Power in Prayer
July 23rd, 1967 @ 7:30 PM
POWER IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-23-67 7:30 p.m.
One of our fine men said, “Preacher, this morning I was glad that you changed your sermon subject; but I hope you don’t do it tonight.” The title of the message tonight is Power in Prayer. He said, “I want to hear you preach on prayer.” Well, you are going to; I am preaching on the subject we announced tonight, Power in Prayer. Now turn to Matthew 18, Matthew 18; we will begin at verse 19 and read to the end of the chapter. Matthew chapter 18, verse 19. And if you listen on WRR radio, read out loud with us here in the First Baptist Church. Matthew chapter 18, now all together beginning at verse 19:
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.
For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshiped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellow servant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
The title of the sermon, which is an exposition of this passage, is Power in Prayer. To speak of power in our generation and in our day is to be most relevant to this modern life and generation in which God has cast our days. The nations are described as great powers, a summit meeting of the great powers, or the lesser powers; and power politics is the only politics that the world knows. And we make a tremendous world play for the powers that could generate to help us in the nations of the east, or in Europe, or in Africa. Power is the word that guides modern life, national, social, political, every way.
Now, in the implementation of that display of national power we have all kinds of things in our arsenals. We have jet bombers, and we have hydrogen and atomic bombs, and we have many, many other like things out of the submarines that go through the depths of the sea, and out of our navies deployed over the face of the globe, and out of all of the mighty military strength that America and also our enemies are able to command.
But when we speak of power, we have no power in human hands like that comparable to God’s power bestowed in prayer. I can go through the Bible and speak of the intercession of Joshua that stopped the very sun in its course [Joshua 10:12-13]. That would be beyond what any astronomer could conceive; that would be beyond any power to be seized by human hands; but it was an answer to a prayer. The very sun stopped, the very moon refused to go down over the valley of Aijalon. That’s prayer power.
You haven’t time to speak of Elijah who on his knees begged of God for fire to fall from heaven, consuming the sacrifice and the stones of the altar, and the water in the trench and the very dust of the ground [1 Kings 18:36-38]; then knelt again and asked God for rain to break a drought of three and a half years [1 Kings 18:42-45 ;James 5:17-18].
Nor would you have time to speak of Daniel, who cast into a den of lions [Daniel 6:16] – and by the way, the first Sunday I am back after August, which will be the second Sunday in September, I shall begin the series on the Book of Daniel – Daniel cast into a lair of lions, and God shut their mouths [Daniel 6:21-22]; the power of prayer.
Nor would I have time to speak of the first evangels of the Lord, who when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together [Acts 4:31]. Nor would I have time to speak of Paul and Silas, who at midnight praying and praising God in their dungeon, the whole earth shook and the globe trembled so violently that the prison doors were opened, and the bands and chains off of God’s preachers fell off, all in the mighty intervention of God [Acts 16:25-26].
Nor would I have time to speak of the course of Christian history, which is so largely writ in answered prayer, the saints of God beseeching the intervention of the Father in heaven, the pages and the chapters of Christian history that are nothing other than a recounting of God’s intervention in prayer. Why, just to think of such things as that is to think of a man like George Muller of Bristol, England, who for a generation built the orphans home and fed and clothed and kept thousands and thousands and thousands of orphaned children and never one time said to anybody that he needed anything. He took it to God in prayer. In the course of that whole ministry, he never asked anybody for anything; but he took it to God and asked of God, and for a generation, God fed and clothed those thousands and thousands and thousands of children that went through that orphan’s home in answer to the prayer and intercession of one godly man.
We haven’t time even to mention those glorious and incomparable pages of Christian history. Here in this Book and in the passage we have read tonight, our Savior discloses the secret of prayer power. And the first one He says is this: “I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree . . . touching anything you shall ask, it shall be done for you of My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 18:19]. There is weakness in disunity, and disagreement, and disassociation. That’s true everywhere, everywhere. It is true in God’s sight and in God’s people. There must be unity in our hearts, in the church, in the home. Did you know the Book says if you do not have peace in the home, you have an insuperable handicap in your prayers? [1 Peter 3:7].
Disunity, disassociation, disagreement tear up our ableness to reach God in heaven. It isn’t just wicked people or vile people who disagree; God’s saints, the Greek word that describes the altercation between Barnabas and Paul is paroxysm, there was so violent a disagreement between those two men of God over John Mark, that the Greek describes it as a paroxysm [Acts 15:37-39]. It isn’t just wicked people that disagree; God’s saints also can fall out with one another.
I do not feel this and sense this in our wonderful church; but I want you to know in the churches that I have pastored in days past that were smaller, these violent dislikes and these tremendous disunities in families in the church would almost make an angel weep. And it was out of that that the Lord told this story of the two debtors. One man owed ten thousands talents of silver – now a talent is how much a man can carry; a talent is not a sum, it’s a weight; and ten thousand men weighted down with silver is how much that man owed, millions of dollars [Matthew 18:24]. The other man owed to him about a hundred pence [Matthew 18:28], a hundred pennies, an infinitesimal amount. Then you remember the story we read: the man that had loaned an infinitesimal amount seized this fellow to destroy him [Matthew 18:28], when he himself owed millions of dollars and was forgiven. And the Lord says that’s the way we are to remember in our attitudes toward one another. There will never, what our Lord is saying is this: there will never be unity of spirit and heart among us if there is not the willingness to overlook so very much, so very much.
I must expect the church to overlook many of the weaknesses and mistakes of their pastor. And it makes for a weak church for the people to go around and magnify the weaknesses of the preacher. He is as weak and as feeble as any member of the church; but we must pray for him and hold up his hands like Hur and Aaron held up the hands of Moses [Exodus 17:12]. And that makes for strength; that is the same attitude we are to have toward one another. We all have weaknesses, all of us. “There is no man that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36], God’s Book says. And for us to be critical and to magnify one another’s faults is to forget that we expect God to forgive us our faults, our transgressions and trespasses and sins. And if God can forgive us so much, so much, how much more should we be willing to forgive one another? And in that spirit of forgiveness and sympathy and understanding, we have, Jesus says, an opportunity to bind our hearts in strength before the Lord.
There’s not a more beautiful psalm in the Book than the one hundred thirty-third Psalm:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
As the dew upon Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
As the day of Pentecost begins, “And they were all with one accord, in one place” [Acts 2:1]. This is strength. “I say unto you, If two of you shall agree . . . [Matthew 18:19]. How can two walk together,” said Amos, “except they be agreed,” [Amos 3:3], if two of you shall agree. If it were two, think of four; if it were four, think of four hundred; if it were four hundred, think of four thousand; think of the power in intercession, God’s people together. Dissension will divide us and destroy us; but unity will make us glorious and great and grand in the sight of God.
Now, He has another word here: “For,” the next verse, “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. What is the center of our unity? A glorious church? Well, that’s marvelous. An eloquent pastor? I wish you had a gloriously eloquent pastor. I wish Spurgeon were pastor of this church, or Dr. Truett were raised from the dead and still preaching in this sacred and holy place. There are many, many great centers of unity around which people can gather. But, to us and for us always the great central interest and commanding personality around which we build our unity is the person of our Lord. “For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]; the Lord Jesus. And as His people forget themselves and their differences and gather in the spirit and mercy and grace of Jesus, there is power. His benedictory and precious hands extended over us who love Him and who call upon His name.
Oh, the differences among us! We are different in personality, and we are different in response, and we are different in spirit, and we are different in understanding, and each one of us is different. But however we may be separate and different, we can all be alike in this: everything is right and everything is glorious with our Savior; there is no fault in Him. So much in us, none in Him; and we can be together in love and intercession and prayer and worship and adoration in Jesus. The center of our unity lies in the person of our Lord.
Now a last: and the fruit, the result, the fruit of our agreement in prayer and intercession is found in the answer, “It shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 18:19]. Oh, wouldn’t you like one at a time to come up here and stand in my place and say, “Pastor, this is what God did for me. And this is how God answered me.” Wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you? Why, you just stand here and just praise God’s name all night long, “This did we lay before God and this did God do for me.” Why, I remember – and you know when I go back and look over some of these things I just marvel that such a thing could have come to pass – I look at these youngsters around her who are seventeen years old, they seem so very young to me, seventeen years old, yet that was the age when I was licensed at Amarillo to preach, and went down to Baylor and started preaching when I was seventeen years old. And I bowed down before the Lord, and I said, “Dear Lord, dear Lord, not that I am too proud to do it, but dear God, grant for me that I will not have to make my way through school, paying my way through school picking up papers on the campus, and sweeping out a floor; but Lord, grant to me that I may make my way through school being a preacher and a pastor of a church.”
When I look back at those days, seventeen years old, asking God to let me be pastor of a church that would pay my way through school and then through the seminary, I just marvel because a seventeen year-old boy seems so very young to me now. But I prayed that prayer in great faith and in great assurance. And when I was called as pastor of my first little church, it was God’s sign from heaven to me that He had looked with favor upon my intercession. And from that day until this I have lived by the gospel, beginning when I was seventeen years old. Oh, what a merciful thing for God to do! I just have a thousand things to say. I close.
God’s doing it all the time. The president, the past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, from the deep South, came up to Dayton and he just wanted to sit there and be in those services. Well Monday night, Monday night, it was raining everywhere, all over that part of the earth; and the clouds were heavy above us. And Monday night, when we sat in the service, little sprinkles of water began to fall. And I bowed my head and said, “O dear and blessed Lord, hold back the rain, hold back the rain until this service is done.” And the past president of our convention said to me after the service was over, he said, “You know, you see this bald spot on back of my head,” he said, “I could feel the little drops of rain coming down on that bald spot of my head.” And he said, “When it did I said, ‘O dear Lord, don’t let it rain until this service is over, don’t let it rain.'” I said, “Wish everybody’s heart was as sensitive to God as that bald spot on the top of your head,don’t let it rain.” And it didn’t rain; and we had a wonderful service.
Last night, late at night, a dear and blessed member of this church called me on the telephone and said, “Pastor, in the morning there is a man coming to church, and we have prayed for him. Now pastor, you pray with us for him, that tomorrow,” which was this morning, “tomorrow he’ll give himself to Jesus and come down that aisle.” I said, “I will pray with you.” And this morning, with many, many tears, that man came down the aisle and knelt there and poured out his heart to God. It just happens all the time. We live in that kind of a world of miracle and intervention from God.
I must close. While we sing our song tonight, to give yourself to the Savior, would you come? If the Spirit of Jesus presses the appeal to your heart, would you make it tonight? “Here I am, preacher, and here I come.” A family you, all of you coming; a couple you, two of you coming; one somebody you, one of you coming; as God shall say the word, as the Spirit shall lead in the way, come tonight. On the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “Preacher, I give you my hand tonight, my heart I give to God.” Do it now, do it tonight, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
POWER IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. To speak of power in our generation is most relevant
B. Display of national power in our arsenals, military strength
C. No power comparable to God’s power bestowed upon prayer
1. Seen in miracles of the Bible and throughout Christian history
II. Secret of prayer power
A. Agreement, unity(Matthew 18:19)
1. There is weakness in disunity, disagreement, separation of brethren(Acts 15:37-39)
2. Never be unity if there is not willingness to forgive(Matthew 21:35)
3. Agreement between brethren(Psalm 133, Acts 2:1, Amos 3:3)
B. The center of our unity – Jesus(Matthew 18:20)
III. The sure answer – the mark of true united prayer
A. My prayer at 17
B. Prayer to hold back the rain