Getting Things From God
October 27th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
GETTING THINGS FROM GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
James 4:1 – 3
10-27-74 8:15 a.m.
And God bless all of you who are out there where the radio is bringing the message to your hearts. You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor delivering the sermon entitled Getting Things from God. It is an expounding of the first verses of the fourth chapter of James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem [James 1:1], and the Lord’s brother [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], writing pragmatically. His words are very down to earth, and they concern things that concern us. And this concerns our praying. So he writes:
From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Let’s look first at some of these words. For in the passing of time, from 1611 when this translation was made to today, there may be some words that have lost an emphasis then that they do not possess today. This words “lusts”—“from whence come fightings and wars among you” [James 4:1]—they come of your lusts. The word is hedone. Our English word “hedonistic,” hēdonē means “pleasure, self-gratification.” Lust means something else, somewhat, to us; so hēdonē, the word for pleasure, self-indulgence. And then verse 2: “Ye lust, and have not” [James 4:2]. The word is epithumeō; see, he’s still using the word “lusts,” it’s not even referred to. Epithumeō means “to long for, to desire, to desire zealously and earnestly.” And then, “ye have not because ye ask amiss” [James 4:3]: kakos, badly, not good, in a wrong way. “That ye may consume it,” that’s all right; dapanaō means to spend, to take what you have and to consume it in waste [James 4:3].
So let’s take all of those words and see what it is this pastor of the church in Jerusalem is saying to us. First of all, as we begin this exposition of a passage, we’re not going to talk, he does not speak of prayer as communion with God, as fellowship with the Lord, as the yielded surrender of a man’s life in the sovereign purpose and plan and will of God for it. He’s not going to talk about prayer like that. But he’s going to speak of prayer as asking, as getting things from God. And that’s why the title of the sermon; receiving things from the hands of God.
Now there are many, many people, I suppose most of the people, to whom prayer is a burdensome task. To the natural man, it is that. Paul will write in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” The same apostle Paul would write again in Romans 8, verse 7; he will say, “For the carnal mind is enmity against God: and is not subject to the laws of God, neither can be. They that are in the flesh cannot please God” [Romans 8:7-8]. So, to the natural man, prayer would be an onerous and a burdensome assignment.
Again, to the unspiritually minded, to the carnally minded, to those who are in the church, prayer is a tedious task and a wearisomeness to the flesh. I can see that in all of my life and ministry. You ask people to come to an entertainment or come to a dinner, and they will be there. But you ask them to come to a prayer meeting, and, mostly, they excuse themselves, they have something else to do. The people are not, for the most part, spiritually minded. And, of course, to the skeptic and to the critic, prayer is superfluous and impertinent. It has no meaning at all. For one thing, they avow, nothing comes of it, so why pray?
Then we come down to us who are believers in the Lord and try to be spiritually knowledgeable. What about asking and there’s no receiving? The Lord will say, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, and then repeated in another instance in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke that you read, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: For he that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to them that asketh [Matthew 7:7-8, 11; Luke 11:9-13].” Now, that’s a plain statement. There are no hard words in that. As our Lord usually speaks in monosyllabic language, He speaks in monosyllables there. We can all understand it; ask, seek, and knock [Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9]. For if you ask you receive; if you seek you will find; if you knock it will be opened to you [Matthew 7:8; Luke 11:10].
Now, here in the Book of James, he has a reason why that we ask and don’t receive, seek and don’t find, knock and it is not opened to us. He says “Ye have not because you do not ask, and when you ask you receive not because you ask kakos” [James 4:3], translated here “amiss,” badly, you don’t ask correctly, rightly. Well, let’s start off with that. The effectiveness of our praying here is our getting what we ask, and if we don’t get what we ask, then we certainly haven’t prayed effectively. The proof of it is in the receiving, is in the getting. Like a problem in mathematics; the proof lies in the correct answer. It’s like a machine; the proof of it lies in its working. If it doesn’t work, then it’s no good. And that’s the way with praying; if it doesn’t get what we asked for, then it is kakos, it’s not right, it’s praying badly.
So I assume then that that there are laws and there are principles that belong to prayer that I must follow if I am to get what I want, what I ask for. The machine has to be used correctly, and the problem has to be worked out correctly if I am to find the right answer. But if I use the thing incorrectly, then it doesn’t work for me. I so well remember when Cris was a little baby. He was in his high chair eating, and he ate with his spoon upside down. You know, he turned his spoon over. Well, did you ever try to do that? Take a spoon upside down and try to rake it into your mouth? So I would take the spoon in his hand and turn it up so that he could really scrape it up and just gormandize. But he kept turning it over upside down. Now a spoon is made to work with a cup, but when you turn the cup upside down it doesn’t work, it doesn’t go, it’s just a no good instrument. That’s exactly with praying. It is to be used in a certain way, and when it is not used correctly, then it doesn’t work.
Now, he says, another thing – not only that we ask badly, but, but he says, when we ask we don’t receive because we want to spend it, dapanaō, waste it, spend it upon our, and there’s that word hēdonē again, upon our own personal pleasures and self-gratification [James 4:3]. There is no end to the wanting of the human spirit. And we’re all alike in it. Out there in the ocean there is a thing called an anemone. Some of the botanists say it is a plant, some of the zoologists say it’s an animal. But it’s out there in the ocean—an anemone, and it has tentacles that wave and pull in everything that it can come in contact with. That’s exactly like the human species – he’s never satisfied. His wants are just endless and endless and endless. Even if a man has a million dollars, he wants two million. If he has five hundred million dollars, he wants a billion. If he has a big house, he wants two big houses. If he’s able to have a house in town, he likes to have a second house in the country. If he has one car, he likes to have two. There is no limit to the wantings of the human species. And so, he says, when we ask we just don’t get it, because it is to minister to our own pleasure and self-gratification [James 4:3].
Now I can’t spend time with this, but just to point out other things that don’t work when we ask: sometimes we ask indifferently, lacksomely, flippantly, we don’t ask importunately. It’s not like really wrestling in the presence of God. We ask indifferently, like, you know, you pray at night, then the next night, “Ditto, Lord.” Then the next night, “Same thing, Lord,” and just go to bed. There’s no blood in it, there’s no wrestling in it, there’s no agony in it. When we ask it is cursorily, and summarily, and indifferently.
Then sometimes we don’t believe that we’re going to get what we ask. The Lord says, “According to your faith be it done unto you,” [Matthew 9:29]. Well, we don’t have any faith in it. Like the old woman who prayed “Lord, You say ask and this mountain will be moved. Well, I don’t want this mountain in front of my house. Now Lord, move it!” So the next morning, she got up and went to the door and there that mountain was, and she said, “Just as I thought. Just as I thought.” We don’t have any faith in our intercession that God will do it.
And then there are weaknesses in our praying because of iniquity in us. In the Psalms “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” [Psalm 66:18]. And in the fifty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” [Isaiah 59:1-2]. Now these are some of the things that interfere with us when we ask.
But, he says here, and this is the point that mostly I emphasize today—he says here in the text, that we have not because we don’t ask [James 4:2]. We just don’t take it to God.
I got up early one morning and rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish that I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbling about me and heavier came each task;
“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered and He answered,
“You didn’t ask.”
I tried to come into God’s presence; and used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided, “My child, you didn’t knock.”
I wanted to see joy and beauty the day toiled on gray and bleak;
I wondered, “Why doesn’t God show me?” He said,
“You didn’t seek.”
So I woke up early this morning and paused before entering the day.
I had so much to accomplish that I had to take time to pray.
[“The Difference,” Iona Eitemiller, 1954]
The pastor of the church here says that mostly we don’t have because we don’t ask [James 4:2]. We don’t take it to God. We don’t make it a matter of prayer [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. We pray in our extremities. Isn’t that a tragedy? And God hears us. I want to show you something that I never had seen before. In the one hundred seventh Psalm, he’s going to talk about a man praying in extremity when he’s sick, and then he’s going to talk about the mariner praying in extremity in a storm at sea. Now, look—he describes the fellow who’s sick in the eighteenth verse:
His soul abhorreth all manner of eating; and he draws near to the gates of death. Then he cries unto the Lord, and God saves him out of his distresses. He sent His word, and healed him . . . Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Here’s a man sick, won’t eat, he’s nauseated, he’s at the gates of death; then he prays, he cries to the Lord, and God hears his prayer and heals him. “Oh,” he says, “that men would lift up their hearts to God, not just in the extremity” [Psalm 107:21]. All right, now the mariner, twenty-third verse.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do great business in waters; These also see the wonders of the Lord in the deep. For God commandeth, He raiseth the stormy wind. He lifteth up the waves. They mount up to the heavens, they go down to the depths: their soul is melted in trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
They’re about to go down –
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, and the waves thereof still. Then are they glad…so He bringeth them unto the desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, for His wonderful works to the children of men!
“Why,” he says, “wait until the extremity to take it before God?” Why not just live a life of praise and intercession and prayer? Why not? Why not? The way to get is to ask [Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9], the Book says, and James is avowing [James 4:2].
I came across in my study one of the most unusual things. There was a sweet, darling little boy, a German boy. He was a heavenly little lad. The pastor of the church praised the little fellow. He was a boy of prayer and of holy desires, an unusual little boy. The father and mother were not quite like that. Well, the headmaster at the school urged the students always to be on time. So the little boy tried always to be on time.
That morning, due to the dilatory habits of his father and mother, the little boy was delayed. And as he walked out the door, the clock struck the time for him to be at the school. The little boy was certainly late. The little boy bowed his head at the door as the clock struck the time for him to be in his place at school. The little boy bowed his head and prayed, “O, dear Lord—O, dear Lord, don’t let me be late to school.” There was a man there who overheard the little boy pray, and the man thought, “Now this is one prayer that will certainly not be answered, for the clock has already struck the time for the little boy to be at school, and it’s a long way to walk to school. And yet the little boy prayed, ‘O, God, don’t let me be late for school’.” So the man thought he’d just follow the little boy to school, just to see what happened to that prayer.
And this is what happened: the headmaster of the school had got the key jammed in the lock. He had turned it the wrong way. He couldn’t open the door. They sent for a locksmith, and by the time the locksmith opened the door, the little boy was there with all of his peers and walked right on the inside on time. Ask. Ask. God says, “Ask. Take it to Me and ask” [Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9].
I don’t know whether I ought to tell you this or not. I visited one of my sheep in Collins Hospital yesterday afternoon. He was there in a wheelchair rolled out in the middle of the hall, and I began visiting with him. So after I talked to him awhile, I said, “Why, now let’s pray.” So we bowed our heads and I prayed. Then he seized my hand in both of his, and he said “Now I want to pray.” So he held my hand tight, and he prayed. And he prayed, “O Lord, O Lord, how I thank Thee for this pastor. Dr. Truett and this pastor are the only two pastors my sainted mother ever had. And how I thank Thee for them. And now, Lord, You know I don’t have a dime. I don’t have a cent. I don’t have any money at all.” And then he just gripped my hand all the tighter. “O Lord,” he said, “put it into the heart of my pastor that he give me the money to buy a carton of cigarettes.”
Then he said, “Now, dear Lord, if You don’t put it into his heart to give me money to buy a carton of cigarettes, O God, put in his heart to give me enough money to buy just one little package of cigarettes; just a cheap package of cigarettes. In Thy name, amen.” Well, I reached down in my pocket, and I took out a dollar bill, and I gave it to him. Nobody in this earth hates cigarettes more than I do, but you know what? I couldn’t walk away from that fella after he prayed like that, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I tried and I couldn’t do it.
There is just something about asking that does something. Man! I suppose we’re made in the image of God; it does something to God when you ask God, when you ask Him. Sometimes God will say no, as when Moses came before the Lord and said, “O Lord, let me go into the Promised Land.” And God said, “Now do not ask Me that anymore; you are going to die here in the land of Moab” [Deuteronomy 3:23-27, 34:4-6]. Or when Jesus prayed that the cup would pass from Him [Matthew 26:39]—God said no, and He died on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50]. Or, Paul asked the Lord for the thorn to be removed out of his flesh [2 Corinthians 12:7-9], and God said no and do not ask Me anymore.” Sometimes God says no, but we are encouraged to ask [Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9].
That is one of the ways God has chosen to run His kingdom, to run His world; that His people ask, that they come to Him as a Father and ask. Even though Jesus was the Son and God incarnate, He prayed. In the second Psalm it says, “Ask,” talking to the Messiah, “Ask of Me, I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Thy possession” [Psalm 2:8]. But, He is to ask, He is to pray. Even though God purposed to prosper Israel, yet Samuel had to ask, he had to pray [1 Samuel 12:19]. Even though God said, “I will send rain upon the earth” [1 Kings 18:1], Elijah has to pray for it [1 Kings 18:41-45]. And even though Daniel reads in the prophecy that after seventy years the Lord will visit His people and they can go back home yet, Daniel has to pray for his people [Daniel 9:2-20].
It pleases God that we ask, that we pray. And you know, one of the most unusual things in the Bible is that these things that are written in the Book are written to encourage us in that intercession [Romans 15:4]. I never had seen these things before until the preparation of this message. I want you to look at this. In the sixty-sixth Psalm, he’s talking about Israel going through the Red Sea. Now that happened hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years before! Now you look at the sixth verse: “God turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in Him” [Psalm 66:6]. Now, I want you to explain that to me. Why, that happened hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years before, but this child of God who writes this psalm says, “We rejoice in God doing it.” I want you to explain that to me.
All right, let’s take another one. He’s talking about Jacob wrestling with God at Peniel and coming back to Bethel [Genesis 32:24-32]. All right, now look at it; this is in Hosea the twelfth chapter. “Jacob took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the Angel at Peniel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto Him: he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us” [Hosea 12:3-4]. Well, I wasn’t at Peniel, nor was Hosea. This thing happened at Peniel hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years before, but it is written for us as though it happened to us. “And there He spake with us, even the Lord God of hosts; the Lord is His memorial name. Therefore turn thou to thy God” [Hosea 12:5-6]. How do you explain a thing like that? [Psalm 66:6].
All right, let’s take one other instance. Here in the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews it says, “For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” [Hebrews 13: 5-6]. Why, those words were spoken unto Joshua [Joshua 1:5]. And Joshua lived at least a thousand four hundred years before this man wrote that Book of Hebrews, and yet you would think, as they say, it was for us. We went through the Red Sea. We did. When God said, “Do not be afraid,” and you just march straight forward” [Exodus 14:14-15], we did that. We did that. And when Jacob was wrestling at Peniel [Genesis 32:24-30], we were wrestling at Peniel; and when God blessed Jacob, He blessed us. We were there. And when God said to Joshua, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Do not be afraid” [Joshua 1:5], God was speaking to us. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? That’s an unbelievable thing! That all of these words that were written in the Bible, whether they were addressed at that time to Moses, or to Samuel, or to David, no matter where, they were ultimately meant for us; they’re our words, they’re our encouragement [Romans 15:4].
It’s just marvelous what God intends for His people. So, ask. Make it a matter of prayer [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. Ask, and see what God does. Paul closes his prayer in the third chapter of Ephesians, “For God does exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. Just imagine that. God listened to Abraham when [Abraham] said, “Lord, bless Ishmael” [Genesis 17:18, 20]. God did more than he asked or thought for in his old age; when he was a hundred years of age and his wife ninety years of age, God gave him Isaac [Genesis 17:15-17, 21:1-5]. Think of that. When Solomon asked of God, “Lord, Lord, give me wisdom, give me wisdom.” God said, “I will give you everything else besides” [1 Kings 3:9-13]. When the thief on the cross said, “Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me.” The Lord said, “Today, this day,” sēmeron “this day, thou shalt be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43]. When the prodigal son came before his father and said, “Father, I am not worthy to be thy son. Make me as a hired hand. Just send me out there in the field like a menial servant, pay me wages.” The father said, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his finger . . . and kill the fatted calf. This, my son, was lost, and is found: he was dead, and is alive again” [Luke 15:21-24]. God always does that, above what we ask or imagine [Ephesians 3:20].
O, Lord! Why don’t I pray more? May I close with just this little observation? My dear people, I don’t think we can do God’s work without God’s presence and God’s Spirit. I don’t think we can do God’s work without God’s help, and that means we must pray. We must take it to the Lord.
Lynne Goode came up here and talked about our church and our giving. I don’t think a man can do that. I don’t believe he can do that in his own strength. I think the day’ll come when he’ll say, “Lord, this is just too much to give to You.” I think he has to pray about it. And I think his wife has to pray about it, and I think he has to teach his children to pray about it. It has to come out of their hearts. I think that for the whole church and house of God, we have a tremendous assignment to support God’s work financially. I don’t think we can do it without asking God’s help. I don’t think we can do it without prayer. And I don’t think we can have God’s Spirit with us in the services unless we pray for God’s presence.
O Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, send us Thy quickening power! Kindle in us a flame of love, even in these hearts of ours.
We can’t do it without God. And that’s why the Lord says, “Ask” [Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9] You have your family; ask, pray over these children. You have a job; ask, pray about it. You have an assignment; ask, pray about it. You have a work to do; ask, pray about it. You need wisdom? That’s the way James began his letter [James 1:5]. You need wisdom? “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know the decision to make.” Pray about it. Pray about it.
As the Lord says, men ought always to pray, and not to faint [Luke 18:1]. Just tell God, “Lord, don’t be weary of me for my much asking, my much beseeching, my much knocking.” God is pleased, and He will answer, and He will give you what is wonderful and what is best.
Our time is far spent. As you open your heart heavenward, does God say some word to you? Does He invite you to trust in His Savior? Does He whisper to you to put your heart, and life, and love, and prayers, and worship, and work in our dear church? If He does, on the first note of this first stanza, come. Out of the balcony, on this lower floor, down a stairway, down one of these aisles, “Here I come, pastor. I’m making it this morning.” On the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.