Last Thursday was the National Day of Prayer.
Praying assumes that the person doing so believes there is a God who answers prayer — otherwise why spend the time?
The Old Testament is full of examples of the power of prayer where situations were hopeless and God responded to the requests of his people.
But we’d like to tell you about a more recent event where God answered prayer; bearing witness to the fact that all things are possible with God. The story begins in 1982 in Leipzig, East Germany.
For 35 to 40 years, Russia/German Democratic Republic had dominated the people, punishing defiance. It was the time of the Berlin Wall when people fleeing oppression were shot. The people lived in bondage, and going to church was frowned upon by the government.
Then a Lutheran pastor named Christian Fuehr called a simple prayer meeting, praying for peace. Every week, the faithful would gather and light 40 candles, each candle representing one of the 40 years the Jewish people spent in the wilderness.
The authorities ignored the meetings at first, but eventually attendance grew from a small number of people to 500, then thousands; and the GDR wasn’t able ignore it.
The GDR infiltrated the meetings, reporting the names of attendees to the KGB. Fuehr was removed from the church and thrown into the snow 20 miles away and left to die. But he didn’t die; he walked back and the next week 40 more candles were lit.
The GDR threatened to take away jobs of attendees. So young people without jobs replaced those who left to keep their jobs.
Week after week, 40 candles were lit and people continued to pray for peace and deliverance from bondage.
Then on Oct. 9, 1989, 2,000 people gathered and Christian Fuehr told them, “Tonight, I’m going to have each of you light your candles and walk outside.”
Outside, there were thousands of German soldiers waiting for them. They walked toward the soldiers (who were backed by Russian tanks) and walked among them as they prayed. Never had the GDR ever seen anything like this.
One by one those present heard the sound of soldiers dropping their weapons and taking up candles.
The Russians in their tanks could have killed them all, but instead, they turned around and retreated to their barracks.
The next week, chancellor Erick Honecker quit, having lost the loyalty of his army after facing a more powerful force — Christian people of prayer.
One month later, President Ronald Reagan made his famous speech in Berlin, and shortly thereafter Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev began tearing down the Berlin Wall.
So what does this story mean for us today? We would suggest that God has not changed. He is still able to change the hearts of men, but he will not force anyone.
We’d also say that the power of prayer has not changed. It is when his people pray, trusting that he will answer, that things start to happen.
But prayer by itself is not enough. Praying and living according to his will is part of the equation.
At Easter, we celebrated the life of Jesus, who was crucified, died and three days later was raised back from the dead to life. He is still alive today and still answers the prayers of his people.
So never allow yourself to lose hope. For God and prayer are the antidote. Whenever things around you seem hopeless, remember the story of the 40 candles.