WHY PRAYER IN THE NAME OF JESUS?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-15-80 7:30 p.m.
For reasons that would be treasured in His heart, you are to ask in Jesus’ name. What would He ask for? What did He want for Himself and for others? And what kind of a life did He live? That is the meaning of asking in Jesus’ name: as though He were laying the petition before the throne of God.
Now, one of the certain things about our Lord is that He denied the world and all of its blandishments and emoluments and rewards and glory. Satan offered it to Him in the [fourth] chapter of Matthew, the kingdoms of the world and all of their glory, and He refused it [Matthew 4:1-10]. If we are asking in Jesus’ name, we are offering to God a life that denies the world and all of its rewards. And there is an obverse, a converse side: not only did He deny the world and all of its invitations and emoluments, but He gave Himself to a cross in death and crucifixion [1 Corinthians 15:3], and He called for His disciples to follow that kind of a life. It was His invitation that we live a crucified life.
In Mark 10:21, He said to the rich young ruler, "Come, take up the cross, and follow Me." You can’t get into heaven with the world in your heart. The way is too narrow, and the gate is too strait, s-t-r-a-i-t, strait, constricted, for a man to go through with the world in his heart. "Give it up," He says, "give it away; get rid of it, and come, take up your cross, and follow Me." And He said in Mark 8:34, "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
Well, what is a cross? Practically everybody – I mean everywhere, universally, I never hear an exception to it – everybody will define a cross as some kind of a heavy burden that they have to bear. This boy here who is incorrigible and obstreperous is a cross to us. Or this illness that I have is a cross that I have to bear. There is nothing like that in the Bible: that’s a human response and a human interpretation. What is a cross? A cross is an instrument of crucifixion; it is an instrument of death. It is an instrument of execution. And to bear a cross, to take up a cross, is to take up an instrument on which you are to die. It is a crucified life. It is to die to self.
Now, thus Paul wrote. You have a fine interpretation of what the Lord meant by taking up a cross, bearing an instrument of self-denial and self-crucifixion, to slay the self-life; you have a fine interpretation of that in that beautiful and incomparable verse in Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I am crucified with Christ," dead with the Lord, buried with the Lord, and living a life of death to the world, raised to a spiritual life, another kind of a life, in Christ.
Now what is it, dying to self? What kind of a life is it that we live, if we live dead to self, a crucified life? I have several things that I think will characterize the crucified life, giving yourself to the Lord in Jesus’ name. Number one: when you can see others, especially those close to you whom you have known well, when you can see them prosper and advance and have their needs met, and wear the laurels and the crowns you so earnestly coveted, reach goals you sought to attain but failed to achieve, and can rejoice in their recognition and prosperity with no spirit of envy, you have died to self; you are living the crucified life.
There is a small part of that that I experienced years ago. I have here in this sanctuary tonight a dear friend that I went to school with in the seminary for the years we were there. We had a very gifted group of men in our class; the classes were much smaller then than they are now, and we had a very gifted group of men in that class. Practically every one of them just rose and rose and rose in the denominational life and in the pastorate of tremendous high-steeple churches, as they call it, and in executive leadership. Now, I so well remember, for years, so well remember the envy, and sometimes the bitterness and reproach that I felt in my heart when I saw these men that I went to school with called to these big, famous churches, or elected to executive leadership in the denomination, and I was left in a relatively small and insignificant and inconsequential congregation. I felt at times that God had forgotten me, had passed me by; that I was out there in some backwater somewhere, but my classmates were rising upward and onward and forward in greater degree and glory. Oh! I felt the sting of that in my heart. And I fought against it then; I knew it was not right then. And I prayed against it. But that is a weakness of the flesh that is difficult to wrestle with: to see somebody that you know well, with whom, say, you went to school, and he just rises and soars, and you are left behind.
That is the crucified life: when you can nail your heart to the cross, and your ambitions, and all of the things that are carried along with those desires to grasp and to reach upward and bigger and better and more famous, and more known, and more affluent, and more everything. That is the crucified life; and it is difficult, and God has to help us to do it.
All right, number two: what is it, dying to self and living the crucified life? When you see others in their abundance while you are in need, and you do not question God, nor fail to be glad for the good fortune of these others, that is dying to self. You are living the crucified life. One time I met a man in California, with whom I went to school for four years in Baylor University. He had lived a life of toil and trouble and tribulation. Illness and poverty had characterized his ministry from the days he started preaching, until as an older man he now lives in California. Every sorrow known to the human heart, I think, had afflicted and overwhelmed that godly man. When I saw him, his wife had just died. He had never been pastor, except in small and difficult churches. When I was visiting with him recently, I was here in Dallas, and had been, as you know, many, many years, and he seemingly failing and faltering in one difficult situation after another, beside the illness and the poverty against which he daily battled. What was his attitude, and what was his spirit? He was so glad for me. He was so proud, he said, that he was a classmate of mine. He was so happy that God had blessed me so aboundingly, and never said any word about the sorrows and the troubles that he had experienced in his own life.
When I came back here to this church and stood in this pulpit, I described that man, and I said, "Of the two of us, he is the greater Christian." I didn’t feel worthy to stand in his presence. He is a great man of God, and will have an infinite and expansive reward in heaven. That is praying in Jesus’ name. That is dying to self. That is living the crucified life.
All right, number three: what is it to die to self and to live a crucified life? When you do not seek commendation or glory or recognition for yourself and your good works, when you come to the place that you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, when you bear to be truly unknown and unrecognized and do not resent it or think of yourself as a failure, that is dying to self, and that is living the crucified life. It is psychologically easy for the man who works in a hard and difficult place, in a small and unknown congregation, and he himself is passed by in worldly recognition, it is easy for that man to persuade himself that he is a failure. "Look at that man over there; what a success he is. And look at me with my small work and my small congregation. What an inglorious, ignominious failure am I!" It is easy to move into that kind of a response to God’s elective purpose for you.
That is a worldly and secular and selfish response. God may choose some of us to be – let’s make it an illustration – down under this street where you will never see it, are tremendous stones in that foundation, and you will never see them. And up there in the top of that roof there are tiny nails that will never be seen. When people come and look at this sanctuary, they say, "Look at these beautiful stained-glass windows, and look at this proscenium, and look at the architecture, the Gothic architecture of this building." And we are like that: "Man, if I can be seen, and if I can be noted, and commented upon, and complimented, and glorified, what a success I am!" That’s not what God says, nor is that what God’s elective purpose means in our lives. Some of us may be foundation stones that are never seen, or little nails in the roof that are never looked upon. But we have in our lives one ultimate commitment, and that is whatever God has elected for me, that will be my highest joy and glory. And leave it in God’s hands.
Number four: when someone beneath you in place and standing corrects you, when someone of less stature than you brings you reproof, and you receive it humbly, submittingly inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart, that is living the crucified life; that is dying to self. Now you’re going to have that experience when you, as the leader and the pastor of the church, educated and trained, and you stand up there before the people, and you are somebody, and you are corrected or reproved by some little godly saint. You’re going to feel the sting of resentment: "What are they doing criticizing me, or talking to me?"
When I was the pastor of what I thought was one of the finest country churches ever – oh, I was so proud to be pastor of that country church – in the little village was an unlettered blacksmith repair type of a man, very uneducated; had a whole bunch of kids, and much untrained. Well, I was in his shop, and somehow I began talking to him, or we were talking to each other about soulwinning. And I confessed to this laboring man, this blacksmith type of a man, this repairman, I confessed to him that I had difficulty talking to a man who was lost about his soul; it was just hard for me to talk to a man about being a Christian if he was not a Christian, and especially one that was very hard or difficult. He looked at me very straightly and very honestly, as men like that can talk, said to me, "Do you know what’s the matter with you?" I said, "No, what’s the matter with me?" He says, "What’s the matter with you is, you ain’t got no religion."
Well, I can remember now as I did then the sting of that. What is this unlettered, untutored repairman talking to me, the pastor of the church, that I ain’t got no religion because I find it difficult to talk to a man about the Lord? Oh! I felt that so crushingly. But he sure made his point, and I remember it; and it happened fifty years ago. He was correct: the reason I found it difficult to talk to a man about being a Christian was I didn’t have a great, deep, evangelistic, soul-saving commitment in my own heart to seek out and talk to men about their souls. He was exactly right.
And in our lives there will be many times that sainted, humble, untaught, untrained people will say things to us that are imminently spiritual and imminently correct. And for us to resent the criticism or the observation is an evidence of our own selfish pride. But to receive it as a message from God and humbly to thank God for it and try to do better in our lives, that is living the crucified life.
Again, when you are quiet and content in whatever lot God has cast your life, happy with the food, and the raiment, and the house, and the climate, and the society, and the culture, and every other circumstance of life, if you can live that way, then you have died to self: you are living the crucified life. Paul said in Philippians 4:11, "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." The next verse: "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" [Philippians 4:12]. And the next verse: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. What a wonderful and beautiful thing when a man can come to that place in his life: "Whatever God has willed for me, in that I rejoice." At midnight, beat, bloodied, feet in stocks, hands in manacles, singing praises to God: no wonder the prisoners heard them! [Acts 16:25]. Who wouldn’t?
Men are so unusual, who are in the ministry. This is not unusual; this will be typical. A man came to see me here at this church, and he said, "God wants me to be pastor of," and he named one of the tremendously famous and large churches in one of the capital cities of America. "God wants me to be pastor of that church." And he wanted me to see to it that he was before the pulpit committee of that church; that’s why he came to see me. Why does he pick out that church, and that pulpit? Why doesn’t he come to see me about some unnamed, unknown little congregation over here? Why doesn’t he? I’ll tell you exactly why, and you know it too: because of the salary, and the prestige, and the car, and the house, and the home, and the expense account, and all the rest that goes with that church; and he’s persuaded himself God wants him there.
All right, let’s take another young fellow that came here to see me. He came here to see me, and he said, "I want you to see to it, because you have influence," he says, "I want you to see to it that I am called to a bigger pastorate and a bigger church," and then these are his words: "I am too gifted to bury myself where I am. I deserve a greater pulpit."
When you say these things, they sound outrageous and almost unlawful; but that happens all the time. And when I listen to it, I can’t believe my ears are hearing what they say. Always, always, the pressure and the tendency of the human life is, "Man, man, it’s more, more," and then however you want to say it: a bigger salary, or a bigger congregation, or a bigger pulpit, or a more famous stance, or just always it’s that. How very seldom will it be in your life that you will hear a man say, "God has wonderfully blessed me. I have a little congregation in such and such obscure place, and I’m so happy to be there. That’s God’s assignment for me." You have achieved marvelously and wonderfully if you can come to that place in your life. "This is God’s place for me"; and just pour your life into it.
Again, when you can accept any interruption by the will and choice of the sovereign elective purpose of God – I write this one because I live in this kind of a world – when you can lovingly and patiently bear any disorder or irregularity, any impunctuality or any annoyance, when you can so easily see the poor performance of those who work with you and from whom you have expected so much, and endure it as Jesus endured it, you are living the crucified life.
I have the hardest time with that of anybody you ever looked at in your life. Staff members that do poorly: I expect so much of this, or that, or the other, and they don’t even begin to come and rise to meet it. Oh! I have a resentment and a feeling of bitter discouragement and disappointment in my life, and it’s practically every day that I live. I say – and this is as worldly as it can be – if I were a corporate executive, they wouldn’t be here five seconds. I’d call them in, and I’d fire them on the spot. But when you pull up the tares in a church, you pull up a lot of wheat; and I just pray the Lord to help me to endure ninety-nine percent of the poor work that I see around this church. It’s the hardest thing for me. That doesn’t include you, Paige, or your staff; it’s just mine.
All right, again, when you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you do not sting and hurt because of the thoughtless oversight or the intended insult, but you are happy in your heart, continuing your work before Jesus, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that is dying to self; that is the crucified life.
When I was president of the Southern Baptist Convention, I was asked by the Sunday School Board to write a book entitled – and they entitled it – Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True. Most of the books that are published by me are books of lectures or series of sermons. Once in a while, I’ll write out a book by hand. I wrote that one out. There’s another one that I wrote out, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors; that’s the one that put me in the hospital. I wrote that day and night until twelve and one o’clock in the morning. And that will be out pretty soon. There were six hundred twenty typewritten pages that I wrote out by hand. Well, I wrote this book out by hand while I was president of the convention, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True. It was received with vitriolic, contumacious, bitter castigation on the part of the academic community, particularly in the southeastern part of the United States. And the Southeastern Conference of Religious Professors carried on a war against that book. There wasn’t anything that they could say about me that was derogatory and insulting that they didn’t say.
Finally, when the time came for the election of the president – usually, if you are elected one term you just automatically are in for the second term, they just automatically nominate you and you are elected. Well, in order to humiliate me, why, they carried on a campaign to run somebody against me; and they did. In the convention at New Orleans, why, they put on quite a show: they picketed, and they talked, and they politicked, and they carried on and distributed literature, and on and on and on, all because I believe in the Bible. Isn’t that amazing? And they nominated somebody there; not because they thought he could be elected, but just to be an insult to me.
Now, I want to show you how those things are. First of all, if you live a crucified life, they don’t bother you, not at all. You don’t even review it. You’re giving yourself to something else. You’re so busy preaching Jesus, and winning people to Christ, and baptizing converts, you don’t have time for those infidels; you just can’t, you just can’t, you just can’t. Now I want to show you what happened over there. I’m talking about the Southeastern Conference of Religious Professors. Since that time, one of the great universities, Baptist universities, of that world where they taught, one of them has been lost to the Baptist faith and is now a secular university. That’s one. About a year ago, a second one of those tremendous, world-famous Baptist universities in the southeastern part of the United States, about a year ago a second one was lost to the Baptist faith and is now a secular university. Isn’t that the strangest thing? And nobody says anything about it. Those infidels will take those great Baptist schools, and take them out of our Baptist faith, and out of our Baptist communion, and out of its Christian witness, and not a soul will raise his voice – lost forever.
The great schools of America, all of them at one time were devout Christian schools. The University of Chicago was the Morgan Park Theological Seminary. And those Northern Baptists took up collections in Sunday schools of nickels and dimes, and they took the Morgan Park Baptist Theological Seminary and built the school around the seminary for the evangelization of the West, especially the heartland of America. John D. Rockefeller, Sr., who was a devout Baptist deacon and Sunday school superintendent, John D. Rockefeller, seeing that, decided he’d pour millions into that effort for the evangelization of the heartland of America. And with the money, and being free, and the school descended upon by these liberal infidels, Chicago University, in one generation was lost: lost to the Baptist cause, lost to the Christian faith. And I never heard of anybody who ever heard of anybody being educated in the Chicago Divinity School as a flaming evangelist: and that was the purpose of the building of the school.
I don’t understand it, and yet no word is said about it. I look at these men who are carrying on now. Oh boy, what they are saying! So, one of them, one of the leading men carrying on this furor now, last year – and he’s a pastor of a great church in one of our thriving, growing cities – last year he baptized nine converts, nine. And another one of them, who’s just carrying on like you never heard of, when he came to that church in that wonderful place where he is, he had a Sunday school of about a thousand; he now has a Sunday school of about five hundred, and he brags on it, saying, "We have quality, quality. All these poor devils that are in hell because we don’t win them, they are inferior souls; but these little elite that belong to my church, they have quality." What does God think about that?
Carrying on the work of the Lord, whatever they say, our commitment and our assignment is being true to the faith, and true to the Bible, and true to the gospel message, and true to our blessed Jesus.
In just the moment that remains, when your good is evil spoken of, when your desires are disregarded, when you advice is taken lightly, when your opinions are scorned, when some of your basic persuasions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger in your heart decimate you, but you take it all in patient, loving silence, that is the crucified life. I think of our Lord. They spit upon Him [Matthew 27:30]. And as though that were not contempt enough they plucked out His beard [Isaiah 50:6]. And as though that were not contumacious enough, they hit Him with their fists [Luke 22:63-64]. And as though that were not brutal enough, they pressed on His brow a crown of thorns [Matthew 27:29]. And as though the thorns were not sharp enough, they drove in nails [John 20:25]. And as though the nails were not deeply piercing enough, they thrust a Roman iron spear into His side, and the crimson of His life poured out [John 19:33-34]. And all He ever said was, "Forgive them; they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34].
You can hardly think of that. And when I see in my mind the Lord nailed to that tree, and that mob up and down in front of Him, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross, and we will believe You" [Matthew 27:42]. My own spirit is, "Lord, wrench Yourself from the wood, and in superhuman strength come down and strike terrified damnation in their hearts! Do it, Lord!" No, it will not be a superhuman man tearing Himself from the cross, descending in such superhuman strength; it will be a limp, dead corpse that is taken down from the cross [Matthew 27:57-59]. But the third day, God will raise Him from among the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. That’s the faith and that’s the Lord.
Now Dr. Patterson, this is our day of prayer, and I want you to come down here and kneel, and the professors and the men and women who are on your staff there in our Center of Biblical Studies, I want you all to come and to kneel with him. And this last one will be a prayer for our church and the purpose of our all-day meeting of intercession.
This last one: when you gladly accept the spiritual fact that all you possess – body, life, treasure – is not your own, but Christ’s, and that you are the steward to use the possessions for God, that is the crucified life. "What I have is not mine; it belongs to the Lord. The body in which I breathe and live and have my being is not mine; it is the temple of the Holy Spirit" [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. That’s why the Christian makes appeal: don’t fall into habits that bring on emphysema and lung cancer and compromise the strength of your life, don’t do it. Your body belongs to God. Don’t drink something one ounce of which will destroy ten thousand brain cells that are never re-created. Don’t do it. But your body is to be kept strong and well and clean in God’s sight because the Holy Spirit lives in it. The body belongs to God.
And our possessions, everything we have, belongs to the Lord; we use it just for a while. When the Lord spoke the story of the pounds, He said in Luke 19:13, "I give you these pounds; Occupy till I come." We just use it, what God has given, until Jesus comes.
I close. One time I was in the home of a very wealthy man here in the city of Dallas. I was seated with him and his wife on a sofa in the beautiful living room. And for some reason that I don’t know, he got out a big black notebook, a loose-leaf notebook; and in that notebook he had page after page, a listing of all of his worldly possessions. I remember one of those pages. He had fifteen thousand shares of Gulf Oil stock. And page after page after page he had an enormous accumulation of wealth. And on those pages, how much he paid, how much it was now worth, and the jagged gyrations of the graphs of their up and down value. And after he’d gone through that, what to me was an amazing array of possessions, he closed the book, kind of with a slam, and pushed it across the coffee table in front of him, and said, "It is nothing but trash."
I thought that was the strangest characterization I had ever heard. "It is nothing but trash." I didn’t know what he meant until, burying him; I stood by the casket as it was lowered into the grave. And it came to me with such tremendous force: it is nothing but trash. All it’s good for is to be used for God, that’s all; it has no other meaning. You leave it behind. It’s ours to use just for a while. What we have is ours for so brief a while; let’s use it for God.