Prayer and Missions
December 1st, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
PRAYER AND MISSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
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.
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.
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.