By Charles Gardner, UK correspondent
A few weeks ago, I wrote of the extraordinary way in which a religious song has caught the imagination of Israelis – to such an extent that it has attracted no less than 29 million views on YouTube.
Bearing in mind that modern Israel is largely secular, Ultra-Orthodox Ishay (Jesse) Ribo has been singing his heart out to God as he asks, “What can be done to an old heart like mine?” later adding that “only you can turn my mourning into dancing”.
I believe this is highly prophetic as Ezekiel foretold that after the scattered Jewish people returned to their ancient land, the Lord would give them “a new heart” and “a new spirit”, adding: “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:26)
So, I have no hesitation is saying that the song could well be a forerunner of Israel’s Great Awakening spoken of in the Bible.
But I also feel that it’s representative of a cry in the heart of people everywhere who have grown weary of this world’s superficiality, and I am sure that this is also the case with many here in Britain.
I have been particularly reminded in recent days of two extraordinary events in this country which clearly bore this out. Just over 21 years ago, Cliff Richard defied his critics with a No 1 hit based on the Lord’s Prayer.
Known as The Millennium Prayer, it reached those dizzy heights with very limited airplay and without the backing of his own label. The prayer our Lord taught his disciples, sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, struck a chord across the nation, and beyond. Yet EMI, Sir Cliff’s label since 1958, refused to release it because, in their view, it had no commercial potential. But it became his 14th No 1 hit and was the third best-selling single of an amazing career, now in its seventh decade. I guess it was a miracle, and a reminder that God is in charge.
OK, so Cliff is an outspoken Christian who has never held back on his beliefs since he first announced his conversion at a Billy Graham meeting in 1966.
But it was a most unlikely candidate who, eight years earlier, had also displayed this heart-cry of the masses, though in evident defiance of his rock-star colleagues. David Bowie knelt down on the stage of Wembley Stadium, in front of 72 000 fans and a TV audience of millions, and prayed the Lord’s Prayer!
The one-time bisexual was now deliberately identifying with Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. And when he died of liver cancer six years ago, aged 69, his wife Iman posted on her Instagram page, “The struggle is real, but so is God.”
The Daily Mirror published an article headed, “David Bowie didn’t fear death after turning to God following terminal cancer diagnosis”. He had also reportedly told a friend, “You don’t get any atheists on the battlefield”. One of his last songs was Lazarus, named after the man Jesus raised from the dead and released just two days before his (Bowie’s) death, which begins: “Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
My good friend Ralph Burden, to whom I am indebted for much of this information (see his website at www.reallifestories.org) told me that he felt led to pray for David while packing for his move to New Zealand where he is now a pastor, not knowing he would be dead within weeks.
Bowie had also once said: “Searching for music is like searching for God… Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always.”
Defending his 1992 prayer at Wembley, he explained: “In rock music, especially in the performance arena, there is no room for prayer, but I think that so many of the songs people write are prayers… On a personal level, I have an undying belief in God’s existence. For me it is unquestionable.”
He later said: “All cliches are true. The years really do speed by. Life really is as short as they tell you it is. And there really is a God.”
We may be tempted to judge people by how often they attend church, or some other external measure, but what we can be sure of is that, as far as God is concerned: “Those who honour me I will honour” — 1 Sam 2:30. “And “those who seek me find me” — Prov 8:17 – which surely applies both to David Bowie and Sir Cliff.
So, could pop stars prove a key to revival through their understanding of how the human heart is broken, and needs fixing by the only One who can?
It’s worth mentioning that the Lord’s Prayer is not meant to be simply repeated parrot-fashion, but is a template for praising and honouring God for all his provision, and for keeping a short account of our debts both to him and others.
I conclude with a war-time letter written to the editor of The Scotsman in 1940, calling for churches to open for prayer because Britain was engaged in a spiritual as well as a military conflict. “Our King and Queen, Prime Minister, Dominion premiers, Cabinet ministers, Labour leaders, church leaders and many others have stated that the present conflict in which we are engaged is a spiritual conflict, a holy war against the powers of evil. If we are convinced of this, then it follows that all our spiritual as well as our material forces must be mobilised to combat this evil.”
Penned by Grace Grattan Guinness, widow of evangelist Henry, she wisely advised that the display of large “Open for Prayer” posters, backed by a quotation such as “Call upon me and I will answer” — Jer 33:3 — might lead to “dynamic results”.1
That prayer is key to revival is as obvious as it is true. I can do no better than quote what the Lord said to Solomon after the dedication of the Temple: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” — 2 Chron 7:13f
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