Prayer and Supplication
June 23rd, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-23-57 10:50 a.m.
You’re sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. We have come to one of the great, meaningful texts in the Bible. In our preaching through the Word, the last Lord’s Day evening that I preached here, we closed with the fifth verse of the fourth chapter of the Book of Philippians – Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. This Lord’s Day, 11:00 o’clock morning service, we begin at the sixth verse – Philippians 4, the sixth verse and the seventh verse:
Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
That is our text. Tonight, we begin at the eighth verse, and the message tonight will be on the eighth verse; this morning on Philippians 4:6 and 7. Now, we shall take this passage verbatim et literatim – just as Paul hath spoken it.
He begins here: "Be careful for nothing," which to us in 1957 is a very astonishing thing to say: "Be careful for nothing." And the reason for that lies in the change of the meaning of the word "care, careful." Paul’s word here, merimnao, means "distraction, anxiety, fretting, worry." And the way he uses it refers to our fretting, our anxiety, our worry, our distraction of the things in this world and in this life. He says we are to be distracted, worried, full of fear and anxiety over nothing in this world and in this life: "Be careful for nothing" [Philippians 4:6].
The only way that I could make that word “careful” mean what it did in 1611, when this Scripture was translated, is to pull the syllables apart: "care-ful" – be full of care. Care-full, burdened and weighted down, full of anxiety and foreboding: be that way over nothing, says the apostle [Philippians 4:6].
Well, he makes a request of us that, somehow in our life, is hard to obey. And the reason is because we live in a world of such constant loss. Whatever we have, it is a matter of time till we lose it. Will it be today, or will it be tomorrow? For this is a world of death. It’s a world of age. It is a world of sickness and disease. It is a world of bereavement and separation. It is a world of sorrow and disappointment. And how do you live in a world like this and our hearts not be filled with foreboding, with anxiety, with trouble? What does any man know what any tomorrow will bring? Except we do know this: it shall bring, somehow, disappointment. It shall bring, somehow, age and illness. It shall bring, certainly and somehow, our age, our demise.
All of that is the lot of every soul that lives in this world, so what he says here is difficult for us. It sounds like fine sentiment to say: "Don’t you be anxious. Trouble not yourself for tomorrow. Live free like the birds in the air, like the lilies in the field" [from Matthew 6:25-34]. That sounds splendid. The sentiment of it is excellent. But, oh, how do you do it?
So we reply to Paul when he writes it, "Paul, you lay a mandate upon our souls, but we’re not quite able to obey. It is difficult and impossible for us. We are full of anxiety and care and foreboding. And when we look down the vista of the years, we cannot help but seek to plan and to prepare against the exigencies of those hours."
But Paul replies, "Oh, you break into my speech. You did not listen to what I said before, nor have you paused to listen to what I say after. Right in the middle of what I have said do you break in and say, ‘But this command is impossible for us.'” For Paul says, "I said something before and I have something to say. Listen to me to the end of my speech."
So we listen to the apostle. What did he say before? Look at it. In the fifth verse: "Let your forbearance be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" [Philippians 4:5]. What he means by that is this: we are to stand upon this world as upon a mere shadow. Our substance, our inheritance, our life is not here. It is in heaven. Could I use an expression that I’ve heard in a joke? We are to sit loosely in this world, or the joke is we’re to “sit loose” in the world. We’re not to be here grasping, holding, as though our eternity and our destiny is here. No, our inheritance is in heaven [Philippians 3:20], and the Lord is near and at hand [Philippians 4:5]. As Paul says in the seventh chapter, the twenty-ninth verse of First Corinthians: "For the time is shortened" [1 Corinthians 7:29].
This life is not our life. This home is not our home. This earth is not our inheritance. The Lord is near. And in the presence of our great King, all of these things here are to take their respective places. They’re not big; they don’t cover the horizon. They are temporal and passing away. Our great victory is in God, and He is at hand! And in the light of the parousia – the presence, the appearing, the glorious triumph and victory of our Lord – we are to be anxious here for nothing. To be full of fretting, to be full of anxiety and care, is not in keeping with the great destiny of the child of God.
Then, he says: "And listen to my speech. Be anxious and full of care for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God" [from Philippians 4:6]. Turn every care into a prayer. Let the raw materials of your prayers be made of the cares of your life. Baptize every anxiety and foreboding in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And in the light of the great and eternal Lord, these things are as nothing. Admit gladly that we are dependent upon God. Our strength is God’s strength. Our life is God’s life. Our hope is the Lord’s hope.
"Careful for nothing; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God" [from Philippians 4:6]. We have a faculty of planning, of seeing ahead. It’s a human faculty. Seems to me the animals live just this day with no thought of any tomorrow. They are not conscious of what may lie ahead, but a man is. He is sensitive of a tomorrow, and he has that gift of understanding. And it is a depraved faculty in all of us because it turns with us into foreboding and into fear and into anxiety.
But when we find a hope and a redemption of our faculties in Christ, then all that is turned and changed and taken away. I am not to pry into the unopened leaves of the destiny of my life, but I am to have this assurance and I am to rest in it that the great promises and blessings and providences written large on the pages of the past of the divine providence that I can read and do know, I am to believe that a no less good and gracious and blessed providence lies in the leaves that I do not see open and that now I cannot read. In that hope and faith and providence, I am to commit myself in prayer, in supplication, without anxiety, without foreboding, without fear. O Lord, what a way to live: just depending upon the mercies and the goodnesses of God!
A little London girl, reared in the city, for the first time was taken to visit the country. And seeing a little bird in the meadow, she said to her mother, "O Mama, look at that poor little bird. It hasn’t got a cage."
Well, I could understand that. We have had a new addition to our home. Did you know that? Yes, sir. A little yellow canary bird has come to live at our house. And I look at the little thing cheep and sing and hop in it’s cage. And on one side is a little thing full of seed, and on the other side is a little container full of water. And I look at that little thing, and then beyond, in the open there beyond the window, are those birds that are so free. And I think, "Isn’t that a picture of us? Isn’t it?"
How anxious we are and struggle and try to keep our little box full of seed and our little glass full of water, and we live in that iron cage. Would you call it a thing of suffering just to depend upon God and to live in daily dependence that God will give us the seed to eat and God will give us the water to drink? Of the two, the little bird in the cage and the great liberty of God’s open sky, just depending upon Him, isn’t the life we covet and the life we pray for the life of the liberty of depending upon God? O Lord, that we might rise to that kind of liberty.
"Be anxious for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication . . . " [Philippians 4:6] – by prayer and supplication. "Well, how do you pray, Pastor? Not to be full of anxiety and care but to pray and to supplicate God, how do you do it?"
Well, I have several things to suggest, and they come out of the text. Didn’t I say we would just take it as it says? "In every thing by prayer" – in everything. Well, we shall just take it like God’s Book says it. "In every thing": we just take it to the Lord, everything. We come before the Lord with it, anything. Just take it to God. Just tell Him about it – anything: the bread we eat, the water we drink, the moments that fill our days, anything.
We’re not going to surprise God. We’re not going to take Him in an off moment as though He were not aware, nor will God fly in our face when we say to Him what we want. Tell Him; ask Him. Our very asking may be a revelation to us. It may reveal ourselves to ourselves, and, certainly, to talk it over with God will give us the mind of Christ concerning it. There’s not any big and little in God’s sight. Take everything to Him. Tell Him. "In every thing by prayer, let your requests be made known unto God" [from Philippians 4:6].
Now, another thing: God may not give me what I ask. He may say, "Yes." He may say, "No." He may say, "Wait a while." God may not give me what I ask, but I can trust Him for this. I may have asked for silver and He wants to give me gold. I may have asked for earthly treasures; He may want to give me heavenly treasures. I may ask for the little thing and the temporal. God may have in mind the invisible and the eternal.
I heard a man say that he used to ask for healing. Now, he says, "I know the mind of God. I no longer ask for healing. I ask for patience and for courage and for strength and to wait upon the Lord in faith and in hope and in love." Ah, he had become a great Christian. Ask and God may not grant the request, but He’ll always give something better. Ask. "In every thing by prayer, let your requests be made known unto God" [Philippians 4:6].
Then I must ask in stilted and stilt language. I must address God in flowing sentences. I must come to God with fine grammatical structure. I must speak to Him in eloquent words. Nay. I have an inspiration. I will go get my prayer book. That’s what I will do. I will turn to the collect. That’s what I will do for I’m going to speak to the Lord.
Ah, I don’t believe in writ out prayers. Would you write out a proposal of marriage and read it to your girl to ask her? Would you?
One of the boys here in this church was trying to get another boy to ask a girl here in this church for a date. And the boy was timid, and he said, "I don’t know how to ask her."
And this other boy, who was encouraging him said to him, "Listen here. There ain’t no wrong way to ask her!"
I tell you, that boy, unconsciously, said it better than I could say it in a whole service. There ain’t no wrong way to ask God. Just ask Him. Just talk to Him. You may break down and choke up with sobs. In the eighth of Romans: "with groanings which cannot be uttered, He that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit" [from Romans 8:26-27]. Don’t you worry if you can’t say it in language, if you break down in sobs and crying. The Lord looks on the heart. He’s not looking on fine language and sentence structure. He’s looking in you.
I remember in the life of Queen Victoria [Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom, 1819-1901], she was talking to Benjamin Disraeli [1804-1881], and she said to Benjamin Disraeli, her prime minister then who had taken the place of Gladstone [William Ewart Gladstone, 1809-1898], she said, "I so appreciate the way you come and speak to me." She said, "When Mr. Gladstone comes, he addresses me as though I were a parliament, as though I were an assembly. But," she says, "when you come, you speak to me as though I were just somebody."
Oh, I think God is like that. Don’t come before Him and address Him as though He were an assembly or an institution or a parliament, but address God as though He were somebody. Only thing is, I’d hasten to add, He’s somebody great and He’s somebody wonderful, and when I come into His presence, I ought to come humbly [1 Peter 5:6-7]. But I’m bid to come boldly through Christ [Hebrews 4:15-16]. "Make your requests known unto God" [from Philippians 4:6].
Now, he says here: "But in every thing, by prayer and supplication." Well, why add that? "Don’t you be worried about anything, but take that thing, anything, and by prayer and supplication let your request be made known unto God?" [from Philippians 4:6] Well, I think that he means by "supplication" – the reason he said that was supplication is just an intenser form of prayer. It is importunity.
A man might pray. Then he might supplicate. He might beg. He might stay with the Lord. He might cling to the horns of the altar. And I think that’s what he means by supplication, "prayer and supplication." It’s like I saw then in Elijah. He prayed one time, and again, then he began to supplicate. Seven times did he ask, and in the seventh time, the cloud like the size of a man’s hand [1 Kings 18:41-45].
Well, those are the two wings of the soul: prayer and supplication. And when you see a little fledgling bird flapping its wings, it’s learning to fly. And as it flaps its wings, its sinews grow stronger. Well, that’s what we do in the spiritual exercise of agonizing and wrestling before God. Prayer and supplication, the wings of the soul, and we bear ourselves upward and heavenward, celestially, in prayer and supplication.
I read this week, in my preparation for the message, I read a most unusual story. Said that a man on the countryside in England had captured a big eagle when he was very young – a tremendous bird. And he had raised the fledgling with the chickens in a coop. And now, the eagle was grown and lived like a chicken. So the day came, I read, when the man was to leave – going to leave the whole country. He got rid of his chickens easily, but he didn’t know what to do with his eagle. So he just decided to turn the great eagle out into God’s open blue. So he took the eagle and put it in the midst of the garden. And to his astonishment, it just walked around like a chicken – just had a larger run, a larger pen. That was all.
Well, he had an inspiration. He took the eagle and set it high up there on the garden wall. Fellow said it was cloudy and the sun was not shining, and the eagle just sat there on the wall. But, he said, soon the clouds broke and the sun began to shine. And that eagle turned his face to God’s glorious heaven and he screamed. And one great wing he stretched out, and the second great wing he spread out. And then he said he arose and disappeared in the blue of God’s heaven.
And I thought, "That’s us – living like chickens." Well, we need to spread our wings, prayer and supplication, and rise into the glories of God. "Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing . . . " [from Philippians 4:6], wherever a care might arise, make it a prayer, a supplication, with thanksgiving – the oil that makes it sweet and beautiful. Tell God about it: "Let your requests be made known unto God."
Now, I wish I had an hour to follow it through. "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" [Philippians 4:7]. "The peace that passeth all understanding": I planned to preach a separate sermon on it, but I just never will go through this Book if I don’t put some of these things together. So I just decided to put both of the messages in one this morning.
"The peace that passeth understanding." That is a heavenly word "peace" – the quiet, the rest of God – "the peace that passeth understanding" [Philippians 4:7]. In the nativity of our Lord, in the second sonnet of the angels’ song: "Peace, peace" [Luke 2:13-14] – "the peace that passeth all understanding."
You have to experience it to know it. You can’t describe it, and you can’t say it. When a man with philosophical outlook seeks to probe into the secrets of the Christian life and to lay them bare, he’s in a maze. He can’t see. He can’t understand. He can’t get it. For you see, the peace and the rest and the quiet of the Christian is not like a Stoic. A Stoic trains himself to apathy and insensibility. He can be destroyed and never wince – be absolutely impervious, absolutely unaffected by any kind of suffering. He’s a Stoic.
But a Christian is not like that. He is taught to be sensitive. He cultivates delicacy of feeling. A real Christian is like Jesus. In the presence of sorrow or a need, he’ll cry [Luke 19:41; John 11:35]. His heart is sensitive – the opposite of Stoicism.
And the philosopher looks at a Christian, and he’s not an Epicurean. The Epicurean drowns his cares and his worries in drink and in song and in merriment. "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" [from 1 Corinthians 15:32]. And over the flowing bowl, there does he forget his contemplative heart. But a Christian’s not that way. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t drown his woes in a bowl. He is sensitive to the loss in himself and the hurt he feels and the sorrow that he sees in the world about him.
Well, what is this "peace of God that passeth all understanding?" Well, here I quit. It is just that. I couldn’t describe it. I did my best in preparation of the message to have some word of description, "the peace of God that passeth all understanding" [Philippians 4:7], but I can’t describe it. You have to know it. You have to experiment yourself. You have to feel it yourself. It is an experience.
All I can do is point it out to you and say, "That’s it. That’s it. That’s it." For example, did you ever see that picture of the Christians fed to the lions in the amphitheater? Haven’t you? I think all of us have. There, tiered upon tier upon tier, those great bloodthirsty Roman populaces. There, in the center of the amphitheater, those hungry lions pouring out of those dungeons and dens and cages! And there, on the sand, there’s an old white-headed, long-bearded man, the pastor, and around him kneeling is the little band of Christians. And they are quiet and unafraid. And maybe they’re singing a song, and maybe that old pastor is leading in a prayer: no fear, no trouble, no anxiety – "the peace that passeth all understanding" [Phlippians 4:7].
A martyr who was to be burned, sound asleep, and they shook him and awakened him, and he awoke to be burned at the stake: "the peace that passeth all understanding." One of the martyrs, the judge was arranging all of the fire by which he was to be burned – the martyr was to be burned. The martyr said to the man, "Come here."
And he came here.
He said, "Put your hand on my heart."
And the judge put his hand on his heart.
Then the marty said, "Put your hand on your heart."
Then, he asked, "Who is afraid?"
I rode on a plane coming back this week. I rode on a plane by the side of a missionary, and I had seen the grave of her husband overlooking Galilee. There in the little tiny cemetery, little bitty cemetery, her husband is buried overlooking the quiet, beautiful Sea of Galilee. And I asked her about him. And she said, when he died, all of those people came. And when they would come into the yard, they would begin to beat their breasts and they would cry aloud and lament. She said, "They all did that. And according to their custom, they could not leave me alone, but all day and all night, they beat on their breasts and they cried and lamented. There was death in my home." She said, "They could not understand why I was quiet before the Lord." It’s "the peace that passeth all understanding." And there came into her heart and into her life a wonderful trust, an incomparable commitment: "the peace of God."
O Lord, just once again, let that tide come in and fill all the little pools and all the shallows. Let it come in, Lord, a great sparkling sea and underneath drown every care and every worry and every anxiety of our lives: "anxious for nothing, but in every thing, in prayer and supplication, telling God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall guard your hearts in Christ Jesus" [from Philippians 4:6-7]. What a blessed, precious word from the Lord.
Now, while we sing our song, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord; a family, you, to come into the church. As the Lord shall say the word and lead the way, down these stairwells, from side to side, here to the front, would you come? Somebody you today taking Jesus as Savior, a family you coming into the church – while we make this appeal, while we sing this song, will you come and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together?
I. Be careful for nothing
– "distraction, anxiety, fretting, worry"
How difficult not to worry, be anxious
Paul seems to command above what we are able to do
look at what he says before and what he says after
Lord is at hand – "sitting loose in the world"(Philippians
4:5, 1 Corinthians 7:29)
every care into a prayer (Philippians 4:6b)
An admission – "I need help"
We have the faculty of forethought, planning
II. In everything by prayer
God everything and anything, even the smallest thing
may not answer requests with what we ask for
Talk to God – say what you want (Romans 8:26)
III. And supplication
intense form of prayer – importunity
asking, praying seven times (1 Kings 18:44)
Eagle raised with chickens in a coop
IV. The result(Philippians
peace that passeth understanding
"Peace" is a heavenly word
You have to experience it to know it
real Christian is like Jesus – his heart is sensitive, the opposite of stoicism
Christian is not an Epicurean, drowning cares in drink, song, merriment
of the Christians fed to the lions, quiet and unafraid
The martyr to be burned – "Put your hand on my heartâ€¦"
Missionary in Galilee whose husband had died – the people could not understand
why she was quiet before the Lord