Kneeling In Prayer
January 14th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
KNEELING IN PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-14-79 10:50 a.m.
We are ever your debtors, instrumentalists and singers in our choir and orchestra. And with gladness unspeakable we welcome to this service the uncounted thousands of you who on cable television and in the broadcast of Channel 39 in the Metroplex and its area, and on the two radio stations, are sharing this service, the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Kneeling In Prayer. In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 20 and now have come, after several sermons, to the concluding verses of the chapter. The Book of Acts chapter 20, the concluding verses: “And when Paul had thus spoken,” addressing the pastors of the church in Ephesus:
When he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.
And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.
And they accompanied him unto the ship
That took him down to Caesarea and by journey to Jerusalem—his last visit to that city in which he was arrested, imprisoned, and taken to Rome in trial for his life. But the word that describes this last meeting with the people in Ephesus is most poignant and meaningful. “And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all” [Acts 20:36].
There was a visitor to the Continental Congress of the American Republic from Great Britain. And as he stood in the chamber of that august assembly, he turned to the man standing next to him and said, “Which one is General George Washington?” And the man standing next to the visitor turned to him and said, “When Congress goes to prayer, the one who kneels will be General George Washington.” Kneeling in prayer—“and he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.”
We are going to look through the Word of God at these instances where men who knew the Lord have knelt in intercession and in prayer. In the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah said unto King Ahab, “Get thee up . . . for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” So Ahab went up. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he cast himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees, and he said to his servant, “Go, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said: “There is nothing” [1 Kings 18:41-43]. And Elijah said, “Go the second time, the third, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh” [1 Kings 18:43]. And it came to pass, after Elijah had prayed, down on his knees for the seventh time, that the servant said, “Look, there is a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” And Elijah said unto Ahab, “Prepare thy chariot, and get thee down, that the rain stop thee not.” And it came to pass… that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain [1 Kings 18:44-45].
What an astonishing act of faith! It had not rained for three years and six months [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17-18]. Literally, the heavens were brass and the earth was iron. And yet the prophet of God stands up to declare, saying, “Ahab, get thee up, for there is a sound of abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41]. And God honored that marvelous faith.
So God honors the faith of any man anywhere who will trust in Him and believe in God for miracles. The Lord confirms His word with signs and wonders. And we are to expect them. I tell our people and have said so, so many times in recent days, it seems to me that when I walk in the midst of this vast First Baptist Church complex—it seems to me that I am walking in the midst of miracles. On every hand, on every side, the great, mighty arm of God is bared, and not the least of all of the miracles is to see the Holy Spirit of God regenerating the souls and the lives of these men and woman, and young people, and children who come down these aisles, giving their hearts to the blessed Jesus and investing their lives in the fellowship of this wonderful church. That is God. And when we believe God for the miracle, God answers from heaven.
Thus Elijah, down on his knees, asking God to confirm the word that He said [1 Kings 18:41-44]; so we bow on our knees, asking God to confirm and affirm the word of salvation, delivered from this holy and sacred page—kneeling in prayer.
I turn the pages of the Holy Scriptures, and we stand now in the beautiful Solomonic temple—one of the wonders of the world. And on this occasion of its dedication, Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all of the congregation of Israel [2 Chronicles 6:12-13]. And he kneeled down upon his knees before all Israel and spread forth his hands toward heaven, and he said:
Would God in very deed dwell with men on earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee; how much less this house which I have built! But O God, have respect to the prayer of Thy servant, to his supplication, O Lord my God, hearken unto the cry and the prayer . . .
That Thine eyes may be open upon this house, day and night . . . Hearken unto the supplications of Thy servant . . .
hear Thou from Thy dwelling place, even from heaven, and when Thou hearest, forgive
[2 Chronicles 6:18-21]
And then follows God’s answer from glory, “If My people, called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].
Great God in heaven, look upon Thy people here as we dedicate unto Thee all of this vast complex called the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We now cover with these buildings five city blocks. And we are still growing and expanding. And Lord God, we dedicate to Thee every brick and every wall, every assembly room, every classroom, every area and place of this church; Lord God, we dedicate it unto Thee. And now, Lord, bow down Thine ear to hear Thy children when they pray. Answer from heaven, confirm the word. Bless the congregation in its assembly, and may the Lord pour out His Spirit upon us personally, upon our families and upon the work of our hands—kneeling in prayer. I turn the pages of this Holy Book again, Psalm 95:
O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation . . .
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God: and we are the sheep of His pasture, and the people of His hand.
[Psalm 95:1, 6-7]
Do you notice the plural of that entire Psalm? “Let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the God of our salvation… Let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God; we are the sheep of His pasture, and the people of His hand.” I would have thought that Coach Stallings had listened to the sermon that I delivered at the eight-fifteen o’clock hour in the words that he said. We need each other. We need the encouragement that we bring; and when we gather in the house of the Lord, the Holy Spirit of God gathers with us. You bring the Holy Spirit in your hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. I pray, my heart is filled with the Holy Spirit in my heart; and when we come together as a congregation, as a people in worship, the Holy Spirit moves in saving grace and in wondrous power.
The author of Hebrews said, “Forsaking not the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is” [Hebrews 10:25]. We need this service. We need this hour. We need to bow and to pray. There is private prayer. There is also public prayer. There is private reading of the Holy Word. There is also public proclamation of the Holy Word. There is private devotion. There is also public devotion. There is private worship. There is also public worship. And God meets with His people when we gather as a congregation in the house of the Lord. “Let us sing unto the Lord… Let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God: and we are the sheep of His pasture, and the people of His hand” [Psalm 95:1, 6-7]. This is the way God has outlined and purposed that we be strengthened and encouraged in the faith and in the Lord: bowing down, kneeling in prayer [Acts 20:36].
I turn the pages of the Bible again. Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed; namely, that if anyone called upon a god other than the name of the king, he would be thrown into the den of lions, when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he cringed before God, and he renounced his faith, and he refused to acknowledge that he prayed? No! “When Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled down upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” [Daniel 6:10]. Absolutely unashamed, full of the courage and spirit that comes from God; and the Spirit of the Lord makes a man like that.
I one time heard of a little fellow in school. And he loved the Lord. He was a fine Christian boy. And he carried his Bible with him. And right next to him in his locker room was the big football player, who was an unbeliever, not a Christian. So he made fun of that little fellow carrying his Bible, “You shrimp, you peanut, you pantywaist, you sissy, carrying a Bible. Look at you!” And the little fellow turned to the big football player and said, “Here, you carry it for a while.” Real courage is always spiritual, always godly; and so with Daniel. When he knew that the writing was signed, as he had always done three times each day, with his window open toward Jerusalem, knelt down and prayed to God [Daniel 6:10]. What a marvelous thing. It says he gave thanks to God [Daniel 6:10]. Look, his country had been destroyed. His city had been burned with fire. The beautiful temple, the house of the Lord, this one, the Solomonic temple was in heaps and in ruins [2 Chronicles 36:19]. He himself was a eunuch and a slave in the court of the king in Babylon [Daniel 1:3-7]. But he knelt down, and three times a day, he prayed on his knees and gave thanks to God [Daniel 6:10]. That is our life when we are in the will of our heavenly Father. We give thanks to the Lord. However the providences of life, the Lord reigns. He is King of the earth. He holds the whole nations of the world in His hands [Isaiah 40:12, 15]. He is sovereign. And however providences may be in our lives, He rules, and He knows, and He understands, and He fits what is best for us. And for our part, we bow in His presence upon our knees, and we thank God for whatever choice He makes for us. He always gives what is best to those who leave the choice to Him. And we shall thank Him.
If I am well, Lord, thank Thee that I am well. If I am sick, Lord, be with me and fit for me the blessing that I need to learn in this illness. If I am affluent and successful, Lord, thank Thee that I am able to support Thy work. If I am poor and have nothing, Lord, help me in my want and poverty to glorify Thy name. “In every thing give thanks unto God: for this is the will of the Lord concerning you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. “And Daniel kneeled down upon his knees three times every day, and gave thanks to God, as he did aforetime” [Daniel 6:10].
I turn the pages of the Bible. Luke 22: “And Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and He kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if it could be, remove this cup from Me”—the awful execution of death on the cross—“but not My will, Thine be done. And there appeared an angel from heaven strengthening Him. And in agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” [Luke 22:42-44]. At any hour of crisis and they will come, inexorably; inevitably, no one of us shall escape it. In an hour of great crisis, kneel down and pray. “He kneeled down, and prayed” [Luke 22:41]. It was not the Father’s will that He escape crucifixion and death. And then He prayed, “Thy will be done [Luke 22:42]. And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening him” [Luke 22:43]. And God will send His angel from heaven to strengthen you when you kneel down and pray. I believe that guardian angels watch over each one of us [Psalm 91:11-12; Matthew 18:10]. The Bible says so. There are ten thousand things that I can think of in the review of my life that could have been so terribly tragic had it not been for an intervention from heaven, a guardian angel watching over us. And there are guardian angels that watch over you. And when you kneel down, and pray, and ask God, an angel from heaven will strengthen you. And whatever the choice and will of God is for you and your life, He will give you ableness for it. He will see you through—kneeling down to pray.
I turn the pages of the Bible. In this seventh chapter of the Book of Acts, “And they stoned Stephen, as he called upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” [Acts 7:59- 60]. What a beautiful way to describe the Christian’s death—“he fell asleep.” That is where you get the word cemetery—koimētērion, “sleeping place”; koimaomai, “sleep”; koimētērion, “sleeping place.” And when you spell it out in English, it is spelled out in our language “cemetery.” What a beautiful way—the Christian does not die; he just goes to sleep in the arms of Jesus. And how magnificently did he die—as they stoned him in bitterness and in hatred, “He kneeled down and prayed, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” [Acts 7:60]. Never any bitterness or hatred—can you conceive of that? These men with vicious and violent, vitriolic countenances and faces, throwing stones at him that destroyed his life, looking back at them, the Bible says, his face shone like the face of an angel [Acts 6:15]—without malice, without bitterness, without hatred—“Lord Jesus, forgive them. They do not realize what they do. Lay not this sin to their charge.” Bitterness and hatred are poisons. They ruin your heart. They destroy your spirit. They literally plow up your life. Ask God to deliver you from it. All of us have cause for frustration and responses that are in like measure, returning evil for evil and hatred for hatred. Ask God to deliver you from it: “Bless them that curse you, do good to them that despitefully use you…then you are like your Father in heaven” [Matthew 5:44, 48]. He kneeled down and prayed for them [Acts 7:60], no bitterness; no hatred; just love and intercession—kneeling down in prayer.
And I turn the pages of the sacred Book. In my passage and my text: “And when Paul had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all” [Acts 20:36]. Now you look at those people, “And they wept sore, and they fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more” [Acts 20:37-38]. Can’t you sense and feel, in just reading the words, the love that bound that little Christian band together? That’s what ought to be seen and to be found and to be felt in this congregation of the Lord. Man, you don’t know how welcome you are. You don’t know how much we have prayed that you might come. “Don’t know your name; this is my name. God sent you here. Welcome.” O Lord, how we need it. When somebody is lonely, when they feel sad or down or oppressed, when they feel left out and discouraged, where do they go? If they went to a bar, would they find less personal condemnation? Would they find a better welcome? Would they find an invitation? And if they came to the church, would they feel the condemnation and the hostility? Unwanted; unspoken to; uninvited. O Lord, I have often wondered if in the midst of great sorrow or sin or falling, dear God, will the world be better to me than the church? What a castigation and a condemnation; if the world were better to a fallen sinner than the people of God. They brought that woman to the Lord Jesus and flung her down at the feet of the Lord. “Look at this flotsam and jetsam. Look at this thing. We caught her in the very act of adultery, and the law says she is to be stoned to death. What do You say?” [John 8:3-5]. Of course, it was a temptation for Him to violate the conscience of the people. The Lord said: “That is fine. Stone her to death, but let the one without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, they turned away. She was alone with her Master, and He said, “Forgiven. Rise. Find a new life; a new hope; a new day; a new promise; a new golden tomorrow. Go in this new, in this new forgiveness; this new life; go, and sin no more” [John 8:6-11]. Lord, Lord, would to God our church was like that. “I don’t care who you are—glad to have you. Welcome. Welcome. This Sunday school class is just for you. This whole department is just for you. We are holding these services just for you. Welcome. All of us sinners, saved by grace [Ephesians 2:8]. One of us sin one way; one of us sin another way; one of us sin still another way; but all of us sinners alike [Romans 3:23]—just saved by the grace of God. Welcome, sweet friend. Welcome, neighbor. Welcome, stranger. Love, cherished, glad to have you.” Lord, Lord, give us a people like that—kneeling in prayer.
And then for the passage that you read, in the third [chapter] of Ephesians:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. . .
That you be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man: that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you . . .
may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
I bow my knees unto the Lord, praying for the strength, and the encouragement, and the help, and the love, and the filling that only comes from His gracious nail-pierced hands—and how beautiful and how lovely just the thought, much less the sight.
You know, there are ten thousand big things, I suppose, in my childhood that are absolutely lost in my memory, but I will tell you one that I can remember as though it had happened yesterday. We were living in a store building in a little tiny town—in an empty store building in order that I might go to school. And there came into the home there, that mother was making in that empty store building—there came a man, and he introduced himself as the pastor of the Baptist Church in that little town. And he read the Bible to my mother and to me. And then he knelt down on his knees and prayed for us. I can just see as though it were yesterday that godly man, down on his knees, praying for my mother and for me. Isn’t that what it is all about? This is the faith. This is the religion. This is Christ in us. “For this cause I bow my knees . . . that you might be strengthened by the Spirit . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts . . . that you might know the love of Christ” [Ephesians 3:14-19]. And the best way to ask is down on your knees. Somehow it just fits that I am down on my face when I speak to the great God of heaven—when I take upon myself to speak unto Him, I who am but dust and ashes. I bow on my knees.
I turn the page of the Bible and come at last to the great denouement of the age, to the Apocalypse. There is not a dramatic word in all literature, and not in the Bible, there is none more sweeping, more imaginative, more meaningful, more all moving than the fifth chapter of the Revelation. There in the right hand of Him who sits upon the throne is the book of redemption, and it is sealed [Revelation 5:1]. And the names of all God’s children are in that book. And they search heaven and earth to find someone who is worthy to open the book, and to break the seals, and to deliver, and to make known the redeemed of God’s saints through the ages. And they could not find one in heaven, or one in earth, or one under the earth who was worthy to open the book and to break the seals and to look thereon [Revelation 5:2-3]. And when John wept because there was none found worthy [Revelation 5:4], the chapter says:
Lo, in the midst of the throne and in the midst of the four cherubim, and in the midst of the four and twenty elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain… And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.
And when He took it, the four cherubim and the four and twenty elders fell down, bowed down, knelt down before the Lamb . . . and they sang a new song, [saying] Thou art worthy to take the book, to open the seals: for Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood . . . and hast made us kings and priests unto the Lord.
And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and they numbered ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing.
And every creature in heaven, and everyone on earth, and under the earth heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. And the four cherubim said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders bowed down, knelt down, fell down, and worshiped Him that liveth forever and ever.
[from Revelation 5:6-14]
That’s what we are going to do in heaven. That will be our eternal glory in the world that is to come. We shall bow down. We shall kneel down before the Lord our Savior and worship Him who redeemed us by His blood, out of every nation, and language, and tribe under the sun, made us kings and priests unto the Lord [Revelation 5:9-10]. That’s why I think I feel the sense of the scriptural duty in this old hymn we often sing,
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
O that with yonder sacred throng
We at His feet may fall!
We’ll join the everlasting song,
And crown Him Lord of all.
[from “All Hail the Power,” Edward Perronet]
It will be heaven to see His face and to bow down in His presence, to kneel down in humble thanksgiving and gratitude, in love, in adoration for what Jesus has done for us. The Book says, “Someday every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” [Philippians 2:10-11]. How much and more infinitely is it preciously blessed if I do it now, not someday under the judgment and condemnation of the Lord of all the earth, lost and undone, without a Mediator and without a Savior, forced to bow when He rules all heaven and creation. How much sweeter and better and more precious is it now to bow in His presence. “Lord, I own Thee, as my Creator. You made me, gave me breath. I thank You for giving me life. Bowing down, Lord, I thank Thee for the kind providences that have brought me to this present hour. And Lord, I thank Thee for Thy promise to save me from death and from judgment [John 3:16-17], and I thank Thee Lord for the promise of a heaven that is yet to come, beyond the grave [John 14:3]. O God, how much am I indebted to Thee! And Lord, to confess Thee before men is my highest joy and greatest privilege; like a Daniel [Daniel 6:10], unashamed, where men and angels can see, to bow down and to worship our great Lord and Savior.”
And that is our invitation to you this solemn, precious morning hour: to give your heart in faith to the blessed Jesus; to bring your family into the fellowship of this dear church. Two of you to come, or just one somebody you. “Today, pastor, I want to make my confession of faith in the Lord Jesus. I have accepted Him in my heart, and I am publicly proclaiming that commitment to Christ, and here I am.” Make that decision now in your heart. Do it now, the greatest decision you’ll ever make. Then when you stand up, take that greatest first step you’ll ever make, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am pastor, I’m on the way.” Just you, or a couple you, or a family you, answer with your life the appeal of the Spirit of God in your heart, and may angels attend you and the Lord bless as you come, while we stand and while we sing.