Prevailing in Prayer
February 27th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
PREVAILING IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Prevailing in Prayer. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we have come to the ninth chapter, which is one of the great chapters in all the Bible. And we are in the middle of it. I begin reading at verse 20 and read through verse 23. Daniel 9:20-23:
And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God;
Yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.
And he informed me, and talked with me, and said, O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.
At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved.
[Daniel 9: 20-23]
Is that not a remarkable and wonderful thing? Twice he repeats it, "While I was speaking," verse 20; verse 21, "While I was speaking, God sent the man Gabriel," his name means "man of God," "the man Gabriel, the angel Gabriel; and he said, At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth" [Daniel 9:23] the prayer was answered immediately, swiftly, while Daniel was making supplication.
As Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 65:24, quoting God who says, "Before they call, I will answer; and while they are speaking, I will hear"; and it is so in this passage in Daniel. While he is praying God sends forth the commandment, and He does it by the angel Gabriel [Daniel 9:20-21].
Four times is this man of God, this messenger of the Lord who described himself, "As I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God" [Luke 1:19], four times is he mentioned in the Bible. In the eighth chapter of Daniel he is the angel who interprets to Daniel the vision, in the eighth chapter, the vision of Persia and Greece [Daniel 8:16-27]. In the ninth chapter he is sent here [Daniel 9:21-27]. He twice again appears in the first chapter of Luke. He announces to Zacharias and to Elizabeth the birth of John the Baptist [Luke 1:11-19]. Then he is sent to Nazareth to a virgin named Mary to announce to her that she will be the mother of the foreordained, foretold Child; the man, the messenger Gabriel [Luke 1:26-35]. And while Daniel is praying, making supplication, immediately God sends Gabriel to tell Daniel that, "At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth" [Daniel 9:20-23].
This is the object of his intercession, the commandment to return God’s people home, to rebuild the Holy City, and to restore the sanctuary. While he is praying, "At the beginning of thy supplications," Gabriel says, "the commandment came forth" [Daniel 9:23]. That commandment was either the decree of God that it should be done, or else a decree from the Persian king giving order for the return and restoration of God’s holy people. But in either event, whether it is the decree of heaven or whether it is a decree of the Persian king, the effect of it is the same. In either way it is an immediate answer to Daniel’s prayer.
How is it that you pray like that? How does Daniel touch God? How is it that God bows down to hear this statesman prophet as he intercedes? How do you do it? How do you find immediate answer in supplication? O dear God, there is such vast illimitable potency, power, in Thy hands, in Thy will and purpose, if only we could reach it. The whole world around us is filled with untapped, pent-up, stored-up energy, if only we could touch it. If we can just learn the conditions of its use, think of the blessing it could be in life, in us, in all dear to our hearts.
The entire world of creation around us, this handiwork of God, all of it lives and moves and has being under certain conditions. And if we can find those working conditions, the whole stored-up energy of the creation of ours, all of it will bless our trade, and our commerce, and our industry, and our living, if we can just supplicate in the right way. If we can find out those laws by which they respond, the very forests and the fields under our cultivation will yield their fruit and their increase.
If we can just know what are the laws that lie back of these ether waves we can make our voices and these very pictures seen and heard thousands of miles away, around the whole earth. If we could just discover the laws of aerodynamics we can fly above the clouds through the skies. If we can just learn the secrets of the earth, out of its very bowels we can pump great energy for the wheels of our factories. If we supplicate correctly the commandment immediately goes forth.
Shall I persuade myself that what is true on this lower plane of nature God’s handiwork would be any less true in the great higher plane of God’s spiritual being? If I can just learn the conditions by which He responds and blesses and answers – Daniel did it; God heard him, and the answer came immediately. "While I was making supplication, the commandment came forth" [Daniel 9:23].
What is it that Daniel did? What is the secret of the touching of this power, and majesty, and mystery of Almighty God? As I study the prayer, there are four things that come to my mind that I clearly see that characterize the supplication of Daniel. And I think in these four things we find that answer. How do you supplicate and the commandment go forth? How do you pray and the answer is immediately given, how? There are four things.
One: he prayed according to the mind and purpose of God. He begins the ninth chapter, "In the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, I Daniel understood by the holy scriptures the word of the Lord that came through Jeremiah the prophet" [Daniel 9:1-2]. He found the mind and purpose of God in his study of the Holy Scriptures, and especially its prophetic predictive portion.
As the apocalyptic Revelation begins, "Blessed are they that hear, and they that read the words of this prophecy" [Revelation 1:3]. So Daniel, studying the Scriptures, learned from the sacred pages the purposes of God, and he gave himself in supplication, in prayer, beseeching according to the will and mind of heaven.
So in his prayer he importunes, "O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon Thy people, and Thy city, and Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake" [Daniel 9:17-19]. He does not pray, "O God, send us more prophets." Nor does he ask, "O Lord God, raise up more kings." Nor does he say, "O God, we beseech Thee, empower Thy people." Nor does he say this, nor that. He says one thing. The object, and the reaching out, and the subject, and the whole circumference of his intercession, lies in God. He casts himself upon the mercies of heaven. "O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon Thy people" [Daniel 9:17]. And if God shines like the sun in its strength, and if the favor of heaven is given, all of the rest is just a part of the working out of the sovereign will of the Almighty.
The favor of God is not a part or a piece. It is everything. It is not something. It is all in all to the nation, to the church, to the life, to you. "O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon Thy people" [Daniel 9:17]. He pleads the mercies and the remembrances of deity, "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do, O Lord, for Thy name’s sake, and the people called by Thy name" [Daniel 9:19]. It is God.
Now, as I studied, I found that that is the glory of God thus to answer by fire, by strong and mighty arm, by the commandment immediately being sent forth. What is the glory of God? The glory of God is His goodnesses to men. This is the glory of God, that He answers prayer, that He works with His people, that He blesses those who supplicate Him. That is the glory of God.
I never saw this before, I don’t know why. In that tender and moving appeal of Moses to the Almighty when he said, "O God, I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory, show me Thy glory; let me see Thee, Lord, in all the garments, the Shekinah light of heaven. Show me Thy glory" [Exodus 33:18]. "And God said," this is the next sentence, "and God said, I will make all My goodnesses pass before thee" [Exodus 33:19].
What is the glory of God? It is the goodnesses by which the favor of heaven shines like the sun upon us who lean upon His kind arm. And the Lord passed by before Moses, and proclaimed, "The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" [Exodus 34:6]; that is the glory of God.
There is more and richer glory in the stooping of God to bless and to help a fallen man, sinners such as we are, than the glory of God manifest in the creation when He stooped to fling the worlds into space [Genesis 1:1, 6-17]. And there is more of majesty in Jesus the Christ when He said to the thief dying on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43], than when He said, "In the beginning," in Genesis, "fiat lux, and there was light" [Genesis 1:1, 3].
What is the glory of God? "Show me Thy glory. And God said, I will make all My goodnesses to pass before thee" [Exodus 33:18-19]. For the glory of God is mercy and forgiveness, longsuffering and abounding in gracious, and heavenly, and benedictory remembrance. And Daniel learned that, and in his prayer he cast himself upon the mercies of God. He pleads deity, "Lord, make Thy face to shine upon us" [Daniel 9:17]. And when he did – and when he did, having found in the Scriptures the purpose of God for his people, "While he was praying, at the beginning of his supplication, the commandment came forth" [Daniel 9:23], immediately, swiftly.
All right, a second thing I learned as I studied this prayer: the prayer not only in the mind and purpose of God, reading the Holy Scriptures, but the prayer was made in intensity and in importunity. The next verse: "And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes; and I set my face unto the Lord" [Daniel 9:3].
For me just to read it, just to quote it, is to bring to our minds the sensitivity that we all feel in the sentence: "I set my face." There is determined resolve, there is committed perseverance. "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication." Doesn’t that rebuke us for our trivial, and flippant, and lightsome intercessions? We pray incidentally, lethargically, indifferently. "I set my face unto the Lord God."
No soldier or warrior ever won a battle who did not offer his life in the conflict; nor was there ever any statesman or hero who ever broke a yoke of bondage and emancipated his nation but that he offered himself; nor was there ever any merchant who ever succeeded who did not strive in his business; nor was there ever any athlete who excelled who did not strain for a victory; nor was there ever any musician who ever attained but who worked and tried.
"I set my face unto the Lord my God" [Daniel 9:3]. I can just feel and sense, as you do, the intensity of that importunity: "Lord, Lord, Lord." And then you see it in his prayer. He finally breaks into broken sentences, "O my God, incline Thine ear, and hear; O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; for Thy people are called by Thy name" [Daniel 9:18, 19].
We have beautiful prayers in public. I hear them. I read them. On stated occasions they’ll be written out. I did it one time myself, just one time in my life, wrote out a beautiful prayer, and I balanced every sentence, and I saw that every grammatical construction was just so. Then I read the prayer over a P.A. system. I did that one time in my life.
Now I have no deprecatory marks to make about any public prayer that is beautifully worded, and that is grammatically structured, and that is eloquently expressed addressing God in heaven. I sometimes think of the preacher in the Boston paper, after he heard him in a prayer dedicate the monument at Bunker Hill. The paper published the sentence. It was the most eloquent prayer – it was the most eloquent prayer that God ever heard. That’s fine. That’s wonderful. But I sometimes think, and you do too, that the most powerful and potent prayers are not those that fall into beautiful language and sentence structure that is literary, but it is prayer that is expressed in broken sentences. It doesn’t come out grammatically, and it doesn’t find expression in eloquent language and literary classical words. But it’s a cry. It’s an agony. It’s a tear. It’s a heartache. It’s an appeal in a groan, as the apostle writes in the eighth chapter of Romans, "With groanings that are unutterable" [Romans 8:26].
In 1771, there was born a gifted poet in England. His name was James Montgomery. And when he was forty-three years old he was gloriously saved, and he joined the Moravian community near where he lived in England. He wrote a hymn. I read it:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered and unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christians native air,
His watchward at the gates of death;
He enters Heav’n by prayer.
The saints in prayer appear as one
In word and deed and mind,
When with the Father and the Son
Their fellowship they find.
No prayer is made on earth alone
The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus on th’ eternal throne
For sinners intercedes.
O Thou by Whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hath trod:
Lord, teach us how to pray.
["Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire"; James Montgomery, 1818]
In broken and agonizing sentences, sometimes in just words, and sometimes too deep for tears, can’t express it, just the welling up of a soul that pleads with God.
Not only praying according to the mind and purpose of heaven, and not only in intensity and importunity, but praying in true and sublime and unselfish altruism; not for himself alone but for all of his people; no reference does Daniel make to himself except one: "And I confess my sin and the sin of my people" [Daniel 9:20]; nothing of himself, but all for his people.
In wormwood and in gall they lived in slavery, and the sanctuary in ruins, and the Holy City desolate; praying for his people. Isn’t all true prayer kind of like that? It includes beyond ourselves. Isn’t true religion like that? The model prayer, it isn’t, "My Father, give me this day my daily bread, and forgive me my debts"; doesn’t it say beyond us, "Our Father in heaven, give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts," the shortcomings by which we fall before God in need and want and lack, "forgive us" [Matthew 6:9-15]. Always beyond just the suppliant, beyond us, just the one true altruism, including others; and this is Daniel’s prayer for his people [Daniel 9:20].
You know, I cannot but pause and comment about that, this statesman. When this prayer was prayed he must have been at least ninety years of age. He had been a captive in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and of Cyrus and of Darius. He’d been a captive there since he was a boy, a youth; could have been less than fifteen years old. And now he’s toward ninety.
And that snow-white-haired man of God, praying with his windows open toward the Holy City [Daniel 6:10], there is in him that flame of inextinguishable, unutterable yearning for the restoration of his people, and the land, and the city, and the sanctuary [Daniel 9:17-19]. Did you know, to me that is a sign of God? There burns in the hearts of those people, Daniel’s people, that same inextinguishable longing and yearning for the restoration of their land, and their city, and their temple.
On top of that Dome of the Rock, on top of that rock now is a mosque, the Dome of the Rock, the Mosque of Omar. And they are down there at the base of the wall, but they stand there through the days kissing those stones and bathing them with their tears. God places that in the hearts of those people. And don’t you pray that somehow that Jew, who does not accept the Jesus, the Savior of the Gospel of John, will somehow and unconsciously accept Jesus the Savior of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah?
A few days ago, a Jewish friend whom I came to know, and to love, and to revere – – one of the most noble men it’s ever been my privilege to know – – he was translated. And as I was speaking of his death and thinking of the future that lies ahead in the world that is yet to come, and somewhat maybe lamenting that he was not an avowed and openly stated Christian, someone of discernment, and spiritual intuition, and sensitivity said, "But remember, he heard you preach on television many, many times. And you do not know but that unconsciously and down in his heart, he trusted and accepted the Savior whom you know and whom you love, whom you worship and whom you preach."
Don’t you wish that for all of those dear people, these for whom Daniel is making supplication? And if I have any right to believe in the promises of God, one of the assured passages in this Bible is in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Romans, "And so all Israel will be saved." Whatever that could mean, and does, "And so all Israel will shall be saved" [Romans 11:26].
Supplicating not only according to the mind of God, and not only in intensity and in importunity, and not only in altruism for others, but last, supplicating in personal acceptance: "At the beginning of thy supplications, the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore" [Daniel 9:23], and then the vision of the glory of the restoration [Daniel 9:24-27]. First, God accepted Daniel, personally, himself; then God accepted his prayer [Daniel 9:3].
In the story of Cain and Abel, God rejected Cain, then He rejected his offering, and his prayer, and his supplication. God accepted Abel, and then received his prayer, and his offering, and his supplication [Genesis 4:3-5]. Says the story of Esther, when she went in to the king for her people – – she said to Mordecai, "He has not called for me in days and days, and if I go unbidden into his presence, it means certain death. Just pray that when I appear in the throne room that he will extend the golden scepter" [Esther 4:10-11, 16]. First she must be accepted, then her prayer and her supplication. So it is in Daniel. First Daniel was accepted, he was received, then his prayer was answered. And there’s no prayer answered unless first the person who offers it is accepted.
Would that not strike terror to your soul? How is it that sinners and fallen such as we are could ever appear in the Majesty on high, the burning holiness of God? How could we ever make appeal if first our persons must be accepted? Well, that’s what Daniel did, and you didn’t see it, and you didn’t catch it, and you didn’t observe it and note it when I read it. "While I was speaking and making supplication, at the time of the evening oblation"; "at the time of the evening oblation" [Daniel 9:21], at the time of the evening sacrifice; when the lamb is slain and its blood poured out, and the offering was made on the brazen altar, at that time Daniel bowed before God, and prayed, and confessed his sin and the sin of his people, and made supplication [Daniel 9:20].
How did they do that? When a sinner came before God he brought with him a victim, a sacrificial gift offering, and he put his hands on the head of the sacrificial victim and confessed there his sin [Leviticus 4:29]. Then the animal was slain, and the blood poured out, and the body offered up. It was a type. It was a symbol of blood atonement, that the sinner approached God in confession of sin and in blood of expiation. That is exactly what Daniel did at the time of the evening oblation. At the time of the evening sacrifice he bows before God, "praying and confessing my sin and the sin of my people" [Daniel 9:20]; he comes with blood of expiation, and atonement, and reconciliation.
Can we do any other? When we come before God in the light of God’s glory we are so naked and ashamed. In the light of God’s holiness we’re so sinful. In the light of God’s fullness we’re so empty. In the light of God’s majesty we’re so lacking. In the light of God’s strength we’re so weak.
How does a man come before God? As Job cried, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now that mine eye seeth Thee, I abhor myself in dust and in ashes" [Job 42:5-6]. And as Elijah, when God passed by he covered his face and buried it in his mantle [1 Kings 19:13]. As the twenty-four elders in the apocalyptic vision, they bowed down before Him who sits upon the throne [Revelation 19:4].
And so did Daniel. He sits in dust and ashes. He’s clothed in sackcloth, he covers his mouth with his hand crying, "Unclean, unclean." He is bowed in heart. He is bowed in spirit. He is bowed in soul. And in atonement, in blood and expiation, confessing his sin, he comes before God to make supplication and appeal [Daniel 9:3-4]. That’s what we do when we come before the Lord. Not in our goodness and not in our merit, but we plead the merit, and the efficacy, and the grace of Jesus, and we come and we pray in His name, for His sake [John 14:13-14].
No sentence in that prayer does Daniel commemorate something good that he did. No sentence in that prayer does he say anything of his own worth and merit. But at the time of the evening oblation, in blood and in sacrifice and in confession of sin, he comes before God and makes appeal. That’s what we do.
Lord, sinful creatures as we are, behold, we take it upon ourselves to speak unto Thee, Thou holy and mighty God; we who are but dying, made of the dust of the ground, ashes ourselves. Lord, we don’t come in our strength, or in our merit, or in our worth, or in our righteousness. But Lord, we appear before Thee in the name of Christ, in His blood, in His cross, in His atoning grace and forgiveness. Lord, for Jesus’ sake, receive us.
And He says, "Come boldly, come boldly, that ye might find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]. Welcome. And having received us in His blood and grace and forgiveness, then God bows down His ear to hear what His children have to say.
This is the Christian faith, and the Christian hope, and the Christian Bible, and the Christian way to God: in Christ, in atoning grace, in forgiveness, in mercy, in the favor, when He makes His face to shine upon us. Would you do that today?
In a moment when we stand to sing, to give your heart for God, to put your life with us in the circle of this church, how ever the Holy Spirit will press the appeal to your heart, would you make it now and come now? In the balcony round, there’s stairways at the front and the back and on either side, and there’s time and to spare; come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." A family you, "This is my wife, our darling children, we’re all coming today." Come. A couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision now in the quiet of this moment. Then when we stand to sing, stand into that aisle, down to the front. "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now." Do it. Do it, while we stand and while we sing.
PREVAILING IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Praying according to the mind and purpose of God
II. Praying in intensity and importunity
III. Praying in unselfish altruism for others
IV. Praying for personal acceptance