Rees Howells, Intercessor, by Norman Grubb (263 pgs; originally published 1952)
I had never heard his name. I was about to move to his home country. And I thought I understood his occupation.
I was presented with this biography when some acquaintances learned that I was moving to the U.K. I had never heard of Rees Howells, who served in Africa and south Wales from the early 1900s through WWII. I had never considered Wales to be a significant ministry headquarters (despite the famous 1904 “revival”). I had never realized how little I understood about prayer–the book labels him an “intercessor,” by which I had always taken that to mean someone who prays for others.
I expected this book to be a log of Rees’ spectacular ministry accomplishments, testimonies of miracles and faith that would be extremely difficult to relate to yet somehow deemed to be inspiring.
What I found was accounts of a real man growing in his faith, who witnessed some incredible provision from the hand of God, and who was shaped by the Holy Spirit to be an instrument of blessing to others as he was tested and tried in his journey of faith.
I appreciated the honesty of Rees’ journey, his reluctance to follow obediently in what he understood God asking him to do…whether it was going about without a hat on (practically scandalous in his culture) or purchasing a multimillion dollar (in today’s money) property without a penny in his pocket. Time and again, the Holy Spirit took Rees on a journey of understanding the plight of others (orphans, Africans, people with TB) so that he could pray from a place of truly identifying with their needs and circumstances. He was taught, in an experiential, trying way, that “the secret of intercession–[was] the identification of the intercessor with the ones for whom he prays.” Whereas some people might pray, intercessors enter into the situation of others, wrestling and pleading with God for victory and provision on their behalf. And once they receive confirmation that God will act, they move on to celebration in faith, believing that He will do as He has said.
And he didn’t just serve from a distance. He gave several years of his life as a missionary in Africa, and resolved that “he was never again to ask God to answer a prayer through others if He could answer it through him.” All of his life, his energy and his money, was given over to however the Holy Spirit wanted to direct him. He would pray about the burdens that God gave to him, and he would give to the needs that God directed him toward.
He was a man given over to God, who not only claimed that he was available to do whatever God wanted him to do with his life, but who actually followed through in obedience to walk that very walk. He opened his life to others, from ministry students in Wales to Jewish refugee children from Nazi Germany. And God used him.
How often we covet a life of impact, to pray and be heard, like Rees Howells, but we are yet reluctant to truly give over the stewardship of our lives to the Spirit of God! Rees firmly believed that there was something significant in the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in Christians as His temple, that we have died and no longer live–that God is choosing to live His life, to do His work, through us.
I pray for many people, regularly. But having read of the life of Rees Howells, I don’t know that I can honestly say that I actually intercede for them. I want people to be blessed…but am I willing to let go of my life, my ambitions, plans, and resources, so that God may have His way (alone) in me, around me, and through me?
Some quotations from the book can be found in a PDF document here: Rees Howells quotes