MY HOUSE A HOUSE OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-8-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled My House Shall be Called a House of Prayer. For the lack of time, there will not be opportunity to present all of this message at this hour. We are on television this morning at the 10:50 hour. We are on radio also at that hour, and we invite the great throng of people who are here this early service to look at your television or to listen again on the radio, and maybe God will doubly bless the message, a sermon built on a text in Matthew 21:13:
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought…and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And He said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer.
[Matthew 21:12-13; Isaiah 56:7]
Quoting Isaiah 56:7. “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer.”
That text chosen by our Lord to remind the merchandising-minded, and the material-minded, and the worldly-minded who ministered in that sacred place—that text, chosen by our Lord, God’s description of His place of worship, is not unique or strange or isolated or alone. It is but a reflection and a confirmation of the entire presentation of God’s holy sanctuary throughout His blessed Word.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 6, there is described the dedication of the temple of Solomon. Solomon built a scaffold out of brass, and he set it in the midst of the court of the temple. He stood upon it; “he kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, and said…” [2 Chronicles 6:13-14] then follows the long prayer of King Solomon [2 Chronicles 6:14-42]. “If we have sinned, and we pray in this place; if our people are put to the worse,” and we never faced so tragic a future, both for ourselves and for the peoples and nations of this earth as we face today, “If our people are put to the worse [2 Chronicles 6:24], and they pray and make supplication in this house; when the heaven is shut up and there is no rain, if they pray in this place . . . if there be dearth in the land or pestilence” [2 Chronicles 6:26, 28], page after page, this intercession of King Solomon to the great God in heaven. And God answered, 2 Chronicles 7:14, all of us have memorized, “If My people pray…” This text chosen by our Lord Himself is but a confirmation of the great truth of God you find in the whole Book.
I turn the page. Both in the story in Chronicles [2 Chronicles 32:1-19] and in Isaiah 37, Jerusalem was held in the vise of the iron fist of Sennacherib. He had come to destroy the whole nation.
And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD [Isaiah 37:1]…And Hezekiah received from the hand of the messengers this threat of Sennacherib, who led the hosts of Assyria, and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. LORD, look, look, look. And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying…
And in answer to that prayer, God said, “Hezekiah, stand on your feet, go to your house. I have sent My prophet Isaiah to make known to you and to all the people of Israel, I have got a hook in Sennacherib’s nose; I will turn him back” [Isaiah 37:29]. That night, the angel of God, just one, just one – think of what if God were to send legions of angels – just one, God sent an angel, one; and when that angel passed over that blaspheming, insulting army of Assyria, when Sennacherib awakened the next morning, one hundred eighty-five thousand of his finest soldiers lay corpses before him [Isaiah 37:36]. “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit, said the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
Does our nation live? Do our children have any destiny? It’s in prayer. And Hezekiah knelt before God and prayed [Isaiah 37:14-15].
I turn the page. When Daniel heard that the writing was signed, any man call on the name of any God but that sovereign who reigned over Media and Persia—when Daniel heard the writing was signed, he went into his house. And his windows being opened, and his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees and prayed [Daniel 6:10]. He was an exile. He was a slave. He was a captive. But his heart was in the house of God in Jerusalem. And he opened his windows toward that holy place of prayer.
I turn the page. “At the time of the evening sacrifice,” writes Ezra,
I arose from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, And said, O my God, our people have sinned a great sin. That is why our captivity, the destruction of our nation, the wasting of Thy people in the earth.
“My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7].
I see none other thing when I turn to the pages of the New Testament. According to the custom of the priest’s office, the lot of Zacharias was to burn incense in the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying at the time of incense. And as they prayed, and as Zacharias offered unto God a dramatic token of their intercession, rising up to the throne of heaven, standing by the side of the altar of incense, the altar of prayer, “There appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense” [Luke 1:8-11]. “My house, my house, a house of prayer” [Isaiah 36:7; Matthew 21:13].
There are several things that speak so eloquently when men kneel, when they cover their faces with their hands, when they bow in the presence of the great God in heaven; there are several things that speak out when men kneel and when men pray. First, first: it is a sign of the heart’s longing and seeking for the fellowship of God. As the incomparable Augustine wrote, “O Lord, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.” It is a sign, a token, of our thirsting and our longing and our seeking after the presence of the fellowship of God. Listen to the Word of the Lord: “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 in heaven” [Matthew 18:19]. That’s the promise. Now look at the predicate: “For, for, where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. Would you have God with you? Would you have the presence of Jesus with you? Would you have a moving unction from heaven to fall upon you? Would you live in the presence of the great God? The Book says, “Then pray; then pray. If even two of you getting down in a bowed, humbled position, just two of you, and asking God, the Lord bows down His ear to hear. And I, and I am in the midst” [Matthew 18:20]. Prayer is a sign of the thirst of the soul after God.
Prayer is a sign of reverence and of respect. Who walks into the presence of the great God with his head up, proud, uplifted, vainglorious, full of himself? Oh! The spirit of Abraham, who said, “Lord, do not weary of my much asking, behold, I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]. The rich young ruler, in broad daylight, where all could see and behold, knelt down before the Lord, and asked, “didaskalē agathē, didaskalē agathē ?” And the Lord noticed it. No man can kneel in the presence of the great God our Savior and the Lord not notice it. And the Lord said to him, “diaskalē agathē, no one is agathē but One, that is, God” [Mark 10:17-18]. That reverent, respectful demeanor and supplication of that rich young ruler; no wonder the Lord looked upon him and loved him [Mark 10:21]. To be reverent in the sight of God, to bow in the presence of our great Lord, oh, how appropriate, how appropriate!
I had an experience last Sunday, first time in my life. I took the little grandson, Cris, four years old, I took him to church with me. Just he and I, going to church. That’s an education. His grandmother said, “Now you take this pencil and this piece of paper, and while you listen to the sermon, why, he can draw.” Well, that pencil intrigued him all right. And the first prayer after the service began we were seated, and I opened one eye and looked over, and he had that pencil all poised: it intrigued him to jam the woman in front of him. Later on in the service, the ushers came for all of us visitors, gave us a little visitors card, and on it was a ribbon pinned. The ribbon made no impression upon him at all, but that pin intrigued him. He pulled out that pin; that was an interesting thing to him. The next prayer we were all standing up. I thought I’d better look. Over there I opened my eye: he had that pin, and was reaching out as far as he could to stick the little boy in front of him. The choir was singing their special, and the organ was loud, and the choir was singing at the top of their voices, and I never noticed it, he was doing the same thing; and suddenly the choir quit just like that, and the organ quit just like that, and there he was at the top of his voice. Preacher, congregation, all looking over there at me. This is just an introduction, that you might know why it was I observed what I did in the church.
When we got to the church, their service started earlier than I thought for, and I was just a little bit late. So when I came to the door with the little fellow, the choir was starting the service with “The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.” I stopped. Never occurred to me that little Cris wouldn’t stop also. He strolled right on down to the pulpit. I was petrified. I didn’t know what to do. The service was started, and I just, O Lord, I leave it in Your hands; maybe he’ll stroll back to the back where I am. Well, that’s how come me to be looking. I want you to see what I saw. That choir in that holy and heavenly moment, “The Lord is in His temple, let the whole creation be silent, keep silent, be silent before Him,” that choir looked as though they were at a carnival: smiling, laughing, giggling. And in the invocation, they never ceased their smiling, laughing, giggling. Then when I was seated, I looked at the balcony, had a horseshoe balcony, and the teenagers up there had their feet on top of the balustrade, like you’d be sitting up there and your feet would be on top of the balustrade. My heart was insulted! This in the presence of the great God! “My house, My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13]. And prayer is a sign and bespeaks our humble reverence before the great God and our Savior.
I must hasten. Prayer is a sign of devotion and true faithfulness; to kneel. And Mary Magdalene, when she saw the Lord, fell at His feet; love, faithful devotion [John 11:32]. There was a church that died; no pastor, no organization, no anything. The church died, but three women every Lord’s Day continued to meet together for prayer. A pastor, a preacher happened to come by and saw them, learned of them, stayed with them; and the power of the Holy Spirit of God was poured out upon that place. When I read it I thought of Paul in the bringing of the first message to Europe: there was no synagogue at Philippi, no congregation to call on the name of the Lord; but there were some devout women who met by the riverside, for what? The Book says, “They met down by the riverside for prayer” [Acts 16:13]. It is a sign of devotion and continued faithfulness to God.
It is a sign of humility; to bow, to kneel, to pray; a sign of humility. The Book says that when our Lord entered Gethsemane He kneeled down and prayed [Luke 22:41]. The Book says when they stoned Stephen, he kneeled down and cried [Acts 7:59-60]. The Book says when they were weeping over the death of Dorcas [Acts 9:39], Simon Peter put them all outside, and kneeled down and prayed [Acts 9:40]. The Book says, the Bible says, in the twentieth chapter, when Paul met with the elders from Ephesus, at Miletus, he kneeled down and prayed with them all [Acts 20:36]. The Book says that when they found disciples in Tyre, and tarried with them several days, the disciples accompanied them to the ship, and on the seashore they kneeled down and prayed [Acts 21:5]. It is a sign of humility.
Last: to kneel in prayer is a sign of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit of God. O Lord, O Lord, who is able to pastor this great people? O Lord, who is able to teach the Word of God? O Lord, who is able to win souls? O Lord, who is able to live in power in this compromising and sinful world? O Lord, who is able in the stress, and tension, and troubles, and trials, and sorrows, and sicknesses of life, O God, assailed on every side, O God, who is able for these things? To kneel in prayer is a sign of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit of Jesus.
I point out one passage. In the sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, when the disciples were multiplied, and the church had grown like God intends for a church to grow—I tell you the strangest thing I ever meet in my life is this thing, “The First Baptist Church is too big.” Man, what do you want it to be, littler and littler and littler and littler until finally it turns into a downtown mission? Oh! In those days when the disciples were multiplied, and the throngs were gathering to call on the name of the Lord, overworked, with too great a burden, they said, “Brethren, look out among you men, full of the Holy Spirit, of honest report, full of wisdom, whom we may appoint over the direction of these vast activities in the church; and we, we will give ourselves,” to what? “First to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” [Acts 6:3-4]. Look at that order: “And we will give ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” Let me put it in my words: “To talk to men about God, to preach to them, is a great and a wonderful thing; but a greater thing is to talk to God about men.”
To prayer, to prayer; God’s call to prayer
The need for such is everywhere,
It covers earth, it fills the air
This urgent need for urgent prayer.
And this day is a new departure in our house, and in this church, and in this congregation. From one side of this vast auditorium to the other, we have built a sign and instrument of prayer. If you were a Nazarene, a Pentecostal, you would say, “You know they’ve got a mourner’s bench down there at the First Baptist Church; they’ve got a mourner’s bench.” If you belong to a liturgical church you would say, “They have an altar rail down there at the First Baptist Church,” what an innovation. But being just plain, ordinary, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching Baptists, we call it a prayer rail, where we kneel and ask God. Oh! I have a multitude of things in my soul that will unfold as the days pass. Healing: only God can heal; pray and ask for healing. Sorrow: bow down, let us find strength for our burdens in prayer. Assignments too great stagger us: ask God’s help and presence. Don’t know the way: seek direction, looking to Him, asking of God. Oh! In how many ways, in how many ways, in the unfolding days that lie ahead, will God look down from heaven in this sacred place, bowing His ear to hear where His people have made His house a place of prayer [Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13].
And, of course, when anybody comes forward from now on, “Want to put my letter in the church,” but mostly, “Just want to give my life again to Jesus,” we’re going to bow and pray. “Want to give my heart to the Lord, I want to take Him as my Savior,” we’re going to bow and ask Him to forgive our sins, to write our names in the Book of Life, to save and to keep us forever [Revelation 3:5, 20:12, 15, 21:27]. This sacred place, God’s house of prayer.
While we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, trusting Jesus as Savior this morning [Romans 10:9-13]; somebody you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church; while we sing the song, while prayerfully, reverently we wait before God, make this a great day in your coming, in your committal, in your response, while we stand and while we sing.