We often employ the evangelical catchphrase ‘prayer changes things’, without really pausing to think about the truth conveyed through the words. If we believed the statement as we should, there would be more prayer and our nation would not be in the spiritual condition that we are tragically witnessing today. Sadly, like many evangelical statements ‘prayer changes things’ has been reduced to a trite utterance, expressed with little conviction, a mere evangelical catchphrase, because we don’t really believe that prayer changes anything.
It is for this reason we must enter into the school of prayer and sit at the feet of Hezekiah and Isaiah. The Scriptures record great and earnest prayer meetings that altered the course of families, nations and the world. After Seth was born men began to pray together and a godly seed, that included giants like Enoch and Noah, was kept intact as the world progressively became more wicked. Daniel and his three friends pleaded together for an insight into Nebuchadnezzar’s mysterious vision as they stared execution in the face. Ezra sought the Lord with those who accompanied him, as they made the journey to the land of their fathers after years of captivity. The one hundred and twenty prayed in the Upper Room for power from on high and when persecution erupted, when Peter was imprisoned, the Church prayed without ceasing.
The overwhelming lesson from Scripture and from history is that amazing things happen when people pray together. Every revival in the history of the world has taken place when God’s people pray. Jermiah Lamphier commenced the Fulton Street lunchtime prayer meetings in New York city and God came down, pouring out his Spirit with a revival that continued internationally for fifty years. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, were converted in the last fifty years of the nineteenth century. It was a time of mass evangelism through the preaching of men DL Moody and RA Torrey. It was a period which saw the establishment of super churches in the great cities of the world; Talmage in New York and Spurgeon in London are two examples. Missionaries were sent to new lands, opening up new fields, establishing Christian witnesses, where previously the Gospel was not heard; these were the years of David Livingstone and Hudson Taylor. In those innocent times before apostasy crept into the major Protestant denominations there was a unity of spirit that we don’t see today. It happened because people prayed.
Hezekiah and Isaiah convened a prayer meeting. They were two of the greatest Holy Ghost anointed leaders in the history of Israel. Never do we read of a prophet and king, of this stature, meeting for prayer. These were two men of conviction, two men who knew God, two men who believed in the power of God, and the earth shook in response to their petitions.
It was a small prayer meeting. Two men attended. Jeremiah Lamphier was alone at the beginning of the first Fulton Street lunchtime prayer meetings but within a few weeks the church couldn’t hold the crowds. The Ulster Revival of 1859 began with four young men who responded to the challenge of their minister to do something more for God. The school house in Kells, where they gathered around an open fire in County Antrim, became the birthplace of the great awakening, the year of grace. It is not the size of the prayer meeting that determines the outcome but the spirit that is in the hearts of those that attend. There is no doubting the spirit of the godly prophet and the noble king.
We need to pause and think about this unique prayer gathering, praying that the same spirit would imbibe our souls.
The Cause Prompting their Prayer
While Sennacharib the Assyrian King laid siege to Lachish, seen as a gateway to Jerusalem, with his main invasion force he sent messengers to Jerusalem carrying letters intended for Hezekiah. Knowing that the entire land was within his grasp, Sennacharib was employing the tactic of propoganda to lower the morale of Jerusalem.
Humanely speaking Judah stood no chance before the superpower. Sennacharib knew, however, that people of great faith make determined foes. He was well aware that the King of Judah would resist as long as he believed that his God would deliver him. Therefore Sennacharib endeavoured to undermine Hezekiah’s faith and that of the people of Jerusalem.
Therefore servants on behalf their Emperor attacked the faith of God’s people and in so doing challenged the God of Israel to a fight; a dangerous course of action for anyone!
Subsequent to this, Hezekiah and Isaiah prayed with the words “For this cause” being so significant. The cause that drove them to their knees was the glory of God. It wasn’t merely the state of their nation – it was God’s honour which was at stake.
The ungodly secular mindset challenges God. The presumption that evolution is fact challenges His creative genius, the promotion of the LGBT agenda challenges His biological and sexual plan for mankind, the freedom to perform abortions challenges the sanctity of human life given by God, man’s desire to create his own morality and make his own rules challenges the authenticity of the Word of God, policies which treat criminals as mistakes to be treated rather than sinners to be punished challenges the Biblical concept of sin, approaching crises in the nation and the world without prayer challenges man’s need of God. There are countless ways in which God is challenged today.
On account of this we ought to be upset because God is challenged and we ought to pray for His honour, for His glory to be restored. The Psalmist had such a heart:
The Cry Characterising their Prayer
The inspired historian has relatively little to say about the content of their prayer but the little that he records implies intensity
The city was surrounded, they had no strategies nor army that could overcome this invader. The future of a nation was hanging in the balance. Both men believed, however, that providentially they had been brought into the world for this hour. They were raised up to stand in the gap, to intercede between God and men pleading for mercy. They prayed believing that everything depended on their supplications.
Te writer of the Books of Kings gives a flavour of ther earnestness:
Isaiah also records something of these prayers offered at such a critical juncture in history:
One can almost imagine the prophet pleading his own words as the armies of the Assyria were amassing at the gates:
Practically we are in a most dangerous in the history of the world. Tensions are heightening between Russia and the Nato, with similar problems surfacing in the east where China is concerned. The post war alliances which have served us well are becoming fractured, the United States and her allies are losing influence. The crippling recession followed by a costly pandemic is leaving the world in a most vulnerable place.
Politically we are in the most sensitive time in our history that Northern Ireland has witnessed in one hundred years. The erosion of the Unionist majority, the growth of a third group who are neither unionist nor nationalist and the rising confidence of nationalism all make for a a heady and explosive cocktail, an uncertain future.
At the heart of all of our woes is the spiritual state of our people. The Church has not been in a weaker place since the Protestant Reformation. We are less able to face crises than we were a century ago because we are not a praying and believing nation. The pandemic has exposed this fault line. There has been no seeking after God, no renewed interest in spirituality. Here in the Church the prayer meetings are not larger, they are not more earnest. It seems that we are all muddling along, trying to get by without God.
If ever there was a time for crying to God, this is the time!
The Conquest Following their Prayer
The end of the story is legendary but it is not a legend. God intervened. Lord Byron was not a man noted for his Christian virtues but he lived in a nation which feared God, and the story of the destruction of the army of Sennacherib certainly caught his imagination, as he penned his classic work, “The Destruction of Sennacharib”:
"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold; And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea, When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee. Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green, That host with their banners at sunset were seen: Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown, That host on the morrow lay withered and strown. For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast, And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed; And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill, And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still! And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide, But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride; And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf, And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf. And there lay the rider distorted and pale, With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail: And the tents were all silent, the banners alone, The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown. And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail, And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal; And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword, Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"
THe turnaround was astonishing. God did an amazing thing in bringing death upon the Assyrian host and setting his people free.
GOD ANSWERS PRAYER