PRAY WITHOUT CEASING, PART 2
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:17
3-2-58 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I am in the fifth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter and preached last Sunday night on the seventeenth verse of the fifth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter: “Pray without ceasing.” So this morning, in this solemn hour, I thought I would continue that sermon: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
The Thessalonian letter is the first letter that Paul ever wrote, and we have from it a keen insight into his own life. In the first chapter and the second verse, he says:
We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
[from 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3]
“Making mention of you in our prayers” [1 Thessalonians 1:2].
Now, when I turn the page, in the third chapter and the ninth and tenth verses: “. . . For your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly . . .” [from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-10]. Then, I turn the page, and, in this last chapter, there it is again: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17], and, in the twenty-fifth verse: “Brethren, pray for us” [1 Thessalonians 5:25].
We are encouraged to pray by the Word of the Lord. All through this Book I hold in my hand, leaf after leaf after leaf has written on the sacred page all that God could say to encourage us to make the matters of this life, of this church, of this work, matters of prayer.
In the thirty-third chapter of Jeremiah, and the third verse: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” [Jeremiah 33:3].
In the eleventh chapter of the book of Mark, the twenty-fourth verse: “Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” [Mark 11:24].
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke, from the ninth to the thirteenth verses:
Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
For he that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
If a son asks bread of one of you who is a father, will he give him a stone? If he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If he asks an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask Him?
[from Luke 11:9-13]
In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of John, the twenty-third and the twenty-fourth verses: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask . . . that your joy may be full” [from John 16:23-24].
Ask. I could continue that quotation of the Word of God by the hour. Ask. Don’t be timid [2 Timothy 1:7]. Don’t be full of fear or doubting [James 1:5-6]. Ask. Come boldly to the throne of grace [Hebrews 4:16]. Ask.
There’s no wrong way to ask. If it’s in the name of Christ and in the spirit of supplication, ask [John 14:13-14]. Maybe you cannot say it in sentence or syllable. Maybe it’s with groanings which cannot be uttered [Romans 8:26]. Maybe it is in showers of tears. Maybe it is in broken-heartedness and despair [Psalm 62:8]. Ask. There’s no eloquence required, no beautiful and poetic language. Just as you are, ask. We are encouraged to pray about all of the matters of life [Philippians 4:6-7].
As I reread through these pages, God’s sainted children, by their example, how we are encouraged to ask. When God said in His wrath: “And I will blot out Israel, and Moses, out of thy loins, I will raise Me up a people who will do My will,” [from Exodus 32:9-10], Moses stayed before the Lord – as Abraham did in behalf of the cities of the plain and Abraham stood in the breach [Genesis 18:22-33] – and interceded and said: “If Thou will forgive their sin. But if not, blot my name, I pray Thee, out of the book which Thou hast written” [from Exodus 32:31-32]. And God spared Israel for Moses’ sake because of the prayer of the man of God asked [Exodus 32:33-34].
And Hannah was a woman of grief and of sorrow, and, in the temple of the Lord, she bowed and poured out her soul unto God [1 Samuel 1:9-11]. And old Eli, looking upon her, said, “Woman, put away thy wine from thee and be no longer drunken,” [1 Samuel 1:14] because, the Scriptures say, Hannah prayed in her heart and said nothing in word or language [1 Samuel 1:13].
And Hannah looked into the face of old Eli, the priest, and said, “Thine handmaiden is not drunken, but I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit, and I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” And the old pastor said, “May the Lord grant thee thy request” [from 1 Samuel 1:15-17].
And, according to the time of life, her barrenness and sterility were taken away and God visited her [1 Samuel 1:19]. And she laid before the temple of the Lord, to be a minister all the days of his life, the little son for which she’d prayed [1 Samuel 1:24-28]. And she called his name “Samuel,” which means “asked of God” [1 Samuel 1:20]. Ask.
When Hezekiah received the ultimatum from Sennacherib, that bitter and hasty conqueror, surrounded on every side by a vast army, he took the letter of ultimatum, went up into the house of the Lord and spread it out before Jehovah God. And, there, kneeling down, with the letter before him, prayed God for intervention from heaven [2 Kings 19:14-19]. And there, once again, we read of the imponderables of war. When Sennacherib arose the next morning to lead his soldiers into triumph over the city of God, for the bugle called and the trumpet blasted, they were an army of dead men: corpses [2 Kings 19:35-36]. Ask.
I had rather know that our nation was protected by the mighty hand of God than by all of the planes and tanks and bombs and missiles our arsenals could ever deliver for the protection of our people. Ask; ask.
Time would fail me to speak of the life of prayer as it is in Jesus. Rising a great while before day, He went into a mountain apart to pray [Mark 1:35]. And Paul kneeled down and prayed with them all [Acts 20:36]. Ask. Make it a matter of prayer.
Thus all the parts of our lives are to be lived. Pray about it. The decision that you make, the child in the home, the sorrow that is come, whatever is of you is a matter to God. Make it a matter of prayer.
When you’re weary in body and soul,
Cumbered with many a care,
When work is claiming its strength-taking toll,
Make it a matter of prayer.
When you’re discouraged, distraught and dismayed,
Sinking almost in despair,
Remember there is One who will come to your aid,
If you make it a matter of prayer.
And when you’re lost in the world’s tangled maze,
And life seems a hopeless affair,
Direction will come for all of your ways
If you’ll make it a matter of prayer.
[from “Make it a Matter of Prayer,” Edna R. Brown, in Bible Monitor, Vol XXI,
June 15, 1943, No. 12]
Pray without ceasing [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. Ask. Ask. We are to pray especially for the ministry that God hath given to our care – His work, His labor in the earth. Christ meant that the power by which His people should do their work in the earth is in prayer. We’ll go further on our knees than by the swiftest race we could run in ourselves. Take it to God in prayer.
We have a great program that lies ahead: a vast expansion of this church and its work. Let’s ask God about it. We need infinite wisdom, and if God shall speak to our hearts, we can know what is His will – how to do it, how to achieve it [James 1:5]. God will show us. All of this work, all of the parts of it, if it is His, He’s interested. God looks upon His people.
Ask. Preaching the Gospel: “Lord, Thy help and Thy strength.” Teaching the Word of God: “Master, Thy help and Thy strength.” Making invitation to the lost: “Lord, Thy help and Thy strength.” Without the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, our words are sounding brass and clanging symbol [1 Corinthians 13:1]. The unction, the conviction, the moving Spirit is a gift of heaven [John 16:7-16]. We are dependent upon God in this task [John 6:44, 15:5].
I never feel so helpless as I do in the presence of the smallest child who is facing a decision for Christ. Who can regenerate the soul and the spirit? A father brought his little daughter to me this morning before Sunday School time, and he said, “My little girl wants to talk to you about what it is to be saved and what it is to join the church.”
And I said to the sweet little girl, “Joining the church is something that we can do for you. I can baptize you upon the authority of the church and make a church member out of you. But, first, there is something God has to do. Mother cannot do it for you. Daddy cannot do it for you. It is something between you and God. You must pray to God. You must trust in Jesus in your heart. You must give your life to Him. You must commit yourself in loving faith to Jesus.
“You must die for yourself. Your mother cannot die for you. Father cannot die for you. You must die for yourself.
“You must be judged some day for yourself. Daddy cannot be judged for you. Mother cannot be judged for you. You must be judged some day for yourself.
“And you must believe for yourself. You must trust for yourself. First, you must be a Christian.”
That’s something God has to do. God must quicken the heart, make the appeal. I may say it in word and language, but it falls to the ground except that is borne on the wings of the Spirit.
Pray. We are shut up to prayer. We have no other recourse and no other choice, nor would we make it other. To fellowship with the Lord is the Christian’s highest privilege. You can be happy just you and God by yourself, away and away, chained in a prison cell, cast on a lonely island, in a room with the door shut – just you and God.
Now, may I say a word concerning prayer for others – intercessory prayer: prayer for people who are in our families, who are in the circle of our friends, who are lost, who are in the class, who are in the circle of acquaintance, praying for others?
You may wonder why I do a thing like this. It’s because this ought to shame us, and a great witness like this ought not to be lost in the earth.
I dug out an old musty and dusty book printed years and years and years ago. It is the journal of David Brainerd. David Brainerd was one of those saints that in a thousand years you will find. He was born in 1718 at Haddam, Connecticut. He attended Yale the years of 1739 to ’42. He began to preach the Gospel in 1742. He labored with marvelous devotion and success among the Indians of New England, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania from 1743 to 1747.
Broken in health from exposure and toil in the wilderness, he went to North Hampton, Massachusetts, to the home of the great preacher, Jonathan Edwards [1703-1758]. He was engaged to be married to Jonathan Edwards’ daughter, Jerusha. He died there not yet 30 years of age [in 1747].
He went there, as he said, to wait for the coming of the Lord’s chariot. His last words to his beloved Jerusha were, “We shall spend a happy eternity together.” And it quickly came true. In four months, she followed him through the gates of the beautiful city into the world of light.
I have copied these things from the journal of David Brainerd:
April 6, 1742. I walked out this morning to the same place where I was last night. I began to find it sweet to pray; and could think of undergoing the greatest sufferings, for the cause of Christ. Then God gave me to wrestle earnestly for others, for the kingdom of Christ in the world, and for dear Christian friends.
Whenever he came to a Sunday, he always called it “Lord’s Day,” as you’ll see as I read.
Lord’s day, April 18. I retired early this morning into the woods for prayer; had the assistance of God’s Spirit, and faith in exercise; and was enabled to plead with fervency for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and to intercede for dear absent friends.
April 21. God enabled me to wrestle for numbers of souls, and had much fervency in the sweet duty of intercession.
Lord’s Day, April 25. This morning I spent about two hours in secret duties, and was enabled more than ordinarily to agonize for immortal souls; though it was early in the morning, and the sun scarcely shined at all, yet my body was quite wet with sweat.
Now 1743, at this point in the journal, David Brainerd begins to record his labors among the Indians. Now, you realize I’ve just taken a few out of the whole journal.
April 1, 1743. I rode to Kaunaumeek where the Indians live, and there lodged on a little heap of straw. I was greatly exercised with inward trials and distresses all day; and in the evening, my heart sank, and I seemed to have no God to go to. O that God would help me!”
April 20. Set apart this day for fasting and prayer, to bow my soul before God. I spent the day in the woods alone, and there poured out my complaint to God.
November 3. Spent this day in secret fasting and prayer, from morning till night.
November 10. Spent this day in fasting and prayer alone.
1744, January 14. This morning enjoyed a most solemn [season] in prayer: my soul seemed enlarged, and assisted to pour out itself to God for grace, and was so enabled to see him who is invisible.
July : Towards night my burden respecting my work among the Indians began to increase much; then I began to be in anguish. I was in such anguish, and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity, that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome, I could scarcely walk straight, my joints were loosed, the sweat ran down my face and body, and nature seemed as if it would dissolve.
October 8. Visited the Indians with a design to take my leave of them, supposing they would this morning go out to hunting early; but beyond my expectation and hope, they desired to hear me preach again.
1745: January 3. Being sensible of a great want of divine influence, and the outpouring of God’s Spirit, I spent this day in fasting and prayer, to seek so great a mercy for myself, my poor Indian people in particular, and the church of God in general.
August 6: In the morning, I discoursed to the Indians at the house where we lodged: many of them were much affected, so that a few words about their souls would cause the tears to flow freely, and produce many sobs and groans. There were scarcely three in forty who could refrain from tears and bitter cries. They all, as one, seemed to be in agony of soul to obtain an interest in Christ.
August 8. In the afternoon I preached to the Indians . . . the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly “like a rushing mighty wind,” and with an astonishing energy, bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence which seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever comes in its way.
“Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, little children not more than six or seven years of age. A principal man among the Indians, was brought under solemn concern for his soul, and wept bitterly. There were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors. Some of the white people, who came out of curiosity to “hear what this babbler would say” to the poor ignorant Indians, were much awakened, to their perishing state. There was indeed a very great mourning among them.
August 24: Spent the [forenoon] in discoursing to the Indians from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. There was solemn attention, and visible concern in the time of public service, which was afterwards increased by further exhortations given to them to come to Christ, and give up their hearts to him, that they might be fitted to “ascend up and meet him in the air,” when he shall “descend with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel.”
1746: His health began rapidly to give way under consumption due to his constant labors and exposures and great difficulties. And, in 1747, before the chariot came to carry the pilgrim home, to his brother in college, he wrote:
My dear brother, it is on the verge of eternity I now address you. Do not be discouraged because, you see, older brothers in the ministry die early, one after another. I declare now I am dying. I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world. Your affectionate and dying brother, David Brainerd.
Jonathan Edwards relates of the days preceded David Brainerd’s death – quote from Jonathan Edwards: “One morning, as I came into his room, he said to me, ‘As I waked out of sleep, I was led to cry for the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom for which the Redeemer suffered so much.'”
“Another thing that lay much on his heart,” Jonathan Edwards writes, “in these near approaches of death, was the spiritual prosperity of his own congregation of Christian Indians in New Jersey: and when he spake of them, his speech would presently be drowned in tears.”
The following I have copied. It is the closing entry in the diary.
October 2, 1747. My soul was this day sweetly set on God. I long to be with him, that I might behold his glory. Oh that his kingdom might come in the world; that the blessed Redeemer might “see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied!” “Oh come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.”
I say, I did this to make me ashamed, whether it does anyone else or not. How little of soul agony do we know, how little of intercession. Just to read the life of a sainted young man like that makes me wonder if I have ever been saved. Oh, we fall so far short! We are so poverty stricken in spirit. That’s why we need revival, more of the grace of God, more of the love of Jesus, more of intercession for the lost.
We must close this service. While we sing our invitation appeal, somebody you, give his heart to the Lord; a family put their lives in the church. As the Spirit of God shall say the word and lead the way, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony around, there are stairwells at the front, at the back, come, come. In this press of people on this lower floor, while we sing this song, would you come immediately into the aisle and down here into the front?
“Pastor, I give you my hand. Such as I am, I give my heart to God,” or, “Pastor, into the fellowship of the church we’re coming by letter, by statement, by promise of letter, by baptism.” As the Spirit shall say the word, would you come?
And you who listen on radio and look on television, if you’ve never given your heart in faith to Jesus, would you bow your head now and say, “Lord, best I know how, I give my heart and soul in trust to Thee.” Would you? Would you while we stand and while we sing?