Those sober words, “The lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” were first pronounced on 4 August 1914 by British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. Germany had declared war on France one day before and had occupied Belgium. Britain’s ultimatum to Germany had gone unheeded, WWI was about to begin. Every nation in Europe, and beyond, was to find itself caught up in the conflict, as far as Russia, Turkey and the Middle East. Ultimately even America joined in. But the ending of that war solved nothing: Europe was left in a dark revolutionary turmoil of atheism, communism, socialism, fascism, Nazism, until, 25 years later, Europe and the whole world were again at war.
Every European nation had its heroes of faith in those dark hours: people who prayed, people who took action, people who risked everything for the Truth. There is power in prayer. Britain was still a Christian country. Every soldier was issued a copy of the Gospels, inscribed with these words: ‘We commend the Gospel of Christ our Saviour for it alone can effectively mould character, control conduct and solve the problems of men and nations, and thus make life what it should be. Faith in Christ the Lord and loyal obedience to His Will as revealed in the Bible ensures peace of mind and brings satisfaction in service to God and man.’ This statement was signed by the Commanders in Chief of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Air Force. - Seven times King and Parliament called the whole nation to prayer. Seven times the whole nation turned out and filled the churches, including those who had not been to church in years and those who had never been. Each time God answered by a remarkable miracle of deliverance.
The first National Day of Prayer was 26 May 1940. The entire British Army was about to be wiped out in France, no escape. The forecast was for storms in the Channel, impossible to send ships to the rescue. But in answer to prayer, God turned the Channel into a millpond, every vessel that could float crossed the still waters and most of the British Army, over 330,000 got home!
The second National Day of Prayer was 11 August 1940. The ‘Battle of Britain’: Britain’s air power was derisory. On 30 August, 800 enemy aircraft attempted to put key airfields out of action and by 6 September defeat appeared inevitable. But suddenly Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to switch its attack to London, saving fighter command from superior air power.
The third National Day of Prayer followed on 8 September 1940. In answer to prayer, by 10 September the RAF still had not been destroyed. However, Hitler had massed barges and 50,000 men for the land invasion of Britain. But a terrific storm blew the barges away! By Sunday 15 September, when there was no reserve aircraft left, at the very time believers were leaving the churches, by a miracle the enemy air and sea armada fled, the invasion was postponed and Britain was again delivered!
The fourth Day of Prayer was, by an absolute miracle, held on 23 March 1941. It was not known that Hitler had chosen this date for his next invasion. But in answer to prayer an earthquake below the Atlantic seabed threw his ships 80 miles off course and Channel storms forced him to abandon the invasion! Britain stood alone at that time and the home guard could only drill with walking sticks – there were so few guns! But within days, Yugoslavia changed from surrender to resistance, Ethiopia was liberated from Mussolini, and Hitler turned east to Russia, his biggest mistake.
The fifth Day of Prayer was in September 1942. In the week that followed, Mussolini’s fleet was sunk in the Mediterranean, the island of Malta was miraculously delivered and, under General Montgomery, the course of the war in North Africa was changed at El-Alamein from unmitigated defeat to victory. Churchill said, “Before El-Alamein, we never had a victory, after El-Alamein we never had a defeat.”
The sixth Day of Prayer, on 3 September 1943, was answered immediately by the surrender of Italy under Mussolini.
There was a final National Day of Prayer in Spring 1944 immediately before the D-Day landings which were to bring the war in Europe to a close.
Once again, the lights are going out all over Europe, this time with a spiritual vacuum. Just as it was the economic situation in the 1930s which fomented the situation, today it is the economic and spiritual. The rise of a godless economic structure, and the spiritual vacuum of our ‘post-Christian’ society are allowing a flood-tide of secularism and religious extremism to threaten our very heritage.
Our only hope is through prayer - as in the war when God answered. He will again today - but we need to call every Christian, every concerned individual to pray. Pray at home, in your church, in groups in your town or city, join a national prayer group. Your prayer is effective.