The God Who Answers Prayer
February 20th, 1983 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOD WHO ANSWERS BY PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-20-83 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled The God Who Answers by Prayer. In the long series on the "Great Doctrines of the Bible," divided into fifteen sections, the section we now enter is the section on proseuchology, the doctrine of prayer. The Greek word for "prayer" is proseuchomai, and from that, the study of prayer, proseuchology; and the title today, The God Who Answers by Prayer. There will be seven of these messages; and I hope that they will be as meaningful to your heart and life as they have been to me as I have prepared them.
As a background text, in James chapter 5, the last chapter, he speaks of the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availing much, James 5:16. Then he illustrates it: "Elijah was a man like us, and he prayed earnestly, and God answered his prayer that it not rain. Then he prayed again, and God gave rain in answer to prayer; and the earth brought forth her fruit." That is an unusual illustration, and effective, that James the pastor of the church in Jerusalem uses illustrating the God who answers by prayer. That was the test; that was the proposition, "The God who answers prayer, let Him be God" [1 Kings 18:24].
On one side on Mount Carmel stood King Ahab and all the people of apostate Israel and four hundred fifty of the prophets of Baal, and on the other side standing alone was Elijah the prophet of the God who spoke to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And the proposition and the test was, "The God who answers prayer, who answers by fire, let Him be God." And the prophets of Baal, four hundred fifty of them, prayed from the morning until the time of the evening sacrifice. And the Scriptures say, "There was no answer, nor any voice, nor any that regarded" [1 Kings 18:29]. Then at the time of the evening offering, Elijah, God’s prophet, knelt down and cried, saying, "Hear me, O Lord, hear me,And the fire fell" [1 Kings 18:37-38]. And had it not been for the mercy of God, I suppose, would have consumed this whole planet. The God who answers by fire.
In the passage that we read together in the life of Hezekiah, there is another like illustration of the God who answers by prayer. Sennacherib has besieged Jerusalem, and that tormented and troubled city faced execution, captivity, death [2 Kings 18:13-17]. And Rabshakeh, the representative and spokesman of Sennacherib, cried to the king and to the people, saying:
"Give yourselves up to Sennacherib my master, for there is none able to stand before him. And do not think to say in your hearts that Jehovah your God will deliver you, for where are the gods that were supposed to have delivered Hamath and Arpad and Sepharvaim, and Hena, and Ivah?" All great cities of the Mesopotamian Valley who had been pulverized by the besieging armies of Sennacherib, "Where are their gods? And do you think Jehovah God will deliver you?" [2 Kings 18:28-35].
And Sennacherib wrote Hezekiah the king a letter demanding the forfeiture of the city and the surrender of the people. And Hezekiah entered into the house of the Lord and knelt before God, and laid before God the letter of blasphemy. And God sent Isaiah the son of Amoz to Hezekiah, saying, "I have heard your prayer, and I have delivered this city" [2 kings 19:1-7] And that night, in the quietness of the night, in the silence of the midnight, one angel of God passed over the great, vast throng of Sennacherib. And the next morning when the trumpet blew, there was silence! And when the invincible king stood up to lead his army, there was silence. In the nighttime, one hundred eighty-five thousand of the troops and soldiers of Sennacherib lay corpses before the angel of God [2 Kings 19:20-35].
I do not know of a more effective poem in the English language than this written by the great English poet Lord Byron:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue waves nightly roll on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset was seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow laid withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!
And there laid the steed with his nostrils all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the [Gentile], unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
["The Destruction of Sennacherib"; George Gordon, Lord Byron]
The God who answers by prayer; and the same Lord God followed the course of Sennacherib as he returned to Nineveh like a nemesis, and the finger of God pointed him out, and in the house of his idol, his own two sons assassinated Sennacherib, the invincible king of Assyria [2 Kings 19:36-37]. The God who answers by prayer.
It pleases God that we pray. That’s the way He made and structured the universe. As He made us to breathe in our physical frames, so He made us to talk to God in our spiritual souls. In every way that God can, He encourages us to come before Him in prayer. Luke 18:1, "Our Lord spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." In Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious, burdened for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, tell God all about it, let your requests be made known unto God." First Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." It pleases God that we pray.
Not only individually, but collectively together, Matthew 18:19:
If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together, there am I in the midst of them.
Jesus is here, and He listens to us when we pray, and He searches our hearts when we worship before Him. He said, "My house shall be called an house of prayer" [Matthew 21:13]. It pleases God that we ask His help. The very heart of the Sermon on the Mount is this: "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" [Matthew 7:7]. Our Lord encouraged His apostles, in John 14 and John 16, and encourages us, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I give it thee." And I don’t know of a more marvelous verse in the Bible than these two in Hebrews 4:15 and 16: "For we have not an High Priest that cannot be moved with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried as we are. Wherefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that ye may find help in time of need." It pleases God that we pray.
When we come before God in prayer and supplication, it indicates many things. It indicates that we’re depending upon God for His help. It indicates that we are believing in the promises of the Lord. And it indicates that we are persuaded that God will send us the Holy Spirit to help us in our assignments in this life. I do not know of any preacher in this earth who ever had divine unction without prayer. Learning won’t do it, education won’t do it, brilliance won’t do it; prayer will do it. Nor do I know a church in Christendom who was ever filled with the flame of the Holy Spirit, who ever received that benedictory, holy, heavenly, saving presence from heaven, except through prayer and intercession. And it pleases God to answer by prayer.
Sometimes God will say, "Yes." Do you remember in the tenth chapter of Joshua? I just can’t believe the faith of a man that could do this. Do you remember in the story of Joshua, as they were attempting to bring into the promises of God the fulfillment of the Promised Land in Canaan, turns toward the sun, and he says, "Sun, stand thou still over Gibeon." And he turns to the moon and says, "Moon, and stand thou still over the valley of Aijalon." And the sun stood still over Gibeon, and the moon stood still over Aijalon. And then the Bible says, "Never before or after has there ever been a time when God so listened to the voice of a man" [Joshua 10:12-14]. Can you think about that; when God says, "Yes, yes." Sometimes God says, "Yes." Hannah stood by old Eli and said:
I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying. For this child I prayed; and God hath heard my supplication; and I have lent him to the Lord all the days of his life. He shall be lent to the Lord.
[1 Samuel 1:26-28]
God says, "Yes." There are times when God says, "Yes." God answers prayer, and there are times when God says yes.
"Well, pastor, have you found that true in your life?" Eminently so, eminently so. When I was seventeen years of age, I enrolled in the university. And I got down on my knees and asked God, prayed and supplicated and interceded before the Lord, and this is what I said: "Lord, I don’t have any way to go to school. Nor do I have any way to pay for my being here. Lord, could it be, could it be, could I ask of Thee, that I make my way through school, that I pay my way through school, that I find it possible that I go through school preaching the gospel? Could it be?" Seventeen years old, could it be that I could live by the gospel? And God answered that prayer, and for four years through the university, then when I went to Kentucky, not knowing a soul, for six years through the seminary, I pastored those little country churches who made it possible for me to live by the gospel. Sometimes God says yes.
When I came to this church, which was a vast assignment for me, I knelt down before God and I said, "Dear Lord, if I am faithful in preaching the gospel, and if I am true to the Word, Lord, will You send me souls? Will You send me people? Will You?" And God said, "Yes." I cannot tell you the number of times that families have said to me, "When we moved to the city of Dallas, the last thing we ever thought for was to go to the First Baptist Church in Dallas." Charles Bristow is an example of a family like that. They moved here from Little Rock, Arkansas, never intending to come to the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Times without number have I heard families say that to me: "We never intended to come to this church, but for some strange reason God has placed it in our hearts to drive these miles and miles and miles down to the First Baptist Church, and here we are." God answers prayer.
Sometimes He says yes. Sometimes He says no. God doesn’t always say yes. Sometimes God says no; but God answers prayer. Sometimes He says no. I don’t know of a more pathetic or traumatic or sad – I do not know of a passage in the Bible that moves my heart more than the third chapter of Deuteronomy. When Moses pleads with God, "Lord, Lord, after these years and years and years, forty of them in the wilderness, Lord, please, let me go over this Jordan into the Promised Land. Please, God, please," and the Lord said to Moses, "No, and speak to Me no more about this matter [Deuteronomy 3:25-26]. Do not bring it up again. Do not mention it to Me again. Do not say it again. Do not talk to Me about it again. The answer is no." And there in Moab Moses died and was buried in Beth-peor; and no man knows of the sadness of his life, much less where he is buried to this day [Deuteronomy 34:6]. Sometimes God says, "No!"
You have another poignant illustration of that in the twelfth chapter of 2 Corinthians: "Lord, Lord," said the apostle Paul, "this thorn in my flesh," we don’t know what it was, in the wisdom and providence of the Holy Spirit it’s a blessing, it could have been anything, anything that we have, anything that we suffer, any burden that we bear; "Lord, Lord, this thorn in the flesh, remove it." And God said, "No, no." Then Paul writes, "Therefore shall I glory in my infirmities, in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. Sometimes God says no.
And I have experienced that in my life, many, many times. When I was pastor in Oklahoma, some of the most marvelous churches in America asked me to come and be their undershepherd. And when I would refuse, the pulpit committee would say to me, "We don’t understand," and I would reply, "And I don’t either. God says no." When I was pastoring this church in the days when those crusades were so very much blessed of God – they are somewhat now by a very few evangelists, but about, oh, fifteen years ago these crusades in these stadiums and in these ball parks, they were very much in the spiritual, and ecclesiastical, and denominational, and church life of the people, crusades – and I was invited time and again to hold crusades. So I thought, "Well, maybe this is something that I ought to try to do, to hold crusades." So I gave it the best opportunity in this world, among people that I had known and pastors that I had gone to school with. And God said to me, "No. I called you when you were a child to be a pastor, and My assignment for you is to be a pastor, and a pastor you are to be." God says "no." And I never felt in anything or any part or any piece of my life a more definite rejection – "No!" – than I did when I tried to conduct those crusades. God says no. There are these great evangelists, and you know them, who hold those crusades. God says, "No, not you, not you. I called you to be a pastor, and to be pastor and undershepherd of that church, that church, this one." God says, "No, you are here."
Sometimes God says yes, sometimes God says no, and sometimes God says wait. Sometimes He says wait. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah and in the twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah, God’s prophet says to Israel, "Seventy years and I will visit you, seventy years" [Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10]. God says, "Wait. Over there, you captives in Babylon, where Nebuchadnezzar has taken you in slavery," God says, "Seventy years and I will visit you, seventy years." In Daniel, Daniel closes with that exact word: "Wait."
"I heard, but I understood not." Do you ever have that reaction when you read some things in the Bible? I see them here, but I don’t understand them. Ever feel that in the experiences and providences that overwhelm you in life? "Lord, I see this thing happen to me, but I don’t understand it."
"I heard," says Daniel, "but I understood not: then I said, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things? And He said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed to the time of the end. Blessed is he that waiteth, blessed is he that waiteth" [Daniel 12:8-12]. Give God a chance: He is not done with us yet! And He is not done with the world yet. Give Him a chance, wait on the Lord; "Blessed is he that waiteth. And Daniel, you go thy way till the end. For thou shalt rest," and he does, "And thou shalt stand in thy lot at the end of the days. Wait, I say, on the Lord" [Daniel 12:13].
May I point out just one other? Sometimes God says, "Wait." Habakkuk lived just before the awful and calamitous destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and he asked God about the prophecy that the city and the people would be destroyed. Now listen to Habakkuk: "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and I will see what He will say unto me." And what did God say to Habakkuk? "And the Lord answered me, and said, ‘The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it.’ Wait for it, wait for it!’" [Habakkuk 2:1-3] Then the most famous verse in the Old Testament follows it: "The just, for the just shall live by faith" [Habakkuk 2:4]. Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it. Sometimes God says, "Wait." He is not done yet! He is not through yet! He is not finished yet! And I often console my heart when things are the darkest and the bluest and the most discouraging: God is not done yet, wait. Then that famous, triumphant verse: "For the just shall live by faith."
You know, there’s a word in the sonnet of the marvelous Puritan poet John Milton that sounds to me like a verse in the Bible. Do you remember the last verse of that sonnet? "They also serve who only stand and wait."
"Wait, wait, I say," says the psalmist, "on the Lord" [Psalm 27:14], "For the just shall live by faith."
We’re going to stand in a moment and sing us a hymn of appeal. And while we sing that song, a family: "God has placed it in our hearts, and we’re coming and link our lives today with this wonderful church. We’re on the way, we’re coming." A couple you, you and your friend, you and someone for whom you’ve prayed, you and your husband, you and your wife, "The two of us, we are answering God’s call today, and we’re coming." A single, a single parent, a single somebody you: "I’m accepting the Lord as my Savior, and I’m coming," or "I want to be baptized as God has said in His Book, and I’m coming," or "I want to join this precious congregation; I’m coming. I want to give my life to Jesus, publicly accepting Him as my Savior, and I’m coming." As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand to sing, that first step will be the most meaningful and precious you’ll ever make in your life. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: "Here I am, pastor, I’m coming." While we stand and while we sing, a thousand times welcome; a thousand times welcome.
The Meaning of Baptism
I Peter 3:18-22
I. The introduction of the subject, the death, burial, and
resurrection of Jesus. This is the
heart of the Gospel.
1. Our Savior
died but He was raised again, the bruised seed of the woman soon ceased to be
lame…Truly risen and He was truly dead.
Death was not able to hold Him.
He did not see corruption. He
received life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 1:4. He rose despite the stone, the watch, the seal, the clammy
cold hands of death.
2. No fact in
history is so well attested, established and authenticated as the resurrection
of our Lord Jesus Christ. After He was
raised, He tarried here forty days, He was
seen of two then of three, then of ten, then of eleven
and then of over 500 at one time. Also
the living Church in the world today is an authentication of His resurrected
and living body. Tested and tried was
our Lord for 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry. He was assailed by Satan. Why does Satan not assail Him at the end of
His ministry? When the Lord could have
attempted to rise? Why not assail Jesus
when the Lord appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem and Galilee? Why not contest and interdict the Lord in
the air? Remember Satan is the Prince of the air. Why not contest His ascension into
heaven? Because Satan is defeated. He is silenced. Jesus is victor forever.
II. The ordinance of baptism
is a harbinger, a prelude, an anticipation of His coming reign in millennial
glory and the establishment of His eternal kingdom when He shall stand at the
latter day upon the earth in glory. He was raised from the dead for that
purpose. These forty days
are so different from His previous life. In this new and resurrected life there are
no Scribes and no Pharisees and no enemies to take up stones against Him. Not a ripple or a wave on the glory of His
triumph. This is pictured in the new
life. One raised in the ordinance of baptism
III. The strange passage
that follows this avowal in I Peter 3.
The resurrected Christ is pictured in baptism. It is pictured in the ark upon the waters from which judgement
Noah and his family were saved. This is
a strange and unusual ordinance. In
John 1:19-25, a committee from Jerusalem came to John to ask what the
innovation meant. This was the first
time one man took another man and washed him.
All the other instances of the use of water was by the man himself not
by another man. So, the development of
the strange persuasion that we are saved by water, that original sin would wash
away our iniquities and the doctrine of salvation by baptism.
IV. Our salvation is by the ark, by the Lord
Jesus and Him alone.
1. The waters of
judgement drown us. Amos 5:24, Matthew
7:24-27, II Thessalonians 1:7-8, Revelation 6:16-17.
2. Our only hope
is in Jesus our Lord. In His death and
atonement for our sins and in His triumphant resurrection from the grave.
3. The flood of
waters through which the ark passed and in which Noah was saved passed from the
old world of judgement and death to the new world of beginning again. This is seen in type in the waters of
baptism. The waters in the pool are the waters of the flood and of death but
Noah passed through these waters to a new life and a new hope such as we have
in Christ. Peter speaks of a spiritual
reality and lest think otherwise he writes the parenthesis in the 21st verse of
this 3rd chapter. Water itself would
only make the dry skin wet. The
spiritual reality is symbolized in the waters of baptism. The Antediluvians were dead in sin and
judgement but in Noah the race to a new life and a new beginning. So the believer, dead in sin, buried in
judgement is raised to a new life in our Lord.
V. If we receive the truth:
1. We are
confirmed in our salvation by the Word of God.
We are resurrected to a new life in Christ. The form is described in John 3:23. Every detail in the Bible will contribute to that spiritual
meaning of a baptismal resurrection.
2. This is
confirmed by the leading of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 8:29-36 we have the story
of Philip the Eunuch. His baptism was a
beautiful commitment to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone
could raise him from his sins to eternal life.
3. This meaning of baptism is confirmed by the experience
of the heart. In Acts 8:39 it says of
the Eunuch, ” after he was baptized, he went on his way
rejoicing.” Any child of God who
goes through that beautiful ordinance to a new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.