Can our prayers change nations? Did prayer really help bring down the Berlin Wall? 20 years ago today the world watched stunned - from the Kremlin to the White House - as the wall which had separated East from West for more than quarter of a century came crashing down. And remarkably one of the sparks which detonated this seismic change was.. a weekly prayer meeting!
If you ever wonder whether prayer really can change the world, read on...
Growing up under communism, in a mining village near the East German city of Leipzig, Markus Laegel (today one of the leaders of 24-7 Germany), remembers those prayer meetings as a formative moment when he realised the power of prayer. His father worked, like most men, in an open mine where his minimal wage was supplemented by daily bottles of vodka. With almost nothing to do after work other than drink, Markus remembers a generation of his father's friends all being reduced to alcoholism while their families struggled to survive. Times were desperate living under one of the most repressive regimes on earth.
When Markus was 13, word began to spread about a weekly prayer meeting at the church of St Nicholas in Leipzig. It was said that people were daring to cry out to God for an end to the oppression of communism. That simple prayer meeting had begun several years earlier with just a handful of faithful Christians on a Monday night, but now it started to grow. Exactly a month before the wall came down no fewer than 70,000 people gathered around the church to intercede for peace. The government was alarmed and threatened to shut the church down. Doctors were so concerned that they set up an emergency clinic in the building, expecting the prayer meeting to be showered with bullets...
So many people were expressing their protest in prayer that the State was preparing for war. Markus Laegel remembers guns on the roofs of churches and tanks in the streets. But when the Berlin wall eventually fell one communist official made a surprising admission to a journalist: 'We were prepared for every eventuality,' he said, 'but not for candles and not for prayers' Red Moon Rising
Regime change The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who was arguably the pre-eminent theologian of prayer in the 20th century, said that 'To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising.' Twenty years after the prayer-fueled uprising that brought down communism in Eastern Europe, we find ourselves living under the subtler oppression of unregulated capitalism and secular humanism. Maybe it's time to to rediscover the spirit of those Leipzig Prayer Rallies once again.
Eugene Peterson's classic book 'The Contemplative Pastor' (which, let's face it, sounds about as harmless as a book can be) goes as far as describing prayer as 'a subversive activity [that] involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim by the current regime.'
To pray for the Kingdom of God to come on earth is to invite an uprising, a regime-change, a revolution. It is subversive. But sadly we've reduced 'Thy Kingdom come' to a religious catch-phrase, short-hand merely for a few less people leaving our churches, and a few more homeless people receiving a tuna sandwich on Friday nights. By contrast, the former Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper clearly understood the revolutionary implications of Christian allegiance (and I can almost imagine his hand trembling with a mixture of terror and excitement as he wrote these words):
There is not a square inch of domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: 'It is mine!'
24-7 Prayer exists to welcome Christ into every 'square inch of domain of our human existence'. This means that, whenever we see the tyranny of enemy occupation at work in our own lives we try to pray for Christ's Kingdom to come instead. Wherever we see oppression, amongst the poor, in our educational systems, in government, or even in the church, we use our free wills to say defiantly: 'Not my will but your will be done'.
When we pray in this way, I'm reminded of those urgent messages tapped out in code to Allied forces by resistance fighters far behind enemy lines in the Second World. In the darkness and despair, our prayers can light up landing-strips for the invading forces of heaven. And when we come together to do this in sufficient numbers, we can move from small-scale guerrilla warfare to publicly defying tanks and guns with our prayers for liberation.
24-7 and the future After a decade of continual prayer that has touched a hundred nations and impacted so many thousands of individuals, I am unspeakably grateful to God for the 24-7 movement. But now, as we begin to look ahead to the next decade of non-stop prayer, my longing is to move from the transformation of individuals to the transformation of nations and the liberation of entire communities, through the power of concerted prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ our returning Lord!
The reception of a new world from God is under way in our time. It is apparent in the staggering, frightening emergence of new communities... Thus we are at the risky point of receiving from God what we thought God would not give; namely a new way to be human in the world.' Walter Bruegemann, Hopeful Imagination