PRAYER AND PRACTICALITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-02-77 7:30 p.m.
Our study tonight concerns prayer and program. You could call it call it Prayer and Practicality, or Prayer and Productivity. It has to do with prayer and action, prayer and doing work for God. Our Savior said in Luke 24:49, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you: but first tarry in Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” And then He repeated a like command in Acts 1:4. “He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father.”
Then He gave to them once again the Great Commission “…in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth” [Acts 1:8]. And those two are in that order, and they are always in that order: first there is praying, then tremendous dedication and commitment. Now there are some who think of prayer and devotional meditation as unproductive. They would prefer just the action; action on the mission field; action in the visitation program; action in soulwinning; action in church organization; action in the whole circumference and perimeter of the worship and service of God.
And they brought out that a monastery is almost useless in the evangelization of the world. They would say how much better it is that we be out there busy and working and witnessing, than thus to be shut up to a devotional life. Well I can understand how people would point out to us that these who are just good, and good for nothing; that they just meditate, or that they be holy and that they do nothing about it, they don’t follow it through with any kind of a commitment.
But there is a profound place for, and a need of, communion with God in and before our intensest activity. It is not a case of either/or, but it is a case of both/and. We need to pray. We must pray. And we also need to work and to witness. To do Christ’s will we must do both of them. We must pray and we must work. The two inevitably go together. They cannot be separated, our praying and our action. The prayer enables us to be more effective in our work. Action gives meaning and substance to our prayers.
I can tell in a moment whether a preacher has really prepared his heart for the message that he delivers. I can sense it. There are overtones. There are vibrations. There are intuitive responses that are immediately sensed concerning whether or not a minister, a pastor, a preacher has prepared himself for the message that he delivers. There is no possibility of a man having God’s power without first communion with God Himself. Otherwise, what we do we do in the strength of the flesh. They cannot be separated. Real prayer and real work goes together in God’s will.
Let me show you. In Nehemiah 4:9 it says, “We made our prayer unto our God, and we set a watch against them.” First they prayed. Then they watched the enemy lest he come and annihilate the little band that was seeking to rebuild the Holy City. It was both. Another place in Nehemiah they worked with a trowel, and they held the sword in their hand [Nehemiah 4:17]—both of them together.
Once again, in Exodus 14:15 God said to Moses at the Red Sea, quote, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto Me? Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” There is a time for crying unto God, and there is a time for believing that God is with us in the work. And they stepped by faith into the sea, and the sea parted on either side [Exodus 14:21]. But first they had to step into it, they had to go forward, they had to move [Exodus 14:15].
It was so in the life of Jesus in Gethsemane in Matthew 26:42. Quote:
He prayed saying, O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.
Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them . . . Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand who doth betray Me.
[Matthew 26:42, 45-46]
After the prayer and the agony of Gethsemane; after committing Himself to the will of God which for Him was to die on the cross for our sins [Matthew 26:42]; then He arose, came to His sleeping disciples and said, “Rise. Rise. The time has come. Let us be going” [Matthew 26:45-46].
So it was in Acts 4:31. Listen to it:
And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
And with great power gave the apostles witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
[Acts 4:31, 33]
After they had prayed, look at all of those “ands.” And God did this with them. And God did that with them. And God, He heaps blessings upon them, and God worked with them in saving grace. Always after the praying, then the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit and blessing of the Lord; the prayer is necessary. For us to rush into the work without first asking the blessing of God upon us is for us of all things foolish.
Do you remember our Lord before choosing the twelve apostles in Luke 6, verses 12 and 13? I quote:
And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples: and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles.
All night long our Lord prayed. Then the next morning, having prayed the entire night, He chose out of a great throng of disciples who were following Him and listening to Him, He chose twelve [Luke 6:12-13].
Do you remember that word which is so often quoted by us, when the disciples at the foot of the Mountain of Transfiguration were so helpless before that boy who was grievously afflicted and the Lord casts out that evil spirit, and the boy was healed? [Matthew 17:14-18]. Then privately, they came to Jesus and said, “Lord, why could not we cast him out?” [Matthew 17:19]. And the Lord replied, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer” [Matthew 17:21]. And then some pious copyist added, “and fasting.”
“This kind goeth not out but by prayer” [Matthew 17:21]. There are some things that we cannot do without first taking it to God. There are some things apparently we can do by ourselves. But there are some things I know that we cannot do without God. Then of course, the work is necessary; having prayed, then to look to God’s strength and blessing in what we seek to do in His name. Now I want to show you something in the Book of Acts that is very unusual, illustrating that—how the work is necessary following the prayer and the promise of God.
Now you look at this as I read it. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, you have the story of that terrible storm, and beginning at verse 21:
But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said… I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among us, only of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul . . . God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Then going down to the thirtieth verse now, God has just said to him, through the angel, he is not to be afraid, for the Lord God has given him all the souls that are with him [Acts 27:24]. Now, the thirtieth verse:
And as the shipmen, that is, the sailors, were about to flee out of the ship . . .under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
How unusual and how amazing; there was an unconditional message of salvation from heaven to Paul that he was to have all of those on ship saved! Then comes the word of Paul to the centurion that if these sailors abandon the ship, “you cannot be saved.”
The unconditional promise of God we learn is finally and ultimately conditioned upon the sailors remaining in the ship. That’s an amazing thing to me! God has just said, “Paul, all of these are going to be saved” [Acts 27:24]. Then three or four verses later Paul says to that centurion, “But you will not be saved if these do not stay with us in the ship” [Acts 27:31].
It just looks as if God says many things to us. But those things are contingent upon us. We can pray to the Lord, believe in the Lord, ask God to bless us, but we must do something also for God’s blessings to be mediated to us. It was certainly so in Paul’s case in the twenty-seventh chapter here in the Book of Acts. So Paul writes in the letter to the church in Galatia, “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” [Galatians 6:9]. God has many marvelous things to promise us,, but they are things that are conditioned upon our response to the blessed Savior.
Now I want you to look again, that prayer is itself a commitment to the request and the task for which we have prayed. When I pray, the prayer itself is a sign of, it is an act of, my dedication to the thing for which I have asked of God. Look at Acts 4:29 that I quoted a moment ago:
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy word . . . And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now look: they had just prayed, “Lord, grant that with all boldness they may speak Thy word” [Acts 4:29]. “And the place was shaken.” Now look: “And they spake the word of God with boldness” [Acts 4:31].
When I pray God to bless me as a witness for Christ, that means that I do witness for Christ. When I ask God for His blessing upon me, that means I give myself to the work that the Lord’s blessing might be upon me. When I pray God, for example, to help me preach with power, it carries with it a dedication on my part that I preach with all of the fervor of my soul. The fact that I pray for it is in itself a dedication on my part to commit myself to that.
The meaning of “amen” is that. In Revelation 22:20: “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely, I come quickly. Amen.” That is, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” It is written out there. That’s what it is. It is just an affirmation and a commitment. Or look again in Revelation 1:7, which I called text of the Apocalypse: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and all of the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen.” That is, “So let it be.” It is our affirmation. It is our commitment. “Amen” means that. “Lord, let it be.” Prayer carries with it our commitment to the request we have made. The man prays for a house. Then he says, “Amen,” with a hammer and a saw.
A man prays for a job, and then he says, “Amen,” searching through the want ads, and makes a journey to the unemployment agency. The man prays for a wife, then he joins the Singles division of the First Baptist Church. The man prays for a revival, and he gives himself to speaking and witnessing that the lost might be saved. And the man prays for the conversion of the world, and he supports the mission program and the outreach services and arms of the church.
May I turn it around and say it like this, negatively? For a man to pray and do nothing about it is wrong before God. For me to pray, for example, for the conversion of the world and for the missionary outreach of the gospel and have no part in the support of missions is wrong. For me to pray God to bless the lost in Dallas, and for me not to lend feet and voice and hands to my prayer is wrong. For me to pray that I might grow in grace, and don’t read the Bible, and don’t come to church, and don’t open my heart heavenward is wrong. For me to pray for the blessings of God upon me, and then not open my hands and heart that God might fill my hands and my heart is wrong.
In the fact that I pray, I give myself in commitment to that request. I don’t want to belabor the point, but that’s true in every area of my life. I have maybe a volatile spirit and a hasty temper. And I pray God to help me overcome that volatile spirit. Then if I don’t try to be nice when somebody just makes me seethe on the inside, that’s not right. Having prayed, I give myself to a control of that volatile spirit.
There is just no area of life that when I pray—just name everything that we ask of God—when I pray, then it carries with it a commitment on my part to that holy end that God might bring it to pass through me and through us.