Getting Things from God
June 5th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
Getting Things From God
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-5-60 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled, Getting Things from God. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the fourth chapter of the Book of James and the text is in those first three verses.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? Are they not hence, even of your desires that war in your members?
Ye desire, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own pleasures.
This is one of those oft-quoted, oft-referred to passages in the Bible concerning prayer. “Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own pleasures” [James 4:2-3]. To the ordinary natural man, prayer is a burdensome task, as Paul said in his first Corinthian letter, in the second chapter and the fourteenth verse, “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: because they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” [1 Corinthians 2:14]. As Paul wrote again in the eighth chapter of Romans and the seventh verse, “For the carnal mind is enmity against God: and is not subject to the laws of God. For the man in the flesh cannot please God” [Romans 8:7-8].
And to unspiritual people, prayer is a weariness to the flesh. You could announce in most any group, in most any organization, in the church, in the secular world, that you were having a season or an hour of banqueting or entertainment and they would be very happy to attend. But you could announce that next Saturday we shall have a prayer meeting all day long here in the chapel, and the pastor will have to assign hours and moments for people to attend, otherwise nobody would come. And to the skeptic, prayer is a useless sort of involvement. “Why pray?” he would ask, “nothing comes of prayer.”
And I would be the first to grant you that to the Christian, most praying is ineffectual and disappointing. We have some very plain words from Christ regarding it. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth” [Matthew 7:7-8]. But that is not our experience. To us, prayer is kind of a formal rote, a parade of words to be done with soon. And of course, we fail in our purpose even though that is written in the Bible. We do not achieve by it. We do not succeed in it.
And James, the pastor here, of course, gives the reason. “You ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss” [James 4:3]. The proof of asking aright is, in the answer, it’s in the results. If you don’t have an answer and if there are no results, then of course, we have missed it, we have asked amiss. It’s like a mathematical column; the proof of it being correct is in the answer. It’s like a machine that a mechanic is working on; the result proves whether the thing’s put together right or not. If it doesn’t work, it’s not put together right. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss” [James 4:3]. It’s not done right.
Now any instrument that is used amiss is very disappointing and ineffectual. We have our little eleven-month-old grandson at our house. And last evening I was watching him eat which is a very interesting development. And they gave him a spoon, I suppose, the first time they had tried that; and the little fellow tried to eat with the spoon upside down. He got it in his hair, he got it in his eyes, he got it down his neck. And as I watched him, I just marveled at the ineffectualness of a spoon when you eat with it upside down. It’s not made that way.
I was in my study over here, and I heard the most terrible sounds. And I went down into Embree Hall, and some children had somehow found the key to the organ, and they were making the most raucous use on that beautiful and glorious instrument that under the hands of Mrs. Forester, sounds like a choir from heaven. But used wrong, it sounded terrible, hurt my ears, grated on my nerve. All instruments have laws of use, and when they are violated they are very unacceptable and ineffectual. And prayer is an instrument; it has its laws of use. And when they are violated prayer is very disappointing and very ineffectual.
Now the pastor who writes in the Book says that there are reasons for the ineffectualness of praying. And one of them he mentions here is, “that we ask amiss that we may, dapanaō, to spend, to waste, dapanaō, upon our own hēdonē, your word hedonistic, pleasure. You ask that you may spend it, consume it, waste it, upon your own personal, selfish desires” [James 4:3].
Now man is a very desirous sort of an animal. Selfishness covers his horizon and rules his life. He’s like a sea anemone, a creature that fastens itself, say, on the floor of the ocean or on some object, then the top of it is filled with tentacles that wave and search through the sea and grasp. Some plants have tendrils that reach out and seek and fasten on things. That’s the way that the man is made. He never rests like the troubled sea and his life is filled with desires and things that he wants. And he’s never content and he’s never, ultimately, happy; always a reaching out.
And in those desires, he turns in that same natural selfishness to God, and he seeks to use God for a purpose. “Why should there be a God,” he says, “if He doesn’t place Himself at our disposal?” There’s the purpose in prayer, and the purpose in God, and the purpose in religion, and the purpose in asking that we might get these things that please us.
Then he describes those selfish desires in us. They lead to war, and to fightings, and to killings, and to all kinds of violations [James 4:1]. Naturally, prayer becomes a vanity and an ineffectual instrument. Then, of course, in the Scriptures there are many other things that are mentioned in this word amiss, when we ask amiss [James 4:3]. I haven’t time to speak of them but just to mention some of them.
Prayer is ineffectual, and unacceptable, and a wearisomeness, and we ask amiss when we don’t ask in expectancy, and in faith. We pray and then look upon it as though it would be some great wonder if God should give us that for which we ask; be some marvelous thing. When the Lord said to that blind man, “According to your faith be it done unto you” [Matthew 9:29], He says that to us. When we ask, we don’t expect and would be amazed if our prayers were answered.
Then again, we ask amiss [James 4:3]. We don’t ask in great earnestness, and with importunity. We don’t pray like Jacob did at Peniel [Genesis 32:9-12, 30], or like Moses did on the mount [Exodus 33:12-18], or like Paul did on his face and on his knees [Ephesians 3:14].
Then again, we ask amiss because we have a wrong spirit, and a wrong attitude in our hearts. I did not know they were going to sing that hymn, that anthem this morning, that Scripture that they sang, but it is marvelous. As Jesus said in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Mark, “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any man” [Mark 11:25]. Help us to forgive others.
Then, of course, we ask amiss and prayer becomes ineffectual by the wickedness, and the worldliness in our hearts and in our lives. As Isaiah said in the fifty-ninth chapter and the first verse:
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
But your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.
[Isaiah 59:1, 2]
As the psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” [Psalm 66:18]. “Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss” [James 4:3]. There are lots of reasons why prayer is ineffectual and disappointing.
But I want especially to speak of the first thing the pastor says, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” [James 4:2]. Most of the times prayer is nothing because we don’t try it. We don’t ask. We don’t take it to God. And the only time that many people pray is in periods of danger, and extremity, and want, and necessity. They pray in foxholes, and they pray as they face death, and they pray before an awful judgment, or ordeal. Or ordinarily, they don’t pray at all.
One of the most unusual things you’ll find in the Scriptures is in the one hundred seventh Psalm [Psalm 107]. And the psalmist here describes a man who is sick and afflicted, and his “soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and he cannot eat. “And he is drawn near unto the gates of death” and he is about to die [Psalm 107:17-18]. Then the psalmist says,
he cries unto the Lord in his trouble, and God saves him out of his distresses.
He sends His word and heals him, and delivers him from destruction.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness …
Then he takes up, in the next verse, another instance.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
They see the works of the Lord . . .
The Lord commandeth . . . a stormy wind and lifteth the waves upward.
They mount up to the heavens, they go down again into the depths:
You can see the sea tossed like a piece of flotsam on the bosom of the deep, mounting up to the heavens, high on the wave, and then down into the depths.
Their souls melt because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth out all of them in their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm and the waves are still.
And they are glad because the sea is quiet . . .
Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness …
And isn’t that a tragedy what he’s describing there? “We have not, because we ask not” [James 4:2]. We don’t bother to take anything to God except when we’re about to die, or except in moments of great danger like the one hundred seventh Psalm. What the pastor here pleads is that we take it to the Lord, make it a matter of prayer; lay it before God; talk to Him about it.
I want to show you a turn of a little story that I had heard the opposite of all my life, but this week I ran across a little different turn to it. Haven’t you heard all your life, this little story? A little boy and his sister are on their way to school and they tarried along the way and were playing and they heard the school bell ring, and they were still some distance away. And the little boy said, “Let’s kneel and pray that God won’t make us late.” And the little girl answered, “Oh, no brother. Let’s pray and run as fast as we can while we pray.” And that’s the way I’ve heard that all my life.
This week I ran into a story that was told by a German pastor, and it had a little different way to it and I like this much better. There was in his congregation, he said, a sweet, wonderful, devout little boy. And his parents were very dilatory and very indifferent. But the little boy—and I’ve seen this so many times and I can’t explain why—the little boy was very devout, and very given to prayer, delighted in prayer. And upon a morning, due to no fault of the little boy, but due to the dilatory habits of his parents, the little lad, as he walked out of the door to go to school, heard the clock strike at the moment he was to be there. And the schoolmaster had urged the children to be on time and that little lad had tried, faithfully, to obey.
When he heard the clock strike, and it was at that moment he was to be at school, the little fellow paused and prayed; “Dear God,” he said, “grant that I shall not be late for school.” A friend overheard the little fellow, and saw in it an instance where prayer was impossible, and could never be answered, for the clock had struck. He was a long way from school and had to walk the distance. And he couldn’t make it on time, yet the little fellow prayed, “Dear God, grant that I’ll not be late.”
Out of curiosity, the friend followed the little boy to school just to see how it would come out. And this is what he saw when he got to school. The master had put the key in and turned it the wrong way and he couldn’t pull the bolt. They were all there crowded around the door, waiting for the locksmith to come to open the schoolhouse. And when the locksmith arrived and had undone the bolt, the little boy marched in with the rest of the children on time.
It pleases God that we ask. It delights the soul of the Lord to see His children ask. He encourages us, He entreats us. He repeats His invitation. I do not know of any reason why this should be so termed, “Ask, and it shall be given thee”—and that’s not enough— “seek, and ye shall find”—that’s still not enough—“knock, and it shall be opened unto thee” [Luke 11:9]. That’s still not enough. He entreats us yet, “Every one that asketh receiveth”— that’s not enough—“He that seeketh findeth”—there’s still more—“To him that knocketh it shall be opened” [Luke 11:10]. There’s still more.
If a man here have a boy and he ask him for bread, would he give him a stone? If he ask him for a fish, would he give him a serpent?
If he ask him for an egg, would he give him a scorpion?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good things to your children: how much more shall your Father in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?
It pleases the Lord to ask. Ask Him. Ask Him. Lay it before Him. Take it to Him. Talk to God about it. “In all things, anxious for nothing, but in every thing, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6].
There are two sides to praying. There’s a divine side and a human side. There’s an asking side and there’s a giving side. There’s a side of need from us; there’s a side of plentitude and infinite abundance up there. Once in a while Dr. Fowler will pray, “Dear God, out of Thine unwasted fullness, answer our petition.” He hasn’t said that for a few Sundays now. Say it the next time you pray. “Out of Thy unwasted fullness, grant us our petition.” Ask Him.
Anybody can learn to pray. Anybody can be schooled in petitioning God; the poor, the unlettered, the unlearned, the uneducated. The Holy Spirit will be our Teacher, and the Word will convince us of the promises. Make it a matter of prayer. Ask Him [Philippians 4:6].
And if you had a child in your home and he went to the library and he hunted up forms of petition and came and read them to you, what would you think? All love in the household would flee, and the whole house and family would be nothing but a parade and a formality. What do you think God thinks when you hunt up prayers and read them to Him? Doesn’t the very idea and basic meaning of intercession and a petition mean this? There’s a child with big and expectant eyes, and he looks up in loving hope and trust to his father, and makes a request. Is it different from us, a helpless soul in its helpless need looking up to our blessed Savior and voicing a petition? I don’t believe in formal, writ-out prayers. Ask, out of your soul and out of the depths of your heart take it to God.
Now sometimes, God will say “No. No.” And the request is refused. But you’ll always have an answer. “No,” sometimes. When Moses pled with God, and he did plead, that he might go over this Jordan into that Promised Land, the Lord said to Moses, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more to Me of this matter. Thou shalt not go over this Jordan” [Deuteronomy 3:25-27]. When our Lord bowed on His knees in Gethsemane and asked that the cup pass from Him [Matthew 26:39], the Lord God in heaven said, “No. Drink it”; no other way for us to be saved. And when Paul, because of the abundance of the revelations given to him lest he be exalted overmuch [2 Corinthians 12:7], was given a thorn in the flesh—he doesn’t say, we never know what it is ‘til we ask him in heaven—and thrice he besought the Lord that it might be taken from him, and the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:8-9]. “No. No.”
But you’ll always have an answer, “Yes,” “No,” “Wait a while,” always an answer; laying it out before God, telling the Lord about it, leaving it in His blessed and capable hands. For you see, there is a rule in the kingdom of God, and it is this: “You must ask; you must pray; you must petition.” And that rule, that law is unalterable. Jesus is our elder brother in the family of God, and it is the purpose of God that He shall have the dominion of the earth and all creation, but He must ask, though a Son. As the second Psalm says in the eighth verse, “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession” [Psalm 2:8]. Though a Son, He must ask.
God purposes a blessing for Israel, but Samuel must pray for it [1 Samuel 7:9]. God is going to send rain, he says, but Elijah must ask for it [1 Kings 18:41-45; James 5:17-18]. When Daniel read the prophet Jeremiah, the prophet Jeremiah said that in seventy years the captivity of Israel will be over, and “I will deliver my chosen nation” [Jeremiah 29:10-14], but Daniel must pray for it [Daniel 9:1-27]. And Paul was sent by the Lord to the Gentiles that they might be saved [Acts 9:15, 22:21; Romans 11:13], but he must get on his knees and on his face and petition God [Romans 10:1].
My dear people, there are some things we cannot have without prayer and without asking God. Now we can build a high steeple on top of this church, and we can buy beautiful architecture and we can buy all of the habiliments and accouterments and embellishments that go along with an acceptable house of worship, but you can’t have the power of the Holy Spirit, and you cannot have the convicting presence of God, and you cannot have the comfort and communion of the Holy Ghost without prayer. There are some things we cannot have without it. And all of these promises here and all of these things in the Word of God are for us.
I want you to listen just for a moment at some of the strangest things here in the Bible. In the sixtieth-sixth Psalm and the sixth verse, in here [Psalm 66:6], he is describing the adventures of Israel going through the Red Sea, on dry land, when God heaped up those waters on either side [Exodus 14:21-27]. Now that happened hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago before this psalmist said this, “They went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in Him” [Psalm 66:6]; as though it had happened to them.
Another typical instance, when Jacob was at Penial at the River Jabbok, he was by himself when he wrestled with God [Genesis 32:24-30], and yet, Hosea says, “Yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto God: He found him in Bethel,” God found him in Bethel “and there He spake with us” [Hosea 12:4]. When Jacob wrestled [Genesis 32:24], that’s our wrestling, and when God spake to Jacob [Genesis 32:27-28], that’s God speaking to us.
And all of these things, I choose just one other. In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper” [Hebrews 13:5-6]. Why, God never said that to us. God said that to Joshua. “Be strong and of a good courage. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” [Deuteronomy 31:6]. “No!” says the Holy Spirit. God said that to Joshua and God meant it for us. So that we may boldly say, “God is my helper” [Hebrews 13:6].
The whole Book is that. When God spake to the prophets He spake to us. And when God spake to the apostles, He spake to us. And when God made the promises to them, He made them for us. And when God led His dear children along to the fire and to the flood and to the water and to the fire, God led us along. All of it for us. Ask. Ask [Philippians 4:6; James 4:1-3].
May I close with one other observation? In the twentieth verse of the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul says that God hears us, and God grants us, and God answers us above all that we ask or think, “Above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. God gives us more than we ask for and more than our hearts can hold, and more than our minds can imagine; above all that we ask or think.
Abraham tarried before the Lord and asked for his boy, Ishmael, and God said, Ishmael, yes. He shall live in thy sight and make a great nation. But I have something better.” And Abraham, then, was a hundred years old and Sarah his wife, then, was ninety years old, and there, Abraham is, asking for Ishmael [Genesis 17:16-18]. But God said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called, born out of thy loin” [Genesis 17:19]. Some better thing, some finer thing. Above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. And Jacob pled at Bethel and said, “Dear Lord, grant that I come back here someday with bread to eat and raiment to wear” [Genesis 28:20]. But when he returned, he was rich in camels, and cattle, and herds, and all things [Genesis 30:37-43, 32:5, 13-21].
And when Solomon said, “Dear Lord, that I might have wisdom to know how to walk in an out before this people.” God said, “Not only wisdom, but length of days and faith and riches. All these do I add beside” [2 Chronicles 1:10-12]. And when the palsied man said, “that I might be healed.” Jesus said, “Come. Thy sins be forgiven thee” [Matthew 9:5]. Above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20].
And when the thief, dying on the cross said, “Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember me” [Luke 23:42]. Jesus said, “Today, today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20].
And when that poor, forlorn, weary, wasted, wearied boy, prodigal, spent his life and his substance in a far country, away from God [Luke 15:12-14], when he said in his heart, “I will go back home, and I will say to my father, ‘I am no more worthy to be called a son: make me a hired hand. And let me work at a menial task’” [Luke 15:18-19]. That’s what he said, I’ll ask. But before he could get the petition out of his mouth, the father said, “Bring hither the finest robe and put it on him. And bring hither the ring and put on his finger. Let us rejoice and be merry: For this my boy was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:22-24, 32]. Above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. Leave it to God.
Lay it before Him. Ask God for it. If He says “No,” you’ll understand why; He will explain it to you. If He says, “Wait a while,” He will give you patience in His presence. If He says “Yes” it will be above all that you ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. “Ask and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and God will open wide the door” [Luke 11:9-10].
While we sing our hymn this morning, somebody you, give your heart in trust to Christ and come [Romans 10:8-12]. Somebody you, to put your life with us in the church, would you come? [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Down one of these stairwells at the back or at the front, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, a family of you, or one somebody you, while we sing this song and while we make this appeal, will you come?
Maybe it means a war in your heart as you decide, leave it with God. Ask the Lord. Lay it before Him and come. Let Him fight for you and with you. Come. If the Holy Spirit bids you, if God opens the door, enter in, enter in. We look for you. We expect you. While we stand and sing, make it now; while we stand and while we sing.
GETTING THINGS FROM GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Real prayer is not common in the ordinary life of man
A. To the natural man it is a burdensome task(1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 8:7)
B. To the unspiritual it is wearisome assignment
C. To the unbeliever it is meaningless
II. Failure, impotence in prayer common in the life of the Christian
A. The promise of Jesus(Matthew 7:7-11)
1. James explains we don’t ask correctly(James 4:3)
2. You have to use the instrument in a correct way
B. We don’t have because we don’t ask; and when we do ask, we don’t receive because we ask that we may wastefully spend it on our own personal pleasures
1. Man’s selfishness knows no end
III. Reasons prayer not answered
A. Lack of faith(Matthew 9:29)
C. Unforgiveness(Mark 11:25)
D. Sin(Psalm 66:18, Isaiah 59:1-2)
E. We have not because we ask not
1. Men in danger, in extremity, pray – God answers(Psalm 107:17-31)
2. Ask – pleases the Lord when we do(Luke 11:9-13, Philippians 4:6)
3. There is always an answer (Deuteronomy 3:23-27, Matthew 26:39, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
IV. Asking is the rule of the kingdom
A. Even Jesus is to ask (Psalm 2:8)
B. Our tremendous assignment – cannot be done without prayer
C. All the promised providences for us(Psalm 66:6, Hosea 12:4, Hebrews 13:5-6, Ephesians 3:20)