March 20th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-20-83 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled Intercessory Prayer, praying for somebody else. In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, there is recorded the high priestly prayer of our dear Lord. And in John 17, verse 9:
I pray for them, for them which Thou hast given Me;
for they are Mine and Thine,I pray for them..
And in the twentieth verse:
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word.
And that is a prayer that includes us.
Praying for His disciples and then praying for those who would believe as they minister the Word of God through the generations finally reaching down to us, "I pray for them," intercessory prayer. One could almost recount the entire life of our Lord in His praying. Just tell the story of His intercession, and you would tell the story of the blessed Savior.
The Gospel of Mark opens with that kind of a presentation. The disciples in Capernaum are seeking Jesus and cannot find Him. When finally they do, they discover Him praying [Mark 1:35-37].
On the other side of the Sea of Galilee our Lord, so mightily, in miraculous power, blessed the people [Mark 1:38-45]. They saw in Him an opportunity to deliver the nation from the Roman yoke of bondage and slavery. Here is a man who could feed an army on a few loaves and a few fishes. Here is a man who could raise a slain soldier from the dead. And John says in His Gospel the people sought to make Him a king. That pleased the disciples, and they were urging the people on in that persuasion; make Jesus a political military king. Then the record says the Lord sent His disciples away, and He Himself withdrew into a mountain alone to pray [John 6:1-15].
We are told by Luke that before the Lord chose the apostles, He prayed all night long [Luke 6:12-16]. I sometimes think of how amazingly, miraculously unusual it was that out of these untutored, unlearned peasants, fishermen, tax collectors, there should have been a Simon Peter, and an Apostle John, and a Matthew who wrote the first gospel, in answer to the prayer of our dear Lord.
He was always praying. He prayed before He fed the five thousand [Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-13]. He prayed before He opened the eyes of the blind. He prayed before He called Lazarus from among the dead [John 11:38-44]. When the Greeks visited Him, a sign, a symbol of the whole civilized world, our Lord met them in prayer [John 12:20-33]. He prayed for Simon Peter:
Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, when you turn, strengthen the brethren,I have prayed for thee.
He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46]. He prayed on the Cross as He died [Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:34,46]. He prayed when He ascended into heaven, reaching forth His hands and blessing His watching, waiting apostles [Luke 24:50-51]. And according to one of the most meaningful verses in the Bible, Hebrews 7:25, the Lord prays for us in heaven. The author wrote:
Wherefore He, our Savior, is able also to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to intercede for them – to make intercession for them.
I would love to have been there when our Lord looked into the face of Simon Peter and said, "Simon, Satan has desired to have you to sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee" [Luke 22:31-32]. I’d love to have been there to have heard our Lord tell Simon Peter that, "I have prayed for thee." But dear me! Am I not to remember He does that for us every hour of every day [Hebrews 7:25]? We could not stand before the onslaughts of Satan were our Lord not standing for us in heaven making intercession for us.
I repeat, you can tell the story of our wonderful Savior just by recounting His intercession. It is an unusual thing as I read God’s Word, how the Lord seeks intercessors–how He blesses or how He visits judgment according to whether or not He finds intercessors.
Not one of us explains anything about God and His marvelous work. We just behold it. We just look upon it. The great laws of the Almighty by which He governs our universe, we don’t explain them. We just see them. No man could explain gravity; it’s incomprehensible to us. No man can explain light; we just experience it. No man could explain the laws of the harvest; we just observe them. Thus it is in God’s spiritual world. We just observe them. And one of God’s spiritual laws is this: He listens and He seeks intercessors. And God visits blessing or judgment according to whether He finds intercessors or not.
Israel, as you know, Judah, as you know, were destroyed. They went into captivity. Their nation was ruined; their city was plowed up. Their holy temple was burned, and they lived in servitude [2 Chronicles 36]. Why? Just turning a few pages of the Bible, in Isaiah 59, verses 15 and 16:
Truth faileth; he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment.
And He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.
I turn the pages of Isaiah, chapters 63 and 64. In 63, [verses] 4 and 5:
For the day of vengeance is in My heart…
And I looked, and there was none to help;
and I wondered that there was none to uphold.
The next chapter, 64, verses 6 and 7:
We are all as an unclean thing, and all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;
we [all] do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
And there is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee.
In Ezekiel, chapter 22, verse 30:
I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the breech before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.
Nobody to intercede, and devastation and destruction came upon the people. In Joel, chapter 2, verse 17:
Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, "Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, ‘Where is their God?’"
Let the priests and the ministers stand between the porch and the altar where they served in the presence of God, and let them weep, interceding, "Lord, spare the people." This is God’s way. It is the way He has chosen. He looks. He seeks for intercessors. And if one would say, "Why pray? Why intercede?" the answer lies in the heart of God. Whether we live or whether we die lies in those intercessions. The answer is found in the prayers of the people.
All of which leads me to an avowal that I think is self-evident. Our assignment bends us, bows us; it crushes us. We’re on our face; we’re on our knees. Lord, Lord, who is equal for these things? Yet, the whole destiny of life is dependent upon prayer, "Lord, Lord, what shall I do?"
The Apostle Paul so many times wrote of his personal need of remembrance in prayer. In Romans 15 and [verse] 30, "I beseech you, my brethren, for the Lord’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, strive together for me in prayer." I turn the page, again, to Ephesians, the last chapter, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,for me," Ephesians 6:18 and 19. I turn the page again, to the last chapter of Colossians, Colossians 4:2, "Continue in prayer, withal praying for us" [Colossians 4:2-3]. I turn the page again, to the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, "Brethren, pray for us." I turn the page, again, to 2 Thessalonians, the last chapter, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, "Finally, brethren, pray for us." I’ll not read 2 Corinthians 1:11, Philippians 1:19, Philemon 22: "Brethren, pray for us."
There’s not any strength that we have for our kind of work except it come through prayer. There are many other things we can do in the flesh, in our own planning, in our own gifts and ability; but we can’t do God’s work without prayer. I say again, the assignment given us is so vast it is crushing. It bends us to our knees.
On our faces, we fall before God, asking God’s help and strength, praying for our world. There are something like two million Chinese who die every month without Christ. Lord, what shall we do? This is just one nation out of a possible 260 nations: the lost who die without Christ. We need to pray for our nation, our own country. We seemingly face the disintegration of every facet of our lives: the destruction of our homes, the destruction of the moral fiber of our people, the almost insoluble problems we face in government. Lord, Lord, who is equal for these things? We must pray. God must help us.
We must pray for our church. There is no strength in us. There is no ableness in us. What strength we have and what ableness we possess lies in the power and presence of God. We must pray. One of the facets of our church life is our intercessory ministry of prayer that continues twenty four hours every day, seven days a week. But, we need intercessors. We need people to join us in that praying. God seeks intercessors; and we never find ourselves so helpless as when we seek to do God’s work in the earth.
I am supposed to be a trained and educated minister. For example, I have five doctors’ degrees, and I have been a pastor for over half a century. I am now in my fifty-fifth year as a pastor. But with all of the training and the background that I possess, when the smallest, littlest child is brought to me and the child seeks the face of the Lord to be converted – what can I do to convert, to regenerate the soul of a child, the smallest, humblest little one in our midst? This is a work of God! God alone can remake, "reborn," regenerate, convert the soul. This is a bowing down before Him. Lord, Lord, it is an assignment for which I am not equal. God must help. We seek God’s face in prayer.
After this 8:15 service, there came up to me a beautiful, precious young wife in the church. And with many tears, we knelt there at the altar, praying for a burden on her heart, for a member of the family, dear to her. If we could just touch a button or do any kind of a labor to change lives, O Lord! But we can’t do that in ourselves. There are no buttons to punch, and there are no labors of the flesh that bring about marvelous regeneration in the spirit, in the soul. We are shut up to God.
Now, God has done a wonderful thing for us. There are some ministries into which we cannot enter. Some of us have gifts; some of us have endowments; some of us have talents, and these who are so blessed – gifted, talented – they can do certain things for the Lord: sing, or play, or give, or just oh, so many things I see people do in this dear church. Some of the most gifted teachers in the world teach here every Sunday. I just marvel at their abilities. So through all of the congregation, there are marvelously talented people. And not all of us have those talents. Not all of us can share in those ministries before the Lord. But there is one that all of us can participate in: we can pray. All of us can.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the last two verses, 14 and 15:
We have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities: but was in all points tried as we are, though He without sin.
Wherefore – the author writes – come boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find help in time of trouble.
Anybody, everybody, the veil is rent in twain. There is no barrier between any one of us and God. Just come boldly. The scepter of the great King is ever extended. Welcome! Come boldly into the presence of the great God and Savior and let your requests be made known unto the Lord. Pray! "Welcome," God says.
And that is a precious ministry in which all of us can beautifully and marvelously share. The announcement was made this morning that Monday week – Monday after tomorrow – we begin our sixty-sixth annual pre-Easter services. Pastor will be preaching every day at high noon, Monday through Friday, the week before Easter. I thought of the first pre-Easter services that I conducted. They were in the Palace Theater where Dr. Truett had preached ever since the theater was built. And when Dr. Truett died – the far-famed pastor and my predecessor – when Dr. Truett died, I carried on those pre-Easter Palace Theater services.
One day, at high noon, after I had preached the best I could, I was walking out the foyer of the theater toward Elm Street. And as I walked through the foyer, I saw a little wisp of a woman standing there. And as I walked close to her, she spoke to me, and I paused. And she said, "I am old and crippled, and I can’t come to church, but I so wanted to see my new pastor." So, she said to me, "A friend, a neighbor, brought me this morning. It is such a beautiful day. And she brought me to the theater so I could see my new pastor." Then she added, "I am so old, and so poor, and so crippled that I can’t help you. I wish I could." Then she added, "All I can do is just to pray for you." I put my arm around that dear, saintly, wisp of a woman and I said, "My dear, all you can do is just to pray? Just to pray? That," I said to her, "is more than everything you could be ever able to do besides – to pray for me."
There are no ministries that have in them the heavenly repercussions as intercession. "Brethren," Paul says, "Pray for me. Pray for me!" This is God’s channel of power and grace and remembrance. It is the way God has made the whole universe. We reach God through prayer. May I point out what prayer, intercessory prayer, will do–what it will do for us? What it will do for others, and what it will do for our family members? First what it will do for us – what praying for somebody else will do for us. I was handed a little tiny tract, and I read this:
The farmer’s wife told me her husband was out in the barn sorting sheep, so I went out to see how he did it. Seeing I was interested, the sheep-man came over by the door of the barn. He wiped the perspiration from his face. He said, "Working with sheep takes lots of patience. Sometimes, we have a hard job to get some of the little lambs started taking milk from the mother; they can’t find the milk, so we have to help them. Now, a hired man usually doesn’t like to bend down to help them. He tries to kick the little lambs around to the mother’s side, but that’s no way to do. I always get down on my knees with the lamb. Then, it is easy to help him, and he soon learns. But, you just have to get down on your knees. There is no shortcut; you have to get down on your knees if you’re going to help the little lambs."
Then, he continues:
"A true shepherd knows what it is to get on his knees with the lambs. It is hard to kick a lamb when you’re on your knees for him in the presence of God." The hired hand, when the little lamb is born, just kicks the little thing to the side of the mother. But, a true shepherd gets down on his knees, and he guides the little lamb to its mother and to life and to nourishment.
And the pastor says, "It’s hard to kick a lamb when you’re down on your knees, praying for it. It’s hard to be bitter, and caustic, and critical if you’re down on your knees praying for that somebody. It changes you into somebody else when you pray for someone." Lord, Lord, how we need to be taught to intercede, praying for somebody else.
It is a marvelous thing what happens to others when we pray – especially for our enemies or for those we don’t like. In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said, "Pray for those who curse you and bless those who despitefully use you." And He was an epitome of what He had taught when on the cross, He prayed for those who were driving the nails through His hands and His feet. And the repercussion of the death of our Lord not only reached into the heart of the centurion who stood there presiding over that execution, but the repercussion has reached down to us today. There is something about the beauty of the life and love of our Lord that moves the whole world, and moves me, "Lord, forgive them. They know not what they do" [Luke 23:34].
Or just once again, when the Lord appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, He said to him, "Saul, Saul,it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 26:14]. Well, what does He mean by that? "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." It is most evident, when you think through it. He presided over the stoning of God’s first martyr. He did it. He was the leader of that execution – Saul of Tarsus, breathing out, threatening and slaughter against the people of God. And when he saw Stephen die, he also saw Stephen’s face as it had been the face of an angel. And he heard Stephen pray, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." And then he fell asleep. [Acts 7:58-60]
When Saul awakened in the middle of the night, he saw Stephen’s face. When Saul opened the scroll of the Scriptures, on the sacred page, he saw Stephen’s face. Down every walking way, he met the spirit of God’s great first martyr. That’s why the Lord said, "Saul, Saul, it’s hard for you to kick against the pricks." The life of a man like Stephen would bring conviction and concern to any man’s heart. That’s what praying does, loving intercession.
And I haven’t time to speak of what intercession does in the circle of our homes and of our families. I read this week what I had read several times in the years past, a statistical survey of how people are won to the Lord. It will surprise you what a survey like that will reveal. The people who are won to Christ over, say, radio, are an infinitesimal percentage of a percent, or the people who are won to Christ by all of the other many, many activities of organized religion. It’s almost minuscule. But when you number the people that are won to Christ by the personal love and prayers and testimony of family and friends, you have practically all of them. I was, you were, outside of a small infinitesimal minority – all of us were won to Christ by the loving, prayerful concern of someone else. That’s the way God made it. That pleases the Lord: that we pray, that we witness, that we speak to others of our deepening interest in them and their welfare. And God bows down His ear to hear His people when they pray, and He answers from heaven.
If I were to ask as I have many times in these years past in the congregation – all of you who were won to Christ, introduced to Jesus through the loving, prayerful concern of somebody else, personally – if I were to ask you to hold up your hand, practically all of us would hold up our hands. Mothers’ prayers, fathers’ prayers, a neighbor’s care and concern; that’s the way God does His work in the earth, and it is open to all of us. Any one of us can pray, and any one of us can say a good word about Jesus and God does the rest. And we’re asking God, even this hour, to do a gracious thing for the Savior in heaven and for us having been invited and loved and prayed for.
In this moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, "Pastor, I’m answering with my life today. I’m going, with God’s help, to open my heart heavenward and Christward. I’m going to take Jesus into my life and into my heart." Or, "This is my family, pastor, and all of us are coming into the fellowship of this dear church." Or, "Pastor, God has said in His Book that, when I trust Him as my Savior, I ought to be baptized, and I’m following Him through the waters of the Jordan." Or, "Pastor, God has spoken to me today, and I’m coming. I’m answering God’s call."
And, could I address a special and particular appeal? There are many of you here who belong to the endowed and gifted organization of Zig Ziglar. You don’t have to join this church to come forward. You may live in another city. You may live in another town. You may work in another area, or your family may be bound in another communion. But if today, God were to place it in your heart to give your life in a new and more meaningful and deeper consecration to Him, would you come? Zig and I will pray down here on our knees for you. It will bless us. It will bless you. It will please our Father in heaven. As the Spirit of God shall touch the heart, answer with your life. Make it today. And God bless and sanctify the consecrated response and reply as you come. May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, how could I ever frame the word to say it – the gratitude of my deepest soul for those who have prayed for me? My mother, my father, these who knew me when I was a small child, [I] thank Thee, Lord, for their remembrance in prayer. Thank Thee, dear Jesus, for thousands of these members in this dear church who call their pastor by name before God’s throne of grace. God bless them. And our Lord, in the great sweep of this throng this morning, is there anyone here that somebody doesn’t love and pray for? In answer to prayer, may they give their lives to Thee. Make this a great day, wonderful Jesus.
And while our people wait and pray, make that decision in your heart this day. "I’m going to answer God’s call with my life, and I’m coming." In the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, come, kneel, and pray. You can either go back to your seat, or you can stay and let me tell the people that you’ve come. Just answer, and may God’s Spirit attend you as you come.
Thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest. In Thy precious name, amen. A thousand times welcome, while we sing, while we sing.