. There was a tremendous response. At a crowded service in Westminster Abbey, the final prayer began: Remember O God, for good, these watchmen, who by day and by night climb into the air. Let Thy hand lead them, we beseech Thee, and Thy right hand hold them.On September 17, a tele-type message clacked out from the German High Command postponing the invasion of Britain until further notice.

Rhys (pronounced Reece) Howells founder of the Bible College of Wales responded to the King’s call. Together with the students and professors of the college they committed themselves to nightly five hour prayer meetings throughout the conflict. They believed emphatically that with the prayers of the nation, God had moved in a most dramatic way when 338000 troops were lifted of the beaches of Dunkirk. It was the great Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson who wrote: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” This group never gave up. Secluded in their college and under wartime information blackout the continued to wait on God. Rhys Howell said. “If you can believe you have been delivered from hell why can’t you believe you have been delivered from air raids.” As the battle intensified sirens screamed, bombs fell, and anti- aircraft guns roared Rhys rallied his front line prayer warriors completely certain of a coming victory. It might be added that several of the military leaders did not have the same confidence. Buckingham Palace was damaged but Rhys Howell stood firm and said. “I believe our prayers will be answered. I am just waiting to see how God will take hold of the enemy.” When the Battle of Britain was eventually won he was totally convinced that his prayer army had played a significant role.

Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, Royal Air Force, from its formation in 1936 until November 1940. He was thus responsible for the preparation for and the conduct of the Battle of Britain. He said, “Even during the battle one realised how much external support was coming in. At the end of the battle one had the sort of feeling that there had been some special divine intervention to alter some sequence of events which would have occurred.”

Prayer is a strange thing. Some may wonder whether they are really talking to anyone – is there really someone at the end of the line. In Matthew 18.19 we read Jesus say: Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them. That is exactly what happened here. The people were so bound together in a common cause they could not afford the luxury of denominational differences. They were fighting for the survival of Britain, Europe and a free world. They were not concerned about styles of praying, whether people should kneel, stand or sit. Whether people should jump up an down, wave their hands in the air or swing on the chandeliers. They simply spoke to God on a common theme. No one cared about phraseology, fancy words or even good grammar. They simply allowed the cry of the human heart to fall before God. Alexander Maclaren a preacher of a bygone age while speaking about prayer said: “Did any of you, parents, ever hear your child wake from sleep with some panic fear and shriek the mother’s name through the darkness?remembering aga Was not that a more powerful appeal than all words? And, depend upon it, that the soul which cries aloud on God, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” though it have “no language but a cry,” will never call in vain.” A cry in the night says it all. That was the experience of the wartime people that was their prayer in conflict. When the services of national thanksgiving were held in all churches, it was with great feeling that many a choir and congregation sang the words of Psalm 124, for they were seen to apply to that situation through which the nation had just passed:

Psalm 124
If the LORD had not been on our side— let Israel say— if the LORD had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

No other passage of Scripture could have more aptly described the nation’s experience on that day. The words seem to have been especially written for the occasion.

It was Dr D L Moody nineteenth century American evangelist and founder of the Moody Bible Institute who said: “I would rather be able to pray than be a great preacher. Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach but only how to pray.” That is our challenge. We are caught up in a pandemic which has affected the entire world and for which there is no answers at the moment. We have an ongoing war in this land – a war of crime, murder and corruption. More than ever we need to learn again from the people of the 1940s and turn to the Lord in serious prayer. We are like a ship without a rudder and so desperately need leadership. Only God can bring such people to the fore. We need to be persistent and patient in prayer remembering again the words of Jesus: “Go into your room close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen …”

I close with these words. Lead us Heavenly Father lead us o’er the world’s tempestuous sea. Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us, for we have no help but thee. Yet possessing every blessing if our God our Father be. – James Edmeston