MY HOUSE A HOUSE OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer. It is a message built upon an avowal and a Scripture quotation used by our Lord in the twenty-first chapter of the First Gospel:
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And He said unto them, It is written,
Quoting Isaiah 56:7, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer” [Matthew 21:13].
And this avowal and affirmation and the Scripture quotation of our Lord is not a thing separate or unique or apart. It is but a reflection of and a summation of all of the presentation of worship in the entire Word of God. “My house, it is written, shall be called a house of prayer” [Matthew 21:13].
In the story of King Solomon, recorded in 2 Chronicles, God put it in David’s heart to build a sanctuary for the Lord [2 Samuel 2:1-4], and God made it possible for his son Solomon to build that holy place in the earth [1 Kings 6:1]. And when it was completed, Solomon made a scaffold of brass, and set it in the midst of the court of the great temple. And he kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven and said [2 Chronicles 6:13], “O Lord, O Lord, if we have sinned and pray in this place” [2 Chronicles 6:24]:
O Lord, if Thy people Israel are put to the worse . . . and they pray and make supplication in this place . . .
O Lord, when the heaven is shut and there is no rain, yet if we pray in this place…
O Lord, if there be dearth in the land and pestilence…and we pray in this place…
Moreover, Lord, concerning the stranger and the visitor and the guest which is not of Thy people… if they come and pray in this place,
Then Lord, bow down Thine ear and hear from heaven.
[2 Chronicles 6:24-33]
And God’s answer to that prayer and that dedication of a sanctuary for God is that famous passage that all of us have memorized from childhood, 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people pray, if My people pray, I will answer.”
I turn the page of the Holy Book. In the story in Chronicles and in the thirty-seventh chapter of Isaiah, when Jerusalem was held in an iron vise by the hand of Sennacherib, with his hordes from Assyria, coming to destroy God’s people and God’s city and God’s house [Isaiah 36:1-20], “It came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord” [Isaiah 37:1].
And when he received from Sennacherib the letter—blasphemous, damning, demanding the total destruction of God’s people and God’s house—when Hezekiah received the letter, “He went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before God. And Hezekiah prayed the Lord and said, Look, Lord, look, look” [Isaiah 37:14-15]. All of the threatening and danger that lies before us today as a people, it is not answered ultimately by bigger armies or bigger navies or bigger armed forces, but it lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. The answer lies in a supplication of God’s people to heaven, who alone can defend our nation and defeat our blasphemous and atheistic enemies. “And Hezekiah went up before the Lord in God’s house, and prayed unto the Lord” [Isaiah 37:15-20].
I turn the page of the Holy Book. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, any man, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, call upon any God other than the king, cast into the den of lions [Daniel 6:7], “when Daniel knew that the writing was signed he went into his house; and his windows open toward Jerusalem, toward the place of prayer and the sanctuary of God; he kneeled upon his knees and prayed unto God” [Daniel 6:10].
I turn the page. In the days of the captivity and the rebuilding of the sanctuary, Ezra writes, “At the evening sacrifice I arose from my heaviness, and rent my garment and my mantle, and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said…” [Ezra 9:5-6], and he pled in the presence of God’s people the remembrance, and the forgiveness, and the favor of the Lord [Ezra 9:6-15].
This is no peculiar thing to the Old Testament. In the Third Gospel, the story of our Lord begins, “According to the custom of the priest’s office, Zacharias was to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. And while the whole multitude of people were praying without, there appeared unto him an angel standing on the right side of the altar of prayer” [Luke 1:9-11]. This is God’s will and directive and mandate for us His people: “My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Matthew 21:13].
There are several things that are eloquently spoken and avowed and affirmed and declared in a prayer, in the convocation of God’s people in supplication. Here are some. It is a sign. It is a token of the thirsting and longing and desire of the heart for fellowship with God, for comradeship and companionship with our great Lord and Maker.
The great Augustine said, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.” And a greater than Augustine, the psalmist David, wrote, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my heart after Thee, O God” [Psalm 42:1]. And a sign of the longing of a soul for fellowship with God is found in a convocation in prayer.
Look, look. It was our blessed Lord who said,
I say unto you, if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.
For, for where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Would we have God with us, and the unction and moving presence of the Lord God upon us? This is the way Jesus says: “If two of you, even two, shall agree to ask God in faith, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. If we would have God in the service, and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in this great congregation, then God says, “Make My house a house of prayer [Matthew 21:13]; make it a matter of prayer.”
What is prayer a sign of? It is a sign of our reverence and respect before the great God and our Savior. Like the rich young ruler, in broad open daylight where everyone could see, kneeling down before our blessed Lord: “didaskalē agathē,” O God, and Jesus was amazed; “didaskalē agathē.” “No one is agathē but God alone” [Mark 10: 17-18]. No wonder the Lord, looking upon him, loved him; the reverence and respect of that rich young ruler before the great God whom he identified with the Prophet of Nazareth [Mark 10:17, 21].
The English nobleman said, “My liege lord, oh king, one knee I bow before thee. Both knees I bow before my God alone.” To kneel in prayer is a sign, a token of our respect and of our reverence. It is a sign of our devotion and our faithfully continuing love, as Mary Magdalene, when she saw the risen Lord, bowed at His feet, would have kissed and hugged His feet had he not interdicted [John 20:16-17].
I read of a church that had died; no preacher, no anything. It had died. But three faithful women who loved Jesus continued to meet Sunday by Sunday in that empty house for prayer. A preacher came by, heard of them, saw them, visited them, stayed with them and God poured out his Holy Spirit upon all that community.
Like Paul, when he came to Europe to bring the gospel for the first time to our forefathers: there was no synagogue, no meeting place in Philippi, but there was a group of women praying down by the riverside, and down by the riverside Paul shared in the prayer meeting with those saintly and godly women [Acts 16:13]; it is a sign of continuing and filial devotion and love to our Savior, to bow and to continue in prayer.
It is a sign of humility. As Abraham: “O God, do not weary with my much speaking unto Thee. Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]; it is a sign of our humility before God.
As our blessed Savior in Gethsemane kneeled and prayed unto God [Matthew 26:39]; as Stephen when he was stoned kneeled down, the Bible says, and cried unto God [Acts 7:60]; as Simon Peter, when Dorcas died, putting outside all of those who were lamenting, and kneeled down, and prayed unto God [Acts 9:40]; as the great missionary and apostle Paul, sending to Ephesus for the leaders of the church [Acts 20:17], meeting them in Miletus, and the Book says, “And Paul knelt down and prayed with them all” [Acts 20:36]; it is a sign of humility.
And most of all and above all, it is a sign of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God. Lord, there is no ableness in me. There is no might in us. There is no answer, Lord, we possess. But there is ableness and might and power and an answer in Thee, Lord, and we lean upon Thy strong arm. It is a sign of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God.
In the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, there is told the story of the multiplying of the disciples [Acts 6:1-7]. And however, Lord, this church shall ever be, is now, shall be tomorrow, the sign of God’s continuing favor upon it will be the multiplication of God’s disciples, who place their lives in this sacred place, who find Jesus in this holy sanctuary. As the disciples were multiplied, there arose a problem concerning the poor [Acts 6:1].
And the apostles said, “Let us appoint men, ordain men, to take care of the great congregation; but we, we will give ourselves continually to first, to first, first to prayer, and then to the ministry of the word” [Acts 6:2-4]. According to God, and the Book, and the Holy Spirit, it is a noble, and a marvelous, and a wonderful thing for a man to talk to people about God, to preach to them.
But God’s Word says it is a greater thing and a more wonderful thing for a minister to talk to God about his people. “We shall give ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” [Acts 6:4]. No learning, no eloquence, no polish, and no brilliance can ever take the place of a preacher’s agony unto God. However we may achieve things by splendid exposition, and marvelous peroration and rhetoric, and pleasing sermons, and delightful intellectual explanations and approaches, we can’t do God’s work without the presence of God with us and God in us [John 15:5].
And I am persuaded that neither learning, nor rhetoric, nor oratory, nor pleasing presentation can ever do for God the great purposes God intends to be done through us. The unction upon a preacher, what is it? Is it his brilliance? Is it his eloquence? Is it his fine understanding and rhetoric and exposition? No. The unction of God upon a preacher is the presence of the God in his soul and in his heart, that moving something other that a man feels when he listens to a minister speak of the blessed, blessed Jesus.
Not only in the ministry, it is a sign in the church that the church is dependent upon the Spirit of God. Methods, and programs, and plans, and devious and ingenious devisements do not move things for God. Organization and machinery does not move God. The chariot of God is a fiery one, and it is moved by nothing but fire. Like an engine, however splendid, however fine, however, however able and magnificently framed, it is powerless and dead until the fire is kindled in it.
So it is with the program, and the methods, and the plans, and the procedures, and the machinery in a church. They are like so many devisements of men until they have the unction and the power of the Lord God upon them. I am much persuaded now, as I have never been before, I am much persuaded now that what we are seeking cannot be found in books, or in methods, or in approaches, or in programs, or in plans. What we are seeking and what my soul cries for is God, an experience with God, something that God alone is able to do.
In my vacation, the first part of it, I conducted a revival meeting. It was one of the most blessed of all of the series of services I’ve ever conducted. I haven’t felt that way since I was a boy, holding those revival meetings out in the open under tabernacles. We had seventy-five saved and join the church for baptism in that brief week. We had about eighty-eight or nine to join the church. Every night God’s Holy Spirit worked in the congregation, every night.
Thursday night, standing there in the pulpit, there is not a more heavenly scene, there is not a sweeter experience known to man, than to stand in a pulpit and see the Holy Spirit of God work in convicting and in saving power. That night, twenty-five were saved and added to the church by baptism, and thirty-three additions to the church, and the next night, almost that same thing again.
It is something God does. It is something that, when people have prayed, and when they have worked, and then when they’ve tried, and when they’ve done their utmost, then, having done their best, “O Lord, now kindle it; now, Lord, for the divine presence; now, Lord, for the convicting power. And without Thee, Lord, it is dust and ashes; O God, for Thee, for Thee, for Thee.”
The church constantly strives in its organized life for better methods. The Holy Spirit is looking for better men and better disciples, hearts and lives that He can use. I am convinced, as I know I love the Lord Jesus, I am convinced that what we need is not more organization and more planning and more programming. What we need: our lives and our souls and our hearts dedicated unto the Lord Jesus.
O God, O God, O God. The Holy Spirit does not flow through a method. It flows through men. The Holy Spirit does not anoint machinery. It anoints men. He anoints men. The Holy Spirit does not come upon programs and plans. The Holy Spirit comes upon hearts and upon lives and upon dedicated souls. O God, for the presence; O God, for the unction; O God, for the power; O God, for the Pentecost; O God, for the blessing [Acts 1:8].
As you know, the first part of the summer the executive secretary of our Baptist churches in California said, “Won’t you come out here and just preach to my preachers? The field is so hard, and they’re so discouraged. Come out here and preach to them. I’ll pay the expenses of every pastor in the state, and we will have a convocation and an assembly in a central part of California, and you come and preach to them, preach to them twice a day.”
I accepted that invitation, and in Beulah Park, near Santa Cruz, California, in an assembly ground owned by the Nazarene congregations, we held that assembly. I did the best I could. It is a hard and discouraging field, and some of those preachers battle insuperable odds, trying to serve God.
I announced that the last service on Thursday night would be a service of commitment and consecration. On Wednesday night, I was preaching, and while I was preaching, pouring my soul into that message, trying to encourage our preachers in the work of the faith, while I was preaching, there stood up one of those pastors in the middle of the congregation, walked to the aisle and down to the front. Being a Nazarene assembly there was a mourner’s bench from one side of it to the other. He came down the aisle while I was preaching and fell on his face at the mourner’s bench, and began to cry and to sob and to pray unto God. While he was there on his knees and on his face, crying unto God, another man came, another man came, another man came, others came, others came, others came; and from one side of that great assembly hall to the other, several hundred of those preachers down there on their knees, on their faces, crying unto the Lord.
When I returned to Dallas a few days later, I received a letter from that man who stood up in the middle of my sermon and came down to the front. He wrote me a letter of apology for what he’d done. This is one of the saddest letters I’ve ever read in my life.
He said in his letter, he said that his congregation had divided three times, and he presided over a scattered flock. He said his wife, because of the terrible burden of the work, had experienced an emotional breakdown and had lost her health. And he said, “My witness for God was gone, and I’d lost faith in God.”
He said, “When the announcement was made on your coming to the park, I said, ‘Lord, I’ll go, and one last time I’ll see if there’s anything God can do for me.’” And he said, “While you were preaching, I heard your announcement before that the next night was to be a night of dedication and consecration.”
But he said, “While you were preaching, with a broken heart, presiding over a scattered flock, and my wife’s health gone, and my witness gone, and I’d lost my heart to pick up the rod again,” he said, “My heart began to pound in my breast. I felt I would die if I didn’t come. So,” he said, “while you were preaching, I came.” And he apologizes for what he’d done. I wrote him back. “Listen, man, listen, man, I never had an experience that blessed my soul more in my life than what you did. God bless you for what you did.” That’s what all of us need. A more eloquent sermon? If eloquence would have saved the world, it would have been saved centuries ago. Finer expositions? More magnificent organizations? More ingeniously contrived and devised plans and approaches? O God, we need Thee. Lord, Lord, it is nothing, it is sterile, it is fruitless, it is barren, Lord. It is nothing without Thee, without Thee. O God, for Thee, for Thee.
How shall we approach the great God and our Savior? Shall we do it in pride and in ingenuity? Shall we do it in man’s wisdom, as though we were able and adequate for the task? How shall we approach the great God and our Maker? How shall we come before the Lord? I am convinced: on our knees, on our faces, with our heads bowed, our souls humbled. I am convinced, “It’s not by might, and it’s not by power, but it’s by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. O Pentecostal blessing, come down, come down [Acts 1:8].
And that’s why we have changed the architecture of the front of this auditorium, from one side to the other, from one side to the other. If you were a Nazarene or an Assembly of God, you’d say, “Why they have a mourner’s bench down there at the First Baptist Church.” If you belonged to a liturgical congregation you’d say, “Why they have an altar rail down there at the First Baptist Church.” Being just plain Baptists, preaching the Bible, being just plain Baptists, not liturgical, not Pentecostal, being just plain Baptists, we say it’s an altar rail.
When we are sick, let’s ask God for healing. Who could heal us but God? [Exodus 15:26]. When we are burdened, let’s ask God for strength for the way. When we face a great task and assignment, let us kneel and as for the presence and power of the Lord God. And when assemble in this sanctuary, in God’s house, let us make it a matter of prayer [Philippians 4:6]. O God, look down here, bless, and may the favor of the Lord Christ rest upon His people. Ah what it means, I do not know. As the days multiply and the weeks unfold, God will speak. God will work and we shall make this house a place of prayer [Matthew 21:13].
Speak, Lord, Thy servant listens. Lord, to Thee we offer the dedication of our souls and our lives. We shall begin that way. We shall end that way. Every one that comes forward, we’re going to kneel. We’re going to pray. Finding Jesus as Savior, “Lord, forgive our sins; save us, Lord.” Putting life in the church, “O God, not transferring a letter alone, but rededicating my life to the Lord;” and for any reason one would like to come to kneel in prayer, this is a house of prayer, intercession. Lord’s blessing upon His people.
And while we sing our song of appeal, and the invitation, and the name of Jesus is extended this blessed and precious morning’s hour, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus: “Here I come. Here I am.” A family you, to put your life in the fellowship of the church, as God’s Holy Spirit shall lead in the way, as He shall speak, make it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED THE HOUSE OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. This affirmation of our Lord is a reflection of all the presentation of worship in the entire Word of God(Matthew 21:12-13, Isaiah 56:7)
1. Solomon(2 Chronicles 6:12-33, 7:14)
2. Hezekiah(Isaiah 37:1, 14-15)
3. Daniel (Daniel 6:10)
4. Ezra (Ezra 9:5)
5. Zacharias (Luke 1:8-13)II. Prayer shows and declares many things
A. Asign of the thirsting and longing of the heart for fellowship with God(Psalm 42:1, Matthew 18:19-20)
B. A sign of our reverence and respect(Matthew 19:16-22)
C. A sign of our devotion and love
D. A sign of humility(Genesis 18:27, Luke 22:41, Acts 7:60, 9:40, 20:36, 21:5)
E. A sign of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit
1. The preacher(Acts 6:4)
2. The church
a. Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men
b. Holy Spirit does not come upon programs and plans, but upon hearts, lives and dedicated soulsIII. Prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit
A. Beulah Park