Prevailing in Prayer
February 27th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
PREVAILING IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Prevailing in Prayer. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we have come to the center part of one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, chapter 9. And I read from verses 20 through 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 have 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.
The answer to the prayer of the prophet came immediately. “While I was speaking,” in verse 20 [Daniel 9:20], and repeated again in verse 21, “While I was speaking, God sent the angel Gabriel” [Daniel 9:21]. His name means, the “man of God,” the man Gabriel. God sent Gabriel, while he was still praying that God had heard his prayer and the commandment had gone forth in answer to his supplications.
Gabriel is mentioned four times in the Bible. In chapter 8 of the Book of Daniel [Daniel 8:16], he explains to the statesman the vision of the ram and the he goat [Daniel 8:19-26]. Here in chapter 9 [Daniel 9:21], he is named again. He is named a third time in the first chapter of Luke [Luke 1:19], when he is sent to announce to Zechariah and Elizabeth the birth of John the Baptist [Luke 1:11-18]. And he is named a fourth time in the first chapter of Luke [Luke 1:26] when he is sent to Mary in Nazareth in Galilee, to announce to her the conception of the Son of God [Luke 1:26-38]. And this man Gabriel, one of the messengers of heaven, who said he stood in the presence of Jehovah Lord [Luke 1:19], he announces to Daniel that “at the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth” [Daniel 9:23]. As God promised in Isaiah, chapter 65 “…before they call, I will answer; and while they are speaking, I will hear” [Isaiah 65:24].
While he was speaking and making supplication, at the beginning of his prayer, God said through Gabriel, “The commandment came forth” [Daniel 9:23]. That could refer either to the decree of heaven for the restoration of God’s people and God’s holy temple and holy city and sanctuary [Daniel 9:25], or it could refer to the decree of the Persian king that it was to be done [Daniel 9:25]. But whichever way you take it, as a decree from heaven or as a decree from the Persian king, in either way, Daniel’s prayer is answered immediately [Daniel 9:23].
How is it that he so touched God? How is it that all of the energies of heaven conspired to work for him? How do you do that? There are latent, abounding, untouched, latent energies in this universe that are around us, and above us, and beyond us; they are mysterious, majestic, mighty [Hebrews 11:3]. How do you use them? How do you get in touch with them? Oh, the might and the power in God, and in God’s hand, if only we know how to ask God for it in a way that God bends down His ear to hear and bestows those endowments upon us! [Matthew 7:7]. “At the beginning of thy supplications,” while he was speaking, “the commandment came forth” [Daniel 9:23]. His prayer was answered immediately. If only we knew how to seize those vast, latent, stored up energies!
You can find it in God’s creation around you [Psalm 19:1]. And if we supplicate correctly, we can learn the working conditions of those tremendous forces. And in the natural world on the natural plane, they bless industry and commerce and all life. By supplicating nature in the right way, God’s creation on this lower plane, we can sail above the clouds, fly through the skies. We can get energy from the depths of the earth. Our voices on television and radio can be heard thousands of miles away. The marvels of achievement have come to man because he has learned to supplicate in the correct way on this natural plane. And immediately, the commandment goes forth: the very earth yields in forest and field its product and its produce and its fruit.
It is no less true on the spiritual plane, on that higher plane with God. If we know the conditions by which God can be supplicated, then we have at our disposal all of the tremendous energies of heaven and the endowments of God Himself. Now, Daniel did that: he touched God. “At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth” [Daniel 9:23]; while he was praying, God answered. Now how did he do it? What is it that reaches God and brings down answers from heaven? As I study the chapter, which is one—contains one of the noblest prayers in all of the sacred literature—as I study the chapter, there are four things that are very apparent to me in what it is that Daniel did that brought down the light, and the glory, and the power, and the presence of God from heaven. “And the commandment came forth in answer to his supplications” [Daniel 9:23].
First: he prayed in the will and the purpose of God. He studied the Holy Scriptures. That’s the way the chapter begins, “In the first year of the reign of Darius the Mede, I, Daniel understood by the Holy Scriptures whereby the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet” [Daniel 9:1-2]. And studying the Scriptures, he learned the mind of God and especially in its predictive, prophetic portions. As the Book of the Apocalypse begins, “Blessed is he that readeth, and blessed are they who hear the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 1:3]—to know and to understand the mind and the purpose of God—then to supplicate according to the will of heaven.
Thus, Daniel bowed himself in prayer and made the subject of his prayer, as well as the object of his prayer, the will of the Lord God. And thus did he say, “O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon Thy people, Thy sanctuary and Thy holy city” [Daniel 9:17]. He does not pray, “O Lord God, raise up more prophets!” Or, “O Lord God, raise up more kings!” Or, “O Lord, endow Thy people.” But he does pray, “O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary and Thy people” [Daniel 9:17-18]. For if the favor of God is given to His people, all other things will follow after. The people can return. The sanctuary will be built. The city will be restored. Every good thing God will bestow upon us if we have His favor. “O Lord God, cause Thy face to shine upon us” [Daniel 9:17]. He cast himself upon the remembrances and the mercies of deity, and his pleading is just that, “O Lord God, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken, and defer not; O God, for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name” [Daniel 9:18-19].
Now does he have cause to believe, that in casting himself upon the mercies of God and just giving himself to the purposes of the Lord, that God will give that good thing to him for which he asks? Did you know that in the Holy Scriptures that is defined as the glory of God? The “glory” of God is His goodnesses to men. In the thirty-third chapter of Exodus is that beautiful, moving story of Moses who asked Jehovah, “Lord, that I might see Thy glory” [Exodus 33:18]. And what is the next verse?
Let me read it: “And God said, ‘I will make all My goodnesses pass before thee’” [Exodus 33:19]. The glory of God is His goodnesses to His people. Now let me read it:
And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.
That, the Book says, is the glory of God! [Exodus 33:19]. There is more glory shown in God, exhibited in the Lord, in His bowing down to help and to forgive a lost sinner [Luke 15:10], than there is when God stooped to create the universe [Isaiah 45:12]. And Jesus spoke more majestically when on the cross He said to the dying thief, “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43], than when in the beginning He said Fiat lux, “and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. The glory of God is His goodnesses to men: to bestow upon us the abounding goodnesses, and graciousnesses, and benedictory remembrances of heaven [Exodus 33:19]. And Daniel prayed in that purpose and in that will.
Second: how did he touch heaven? And how was it that his prayer was answered even while he made supplication? Second, he prayed in intensity and in importunity. The next verse: “And I set my face unto the Lord God” [Daniel 9:3]. There is resolute determination. There is commitment in importunity. “I set my face unto the Lord God.” The very sound of it and the very tone of it rebukes our flippant and indifferent and lethargic appeals and supplications. No warrior ever won a battle except he offered his life unto death. Nor did any hero ever break the yoke or emancipate a nation who did not himself find himself willing to be offered up. There is no athlete who excels who does not give himself. Nor is there any musician who attains who does not know the full commitment of the devoted interested life to which he gives himself. Nor is there any prevailing in prayer without that same intensity. “I set my face unto the Lord God.” And to read the prayer is to feel it. “O God! O Lord!” as he bows before heaven and makes appeal [Daniel 9:3-19].
You know, and I have no objection to it, prayers that are beautifully worded and the sentences that are so grammatically and literarily balanced, I do not deprecate any supplication. But I do point out to you that, in my humble persuasion and judgment, the prayers that really touch God are those that are composed of broken sentences, no thought of eloquent words or grammatical structure. As the eighth chapter of Romans describes it, it’s just uttered with groanings that defy the formation of sentence, or word, or language [Romans 8:23-27].
In 1771 there was born in England a man who became, at forty-three years of age, a glorious convert to Christ. He joined the Moravian community in England near the place where he lived. His name is James Montgomery, and he wrote a hymn defining prayer. Listen to it:
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or 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 strain that reach
The Majesty on high.
Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven by prayer.
The saints in prayer appear as one
In word, in deed and mind,
When with the Father and the Son
Their fellowship they find.
Nor prayer is made on earth alone,
The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on the 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.
[from “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire,” by James Montgomery]
He prayed with intensity and importunity: “I set my face unto the Lord God. O my God, hear; O Lord, forgive” [Daniel 9:3, 19].
Now third: as I study the prayer, he prayed in sincere and true altruism for others. There is no sentence, no syllable, no reference to himself, none at all. But he is praying for his people, who in wormwood and in gall bore the yoke of foreign slavery [Daniel 9:4-16]. He is praying for the sanctuary of God, and he is praying for the restoration of the holy city, the holy nation, the chosen people [Daniel 9:16-19].
Did you know I would think that in any genuine prayer, it would be impossible to confine it just to yourself? The model prayer, does it read like this? My Father in heaven, give me my daily bread and forgive me my debts? Is it not in the plural? Our Father who art in heaven, give us—that includes me, and it includes you—give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts—the shortcomings, the lack in us—forgive us [Matthew 6:9-15]. Prayer is like that, it is always altruistic. It includes others beside ourselves. And here Daniel pours out his heart, never any mention of himself except in the confession of his own sin. But always, in every verse of the supplication for us, for our people, “God hear! God bless!” [Daniel 9:4-19].
May I make a comment here? How the Lord has placed in the hearts of His chosen people an inextinguishable longing for the restoration of their home, and their holy city, and their sanctuary. You cannot visit that place where now the Mosque of Omar stands—the Dome of the Rock—and God’s holy people are down there at the base of the wall, kissing those stones and bathing them with their tears. They are truly God’s witnesses living in this world, demonstrating the mercies of God and the judgments of the Lord. Ah! Don’t you pray, don’t you find yourself as you read Daniel, don’t you pray that somehow, someday the Jew who rejects Jesus as the Savior, told, presented, portrayed by John the evangelist, that he will accept Jesus the Savior who is portrayed by Isaiah the prophet? And somehow, I believe so many of them do.
Within these few days, a dear, precious friend, whom I came to love and admire, was translated. And when I was speaking about his death and the memorial service, someone said to me, “But do not forget, he heard you preach many times on television. And he knew the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, and in his heart, I believe he believed.” Pray for his people.
And fourth and last: how do you touch God? How do you hold in your hands that glorious outpouring of answered prayer? What did Daniel do? “And while he was speaking, the commandment came forth” [Daniel 9:23]. Last, he was accepted of the Lord in his own person. He prayed in personal acceptance. Listen to the passage. “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], then follows God’s answer to Daniel’s supplication [Daniel 9:24-27]. That is, He first accepted Daniel himself, then He accepted Daniel’s prayer.
Isn’t that the story of Cain and Abel? God rejected Cain. And having rejected Cain himself, He rejected his supplications, his offerings, and his prayer [Genesis 4:3-7]. Isn’t that the story of Esther? She said to her uncle Mordecai:
The king has not sent for me for days and days and if I go into his presence unbidden, unasked, uninvited, I do so at the peril of my life. Pray—
that when I come into his presence, he will extend to me the golden scepter.
[Esther 4:10-11, 16]
I must be accepted first and then my supplication [Hebrews 10:19-22].
Now immediately when I say that, immediately does there not come to your soul this burden: But, O dear God! How could I, sinful and fallen, how could I ever be accepted in the holy presence of God? If first I must be accepted before my supplication can be received, Lord, how could I ever speak? How could I ever have hope? This is Daniel. You did not notice this when I read it, did you? “I was supplicating—praying, confessing—at the time of the evening oblation; at the time of the evening sacrifice” [Daniel 9:21]. What is that? Daniel brought his prayer to God at the time that the lamb was slain and offered up as a sacrifice to the Almighty. And on the basis of confession of sin and blood atonement, he was making appeal to God. “I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people at the time of the evening oblation” [Daniel 9:20-21].
Do you remember how they supplicated under that ritual of blood and atonement? The sinner brought his offering and put his hands on the head of the victim, and there confessed his sins. And then the victim was slain and his blood poured out; and the lamb was offered on the altar of sacrifice [Leviticus 4:27-30]. And on the basis of confession and blood atonement, Daniel—at the time of the evening oblation—made appeal unto God. So he begins, “I was praying and confessing my sins and the sin of my people” [Daniel 9:20].
You know, you listen to the holiest saint and you will think he is the vilest sinner. You listen to a rogue, and you will think he is the most excellent of mankind. The farther we get away from God, the finer we think we are. But the nearer we approach the Almighty, the more sinful and undone do we feel. In God’s glory we have such shame and nakedness. In God’s holiness, we have such sin. In God’s purity and fullness, we have such want. In God’s strength, we have such weakness. In God’s majesty, such lack. It is like Job who cried, saying:
O Lord, I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear;
but now mine eye seeth Thee:
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes!
Or like Elijah, who, when the Lord passed by, covered his face in his mantle [1 Kings 19:13]; or like the twenty-four apocalyptic elders who fell down before Him who sits upon the throne [Revelation 19:4]. That is Daniel! At the time of the evening oblation [Daniel 9:21], bowing down, covering his mouth with his hands, crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” And sitting in sackcloth and ashes: bowed in spirit, bowed in soul, bowed in heart. And thus, in confession, and on the basis of blood atonement, thus, he supplicated God [Daniel 9:20-21].
That is what you mean when you say, “O God our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, I come.” That is, in His merit, in His worth, in His atoning blood, in His grace and goodness; “Lord, I come.” Not one word does Daniel ever speak of his own worth or merit. Not one good deed he ever sought to do does he commemorate in this supplication. But bowing in confession at the time of the blood sacrifice, he approaches God and supplicates God in atonement, in mercy, in saving grace [Daniel 9:20-21].
That is the way that we come, “Lord, not for any worth on my part, but for Jesus’ sake. In His name, Lord, do I come.” And thus, does God invite us boldly, boldly. “Wherefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:16]. Thus did Daniel come and thus did God answer his supplication [Daniel 9:21-23]. Sweet people, let us give ourselves to the same love, and grace, and mercy of God that blessed Daniel, that blessed his people, and that blesses us. Do it. Do it!
We are going to stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, in the balcony round, the throng that fill this great oval, you, wherever you are seated, on that top row of the top balcony, there is time and to spare, come. The throng that press into this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor, here I am and here I come. God has spoken to my heart and I’m ready. I answer with my life, and I’m coming now.” A family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart, and in this moment when you stand, stand up, into that aisle, down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now,” while we stand and while we sing.