Prayer and Missions


Prayer and Missions

December 1st, 1968 @ 8:15 AM

Acts 13

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will. Of this man's seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose. Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him. And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre. But God raised him from the dead: And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you. And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 13:1-3

12-1-68    8:15 a.m.


If you are listening on the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Prayer and Missions.  In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the first verses:

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

[Acts 13:1]

Later we will know him as Paul [Acts 13:9].

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

[Acts 13:2-3]

This is the introduction to the first missionary journey and the beginning of the farthest outreaches of the message of Christ through His churches; one that is come down to us today. And when you read the story of that first missionary enterprise, it begins in prayer.  Ministering to the Lord, fasting and praying, then God, through the Holy Spirit, speaks, and two of their finest ministers are set apart and sent away for this holy ministry [Acts 13:3-4].

At this time of the year, after Thanksgiving, immediately we enter into the Christmas holidays; some of us preparing for them, all of us busy about it.  And as we come to this week, the first week after Thanksgiving, and the first week in December, and the first week of introduction to the Christmas rush, there are two kinds of people who share in it.  There are those who are getting ready for orgiastic festivities and debaucheries, getting ready for drunkenness, and gluttony, and a thousand other selfish entertainments.  There are others that I see who are entering this season in prayer, and intercession, and supplication to God.

And among those are the godly women of this church and Woman’s Missionary Union of the Southland, and of the convention, and of the nation, leading all of our churches into a great intercessory appeal to God in behalf of the mission enterprise in the earth.  So I am preaching this morning in keeping with the passage that I read on prayer and missions.  And the message is divided into those two parts: prayer and missions.

First, prayer: in intercession is the saving of the church and of the denomination.  I do not think we can exist apart from it.  Fine organizational leadership will not achieve for God what a denomination of churches ought to do for the Lord, nor any other genius by which we can dedicate our finest abilities apart from prayerful intercession.

In 1933 there was a pamphlet written entitled “Are Southern Baptists Going Out of the Mission Business?”  We were in the midst of the Depression, a name that is very foreign to the young people of this present generation.  They’ve never known a Depression, when people had no money and there was no work and no jobs.  And a pall of pessimism and despair was not only over America but over the whole world; a depression.

In 1933 the Foreign Mission Board fell into the hands of—and we are grateful—friendly receivers.  They owed so much money.  It is not large to us now.  It was a million six hundred thousand dollars.  They owed so much money to five banks in Richmond, Virginia, the home of the Foreign Mission Board, that the five banks met with the new executive secretary of the Board, Dr. Charles Maddry, and said, “Credit can no longer be extended.  The debt must be paid.”

And the new secretary said, “If you force us into bankruptcy, take our assets and sell what we have as security for what we owe, it means the destruction of the Board.”  And Dr. Maddry pleaded for a year of grace to see what he could do.  And as the bankers pondered the decision, one of the men suggested, “Let’s give him a chance to see what he can do.”  And the Lottie Moon Christmas offering and season of prayer in 1933 saved the Foreign Mission Board and our foreign mission enterprise.  And from that day until this, the mission work has been extended and enlarged on the foreign mission field largely because of the response of our people to this week of prayer and the Lottie Moon Christmas offering.

Today, one-half of the entire work of our association of churches for the foreign mission enterprise is raised and given through the Lottie Moon Christmas offering.  As I said, it is conceivable that a church or a denomination could die under great organizational planning.  It is conceivable that a church could die under great preaching.  It is conceivable that a church could die under brilliant leadership of personality.  But it is inconceivable; it is not conceivable, that a church or denomination could die under great praying.  Not only in prayer and intercession do we find the saving and the support of the work of God in the earth, through His churches and through the denomination, but also it bears with it the saving of our nation, of our lives, and of the peace of the world itself.  It is not a strange thing to hear a man say, who’s conversant with the problems in the Near East, who’s conversant with the problems in the Far East, who’s conversant with the problems of Latin America, who’s conversant with the problems of Africa; it is not unusual to hear a knowledgeable man say, “There is no other hope save in God.”

We cannot live alone and isolated from the rest of the world.  Whatever happens there happens here.  Whatever happens on the other side of the earth also finds its repercussion in us.  We are inexplicably bound up in the families of the nations of the earth.  This bends our knees and bows our heads and humbles our souls.  God must intervene.  God must help.  We must pray for the salvation of the souls of all men everywhere.  And we must pray for the peace of the earth.

As the forty-sixth Psalm so eloquently says, “He, it is God, He maketh wars to cease” [Psalm 46:9].  All of us feel as though we live on an atomic bomb, and literally, actually, in reality, we do as a nation and as a civilization.  A fuse burns.  A time clock ticks, and sometimes we’re almost persuaded to believe it is only a matter of days or a few years––any exigency, any providence, any turn of fortune, like a chain reaction, can set it off.

If we have any hope, it lies in God.  This is truly a time of prayer, of appeal, of intercession.  “Lord, spare our people.  Spare our nation.  Spare the peoples and nations of the earth.”

Prayer and missions:  “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them, and sent them away” [Acts 13:2-3].

Missions, prayer and missions: a praying church will be a missionary church.  A praying association of churches, a denomination, will be a missionary denomination—prayer and missions.

Missions: we have an open door in so many areas of the earth.  When I was a young man the entire earth was open to us.  In my day, I have seen about half of the earth shut out, the door closed.  Wherever the communist fungus and disease spreads over a nation or over a people or over a land, our missionaries are in prison or they are killed or they are summarily expelled.  But half of the world is still open.  And the opportunity is illimitable and immeasurable, far beyond what we are beginning even to begin to touch or to reach.

I stood outside Bangkok one time with a missionary, and we were looking at the hills and the mountains just beyond.  And with a sweep of his hand like that, he said, “There are more than three million people, who live in those hills and mountains, who have never heard the name of Jesus.”

I was left alone in a village in Africa with a Yoruba boy.  And as I walked through the village and down to the marketplace—I do not know whether they had ever seen a white man or not, some of the children, I am sure, never had—and as I walked through the little city, I gathered around me an enormous throng of people.  And when I came to the marketplace, it spread out over a block.  So I found a little eminence and stood on it, and through the Yoruba boy I spoke to the throng, and I asked if one of them was a Christian, just one.  “Is any one of you a Christian?”  And there was not a Christian in the throng, not one.  Not one.

I stood by the side of Haiderali in Agra, India, the home of the Taj Mahal, built on the banks of the sacred Jumna River.  And we were standing looking at the Baptist church in Agra.  At the pediment there was a stone, a marble stone, and on it was the date of the dedication of the church, 1845.  That was the year of the organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1845.

Haiderali, this Indian Baptist preacher, had been sent down to Agra, a city of a half million people, in order to close our Baptist work.  He had been sent there to shut down that church and to dismiss our Baptist school.  But when he came for the purpose, he found his heart so bound up with the work and his sympathies so going out, flowing out to the people, that he couldn’t close the church and he couldn’t dismiss the school.  So for those years that had followed after, he had kept the church open preaching the gospel, and he was running the Baptist school.  “It isn’t the work that tries us,” writes a missionary,

. . . but the sights we have to see—

The children bowing to idols, the poor who cannot be free,

Those who have evil spirits spend all their lives in fear,

And women toiling in bondage no hope of God to cheer.

It isn’t the work that wearies us, at least, not what we do,

But that which is left undone when our busy day is through.

It’s turning away the students who want our schools to share,

And saying “No” to the people who beg for a teacher’s care.

It isn’t the work that kills us; but the strange indifferent life

Of those who, too, are Christians, but stand aloof from the strife.

It’s keeping up the struggle that we abroad must live,

Without the prayerful backing which you at home could give.

[adapted from “The Missionary’s Appeal,” Anna Stevens Reed, 1941]

The willingness of the missionary to give his life and the circle of his home and family for this witness for Christ is sometimes almost holy.  For example, when I was in Saltillo, which is to the west of Monterey, Old Mexico, there was organized a seminary there, later removed to Guadalajara.  It is now under the National Baptist Convention of Mexico.  It is named the George Holcombe Lacy Seminary.  It is named for one of the most beloved missionaries that Mexico ever received from the United States.

He and his wife were from Arkansas.  They had four children when they went to Saltillo and a fifth one was born.  And upon a day, while they were ministering before the Lord in Saltillo, the baby sickened with a strange malady, and in ten hours the child was dead.  Soon the next child, a little boy, sickened with the same symptoms, and in thirty hours that child was dead.

Missionary Lacy took his wife and the three remaining children and put them on a train to send them back home.  When the train crossed the line of Arkansas, their native state, another child showed the same symptoms, and the mother took the child and the two others, the three children, and got off the train immediately, sent a wire back to her husband in Saltillo, and by the time the wire was delivered, by the time the missionary received it, the three other children had died.

After the services of memorial and burial were over, the missionary said to his wife, “We cannot afford to go back to the mission field.”  And his wife replied, “Husband, after so great an investment, we cannot afford to [not] go back.”  And they returned to the field and gave their lives in that ministry.  A dedication like that could be repeated a thousand times around this earth.

I often think of the ease and the luxury, in which we live at home, and compare it to the vast indescribable, illimitable, immeasurable, unfathomable needs of the world.  To have a part in the missionary field, to pray, to give, to remember, to help, to encourage in any wise and in any way is the noblest, finest commitment that a Christian can make, and certainly this church and its membership: no more glorious reward than what God is able to do with our efforts, and with our prayers, and with our gifts, as we pray for and support the foreign mission enterprise.

I was upstairs in a two story building in Torreón, a large city in central northern Old Mexico.  It was our Baptist Building, the Baptist bookstore below and the headquarters of the denomination on the second story.  I was there in the daytime preaching in our seminary, and in the evening I was preaching through a revival meeting.  Well, the reason that I was up there was, with some of the other missionaries, I was watching a parade, a very large and impressive one.  It was one of the great national holidays of Mexico, and they were celebrating it with an extensive parade.  Every school was marching by, every school.  Among others who were in the parade, every school was marching by, thousands and thousands of teachers and pupils, marching by, school, after school, after school, each one with a band or with a banner or with a float, something distinctive of that school.  As the schools passed by, one after another in that parade, there was a principal who came by leading his school, all of those pupils in line and marching back of him.  And when he came to the place in front of the Baptist Building and the bookstore, he saw me up there in the window, watching the parade below.  And he waved a salute to me as he passed by leading his school.

You know why it was so meaningful to me?  It was because of this.  In the revival meeting the night before, he had found the Lord and had been saved.  And passing by, seeing me in the window, waving to me, I thought, “I wonder if heaven is something like that?  When God saints go marching in, when God has His great parade on Liberation Anniversary, on Redemptive Sunday, I wonder if it will be like that; to be somebody in the throng, waving, calling to mind a day and an hour and a service when they found the Lord, and in it we had a part.

Dear people, I realize, because the pastor preaches and goes to so many places, that he has opportunities that most of us do not have.  And I am not trying to make others feel limited or underprivileged or not privileged by these things that I say, but there is not anything in the earth, there is nothing in the earth that equals the illimitable depths of gratitude to God by these people that I am beginning to see everywhere.

Tuesday, Tuesday they had their WMU day here at the church and a noon meal.  And I sat down by the side of the missionary, Mrs. Joiner, from Ecuador, who had spoken to them last Tuesday morning.  And as I sat down by her side, she said, “You do not remember this.  But I gave my life to be a missionary in a service you held one time years ago for a group of GA’s.”

When I was in Israel there was a fine, handsome couple named Reed, missionary Reed and his wife.  And he said, “I am sure you do not remember this, but I am the soldier who played the vibraharp in the church.”  I said, “Oh, I could not forget!”

 In the war they built Camp Gruber by Muskogee; forty thousand soldiers.  They reactivated the Rainbow Division there, and he was in it, General MacArthur’s old division.  And he was in it; the Forty-second Division.  And he said, “I was a soldier in Camp Gruber and came to your church, and I played the vibraharp.”  I said, “I remember it.”

‘Well,’ he said, “in one of those services I gave my life to be a preacher.” “Well,” he said, “after the war was over and God spared me, I went to the seminary and then into the pastorate.”  And he said, “Upon a day when I was having a school of missions and I was teaching my people about missions and making an appeal for missions,” he said, “the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Why do you make appeals for others?  What about you?  Why don’t you go yourself?’”  And he said, “My wife and I there and then gave ourselves to be missionaries.  And that is why we are here in Israel.”  And he gave his life in one of the services that I conducted in Muskogee.

I run into that everywhere, everywhere; in a service you held at Ridgecrest, or in Glorieta, or in the revival at Gulfport.  I am just illustrating, to have a part in the foreign mission appeal is as noble, as godly, as heavenly a commitment as any we could share in God’s earth—to pray, to give, to encourage, to offer hands of heart and lives.  Prayer and missions: “And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.  And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” [Acts 13:2-3].

You’ve heard me say a thousand times, one of the signs of the Holy Ghost upon the church is, from time to time He will say, “Separate Me this young man, this young woman for the work whereunto I have called them.”  And down the aisle they come, answering God’s call to be a preacher, or a missionary, or a denominational worker, or a staff member, or to give their lives in the circle of the ministries of our great institutions.  This is a sign of the presence of the Spirit of God.

Now our time is done, and we must sing our hymn of appeal.  In any way that God would press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life this morning:  to give your life in a special ministry; to answer God’s call; to share in the work of the church as a fellow member; to pray with us, to love God with us, to serve the Lord with us.  Coming into the fellowship of the church by baptism, on confession of faith, by letter, you, or a couple, or a family, as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now.  Do it now.  Come now, while we stand and while we sing.