Prayer and Missions
December 1st, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
PRAYER AND MISSIONS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-01-68 10:50 a.m.
If you are listening to this service on the radio or if you are sharing this service with us on television, you are a part of the listening audience of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Again we welcome you, both the throng inside this great auditorium and you who are sharing the service in your home, or wherever you are. This is a great day for us. It is the beginning of a season of celebration, and gladness, and prayer, and intercession, and mission emphasis.
This begins the first week after Thanksgiving and the first week in December. To a multitude, of course, it signals the beginning of orgiastic festivities, and drunkenness, and gluttony, and debauchery, and all the other things that worldly and compromised people think of when Christmas time comes. But not all of our people are like that. They’re not stocking up from the liquor store, and they’re not preparing for a thousand things that do dishonor to God, glorify the flesh, and exalt what is cheap and material and worldly. To a great host of our people, this month of December and this first week of the Christmas month brings to us a week of prayer and intercession for the foreign mission enterprise. And that has led me to the title of the sermon today: Prayer and Missions.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts we have the story of the beginning of the world mission enterprise, and it began in prayer. The story goes like this: in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, “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 Manean” [Acts 13:1], all of them there in the church in Antioch, men of God, some of them most distinguished. This Manean had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch; he was of a kingly family [Acts 13:1]. And in the group was Saul [Acts 13:2], and Saul whom later we know 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]. And that is the beginning of the first missionary journey, followed by the other missionary journeys that in succession have come down to us today. Deployed over the face of this earth are God’s emissaries; His heavenly princes plenipotentiary, representing the Savior, proclaiming the gospel, blessed of God wherever the sun does shine.
Now from this you can easily see my subject, 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” [Acts 13:2]. You’ve heard me say so many times, a sign of the presence of God and the Spirit of Jesus in a congregation and upon a church is inevitably and always this: that from time to time the Holy Spirit will say, “Separate Me this young man, or this young woman, to the missionary work or to the vocational employment of the church or the denomination.” There are churches by the thousands that have never seen and never known one of the young men or one of the young women separated by the Spirit of God to a full time ministry in the name of Christ. I think that the Spirit has departed from His blessings upon the congregation.
But you might say, “Pastor, but they are small churches.” Listen, my brother, practically all of our ministers and missionaries come from little, little churches. There are small churches that have sent out more than half of their membership to the mission field. It isn’t the size of the church. If there were two, one of them might be called of God to give himself to a ministry in the name of the Lord. Why, the little church I grew up is not nearly as large as this choir.
A sign of the Spirit of God in a church and upon a congregation is this: that from time to time the Spirit will say, “Separate Me this young man, or this young woman, for the work whereunto I have called them.” At the high hour at 8:15 o’clock this morning, one of the finest young men in our church, now a senior at Howard Payne University, came down the aisle and announced to our people that he was giving his life in a call to the ministry, and if God wills, on a foreign field.
“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 their heads, they sent them away” [Acts 13:2-3]. Prayer and missions: prayer first I shall speak of, then missions; as it is in the passage, in the text, first prayer, then missions.
Prayer, prayer will save a denomination. It will save a church, it will save an association of churches. I lived, began my ministry in the Depression. The young people of this generation have never known a Depression, and they cannot enter into your description of it. That’s why today we have such an abounding waste and seemingly utter inability to bring our national fiscal policies into line. We are accustomed to abounding affluence. But in the Depression there was no work. There were no jobs. There were long soup lines in every city. There was unemployment everywhere. There was need, and want, and lack.
In those days in 1933 there was published a pamphlet entitled, “Are Southern Baptists Going out of the Mission Business?” I read it with deep consternation. In 1933 the Foreign Mission Board owed what then was an astronomical sum. They owed a million, six hundred thousand dollars to five banks in Richmond, Virginia, the home of the Foreign Mission Board.
We had elected a new secretary, Charles Madre. And upon his election he was called before the leadership of those five banks, and he was greeted with the announcement that no more credit could be extended; that the board was hopelessly in debt, and daily going deeper in debt, and that the time had come when a payment must be made, and they were foreclosing, they were taking over the properties and the assets of the board here, everywhere, to pay off the debt. Dr. Madre said, “Gentlemen, such a foreclosure will destroy the Board. Grant me a chance, one year, and see if God will not intervene.” The bankers discussed it and one of them said, “Let’s give him a chance. Let’s see what he can do.” So for twelve months our Foreign Mission Board was in the hands of friendly receivers.
That year a tremendous appeal was made to our Southern Baptist churches to come to prayer and intercession; to bombard the gate of heaven asking, imploring, beseeching, begging; and they did it, and set the time for the week of prayer for foreign missions in December, 1933, and the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. That was the first year that I took that offering to my little church. I made public appeal from the pulpit. That was the first year I ever did it in behalf of a foreign mission, Lottie Moon Christmas offering, and we took it up in the church.
All through the length and breadth of the denomination that appeal was made. The people prayed and brought an offering to God for the foreign mission enterprise. And from that day until this, God has extended the effectiveness of that week of prayer and of that mission offering, until today, now, one half of all that we give for the conversion of the world is taken up, is made possible, is given, in this Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions. It saved our denomination then; it contributes vastly to the spiritual life of our denomination today.
When the appeal was over in 1933, I heard Dr. Madre at the Southern Baptist Convention pay a glowing moving tribute to Women’s Missionary Union that led in that week of prayer and in that offering. And he was followed by Dr. J. B. Lawrence, then the sainted and lamented of memory now, but then the leader of our Home Mission Board. And he said that for three years, 1933, 34, 35; that for three years all of the work of the Home Mission Board had been financed and made possible by Women’s Missionary Union. Prayer and missions; and they come in that order; first prayer, then 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, and laid hands on their heads, they sent them away” [Acts 13:2-3]; prayer and missions. I could conceive of a denomination and of a church dying under superb organization. I could conceive of a church dying under eloquent superb preaching. I could conceive of a church or an association, a denomination of churches, dying under magnificent personalities. But I could not conceive of a denomination or of a church dying under great praying.
“My house,” said the eloquent Isaiah, God’s emissary; “My house, saith the Lord, shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. Jesus repeated it in Matthew [Matthew 21:13], and Mark [Mark 11:17], and in Luke [Luke 19:46]; prayer and missions. And not only in our intercession in behalf of our missionary, and our foreign and home missions boards, and our denomination, and our association of churches, and our own congregation, not only our salvation lies in our intercessions, but praying for the saving of the world.
There is no place where you can turn in this world but that you will find knowledgeable men who will avow to you in deepest earnestness, “There is no other answer save in God.” I heard that how many times, as we journeyed through the Levant, the near East; the awesome preparation for war on the part of Egypt, and Nasser, and those who fraternize with that Egyptian dictator. And they have Russia and the vast capabilities of missile and atomic warhead and jet plane. It is awesome!
And I don’t know how many times I ran into that same sentence. “There is no solution, no answer, but in God.” When you visit the Far East you will find those same earnest observations. The problems are so deep, so insoluble, that unless God intervenes, there’s no way out. The problems of Africa, the emerging nations, the civil wars, the violent racial strifes and conflicts, the insuperable problems that lie in the masses that are vastly increasing in Latin America. Wherever you turn you find that same studied observation: the solutions do not lie in human hands; there’s no answer found in human genius. Our hope lies in God.
Nor is our nation spared in isolation alone. You can’t isolate yourself, nor can you extricate yourself from the problems of the nations of the world. We are bound up together on this globe. This globe has shrunk to be no bigger than the size of a man’s hand. And the problems they face across the sea become our problems. And the threats that jeopardize their lives jeopardize ours. There is no hole in which to run. There are no mountains to fall on our heads. There are no seas now beyond which we can escape. We are together, and what happens there happens here. And what comes to pass over yonder comes to pass in our own midst. It calls us to prayer.
We are as though a people sitting on a time bomb. You can hear the clicking of the clock. You can see the burning of the fuse; any day, any time, any hour we may come face to face with a confrontation, then what? We’ve lived through them in these last few years.
Why, I can name half a dozen in this earth that could precipitate an atomic war almost over night. You have planes that fly in the air, that upon a word from our chief executive go immediately to their target. And those planes are always in the air, always in the air, they come back to their bases and other planes take their places; always in the air. The United States is prepared for atomic warfare in a second, in the length of time it would take our chief executive to call from wherever he is to the planes that are always in the air. It is a frightful hour. It is a terrible hour. It is an awesome hour. You’ll not have any future war fought along some Hindenburg line, nor will this next war be fought over there. The next one will be fought above our heads; lurid death falling from the skies. Why, there’s not a knowledgeable statistician in America but who says openly in print, publicly where you can hear, within a few minutes of the next war fifty million in America will be dead.
In the forty-sixth Psalm the impassioned singer had this verse in his song. “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth” [Psalm 46:9]; prayer and missions. If there is any hope, it lies in intercession; not in greater armaments, not in more powerful hydrogen bombs, but it lies in the hands of God [Romans 8:34].
I turn now to the second part of this passage: 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, and laid their hands on their heads, they sent them away” [Acts 13:2-3]; prayer and missions.
In my lifetime I have seen half of the world shut out to the missionary. When I was a youth, a missionary could go anywhere in the earth. Now Red communism has closed the door to one half of the populations of the earth. But the other half is still open; only there is nobody to go, and no one who sends them. Outside the city of Bangkok one time, I stood by the side of one of our missionaries. And beyond were the blue and rising hills and mountains of the imperial of Thailand. And with the sweep of his hand like that, with the sweep of his hand he said to me, “There are more than three million people in those hills and mountains who have never heard the name of Christ.”
In Africa, missionary Wooten, I was walking through a little city. The children, I think had never seen a white man before. And as I walked through the streets I gathered round me an enormous throng. When I got to the city marketplace the throng numbered, it was a block. I had a boy who could speak both English and the native tongue, and I got on a little eminence, a little rise, and I stood there, and through the boy I asked, “Is any one of you a Christian? Would you hold up your hand, or would you come up here to me? Is anyone? Is there a Christian here in this little city? Is there one?” There was not one, not one, not one!
In Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal in India, a city of a half million people, I stood in front of the Baptist church in Agra. By my side stood a native Indian preacher named Haiderali. As we stood there and looked at the church, on the pediment of the church was a stone, a dedication. The church had been built and dedicated in 1845; that was the year the Southern Baptist Convention was organized, 1845. And as I stood there, Haiderali began to tell me why he was present. They had sent him there to close down the church and to dismiss the school. There was no support and the work was to be shut down, the church was to be closed and the school dismissed. Haiderali said to me, “When I came and saw these people and this illimitable need, I couldn’t do it, so I stayed. I brought my family, and we have stayed and preached the gospel in the church, and we are running the school.”
The missionary cries and he says:
It isn’t the work that tries us, 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 from heaven 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 careful backing of you which you at home could give.
[“The Missionary’s Appeal,” Anna Stevens Reed]
It’s a strange world and especially is it strange in the Christian world.
I mean it like this. In the heart of Wooten’s Africa there came a young man to another village, and there from a missionary heard the gospel. Did you know, I have preached the gospel in lands and the people who listened for the first time were saved; first time, hear it, saved. This young man was saved, first time he heard the gospel. And he turned to go back to his own village to tell them the good news, and as he ran, he stopped and went back to the missionary and said, “Missionary, I forgot to ask, when was it did you say that He died for our sins? Was it yesterday? Was it last week? Was it last month? When did you say that He died?” The missionary said, “I didn’t say. It was two thousand years ago.” Oh, and these statisticians will report that most of this world has yet even to hear the sound of the name of Jesus; prayer and missions.
“Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” [Acts 13:2]; and you will find illimitable dedication, and willingness, and yieldedness on the part of our young men and women to go. In my seminary class, when they were graduated, there were six young men who had trained themselves for the foreign missions field, and no one to send them. I remember when they published their pictures; the six standing in line, my friends in the seminary. And underneath the caption: “There is no one to send us.” Oh, the dedication of these men of God! Sometimes I can hardly believe it.
I was in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, Mexico, and I stumbled into a thing there that amazed me. There’s a seminary, it is not under our board. It’s under the national Baptist convention board of Mexico. It’s under their native work. It’s called the George Holcomb Lacy Seminary. In these times it’s been removed from Oaxaca to Guadalajara, but I ran into it in Guadalajara. It was named after a missionary from the United States, the most loved of all the missionaries who had gone over the river and south of the border.
It came about like this. They were from Arkansas. They had four children and a fifth one was born there in Saltillo. And upon a day the baby born developed a strange malady, and in ten hours the child was dead. And a little later a little boy, the youngest, a little boy developed those same symptoms; strange, and in thirty hours the little boy was dead. And missionary Lacy placed his wife and the three remaining children on the train to send them back home.
And when the train crossed the border of Arkansas, another child developed those same strange symptoms. And the mother took the three children and got off the train immediately. And before the wire that the mother sent to Saltillo could be delivered in the hands of missionary Lacy, those remaining three children had died.
After the memorial service and the burial of the children, missionary Lacy said to his wife; “Dear wife, after this we cannot afford to go back to the mission field.” But his wife replied, “Dear husband, after so great a sacrifice and investment, we cannot afford not to go back.” And back they went to the mission field. And that’s why they told me they named the seminary after that devoted, dedicated missionary couple. You will find that same fabricate of life, and spirit, and dedication all through our Southern Baptist Convention and in our churches and among our young men and women. It’s just for us to stand by them, pray for them, hold up their hands in intercession, give to the support of their work; prayer and missions.
First prayer, and when we pray always that burden of intercession of love, of compassion, of longing to see people saved, to know the Lord always, it will come; prayer and missions. You know what I heard one time? It amazed me to listen to it. I heard George W. Truett one time say, that if anybody in the First Baptist Church in Dallas was not missionary, he was out of place in the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Out of place; to be missionary, to love God, to pray for the lost, and to support these who are our emissaries beyond our borders; this is at the heart of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. It was through the long ministry of Dr Truett. It isn’t changed. It hasn’t changed.
Our people are a missionary people. I heard Dr Truett say, “I am not a sectarian, but I am a denominationalist.” Our people are denominational. We have so tremendous an assignment and so vast a task. A church even as large as ours finds itself unable to cope, or to meet, or to measure up. We must join hands with our sister churches, brethren who love God in other places, in other cities, in other congregations; and together pray, intercede, importune, ask, give, support; prayer and missions. This is a great week. It’s a meaningful week. This is the greatest enterprise in God’s earth.
We have gone beyond our time and must sing our song of appeal. A family you to come, a couple you, a one somebody you [Romans 10:8-13]; in the balcony round, on this lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here, pastor, I make it now. I’m coming now.” There’s a stairway at the back, at the front, and on either side, and there’s time and to spare; come. “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us, all of us are coming.” Or just you, just you, “In this dear church I place my life to work, to pray, to love God, to serve in His name” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza, when we sing, you come. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.