Dunkirk is a current movie being widely acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of the evacuation of over three hundred thousand soldiers during the Second World War. The land, sea and air drama almost places you right at the famous French beach, but sadly overlooks one vital element of what has become history’s greatest and most famous rescue.
It was, as Winston Churchill famously said, a “miracle of deliverance.”
That miracle was based in the prayers of thousands across Britain who, in 1940, were called to churches by King George VI to intercede for the troops pinned to the English Channel coastline by Hitler’s advancing armies.
Sunday 26th May 1940 may have represented the turning point of the war. Seventy per cent of Britain’s army was at Dunkirk and, had they not been saved, the Battle of Britain which was fought just weeks later may have ended differently.
Following the national day of prayer, Hitler inexplicably ordered his tired troops to rest for a new offensive. Some of his commanders were incensed at the lost opportunity to rout their seemingly defenceless enemy, but it was wrongly assumed the Luftwaffe would mount a simple air attack and finish them off.
What the Nazis didn’t count on, though, was the cloud cover that protected the evacuating army and the seas being as calm as they had been in a generation. This also enabled the massive flotilla of civilian rescue vessels to navigate the waters and come to the aid of the vast majority of the French and British who had been helplessly trapped. Though some boats were lost, just 2,000 lives were lost.
More than ten times the number of individuals expected to be rescued were saved from Dunkirk. This incredible achievement was birthed in the same kind of prayer warfare that was more recently showcased in the film War Room, widely panned for daring to suggest that prayer could change circumstances. Naturally, such opposition is based in rationalistic prejudice, ignoring any biblical inspiration or teaching that is nevertheless still modelled by many who see that prayer has not stopped being effective and that God has not stopped desiring to answer it.
Perhaps it is a little more of this kind of proactive prayer that is required today. Are we not in more desperate need than ever before for God to move on the hearts of those in this nation who are increasingly disinterested in His agenda, His standards, and His Word? Are we not also desperate for Him to bring healing and deliverance of all kinds in those areas of need which expose our utter dependence upon Him.
Rees Howells’ biography (Rees Howells: Intercessor, by Norman Grubb) depicts the stunning example of the impact of prayer on the Dunkirk crisis and other national events. Cynics might write such stories off as coincidences but, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the time, it is when we stop praying that the coincidences stop happening.
The power of prayer can still change destinies. God regularly chooses to honour the prayers of those who do not even serve Him, in His gracious and loving mercy. It is, however, the effective prayers of those who typically follow God that are powerfully effective, as James 5:16 tells us.
I still get excited at seeing that power working today. Far from seeing God as a crutch for the vulnerable, as some prefer to do, He’s actually still waiting to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9).