The Praying, Soul-Winning Church
January 16th, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
THE PRAYING, SOUL-WINNING CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-16-77 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Praying, Soul-Winning Church. We are preaching through the Book of Acts, both morning and evening; where I leave off in the morning, begin in the evening; where I leave off in the evening, begin the following Sunday morning. And in the gracious goodness and providence of God, it just seems the Lord lays before us the passage that is fitted for this high and heavenly hour.
In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, in the middle part of it, where we left off last time, is a verse describing the assembly of that little band of one hundred twenty. In verse 15 it says, “The number of names together were about an hundred and twenty [Acts 1:15]…These all continued,” it says in the fourteenth verse, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, with Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” [Acts 1:14]. Then the second chapter, the Pentecostal chapter, begins, “And when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” [Acts 2:1]. And verse 4, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 2:4]. Then Simon Peter delivered his great message on Joel 2:28 [Acts 2:14-40]; and then God added unto the church those who were being saved [Acts 2:47]. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the little band is there praying and waiting [Acts 1:14]; waiting for the Promise of the Father [Acts 1:4], that is, the outpouring of the ascension gift of Christ [Acts 2:1-4], the bathing of the children of God with the holy unction and power of the Spirit of Jesus [Acts 2:16-18]. And as they kneel there [Acts 1:14], and wait there, poised before the greatest era, dispensation, the world has ever known, the beginning of the quickening life of the body of Christ, the church, as they wait there poised before this incomparable Promise from heaven [Acts 1:4]: I feel the same way about us today in this church. We kneel here, we are seated here, we are standing here, we are poised here before the greatest era that any church has ever known in the story of Christendom. Oh, what God has before this tremendous congregation of God’s converted saints!
There are some things that characterize these sainted people then that characterize our sainted congregation today. Number one: God is with us, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us. God is not against us; God is for us, and we’re always to remember that. Never does God work against us; always for us. There may be ten thousand frustrations, there may be another thousand discouragements, but in it all, Romans 8:28, “In all things God works together for good, to them who love the Lord, to them who are called according to His purpose.” When I stand here and preach, I am always to remember that the Spirit of God is working in that man’s heart. He is convicting; He is wooing; He is saying, “Amen”; always the Holy Spirit is for us [John 16:8].
In my reading this week, I came across a man’s word about his church. It saddened my soul. “I go to God’s house and find no God. I do not hear His voice in song or sermon. His grip is not in the hand of fellowship. I hear no yearnings for the lost in the message of the preacher, nor do I see it in the faces of the people. There is no God in the temple where my people worship.”
Did you ever hear of a sadder testimony than that? It’s the Spirit of God moving in the presence of a people, that brings conviction and invitation and the wooing of the converting, transforming, Spirit of the Lord [John 16:8-11].
When the engineer is ice-bound, there’s no traffic on the trail, on the road, on the track of the kingdom of God. When the wires are weighted and broken down, there’s no warmth, no electricity, no life in the city. There must be a warm, blood-bathed womb for a child to be created and to be born. A dead mother cannot give birth to a live child. A refrigerator could keep things dead for a while, but a refrigerator does not create life. The roses are dormant in the cold of the winter; it takes the warm bathing of God’s sun to bring them to beauty and to life. The difference between the iceberg that sank the Titanic and the bosom of the waters that bore the ship along is just a matter of temperature, that’s all. And that’s what I pray for us in the church. When I bring the Holy Spirit of God with me to the assembly of God’s saints, and you bring the Holy Spirit of God with you in your heart [1 Corinthians 6:19], when we gather together, that’s the will of the Lord for us. When we gather together, that’s what you feel, that’s the heavenliness of the presence of God from heaven. It’s my heart filled with the Spirit. It’s your heart filled with the Spirit. It’s our hearts filled with the Spirit of God. We pray. We’re present. And the Lord moves in great power in our midst. God is for us. God delights to dwell with us, to meet with us. We’re just in His purpose when we come as an assembly of the saints.
Again, this glorious congregation, as it awaits the marvelous outpouring of the Spirit, there is power in the word of the Lord. Remember the passage that we read together?
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart . . . For all things are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do . . . Therefore, therefore, come boldly.
[Hebrews 4:12-13, 16]
On the word and promise of God our congregation is founded, and the ministry is announced: come, come. Being assembled together with them, the Lord said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father” [Acts 1:4]. That’s the word of God; and in the great Pentecostal sermon in the second chapter, and Simon Peter said, “This is that which was spoken by Joel the prophet” [Acts 2:16]—the whole assembly, the whole praying and waiting is based upon the word of God. Isn’t that a glorious thing for us to remember? In the assembly of our saints, we are here singing about the Lord, singing His Word. Any time the choir sings a song that is filled with the Word of the Lord, I love it, singing a song, singing a passage of Scripture, singing the Great Commission [Matthew 28:19-20], I just love that. All of The Messiah is the Word of God; that’s all it is. They say, “Pastor, you have such an affinity for that.” I think it’s just as inspired as the Word itself [2 Timothy 3:16]. The Messiah is the Word of God. To preach it, to read it together, to hide it in our hearts [Psalm 119:11], that it be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path [Psalm 119:105], what a blessedness thus to assemble for the preaching, and the reading, and the singing, and the believing the Word of God. Number one: God is with us [Romans 8:28]. Number two: we stand upon an immovable foundation, the Word and promise of the Lord [Acts 1:4, 2:16].
Number three: Christ can and does save the lost [Luke 19:10]. Yesterday at noon I was seated across the table from one of the finest executives, successful businessmen, in this part of the earth. We were out there to dedicate the Charles A. Sammons Center, nuclear center, therapeutic center for cancer, out on the campus of Baylor University Hospital. I was delighted to visit with him; he’s my neighbor down here in the heart of this city. So, he had been wonderfully converted, and he’s a great, godly, good businessman, eminently successful. Well, he began talking to me about a famous actress, and that she had presented a dramatic program in their church. And he said, “As I looked at her and watched her when she sang a song of Mary, the mother of Jesus,” he said, “she wept actual tears.” He says, “I was close enough, and I could see actual tears. She had been wonderfully converted.” Well, in the providence of the Lord, that same famous TV and movie and Broadway star had been presented by Mary Crowley in this very place to her girls. She had about two thousand of them here this last week, in this auditorium. And that famous movie actress gave her testimony of Christian belief and what God had done for her and with her. It just, it’s just wonderful.
And then when I sat down on the platform before leading the dedication in prayer of our new cancer center, I sat down by the side of a very famous TV and movie star. He also is a child of God. His brother, even more famous than he, his brother is not. His brother, they tell me, is an alcoholic, and anything but a child of the Lord. But he is. He’s a great Christian and came to that dedication just out of the love of his heart for the ministering to people who despair with cancer. And I was told privately that the reason he does it is that he himself was healed of the tragic disease.
That’s not unusual. As this man, this wonderful businessman was talking to me across the table and describing the conversion of that actress, you know what I thought in my heart? It’s just as wonderful what’s happened to you. God had converted him, and it’s just as wonderful what’s happened to you. And as I stand here in this sacred place and look at you, and look at you, and look at you, and look at you, it’s just as wonderful. Christ can, and the gospel does, save men [1 Corinthians 15:1-2]. God is for us. And we live I know in a dark and despairing world; but He still is sovereign, and He calls out men and women in faith to Him. And even in the darkest part of this earth, God has His saints, His people, His own. And in a free world like ours, and in a free city like Dallas, how the Lord multiplies to Himself these who look in love and faith unto Him [Luke 19:10; Ephesians 2:8].
Not only is God for us [Romans 8:28], not only do we stand upon the foundation of the Word and Promise of the Lord [Acts 1:4, 2:16], and not only is He able to save and does [Luke 19:10], but God answers prayer [1 John 5:14-15]. God answers prayer. What’s happening here at this church bows me before God in the very dust of the ground. I just, I just cannot believe what my eyes do see. I had been through this one time before, and God did a marvelous thing. But it was almost too much to expect that God would do it again.
Long time ago, when we were building the chapel building across the street, and the men had borrowed a million dollars beside what we had given in order to build it, which at that time—this is about 1948, ’49, that was an enormous amount of money then, borrowed a million dollars—at that time the property right across the street on Patterson came up for sale. And I took it to the men and they said, “Pastor, we’ve already borrowed a million dollars for this new building. We just can’t go into debt further for that property.” And I was standing over there on the Patterson Street curb, and looked at it. And my minister of music was standing by my side. And I said to him, “This is the saddest sight you will ever see.” I said, “Somebody will buy that property, build a forty story building on it, and we’ll never be able to possess it, and we need it so desperately.” Well, he said, “Why don’t you ask God for it?” I looked at him in amazement, “Ask God for it? Why, I thought you were supposed to ask the deacons for it. And the deacons explained to me, you know, we were already in debt.” He said, “Why don’t you ask God for it?” Well, I said, “I never had thought about it. It just never had occurred to me to ask God for it.” So I went to my knees in prayer. And I received a telephone call from Mrs. Veal. She said, “Pastor, I hear you’re on your knees asking God for that property across Patterson Street. How much does it cost?” I said, “I have no idea, but I’ll sure find out.” So I found out that we could buy it for $550,000. So I called her back. And she said, “I will give you that. Go buy it.” So we bought that property across the street.
I received a telephone call from Mrs. Veal again. She said, “Pastor, what do you want to do with it?” Well, I said, “Mrs. Veal, the city chokes us to death on the weekday; not on Sunday, the city’s empty on Sunday,” anybody who doesn’t come down here because they say they can’t park on Sunday just doesn’t want to come; there are fifty thousand cars down here on any day, and it’s open on Sunday, miles around us. I said, “But it’s in the weekday they are choking to death. I want to build a parking building and a recreational building.” She said, “Well, how much does it cost?” I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out real soon.” So I took it to the men, and I found out that we could build it – of course this was a long time ago – that we could build it for a million dollars. So I called her back. I said, “Mrs. Veal, it’ll cost a million dollars.” She said, “I’ll give you the million dollars. I’ll give you the million dollars. I just don’t want you to say anything about it because if you do people will just bombard me.” And so she said, “You just do it.” So, with the pastor we built that building there. Ah, it was just something too good to be true.
And I couldn’t think that God would do it again; I just couldn’t think of it. But here’s what happened. As the church began to grow and to grow, and the blessing of God was upon this place, there came to me the nursery people, and they said, “What are we going to do? There’s no place for our little babies. What are we going to do? And it has to be close to the auditorium.” And then the choir people came and said, “We have grown. And the choir continues to grow. And we just trample over each other in that little tiny choir room.” And then the orchestra people said, “We don’t even have any place to lay our instruments down, much less any place to practice.” And then the recreational people and our academy people came to me and said, “We want the Veal recreational unit,” and they both can’t have it at the same time; and yet they wanted it at the same time. And then these who are interested in a family recreational center, been pushed out of that unit long time ago. “Lord, Lord, Lord, what shall I do?”
It was absolute and abysmal despair. There’s no way in the world for anything to be done, absolutely not. There’s a street on that side, and one on that, and one on that, and the auditorium here. And for the babies to have any way of being blessed, a mother doesn’t want to take her child way over yonder; she’d love to feel that the child is in the building where she is. Then she could get to the baby if anything arose; just good to have the child close by. And of course the choir can’t go way over yonder, they have to be right here. And the recreational center, it had to be continued if it had any meaning for us. Lord, Lord, it is a matter of absolute impossibility; there’s not anything that can be done. And I laid that thing before God in absolute despair. There is no answer.
And while I was laying all of this before God, Sheffie came to me, and he said, “Pastor, the city wants to give us this street. They’ve got something else in mind on the other side, and they want to give us Patterson.” Why, there’s nobody given a street in the city of Dallas, period. You just don’t get a street from the city of Dallas. And if you doubt that, just try it. Go out here and get one. I mean anybody. Just go out here and get a street. You just don’t do that. That doesn’t happen. And it astonished the city when it did. “City wants to give you that street.” I couldn’t believe it! That’s the only place that is possible for us, if we had any ministry here enlarged for our choir, our music, our little children. Then there was given me a letter from Mrs. Crowley, “Pastor, for five years I’m going to give fifty thousand dollars a year down here at the church.” I took that to her son Don, and to her, and I said, “Would it be possible that you’d so give beyond that, that we could build that building?” And the answer was, “Yes.” And then to others, and the answer was, “Yes.” Then we had the money for that part of it; for our choir and for our little children.
Then the men did an amazing thing to me, they said, “Pastor, while we’re building, let’s build this family recreational center, too.” But I said, “It costs so much.”
“It’s all right, let’s do it.” Then when the city said, “You touch this building, and you’ll have to pay nine hundred thousand dollars to remake this Truett Building,” our children’s building, the one right back of us, I fell into despair again: nine hundred thousand dollars just to bring it up, make it modern. It was built in 1924, and the fire codes and all the other codes, nine hundred thousand dollars. The men never hesitated; they never hesitated. “Let’s just ask God for it. Let’s ask our people for it.” And when we meet tonight, we’re going to have the greatest victory you ever saw. God answers prayer. He does [1 John 5:14-15]. And my eyes see it, and I see it, and I see it. He did it one time in that Veal Building. It was too much to expect of God that He do it again; but the Lord apparently says, “You can’t ask too much of Me.”
I’m reminded of that story, famous in history, when Alexander the Great wanted to reward a soldier who’d done a great thing in battle. And when he made the request, why, the people were astonished at the request the soldier made. And when they brought the request to the great Alexander, they said, “But we think it is too much for him to ask.” And Alexander replied, “It may be too much for him to ask, but it’s not too much for Alexander to give.” God is like that. He is so mighty and so able and so sovereign, that apparently He is just complimented when His people come before Him with an impossible request, “Lord, do it.” And God bows down His ear to hear, and He bares His arm to help. “Come boldly” [Hebrews 4:16]. Isn’t that the passage we read? “Come boldly, ask”; and God answers in an incomparable way.
Well, I had some more things to say, but we want to extend our appeal and give you an opportunity to answer with your life. God never calls to badness. He never calls to our hurt, but God calls to our good. The Lord calls to our blessing. And in a moment when we stand to sing, to give your heart to Jesus for the first time in your life [Romans 10:9-13], to come into the fellowship of this precious church, to be baptized [Matthew 28:19], to bring your family, to rear your children in the circle of this great congregation, as God shall will, as the Spirit shall move, answer with your life. Make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we sing, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, “Here I am, preacher, I’m on the way.” Angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The atmosphere and spiritual
temperature of the church
A. If spiritual mercury
is low, God’s engine is ice-bound
B. Warmth of the womb
bathed in blood and tears
The feeling of care and concern make for a church where people are saved
II. What is needed
A. Love for Christ
B. Love for the lost
(Matthew 9:36, 18:12-14)
C. Love for the church
(Ephesians 5:25-32, Hebrews 10:25)
III. Things to remember
A. Holy Spirit is for
me and with me
B. Scripture is the
power of God (Hebrews 4:12-13, Jeremiah 23:29)
C. God answers prayer