PERIL OF ANSWERED PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-13-77 7:30 p.m.
Our message tonight concerns one of the most unusual verses that I have ever read in the Bible. If I could entitle the message, it would be called The Peril of Answered Prayer.
The passage is in the one hundred sixth Psalm, Psalm 106:15: “God gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Did you ever think through anything quite like that? God answered their request. He gave them their desire. He answered their prayer, “but sent leanness into their soul.”
What the psalmist is speaking about refers to an incident in the life of Israel, which was recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Numbers:
And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel wept, and said: Who shall give us flesh to eat?
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic:
But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
“We are weary of it. We are tired of it. Our souls doth loathe it. Would to God we had died in Egypt. Would to God we could get back there where the cucumbers, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic were plentiful and on all of our tables. Nothing here but this manna from heaven and we are weary of it.”
“And Moses went before the Lord and said: Whence should I have flesh to give unto all these people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat” [Numbers 11:11, 13]. “We are tired and weary of this manna!”
So the psalmist, speaking of that occasion in the life of Israel, says, “He gave them their request.” He sent them flesh—you remember the story: a wind blew a vast cloud of quail into the camp [Numbers 11:31]. “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” [Psalm 106:15]. They got what they wanted. But, in the answered prayer, they lost so much that God had intended and purposed for them.
You know, when you look back over that, it’s just astonishing how human nature is. Just think of eating manna from the hands of the Lord. And it tasted like a honey wafer. It tasted sweet and it tasted rich. It had an oil nutritional flavor to it. It could be baked. It could be fried. It could be cooked in many ways. But however it was prepared, it was delicious, and delectable, and delightful, and appetizing. But they were weary of it. They were tired of it. That’s human nature. However we are, we would we were some other way. If I have a big nose, would to the Lord I had a little nose. If I have a little nose, would to the Lord I had a big nose. If my hair is straight, spend, the Lord only knows how much money to make it curly. If my hair is curly, spend the Lord only knows how much money to make it straight.
I’d be ashamed to ask how many of you women do something to your hair. You just don’t like it as it is. We got to do something to it. If it is white, we’ve got to stain it. If it is stained, we’ve gone to blondin’ it; we’ve got to bleach it. Ah, we are never satisfied, and we’re never happy in the Lord. And these people in the wilderness, fed from the hands of God manna from heaven, were miserable and unhappy. And in their crying and beseeching, God answered their request, “but sent leanness into their soul” [Psalm 106:15].
Now that leads us, therefore, to the heart of the message. There is such a thing as desiring things from God, and the Lord gives them to us, He grants them. It is a dangerous thing to pray. You may get what you pray for. But, when God answers the prayer, and we’re given things that we have so earnestly desired, they don’t bring to us the heavenly blessing that God otherwise would have chosen for us.
Now we’re going to illustrate it in our lives. I would suppose that most of us have prayed that God would deliver us from a hard way. “O God, my work is so heavy.” Or, “O Lord, my path is so difficult. O Lord, I have so many insoluble problems. O God, the world deals with me so harshly, and sometimes cruelly or bitterly or unjustly. And my work is heavy. O Lord, that it might be lightened. “Well, that’s human nature. If we have a hard way and a difficult task, and things are increasingly burdensome and heavy, why, we ask God to remove those heavy burdens and to make our way lighter and easier. But you may not know what you are praying for when you ask that of the Lord. It may be God’s compliment to you that you have a heavy burden and a difficult assignment. It may be that God is preparing you and building in you a strength for a noble thing in His name and a greater work for His cause. It may be the best thing God has ever done for you is to give you a hard assignment.
I one time heard of a man who saw a butterfly struggling in a cocoon and, seeing the little thing struggle on the inside of the cocoon, he took a sharp pen knife and slit the cocoon, slit those silken threads, and the little thing was free—no struggle, no effort, absolutely free. The man had opened the cocoon with a penknife. And the little butterfly struggling inside, immediately free, lifted up its wings, flapped a few feeble flaps and fell down dead on the floor. God intended for the little creature to struggle. For in struggling, the little thing was building strength to live, to exist, to fly, to do, to achieve, to soar: God’s purpose for the little insect. And when the struggle was taken away, without strength, it feebly made effort to fly and then fell to the floor.
When I was ordained, when I began my preaching, when I was seventeen years of age, there was in the First Baptist Church in Amarillo a godly old man by the name of Dr. J. E. Nunn—Dr. J. E. Nunn, N-u-n-n, Nunn. He was the owner and the publisher of the Amarillo Daily News. He was a man of deep insight and heavenly wisdom.
When I was ordained, he came up to me and shook my hand, and said to me, “Young man, I hope that the path before you will be lined with roses, will be a primrose way.” But, he said, “Young fellow, I can tell you this; if it is, you will never amount to anything.” Isn’t that a strange thing that that old gentleman, full of wisdom and full of years, should say that to me when I was a boy, seventeen years old and beginning my ministry? “I hope your way is strewn with roses, that you have a primrose path. But, if it is, you’ll never amount to anything.”
Well, I can look back over fifty years now, and I can tell you, out of the wisdom that God has given me, the best thing God ever did for me was to lead me out in the country and struggling in small churches for ten years. There’s not anything that a church does that I did not have the assignment to do: didn’t have anyone to lead the singing, so I led the singing; didn’t have anyone to pray—I’ve been pastor of churches where there wasn’t a one who would lead in public prayer—so I did the praying; didn’t have anybody to teach, so I did the teaching; didn’t have anybody to lead the Training Union, so I did the training; didn’t have anybody to work with those little kids, the junior band, so I had the junior band. I had the junior choir: didn’t have anybody to do anything, so I did it. In all of those years and years, I worked with the people and worked with the church and worked with all of those things that enter into the building of the house of the Lord. And I grew in my soul. Those things were good for me. I didn’t have anybody to help me. I was blessed in learning how to do it myself. I tell you, it sure does come in good stead for me now.
Ah, the things that I have to do now—and you know, when I get over there in a corner and I start feeling sorry for myself, “O Lord, I’ve got so much to do. Dear Lord, I have such heavy burdens to bear. O Lord, that my life might be easier and my burden lighter and my way a whole lot brighter.”
You know what? That is a sorry spectacle when I am over there lamenting before God about what I have to do. That’s just wonderful, if God thinks I’m equal to it, when He matches my soul against a heavy assignment. That’s His compliment. That’s God being good to us. He believes we can do it, or He wouldn’t have us in the work, and in the way, and in the assignment. That’s the Lord’s goodness to us.
Now, Lord, don’t make it any heavier because I’m saying these things. I’ve got enough. But it’s a blessing from God that He gives us a heavy assignment.
Now you look at us when we pray, “O Lord, give me material wealth.” Well, that’s a great and a wonderful thing to have material wealth. But I used to look at that when I was a youngster. I remember, in Amarillo, when I went to high school, right cater-cornered from us, my mother had rented a large spacious house, very large, in a beautiful section of the city. And she sub-rented it, and that’s the way that she made it possible for me to go to high school in Amarillo.
Well, right cater-cornered, right across the street, cater-cornered from us, is one of those beautiful homes in the city of Texas—I mean, in the city of Amarillo and in the state of Texas. I was up there at Amarillo, not too long ago, and I drove by that home and looked at it. It’s still—it would grace any section of the city of Dallas—a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful home.
And being a young fellow, living there, going to school, I knew the people who lived there and all about them because they were very famous in that part of the country. And I suppose, there had been more tears wept in that home than any one place that you could think of, or name, or visit, or know. All of their children, all of them, were ruined by the affluence in the family. Isn’t that just pitiful? Wealthy, and the very wealth that they had destroyed their children.
I remember one time many years ago, in Kilgore, sitting on the front porch with an old farmer. And he had an old-fashioned swing on the porch. And he pointed to the line of his farm toward the town of Kilgore. And beginning at that line, as far as you can see, there was a forest of derricks, oil.
That was one of the most famous oil fields in the world, was the East Texas oil field that centered around Kilgore. And that old farmer said to me, he said, “When they discovered oil, they began to drill offsets. And every one of those offsets was a gusher. And so,” he said, “they began to drill in all directions. And there was oil everywhere.” And he said, “Those offsets began to come toward me, and toward me, and toward me. And finally, they got to the line of my farm. And we were expecting to be fabulously rich when they were starting to drill on my land.
“But,” he said, “for some inexplicable thing known to God, they found gushers in that Kilgore oil field in every direction until they got to my farm, and every well they drilled on my farm was a dry hole. Every one of them was dry.”
He said to me, “I thought it was a curse from heaven. Here all of my neighbors are rich, all of these farmers around, abounding in wealth, and I with nothing—no discovery, no oil, no anything.”
“Well,” he said, “the years have passed.” He said, “Do you see all of that vast country out there where you see all of those oil derricks?” He said, “The people on whose farms those wells were dug were my friends, and I’d known them all of my life.” He said, “When they became wealthy, they went to Dallas, or they went to New York, or they went to New Orleans, or they went to Chicago. And they began to live the life of affluence.”
And he said, “Preacher, did you know there’s not a one of those men that is living with the wife that he married when he lived on these farms around Kilgore, not one of them.” And he said, “Their children have been ruined. Their homes have been broken, and so many of them live in misery and despair.”
But, he said, “You see that woman in that kitchen? That’s the wife of my youth. And at dinner today, when you sit down, you’re going to eat with my family—my children, married, coming back home. God has blessed me above anything in this world.”
And he said, “What I once thought was a curse, when they came to my farm and never found oil,” he said, “Today, I look upon as God’s greatest blessing.”
Isn’t that something? You may think that you want something, and you may ask God for it. But if you get it, it may be the worst thing that could ever happen to you. And the best thing that could ever happen to you would be to be denied what you covet in your heart.
I haven’t time to speak of our wanting success and popularity, and to get on in making money, or to get on in living well, or to get on in advancement, or to get on in a thousand other things on which we set our hearts in this world. It may be best for us that we pray, as I spoke of last Wednesday night, when we had our service here; “O God, I don’t know, I don’t know. Lord, You make that choice for me. You do it, Lord. And I’ll be happy in the choice God has made for me.”
Our Lord bowed in Gethsemane and said: “Not My will, but Thine be done” [Matthew 26:39]. Then He said, when the disciples sought to defend Him, when He was arrested after the prayer: “I could call twelve legions of angels” [Matthew 26:53].
You know how many that is? Seventy-two thousand angels. One angel passed over the army of Sennacherib, and the next morning they counted one hundred eighty-five thousand corpses; one angel, just one [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36]. “I could call twelve legions of angels,” seventy-two thousand angels [Matthew 26:53].
But, He had prayed: “Not my will, but Thine be done” [Matthew 26:39]. It was best that He suffer and die [Matthew 27:26-50].
And when we pray, that ought to be our prayer before the Lord: “Lord, there are many things that I ask for, and many things that I want, and many things that I desire, but, Lord, it might not be that I know what is best. I leave the choice to You.
Now listen, as I close:
I prayed for strength,
He kept me weak
That I might lean on Him.
And with my triumph,
He sent tears, lest I take pride in them.
I prayed for light,
He gave me faith.
And though I cannot see the distant path,
I have no doubt that God will walk with me.
I asked for strength that I might achieve.
He made me weak that I might obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given grace that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing that I’d asked for.
All that I hoped for, my prayer was answered.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? Everything that he asked for, God gave him just the opposite. But he learned, having received nothing that he asked for, his prayer was answered. God gave to him that better thing [Hebrews 11:40]. O Lord, that I could be like that; leaving the choice to God, and just yielded in His hands.
Tuesday night, preaching, there came a young minister down the aisle. And he said to me, “I have given my life to be a preacher and a minister of the gospel. But I have no church, and no call, and no place, and no pastorate.”
I said, “My sweet brother, that is in God’s hands where you are and what you do. Your part is only to answer God’s call, and to be willing and yielded, and then leave the choice to Him. Maybe God wants you to preach on the street, in the jail, in the poor farm.”
I’ve done that for years. Driving by the courthouse in Chickasaw, Oklahoma, I stood on that curb there, and three years, every Saturday, preached the gospel of the Son of God. Some of the most marvelous conversions I have ever seen in my life came to pass preaching on that curb by the side of the courthouse.
Maybe God doesn’t intend for all of us to be pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Maybe God has other places where He needs a preacher. And maybe the Lord doesn’t intend for all of us to live in affluence. Maybe He blesses us in ways that we don’t quite see now, but He does, when we lack, and are thrust upon Him for maybe, daily bread. O God, to learn to be yielded, just to open ourselves and say, “Lord, it’s in Your hands, what God shall choose for me.”
Now may we close our eyes for just a moment. Is there someone here tonight to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], or to put his life in the fellowship of our dear church? Would you hold up your hand, anywhere? Somebody you, all of us in the kingdom, all of us in the house of the Lord—blessed, blessed. Now, sing with me our closing benediction:
Have Thine own way, Lord,
Have Thing own way.
Thou art the potter,
I am the clay.
. . .
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907]