Prayer changes things
John Humphries, the television newsreader describes himself as a ‘failed atheist’. Long after he left the church he grew up in, he writes, ‘I continued to pray. I prayed every single night without fail for half a century…The problem was that I had absolutely no notion of the God to whom I was supposed to be praying, nor for that matter, why I was praying.’ Surveys have shown that three quarters of the population of sceptical, secular Britain admit to praying at least once a week. In fact prayer is regaining popularity in our very modern post-Christian society in the West.
At the recent Armed Forces Day service I spoke on Prayer beginning with the often quoted statement: ‘there are no atheists in the trenches’, meaning ‘When the chips are down and your fate is outside your control, people will pray, irrespective of what they say they believe’.
I told the now familiar story of the 33 trapped Chilean miners from last year and their miraculous deliverance from the bowels of the earth. It was as those men joined together in prayer that they witnessed their deliverance. Jose Henriquez, one of the trapped miners said he believed prayer and faith in God is what can make the impossible, possible. The Parachute Regiment was ordered to take back the small settlement of Darwin and Goose Green from the Argentine forces who were well established in strength and well supplied. After 40 hours of fighting and with many soldiers killed or wounded, including the commanding officer of 2 Para, it fell to Major Chris Keeble to take over command. The situation looked bleak.
‘We were in a perilous position and the responsibility for getting us out of it lay with me. I had no idea what to do. I walked up a gully to be alone for a moment to try and think. I put my hands into my pockets and my fingernails caught on a piece of plastic. It was a prayer which I had typed out and had laminated as a kind of deal with God – you know, ‘I’ll carry this prayer if you’ll look after me’ stuff’. Keeble knelt in the gorse and said the prayer, written by a desert mystic, Charles de Foucault:
‘My Father, I abandon myself to you. Do with me as you will. Whatever you may do with me I thank you, provided your will is fulfilled in me. I ask for nothing more’.
Keeble found it, in the midst of battle, ‘a terrifying, almost impossible prayer to say. But to my amazement, I went through a real transformation. Instead of feeling frightened, uncertain, cold, miserable, confused, I suddenly felt joyful, happy, warm’.
Above all he had ‘immense clarity’ about what he needed to do. He returned to his men and told them that at first light he would walk down across the battlefield ‘and invite the Argentine commanders to surrender’. His men were ‘pretty astounded by this very unmilitary kind of solution. We were a unit that was designed to bring violence to produce a solution and I was offering one that was completely the reverse’. And so, extraordinary as it sounds (because Keeble was in the far weaker position with only 400 men against a force of 1200) that is exactly what happened. A surrender was agreed, resulting in many lives being saved, many sons, brothers and fathers on both sides who would have died had the conflict continued – and all because a man prayed and asked God for His wisdom and guidance in a difficult situation.
There will always be times when we need to just get on our knees ‘in the gorse’ and pray that prayer abandoning ourselves to God and saying ‘your will be done in me’ and then watch what God does because above all else, PRAYER CHANGES THINGS. Stephen
The NASA scientists, there to advise on the operation all said: ‘This was a miracle. There is no other word for what happened here’.
The other story I told at that service, much less well known and yet equally powerful was from the 1982 Falklands conflict and the Battle for Goose Green. For those who can remember nearly 30 years ago (I was very young at the time!), the 2ndBattalion,