How To Pray
February 27th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
HOW TO PRAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-27-83 8:15 a.m.
And God bless the great congregation in the sanctuary of the house of the Lord this wonderful day. And God no less minister a beautiful and precious blessing to each one of you, a multitude of you, sharing this hour on radio. This is the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and this is the pastor delivering the message, one in a series on intercession, on prayer.
It would be unthinkable to me that we would speak of prayer and not pray. Beginning, therefore, next Sunday, next Lord’s Day, the first Sunday in March and continuing for six consecutive Sundays, the four Sundays in March and the two Sundays first in April, continuing until the third Sunday in April, the beginning of our revival meeting, these immediate six Sundays, come any time if you can by eight o’clock, and we’re going to have praying here in this altar. At about a minute before 8:15, I will walk down through the choir loft, and lead a verbal prayer, an audible prayer, which will close our personal and private intercessions.
If you can come at 7:00, 7:30, quarter till 8:00, any time, but many of you, if you can come by eight o’clock, when you come in, come up here, fill this pulpit, both the upper pulpit, the lower pulpit, all this rail, this altar, all of the area at the front of the church; and if we fill this area, let’s fill the aisles. I would say, when you come, kneel in the pew where you are to pray; but our kneelers and the width of the pew interdict people coming in to the pew, it is blocked by anyone who kneels in it. So we can’t kneel in the pew; we’ll have to come up here and kneel.
This coming Sunday, for six consecutive Sundays; then the third Sunday in April, Dr. John Bisagno, the great preacher of the First Church in Houston, will be our revival leader from that Sunday to the following Sunday, every Sunday night. I knew John Bisagno as an evangelist; he later became a pastor. But when I knew him, he was an evangelist, and one of the best. You will love him; and we’ll have a tremendous revival meeting if we pray. God bless you as you share in this intercession.
Now the title of the message: How to Pray. Luke chapter 11, verse 1; Luke chapter 11, verse 1. And the message is an exposition of the first thirteen verses of this eleventh chapter of Luke: "And it came to pass, that, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, one of His disciples said unto Him, Lord, teach us to pray. Lord, teach us to pray."
The disciples saw a connection and understood there to be a connection between the wondrous life of our Lord in public and His secret life of prayer alone. There was power in our Lord; there was power in His hands, the hands of Jesus. He could place His hands upon the eyes of the blind, and they could see. He could touch the ears of the deaf, and they could hear. He could put His hands upon the leper, and he was cleansed. There was power in the Lord Jesus. Even His robe possessed virtue. There was omnipotence in His very voice. By a command verbalized, He could still the wind and calm the wave.
And His beautiful and perfect and godly life; as these disciples saw that kneeling form, "And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, a disciple came to Him and said, Lord, teach us to pray." As they saw that kneeling form, Jesus was a great petitioner, He was a mighty pleader and intercessor. Sometimes, the Bible says, He prayed with strong crying and tears. As they saw Him kneel in weakness and rise in the power and authority of God, they came to Him and said, "Lord, teach us to pray."
Now there are two things in that request, and we follow them in the discussion that follows. First, "Teach us to pray," that is, the will to pray; and second, implied, "Teach us how to pray," and the implication is correct because our Lord discusses it in the passage that follows. We follow this exposition. "Lord, teach us to pray, to possess the will to pray."
There are three weaknesses that all of us share, all of us. Number one: we depend on ourselves. We contradict what God says in Proverbs 3:5: God says, "Lean not unto thine own understanding," we lean on our own understanding. God says to walk by faith, not by sight; we walk by sight and not by faith. Consequently, our prayers are perfunctory, they’re repetitious, they are vain and empty.
Second, the will to pray: we draw back from prayer because of the agony that accompanies it. Paul wrote to the Romans in Romans 15, verse 30, "I beseech you, brethren, I plead with you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus’ sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in prayer to God for me." Strive: the Greek word is agonizo, "that you agonize with me in prayer to God for me." How beautifully, earnestly, pathetically does he write the appeal: "For the Lord Jesus’ sake, for the love of the Spirit," there are tears in every syllable of that appeal, "Agonize, strive together with me in prayer to God for me." And we draw back from that, the agony in real prayer. Somehow the cost of actually praying is too great.
Why agony in prayer? Because Satan is there to resist you: Zechariah chapter 3, verse 1, "I saw Joshua the high priest standing before God, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him." Paul wrote in the last chapter of Ephesians, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual principalities on high" [Ephesians 6:12]. There is an agony in prayer. Satan resists us.
Not only outside of us are there influences that interdict and contradict and discourage, but our own carnal natures war against us in intercession. "Lord, Lord, prayer means a denial of self, what I want and what God wills, and I don’t want to give up what I want. Lord, Lord, this denial of self is too much." There’s not any service we offer to God that carries with it the concomitance and the addenda of prayer, the self-denial inherent in it. When we preach, or sing, or play, or teach, we do it among the plaudits of men. If we do well, they compliment us, encourage us, say gracious things about us. But when we pray, there’s nobody there to applaud us, or to compliment us, or to praise us: we’re just naked and alone before God. That’s the agonizo in prayer.
These weaknesses that all of us have, denying us the will to pray – a third one: we get faint and discouraged. When I turn the pages of Luke and come to the eighteenth chapter, it begins with this: "And the Lord spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." How many times have all of us had the experience, the heavens turn to brass, the very throne of God seems empty and unheeding, and unfeeling, and indifferent, and we become discouraged and faint.
But delay is not denial, as the Lord teaches us in this [eighteenth] chapter of the Book of Luke. First there is the blade, then the stalk, then the full ear of corn – like the plowman takes ten thousand steps sowing ten thousand seeds and each one is a part of the final harvest. It’s like the waters building up behind a great dam and finally they are thrust through the powerful turbines, so prayers are heaped up before God, and when their measure is full God answers from heaven. We’re not to be discouraged; we’re not to faint.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul speaks at length about Abraham, "Who against hope believed in hope, considering not his body dead, a hundred years old, or the deadness of Sarah’s womb, ninety years old. But being fully persuaded that, what God had promised, He was able to do" [Romans 4:18-21]. And when we get to the end of the way and look back over God’s mercies to us, we’re going to say, "Why did we doubt? Why did we faint? Why were we discouraged? Why did we not believe in God? And why did we not follow the teachings of our Lord?" The will to pray.
Now the second part, implied in the question, but confirmed in the discussion: how to pray, how to pray. Two things the Lord speaks in the discussion that follows after. First, we are to pray in the will of God. You read that just a moment ago: "Our Father, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done" [Luke 11:2]. We are to pray in the will of God. The sainted apostle John wrote in 1 John 5:14 and 15:
This is the confidence we have in Him, that if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: And if we know that He hears us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we desired of Him.
Praying in the will of God; and the second, in that will, being importunate, staying with it.
First, praying in the will of God: it is so easy for us to come before God with petitions and intercessions and requests that are not in keeping with God’s purposes for us. And many times He answers us, and it isn’t blessed, and it isn’t best. In the one hundred sixth Psalm, verse 14, "They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness…And He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." That’s one of the saddest things that you could read in the Bible. It refers of course to the people of God in the wilderness. They were lusting, the Bible says; they missed the onions, and the leeks, and the garlic in Egypt, and they were tired of this manna. Can you imagine that? Angels’ food, and they complained before God, "All we have is this manna." And God gave them their request: He sent them flesh, but sent also leanness in their souls [Psalm 106:15]. Praying away from the will of God.
In the years gone by, long time ago, I was preaching in Kilgore, in East Texas, and an old farmer in the church, he and his sweet wife took me to dinner. And while his wife was preparing the meal, he and I sat in a swing on the porch. Did you ever see one of those swings, did you ever sit in one of them? By chain from the ceiling, and then the swing goes back and forth on the porch. He and I were seated out there in the swing on the porch.
And as we sat there, he made a gesture of his hand like this, and he said, "Preacher, do you see all of those derricks?" There was a sea of derricks, all of those derricks. Well, he said, "When they discovered oil here in East Texas, tremendous, ten-thousand-barrel-a-day gushers, when they discovered oil here in East Texas, they drilled toward me, toward me. And you see all those derricks? My neighbors became rich, multimillionaires overnight; all of my neighbors. And they began to drill toward me, and pastor," he said, "do you see that fence line down there? When they came to my fence line, the wells they dug were dry. Not a one had oil in it, not one."
He said to me, "Preacher, in those days, I became bitter. I said, ‘God You are not good to me, You are not fair to me. All of my neighbors with this vast, illimitable, immeasurable wealth, and they drill up to my fence line and the wells are dry. Lord, You have forgotten me, You have passed me by!’"
Then he turned and said, "Preacher, that was a long time ago." He said, "You see all those derricks from horizon to horizon? And all of my neighbors became rich," he said, "they moved to the cities, and they moved into the rich and affluent world." And he said, "Preacher, there’s not one of them but that has divorced his wife. Every one of them has broken his home. And their children have been lost in a world of affluence and wealth and riches, all of them have been lost."
But he said, "Preacher, my old woman, she and I been grubbing it out on this East Texas cotton farm now for over forty years!" And he said, "Preacher, when we eat dinner together, you’re going to meet my children. All of them are godly young men and women!" And he said, "You know, as I look back over the years, the best thing God ever did for me was when He stopped that oil at that fence row down there."
I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn to obey.
I asked for health that I might do great things;
I was given infirmity 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 for 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 asked for,
But everything that I had hoped for.
Despite myself, my prayers were answered;
I am among all men most blessed.
["Creed of a Soldier," by an unnamed Confederate officer, quoted in Edmund Rousmaniere, "The Practice of the Presence of God," 1912]
Lord, Lord, if we could remember that, if we could learn that.
I hasten. Praying in the will of God; when we learn God’s will, He says we are to be importunate in it, and He gives a beautiful illustration here: A man knocks at his neighbor’s house at midnight, and says, "Wake up, get up, a friend of mine has come from a long journey, and I have no bread to set before him. Loan me some loaves." And the man calls out and says, "Leave me alone. Don’t you know it’s midnight, and we’re all in sleep and in bed here?" But the man kept knocking. And the fellow came down and gave him all the bread that he needed, just because of his importunity [Luke 11:5-8]. That’s what Jesus calls it: his constant knocking. Then He said, "You be that way: you knock, and it will be opened to you; you seek, keep seeking; you ask and keep asking; for those that keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, they are the ones that receive from God" [Luke 11:9-10, Matthew 7:7-8].
Now, when I learn the will of God, I am to be importunate in it. Well, what is the will of God? I wish we had the rest of the day that we might speak of the things that God wills for us. We begin with the passage. He says here, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more will our Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to us?" [Luke 11:13]. That’s the will of God: that we be filled with the Holy Spirit. Lord God in heaven, I shut Him out, I deny Him great areas of my own life. It’s God’s will that I empty myself of me in order to make vast room for the Holy Spirit of God. "And He breathed on them, saying, Receive ye the Spirit" [John 20:22]. God gives His Spirit without measure; third chapter of John [verse 34] says so. I can have just as much of the Holy Spirit of God in me as I will open my heart to receive. It’s God’s will that I be filled with the Spirit.
When I turn the page here in the Gospel of Luke and come to chapter 19, verse 10, it says, "Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost." It’s God’s will that the lost be saved. Ezekiel 33:11: "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" It’s God’s will that the lost be saved. In Peter, out of which I am preaching at night, Simon Peter by inspiration says, "For the Lord wills the death of no man, but wills that all men come to repentance and live" [2 Peter 3:9]. And when I pray for the lost, and I visit the lost – as announcement was made for us tomorrow – and as I testify to the lost, as I knock at the door of a lost man, as I pray with him, as I read the Bible with him, God is pleased. Winning the lost, testifying, preaching, pleading, that pleases God.
One other – I must close – it pleases God that I grow in grace and in Christ’s likeness. I couldn’t help but notice as I prepared this message – because I’m preaching at night from the epistles of Simon Peter – Simon Peter closes his second epistle, the last verse in the last chapter of the epistles of Simon Peter is this: "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" [2Peter 3:18]. It pleases God that I grow in grace and in the Christ-likeness of my blessed Lord.
I was kind of intrigued, as well as moved, by a missionary who said that he went to a far interior village and began to talk to them about Jesus. And the villagers gathered around him and said, "Oh, you call Him Jesus! Tell us again, what is He like?" And the preacher told them of the beautiful and wonderful and gentle Jesus. And they said, "Why, we didn’t know His name was Jesus, but He lives here in this village." And the missionary said, "What? Jesus lives in your town?"
"Yes," they said, "He lives here in our village." So they took him to see Jesus in their village. What had happened was one of their men had gone far away and been won to Christ, and, coming back, he so lived the beautiful life that the people thought when the preacher talked about Jesus, he was talking about him. Wouldn’t that be a marvelous thing, if people mistook us for Jesus? O Lord! As kind as He is, as gentle as He is, as precious as He is, as wonderful as He is, Lord, Lord, that pleases God, that we grow in Christ’s likeness. Lord, take out of me the bitter, and the hateful, and the unseemly, and the faithlessness, and the worldliness, and the carnality, and the cheapness, and the littleness. And Lord, make me more like my wonderful Savior. Wouldn’t that be great, if we could grow in the image of our dear Savior? That’s the way to pray.
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal. And as we sing it, a family, God bless you; a couple, God be good to you; a single, the Lord wonderfully guide you; just one somebody you in the balcony round, down a stairway, in the press of people on this lower floor, down an aisle, "Here I am, pastor. We have decided for God, and here we stand." Do it now. Welcome now, a thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing. "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. This is God’s day and God’s time for me, and I’m coming." Lord bless you, young fellow. Yes, while we sing our song, while we make appeal, "God has spoken to me, and I’m on the way. Here I am, here I am." God be good to you, sweet, wonderful family, yes.