The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him. The Lord confides in those who fear Him. (Ps.25:14 KJV and NIV)
Thousands of tributes and testimonies are pouring in from around the world about the way in which the Queen touched so many lives for good through her faithful service under the Lord. But none of them would have come about had Edward VIII remained on the throne – and only God knows just how vital was the work of intercessors in praying that he would make way for his brother, and Queen Elizabeth beyond. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, had people been content merely to pray ‘dutiful’ blessings on Edward, it would not have been enough to bring about the Lord’s vital and far more radical purposes.
While the beautifully honed prayers of formal prayer books and rites do sing with the Spirit, they can also lull people into praying with no more than ceremonial formality. There is a fundamental distinction to be made between such prayer, and the intercession that is led by the Spirit. Prayers such as those of Rees Howells and the Welsh Bible College might appear presumptuous and judgemental to those used to the safety and comfort of carefully crafted and delicately worded printed prayer, but we are missing something if we are not prepared to go beyond that.
One of the very greatest virtues of the Queen was the way in which she was able to rise above national “politics” as we typically understand and interpret them. And yet, as intercessors, we are highly likely to find ourselves coming face to face again and again with geo-political issues. Where this overlaps with sensing that the Lord is pointing us in a particular direction, it is difficult to appear neutral: right is still right, and wrong is still wrong, no matter which political party may espouse it. At such times, we dare not hold back from sounding out the word of the Lord in prayer for fear of sounding partisan.
In the 1920s, my great uncle Frank, then bishop of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, took a campaign to London’s echelons of power, seeking to prevent the reintroduction of forced labour in East Africa. There were, of course, those who felt that bishops should stick to purely spiritual issues. Charles Gore, the then Bishop of Oxford, put the matter well when he declared: ‘I don’t know if it is right to bring politics into religion, but it is certainly right to bring religion into politics.’
I too have known occasions when the Lord has spoken clearly on political matters, declaring in advance who was going to win particular General Elections – and why. See this article, for example.
We may be used to personally identifying with the psalmist’s prayer that we should not be confounded or put to shame, but there are times when it is right to apply such prayers wider, and to address the powers and principalities that are at work in particular situations, calling out to the Lord that He would ‘Confuse the wicked, confound their words.’ (Ps. 55:9)
One such occasion occurred when General Galtieri occupied the Falklands Islands; the Lord had me pray that He would ‘turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.’ (2 Sam. 15:31) He answered that prayer powerfully, in all sorts of ways.
It is important to be willing to pray actively against certain things from happening. But that is an aspect of Spirit-led intercession that makes many people nervous, and with good reason. Can we get it wrong? Yes. Are there risks that we will become over-politicised and dangerously naïve as a consequence of seeing matters through too limited a prism? Undoubtedly. We do not get everything right, and it would be possible, even, to stray into ‘forcing’ prayers that are more akin to witchcraft than to true prayer. The moment we hear someone veering towards praying, ‘Lord, make X do Y,’ we should be on the alert and doubly, triply, careful.
This is where we need the witness of the Spirit from among several and – best of all – independent people we can go to in order to share our assumptions and leadings – even as Paul was willing to submit the gospel he had received from the Lord Jesus to the established elders in Jerusalem before embarking on his missionary journeys. (Gal. 2:2) Where such additional checking is not possible, then pray with all boldness, but by all means add ‘If I am seeing straight on this matter, Lord!’ Or, as this is more commonly expressed, ‘If it be Your will, Lord.’ This need not diminish or take away from the radical focus of our intercessions.
Everything depends on our seeking the Lord in the right spirit and in the right way, just as Amos did when he interceded against swarms of locusts and destructive wild fires devastating his nation. (Amos 7:1-6) At the right time and place, it is a perfectly viable and biblical option to pray, ‘Lord, confuse and confound them.’ (Ps. 55.9; see also Gen. 11:9, Ex. 23.27, Deut. 7:23, cf 1 Cor. 1:27).
May we develop the discernment to recognise those times when we are being influenced by our own prejudices and preferences, and when it is the Holy Spirit who is leading us to pray in such ways. May we be willing to pray sharp and directed prayers as He directs.
The fact remains that Lord of Heaven’s Hosts does indeed alert His intercessors to pray against certain things happening. In 1973 at the height of the Yom Kippur war, it came to light that Russia was intending to ship nuclear missiles to Alexandria in Egypt. The Lord alerted Samuel Howells, son of Rees, to intercede as never before because ‘the enemy is seeking to precipitate Armageddon.’
Intercession prevailed, thus putting an end to those deadly plans. (See Lance Lambert, Battle for Israel). That does not mean that Armageddon was averted for all time – but it did ensure that it would not happen ahead of God’s timing.
Lord, give us grace to pray the prayers that are on Your heart, and to persevere in prayer, so that You can avert much that is wrong, and bring about to pass many truly great and marvellous things.