Lord, raise up leaders in the world, as well as in the church, to meet the needs of this hour!
It grieves me that so many of the younger generation know the name of Churchill as an advertising slogan rather than as the man who led the nation at the most critical moment in its history. They have no understanding of the immense burdens he bore as he directed the affairs of state and nation – let alone any awareness of how hard he laboured to polish the talks that inspired millions to keep going.
Having already occupied high office for years beforehand, it was during the 1930’s that he recognised the extreme danger that Fascism, and Nazism in particular, posed the world as Germany rushed to re-arm. As a result he faced intense criticism in Parliament for being a scaremonger and a warmonger.
(For those who are interested in such things see these links: Winston Churchill denies he was a warmonger who helped bring on World War 1 and US debates Winston Churchill’s legacy.)
Churchill directed his energies to restoring the armed forces “just in time”. At a time when planes were being scrapped by the dozen, and Parliament was lapping up German blandishments, Churchill recognised the dangers posed by the secret expansion of the Luftwaffe, and the essential need to build up the RAF. He and Air Marshal Dowding fought tooth and nail first to protect the service and then to provide the pilots with desperately needed bullet-proof windscreens. With remarkable shortsightedness, it was claimed they were not necessary! Time has proved the wisdom of their costly stance: the nation was saved during the Battle of Britain and many pilots survived as a result of the strengthened windscreens. Lord raise up men and women of vision and tenacity – and the means and courage to fulfil those visions!
Despite many flaws in his personality, (he was often tetchy, dictatorial and downright difficult to work with) Churchill had qualities of doggedness as well as an ability to inspire people as a modern-day “Cyrus” who would save the nation until the time came to breathe again. His achievements are all the more remarkable in that he had to persevere despite what he termed his ‘black dog’: episodes of deep depression which kept him alternately listless in bed or in such a whirlwind of activity that his secretaries were kept busy till two or three in the morning. Yet despite excessive alcohol and cigar consumption, and times of immense personal loss and sadness over the world situation, time and again he bounced back from his setbacks in order to focus on the huge panoply of tasks he addressed in his various roles and capacities.
Churchill is a wonderful example of someone who effectively used his depressive tendencies to achieve many creative and necessary purposes. I love the story of how, towards the end of his life, he returned to his old school, Harrow, where he had been a far from outstanding pupil. With his collar turned up in his characteristic way, and in that utterly familiar gravelly voice, his entire address lasted less than a minute – but it made the deepest impression on every single person who heard it, then as now: ‘Young men, I say to you, Never, never, never give up – never give up.”
It was undoubtedly the shortest address in the school’s history, but indubitably the most memorable, for it was given by one who had lived the truth of these words. May the Lord apply them now to us, whatever our age or gender. But also give us grace to know that He can use us despite personality or other traits that would seem decidedly odd or difficult to others!
In a recent tribute to Churchill, David Cameron highlighted certain less known facts about him; that he was “the man who pushed for prison reform, championed old age pensions and introduced labour exchanges for the unemployed. He believed that a nation was made great not just by its military might but by how its poorest and frailest citizens were treated.” This is a tremendous tribute, and a challenge to the present day Conservative party to pursue a similar ethos on behalf of the less well off.
Churchill was often disastrously stubborn and interfering, but, as Boris Johnson recognises in this article, it is his extraordinary courage that stands out. Churchill Embodied Britain’s Greatness. He was astute enough to recognise the danger that Soviet Russia would pose to the West. In a far-ranging speech concerning the “state of play” in world affairs, given at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946, he spoke of an Iron Curtain coming down.
It fell to Churchill to relate to such complicated characters as Joseph Stalin and President Roosevelt (for instance at the Conference of Yalta). Our present leaders do not have the experience that Churchill had when danger loomed, but it is surely right to pray that leaders across the West will be empowered to act with courage, stature and vision as they relate to the complex characters such as President Putin and the staunchly nationalist leader of China Xi Jinping – to say nothing of the unparalleled challenge that ISIL represents.