I Have Prayed for Thee
November 27th, 1966 @ 10:50 AM
I HAVE PRAYED FOR THEE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-27-66 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I might as well get these tears out of the way, I cannot help it. Thank you for so kind a thing and so precious a memory. The title of the sermon this morning is I Have Prayed for Thee. And there is nothing profoundly theological in the message. Once in a while – not often – but once in awhile, I prepare a sermon, not to explain anything for we all know it – many of you better than I – not to expatiate on, exegete on, elucidate any passage of Scripture, but the sermon is prepared just out of the love of Jesus and for the encouragement and blessing of our souls.
I am studying these days very intently, every moment that I have, every spare moment in the day, in the night. Mr. Pat Zondervan wrote me a letter, and he asked me if I would make a study of the Book of Daniel, and when I thought I was prepared, to preach a series of messages on the Book of Daniel. And he said, "However long it takes you, we will publish every sermon that you prepare." He says, "If it’s one book, fine. If it’s a dozen books, fine. But we want you to study it and in God’s time to deliver those messages, and then we’ll publish them."
So that’s what I’m doing. Every moment of time that I have, I am studying the Book of Daniel. I told him, "Mr. Zondervan," I said, "it is so strange how when a thing is in the will of God, how God confirms it." When I preached through the Bible, there were some of those books that I wanted to go back to and study intensively. And the first one that I picked out to study intensely was the Book of Daniel. And when his invitation came, I took it as a corroboration, an affirmation from heaven. So that’s what I’m doing during these days.
Now when I shall start, I do not know. I would have thought that by now I would have already begun. But oh there is so much involved, so much. Daniel is the most attacked of all of the books in the Bible. All the rest of them together are not attacked with the viciousness that the critic attacks Daniel. There is not a liberal in the earth, not one; there’s not a liberal theologian, there’s not a liberal school, there’s not a liberal preacher in the earth that believes in the Book of Daniel. Not one. Not one.
Well, it doesn’t satisfy my heart, just cursorily, summarily to look at it. I want to know why I believe it, and I do. So I’m studying it from every angle possible. And when I am ready, when I feel I am ready, we will begin the long series of messages on the Book of Daniel. And I could hope that it will be sometime not too far beyond the first of the year, somewhere towards the springtime, at least.
But this sermon, this message today, there’s not anything of depth of theology in it. It’s just a message of the love of God and the preciousness of our Savior’s ministry to us. If you’d like to turn in your Bible, the passage is in the twenty-second chapter of Luke. Luke chapter 22, beginning at verse 31. And the title of the message is I Have Prayed for Thee. And you will see it in the text. Luke 22:31.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted – when you turn, when you come back – strengthen thy brethren.
And Simon said unto Him, Lord – You don’t know me. All of these other disciples may fall away and may need to come back, but not I. You don’t know me Lord, why – I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death.
And Jesus answered him, why, Simon Peter, I tell thee truly the cock shall not crow this day – another way of saying before the dawn of the morning sun – that thou shalt thrice deny that you even know Me.
Well let’s just bring to our hearts the preciousness of our Lord as He speaks to this unknowing disciple and as He speaks to us. First: that our Savior would be praying is nothing unusual. "I have prayed for thee." It was, I would suppose of all other things, the chief characteristic of His life that He would be praying. When He began His ministry, when He was baptized, Luke says, He was praying [Luke 3:21].
As Mark begins the story, the Lord in His new headquarters in the city of Capernaum, thronged and pressed with people on every side, went away. And those who were seeking to hear Him, and who had sick to be healed, they sought Him, and Simon Peter finally found Him. Our Lord had awakened long while before day, gone out into a solitary place to pray.
And what we read in the initial beginning ministry of our Savior, we see in that continuing glorious affirmation, always ever bowing before the Father, praying to God. He did so before He broke the loaves and the fishes. He did so before He opened the eyes of the blind. He did so before He called Lazarus from the dead. You can just always remember before the Lord preached a sermon, wrought a miracle, ministered to the needy, preached the gospel to the poor, always He would first pray. Before He chose the twelve apostles, He prayed all night long.
Think what a difference that would make in this church or in any church, if our choices and our selections and our elections were matters of intensive prayer and intercession. And in the crises of His ministry, He prayed: when the people came by force to make Him a king, to dissuade Him, to pull Him away – as Satan tried to do from the gift of His body as a sacrifice on the cross for sins – and they sought to make Him some glorified Caesar, some incomparable Alexander the Great, some great political advocate and military general – when they came to make Him a king, and they were going to do it whether He would or no. The Lord sent the twelve apostles away, He sent them away, for they were agitating the crowd, they were furthering the cause; sent them away and then dismissed the vast concourse of people and went apart into a mountain to pray. Takes a lot of praying to say no to all of the emoluments of this world.
I tell you when I see my fellow preachers, wouldn’t it be glorious to see a preacher who felt called of God to go to a church where his salary was one tenth as much as it is he now receives, wouldn’t that be something? Why, I don’t know of that happening in the history of the world, not one time in a million. All of us love the advancements of life and the stipends of life and the rewards of life. All of us, and that includes the ministers, and that includes me. We all are like that.
But Jesus wasn’t. Jesus wasn’t. Refused, turned aside, denied all of the emoluments of life, all of them, and gave Himself to be a sacrifice nailed to a tree for ours sins. That was Jesus. But to do it, He prayed and He prayed and He prayed. And before the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Supper, He prayed. And before the sharing of the cup, He prayed [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And after the institution of that memorial He went to Gethsemane and there prayed [Matthew 26:36-43]. When He was nailed to the cross, He bowed His head and prayed [Luke 23:34]. And when He was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, He stretched forth His hands in prayer of blessing for us who remain behind [Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9]. And in heaven, what is our Lord doing? Hebrews 7:25 says, "Wherefore He is able to save us to the uttermost all of us who come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us." Think what an emphasis that is upon prayer, think of it.
Thirty years of living, three years of ministry, one mighty act of dying, and two thousand years since of intercessory praying: if you would pattern your life after the example of our Lord and if we were to pattern this church after the paragon we find in Jesus, this would be I; we’d be praying, praying, praying, praying.
Last Wednesday night, Wednesday night of last week, it was the evening before Thanksgiving. We have a thanksgiving breakfast here. This was the forty-seventh year, the forty-seventh year that our church has shared a Thanksgiving breakfast. We have a praise service in the breakfast. On account of that, we do not have a meal down here on Wednesday night as we usually do. And the church is closed for the holiday, most of our staff is gone, our people are involved. There is just a little group here. So Wednesday night, I thought we will have a prayer meeting. We’ll have a prayer meeting. We call it prayer meeting, but we don’t ever have a prayer meeting.
So we licensed a young man to the ministry, and after that was done, we committed a young man to God. I said to our dear people here, a little handful present. I said, "Now we’re going to have a prayer meeting. I want all of you to come down here to the front." And they came, and we got on our knees, and we had a prayer meeting. And then after the prayer meeting was over, we stood up, and we sang a hymn and had the benediction. I said, "Now this is the close of our prayer service, and you all are dismissed. But all of you who’d like to stay with the pastor, we’re going to have another prayer meeting. We’re gonna have another one." So everybody who wanted to go, left.
And the little group that remained, we had another prayer meeting. Well, I did not know it but we had more visiting ministers last Wednesday night than I can remember here in a long, long time. I’d never seen them before, I did not know who they were. But we had several of them, and after our second prayer meeting was over, why, those preachers came and introduced themselves to me. One of them was the dean of one of our Baptist colleges.
One the preachers shook my hand, and he said, "I want you to know that this is the first prayer meeting that I’ve ever been in a midweek service in my life. I’ve never been in one before." And another one of those preachers shook my hand, and he said, "I want you to know that this is the sweetest hour I’ve ever spent in my life." And the dean of the college shook my hand, and he said, "I cannot remember when I’ve ever been so blessed as I have tonight." And one of the members of the church – when we got through with our second prayer meeting – said to me, " You know I just feel that we ought to join hands and sing Blest Be the Tie that Binds."
I would like for you to tell me why don’t we do more of that? Why don’t we? I cannot understand me, and I cannot understand us. There is not anything, there is nothing that has in it the sublime sweetness, the heavenly, celestial dearness, the blessedness of prayer. But we are too engrossed, and we are too busy. But our Lord wasn’t. That He prayed was so much He; typical of Him; our Master, "I have prayed for thee."
Now I have a second thing here in this passage:
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, and when thou art converted – not if – when you turn, when you come back – strengthen thy brethren."
Now, I want you to see this, it is such a blessedness to me. As our Lord looked at Simon Peter, looked at him, he could have seen what all of us see: look at him, weak, vapid, ephemeral, like water, like mist. Here he stands, lord of a rock. "All these others may waver, but not I. Why Master, I’ll fight; I’ll lay down my life; I’ll go to prison for Thee," that’s what he said! Well, the Lord looked at him and said, "I know, Simon, but the day will not break until three times with oaths and curses will you deny that you even know Me." How the Lord could’ve looked at Simon Peter that way – you!
But He didn’t. He looked over and beyond the dereliction, the denial, the weakness, and saw not the curser and the denier, but He saw the preacher of Pentecost. He saw the chief apostle in the ministry to the circumcision, to the Jewish nation, where the gospel began and from whence it is flown out unto the ends of the earth. He saw His marvelous emissary at Lydda, at Joppa, at Caesarea. He saw the greatness, and the nobility, and the Christian devotion and consecration of the man. "When" – not if – "when you turn, Simon, I count on you and depend on you to strengthen thy brethren" [Luke 22:32].
Aren’t you glad when the Lord looks at you, how easy – cause He knows us so well – how easy would it be for the Lord when He looks at us, when He looks at me, just the conglomerate of weaknesses, and compromises, and failures, and faults, and mistakes, aren’t you glad when He looks at us, He doesn’t see us in our follies, and our foibles, and our mistakes, and our shortcomings. But when the Lord looks upon us, He sees us at our finest and at our best. "Simon, when you turn, strengthen thy brethren."
That’s the Lord. That’s the Lord. Why, the Lord would walk down a road and see a despised publican, a hated man of all of the citizens of the Jewish faith. That man, a traitor, collects taxes from God’s chosen people and gives them to the despised, hated Roman – be hard for us to understand how despicable in the sight of a Judean was a tax collector – the Lord Jesus walked by; see a despised tax collector? No! He sees the author of the First Gospel, and He calls him, "Matthew, Matthew, follow Me, follow Me" [Matthew 9:9]. Isn’t that glorious? Or sitting in the house of Simon the Pharisee leaning on His left arm, eating with His right hand and the feet of the guest extended, coming in from the street walks a harlot, a promiscuous woman who sells her love for money; a sinful woman, she comes in from the street. And she bathes His feet with her tears, and dries them with the hair of her head. And Simon the Pharisee says, "Why, He is no prophet; He can’t see. If He knew who this woman was, He wouldn’t let her touch Him!" [Luke 7: 36-40]
But the Lord can see beyond what a man can see, and the Lord saw in that woman the beauty, and the virtue, and the sweetness, and the purity of a Mary Magdalene. Aren’t you glad? Aren’t you glad? He never saw the filth of the street and the sordidness of life. But He saw the fine nobility of one who had turned. Aren’t you glad?
Or the story of the one who took the place of the fallen apostle Judas Iscariot; I can just see all those people, you know, as they gather around. "Now we have got to find somebody to take Judas’s place. Now we got to be smart in this, we have to be wise in this." So they discuss and they evaluate, they judge and they look. After they’ve done their best, and that’s fine, the Lord did not object to it, that’s fine.
Why, they chose a wonderfully fine man, and his name was Matthias. And they elected him to the apostleship, and he was numbered with the Twelve, and the Lord has nothing against that at all. You can read that Bible all your life, and you’ll never find one syllable of criticism of what those apostles did in the first chapter in the Book of Acts. They chose Matthias [Acts 1:26]. I want you to see how God does it. That’s the way man does it and God has no criticism. Fine; it’s good.
You look at the Lord God up there in glory. The Lord looked down on earth, and here was a blaspheming and persecuting Pharisee named Saul from Tarsus in Seleucia, a Hellenistic Jew, not an Aramaean; a Hellenistic Jew, a Greek-speaking Jew trained in the university city of Tarsus there in Jerusalem, being taught in the school of Gamaliel; a rabbi, apparently a member of the Sanhedrin [Acts 9:1-22].
Oh what an enemy, what an enemy. When the Lord God looked down upon him from heaven, what was he doing? He was haling men and women and children who were of the Christian way into prison, and into all kinds of loss. He beat them and confiscated their property and put them to death. Would you have ever chosen him for an apostle? Would you?
Well, I wouldn’t Lord. He’d be the last man in the world that I’d choose. You see, we don’t look at it like God looks, for God didn’t see the persecutor and the blasphemer, but the Lord saw Paul preaching to the Gentiles, founding the churches of Asia, of Macedonia, of Achaia. Look at him. Look at him. "I have prayed for thee. And when you turn, when you turn, strengthen thy brethren." That’s God.
Now in the moment that remains, there’s one other thing here. I want you to think for a moment on the power of intercessory prayer. "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when you turn, strengthen thy brethren." "I have prayed for thee." O Lord, how many of us are the trophies of those who have loved us and prayed for us, sustained us, blessed us in intercessory remembrance, and the power of it; I spoke of the power of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The immediate instrument of that conversion was the stoning of Stephen. This young firebrand Saul, ah, the zeal with which he decimated the church of God! He plowed them up; and their sweet, wonderful deacon Stephen, they seized and dragged him out of the city, and as they stoned him, in order to be freer to hurl those rocks, they took off their coats. They took off their cloaks; they took off their garments, and they laid them at the feet of the young man who was supervising the execution, Saul of Tarsus [Acts 7:58].
Then as Saul stood there and saw those compatriots beat Stephen into the dust of the ground and saw him die, Stephen, the good deacon, he didn’t respond. No recrimination, no words of castigation, no bitterness, just the love of God shining in his face. And he bowed his head and prayed for those who slew him, and committed his soul to Jesus, and the book says, ",and he fell asleep in the Lord" [Acts 7:60], fell asleep in the Lord.
Sometime after that, Saul, breathing out threatening and slaughter against the people of God on the way to Damascus, Jesus met him in the way and said, "Saul, Saul, Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:1-5]. What on the earth does the Lord mean by that? "Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Why, it is very apparent.
When Saul went to bed that night, the face of Stephen, shining as though he had been; it had been the face of an angel [Acts 6:15], and praying for those who slew him [Acts 7:60], the face of Stephan came before him. He’d never seen anybody die like that, never. And when Saul rose in the morning to further his persecution of the people of God and to waste the church, there before him, the face and the fallen figure of deacon Stephen. "Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks"; hard for you to tear that out of your soul and to face that face from your memory.
Have you ever had an experience like that, where you were unkind to somebody, and that somebody was kind to you? Where you sent words of harshness and cruelty to somebody, and they sent words of sweetness and preciousness to you; have you ever had that experience? Have you ever had the experience of having done wrong to somebody, and that somebody does good to you?
My brother, that’ll plow you up. That’ll turn you around. There’s not anything that has the power of blessedness, and sweetness, and preciousness, than intercessory praying. I can’t help but parenthesize here just a syllable. All of the families in this world that have trouble in them, takes two to have a fuss; takes two to say words of bitterness back and forth. If you never said those words of bitterness and if all you did was to talk to God about it and pray about it, you’d be a new somebody, and you’d have a new home. "I have prayed for thee." Ah, the power of intercessory prayer!
I want to tell you a story of that. Let me do it, and then we’ll sing our song of appeal. In the long time ago, I was the pastor of two little half-time churches, and in both of them were godly deacons, wonderful men, wonderful men. They were brothers, those men. Their father and mother had settled Central West Texas, when the Indians were there. And they grew up in that wild frontier.
I asked the eldest upon a day, "How is it you became Christians? You wonderful men, oh it’s just glorious just to see you." And their families. "Well," he said, "We weren’t always so." He said, "When we were young men, every Saturday night we’d buckle on our guns, we’d get a flask of whiskey in our pockets, and we’d go off to the dance every Saturday night."
And one of them was killed in one of those brawls at a dance – a gunfight, a liquor fight at a dance. And he said our godly mother asked us boys – half a dozen of them – asked us if we would not go. "Please sons, don’t go."
"Oh," they said, "Mother you just don’t understand. We’re able to take care of ourselves, you don’t need to fear about us."
"Yes, but," the mother said, "It’s not right. And one of you is gone. Please don’t."
Well, like young people they don’t listen to their parents, and away they went. So the mother said to them, "Every time you boys get on those horses and go off to the dance, I’m going to my place of prayer." Between the house and the corral was a group of saplings. She had her place of prayer in that grove of saplings. "I’m going to my place of prayer and stay on my knees until you boys come back." So every Saturday night, they’d go to the corral, saddle up their horses, ride away with their guns and their liquor to the dance.
Every Saturday night that godly old mother went down to the grove of saplings and knelt in prayer and prayed until those boys got back in the wee hours of the morning. This elder son was describing to me, he said, "Every time we’d ride back, put up the saddles, put up the horses, walk from the corral to the house, I’d hear that mother of mine praying in that grove of saplings."
And he said at first, "Oh, mother. But," he said, "as time went on, I got to the place where I could hardly bridle and saddle that horse and ride away, and know that that dear old mother of mine was in those saplings, praying to God for me and my brothers." He said, "Finally, I could stand it no longer. And coming back in the wee hours of morning from one of those dances," he said, "I went over there to the saplings and picked my little mother up and set her on her feet."
And he said to her, "Mother, I can stand this no longer; I can stand it no longer. Now mother, I want you to teach me your way and show me how to be saved and how to be a Christian." And he said, "That night my mother gathered the group of us – the half a dozen of us together – and that night all of us were saved – all of us. That night all of us were saved. All of her boys were converted. And we’ve been trying to follow the pilgrim way ever since."
Well that’s one of the sweetest testimonies I ever heard in my life. Think of what a new world it would be if you had mothers like that today. You wouldn’t have any juvenile delinquents. And you wouldn’t’ have any of all of this going on that destroys our children and our young people. "I have prayed for thee." More powerful than all the legislators, all the armies that move: God’s sainted people on their knees. "I have prayed for thee."
Our time is spent. Now let’s sing our song of appeal. Somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, come and stand by me. A family you, a couple you, "Here I come; here I am." There is nobody in divine presence today for whom somebody has not prayed. Your mother, your father, a friend, a pastor, somebody prays for you. God, answer prayer and send you to us today, on the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. "Here I am preacher; I make it now." Do it, while we stand and while we sing.