‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ – Jeremiah 33:3
On the 30th of March, 1863, against the backdrop of a divisive and bloody war that set the United States of America on the brink of collapse. President, Abraham Lincoln employed the most unusual strategy – he declared a national day of prayer and fasting. Mounting the rostrum he said:
“…let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.” The American Civil War, which had dragged on for two years, came to a halt shortly thereafter and peace and progress returned to the nation.
The year was 1940. This time around it was not the United States, it was Britain. And the moment was one of the darkest in the history of the British people. More than 300,000 troops found themselves pinned down in northern France with Nazi forces bearing down on them. The British soldiers had insufficient ammunition and supplies and, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from Hitler’s forces. Britain faced imminent annihilation. Churchill, at his wits end, turned to God and requested King George the VI to call Britain to a National Day of Prayer.
That Sunday, May 26th 1940, British people showed up at churches all over the country. There were queues to Westminster Abbey. The churches were full with men and women of different social strata: royalty, high profile politicians and the general populace. They prayed and begged for the Lord’s mercy on their fathers and sons on the frontlines, and for their national survival. And the Lord heard those heartfelt prayers and responded with what became known as “the miracle at Dunkirk.”
Hitler inexplicably delayed giving his generals the order to finish off the British soldiers. A great storm over Germany prevented Nazi planes from taking off. The British people quickly assembled some 900 fishing boats, yachts, trawlers, and other private and government vessels, and began ferrying the troops from the French beaches and back to England a few at a time. By the grace of God, nearly a third of a million souls were saved as a result, as was the British nation.
The two leaders in the foregoing accounts are heroes of history. Their leadership models have been the subject of books and countless studies. Separated by centuries and situated in two different continents, they faced similar challenges that imperilled their respective nations and defied their human capacity. Pressed for solutions they turned to God, and the result was the preservation of entire nations and the reversal of what would have been the destruction of entire generations.
The truth is, there comes a time in the life of every nation and its leadership when it is faced with situations that confound human intelligence, skills and power. It was Albert Einstein that said we cannot solve our problems at the same level from which they were created. No matter the height of our education or the depth of our experiences, there are some problems that will stretch our human faculties and require us to step up to a higher plane.
This is what both leaders did. Gandhi, another greatly admired leader once said, “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”
The Bible gives a similar account of King Jehoshaphat. Caught in an impossible situation that threatened the existence of his people, and faced with an evil alliance of neighbouring armies, Jehoshaphat gathered the entire nation of Israel for prayers and everybody came out, the young and the old, male and female. They lifted up their voices and cried to God. Hear what Jehoshaphat said, “…we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” God heard the cry of Israel and delivered them from their enemies.
The above-mentioned accounts prove that God is moved to action by the earnest collective prayers of a nation. Today, Nigeria is faced with its own crisis. We are confronted with a situation that threatens not just our corporate existence, but also our individual existence as well. And this is one of such situations where leadership goes beyond the persons directly at the helm, even though we acknowledge the depth of their responsibility. We must, at this time, reach across political, economic and religious divides to take collective responsibility for our country. Not all of us will bear arms or engage in diplomatic manoeuvres and direct strategies, but all of us can shoulder the responsibility of prayer, and pray we must.
The need for prayer cannot be overemphasized. We will be making a big mistake to limit the capacity and concern of God, and to abandon prayer altogether. It was the late American president Ronald Regan that said, “We are never defeated unless we give up on God.”
This is not a time for despair. It is a time to unite against our common enemy in the fervency of prayer and faith. This does not in any way substitute for military, diplomatic and other engagements. But while all these are going on, let us back it up with prayers every step of the way. God is the most reliable source of help in times of great anxiety. He will hear our prayers. The Chibok girls will be found. There will be a speedy end to the bloodletting across the land. Nigeria will rise again to her full stature. Let us keep faith alive.
Nigeria Has a Great Future!