OUR PRAYER-ANSWERING GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-3-86 7:30 p.m.
We shall speak tonight of Our Prayer-Answering God. This is the middle day of our week of prayer for the conversion of the nations of the world, that they all might come to a saving knowledge of Christ our Lord, and the message is in keeping with this week of prayer: John 14. I want you to read with me now verses 13 and 14. John chapter 14, verses 13 and 14, together:
And whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If ye shall ask anything in My name, I will do it.
Turn to the next chapter, chapter 15, and we are going to read verse 7.
Chapter 15, verse 7, together, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you” [John 15:7]. Chapter 16: chapter 16, verses 23 and 24. Chapter 16, verses 23 and 24, together:
And in that day ye shall ask Me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you.
Hitherto have you asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.
In every way that God could do it, has He encouraged us to pray. Ask. Ask. Just ask!
I was walking behind some teenagers through that passageway underneath this sanctuary, and they were talking. Now, I was not eavesdropping, or I was not listening just because I was trying to be privy to a private conservation. I could not help but overhear. I was just walking behind those teenagers. One of the boys was trying to get another boy to ask a girl for a date. And the boy that he was working on—trying to get him to ask the girl for a date—was timid and hesitant. And he said finally, “I don’t know how to ask her.”
And the first boy said, “Listen, there ‘ain’t’ no wrong way to ask her. Ask her.” I feel that way about talking to the Lord. There “ain’t” no wrong way to ask. Ask! “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit…” [John 15:8].
“Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” [Luke 11:9]. Just lay it before the Lord God and ask!
Now I’m going to speak, as though we were in a testimony meeting, of things that God has done for me in answered prayer. And some of them will be things that you have been party to and have lived through. One, when I went to college I didn’t have any money at all. How was I to go through school and have nothing at all? When I went down there to the school, I saw students who were as poor as I was. They didn’t have anything either, and they were working their way through college. I watched some of them. They had long sticks and on the end of the stick a nail. And they were going around punching pieces of debris and loose paper and leaves. They were cleaning up the campus. I watched some of them, and they were sweeping out the dormitories and washing the windows, and all through that campus, there were young men who were making their way through school by doing all of those janitorial assignments.
There’s not anything that anybody has done that, as a boy, I haven’t done. All of those things that kids do: I swept out the post office when I was a youngster. I shined shoes in my father’s barber shop, I peddled groceries. It wasn’t because I was too dignified or too proud to do any of those things, I just had in my heart—17 years-old—that God had called me to be a pastor, and I was studying to be a preacher. So I got on my knees before the Lord God and said, “Dear Lord, please grant that I can make my way through school by pastoring country churches. Please God, I’m not too proud to do these other things, but I want to be a pastor. Please God, let me be pastor of little country churches and make my way through school pastoring those rural congregations.”
The Lord answered that prayer. I made my way through college pastoring those little country churches. When I went to Kentucky to the seminary, I never knew anybody over there, just one or two of those students that had preceded me in the seminary. When I went to Kentucky, I missed one Sunday preaching, and I made my way through the seminary, six years there, pastoring village churches.
God was good to me, and, when I look back over those years, I learned more, being an undershepherd for those dear people, than I did in all of those books that I read in those assigned classes. I thank God for His answering prayer.
Again, when I came to the church here, Dr. Truett was the most famous Baptist in the world and by far the greatest preacher our Baptists in America had ever produced. He was a world citizen and was gone so much of the time. There is no preacher in the earth that can build a congregation and be gone. He cannot do it, no matter who he is. Truett couldn’t do it. And the last year of Dr. Truett’s life, he was dying of cancer of the bone. This pulpit was vacant for a full year before Dr. Truett died, and in those years this church steadily declined. In the statistical report for eighteen consecutive years, the attendance in Sunday school was less than it was the year before. When I stood here to preach on Sunday night, my impression of the church was one of wood. I looked at the back of those pews, empty pews, looking at the wood. This balustrade around the balcony was unpainted. It was the color of the back of the pews, wood. And those chairs in the balcony, until the last month, were wood. There were so few people here in the congregation that, when I stood here and looked at it, it looked like a woodpile to me. There were not enough people to cover the wood.
I so well remember again getting on my knees and asking God, “Lord, if I am faithful in preaching the gospel, will You send us souls? Will You, Lord?” And as distinctly as though God had whispered in my ear audibly, as distinctly did I have an answer from God in my heart: “You be faithful in preaching the Word, the gospel of Christ, the saving message of Jesus, and I will send you souls.” And from that day until this, God has not failed to honor that supplication: God’s sending us souls—men and women, families I never heard of, I never saw, coming into the fellowship of this dear church.
Not to embarrass them, but just typical: on the second row down here, every time I stand up to preach, is Dr. Leon and his precious wife—live over there in Oak Cliff. I didn’t know them; never had met them. The doctor came to see me with his wife and said, “God has put it in our hearts to join the First Baptist Church here in Dallas, your congregation.” He is still answering that prayer. “You be faithful,” said the Lord, “to Me, and I will send you souls.” And from throughout this metroplex, they are coming to this dear congregation. God answers prayer [Psalm 65:2].
Again, I was standing on Patterson Street, right there, and there was a sign on the Central Christian Church: “For Sale.” They had decided to move out. They had a quarter of a block of property on which their church was built, right there, right across Patterson Street. Right there. At that time, we were in the building program of what you call the Criswell Building, our chapel building on the other side of the sanctuary across San Jacinto Street. I went to our fellowship of deacons and said, “Some corporation will buy that property and build a fifty-story building on it, and we’ll never possess it. Now is the time to buy it. Let’s buy it!” And the deacons’ unanimous reply to me, “We are already with more financial obligations than we like to think for, building this building across the street, and we cannot entertain the idea of buying this Central Christian Church.”
I was standing there with Billy Souther, our educational director at that time, and I said to Mr. Souther, “I want you to look at that. That’s the saddest sight in all this world. That property is for sale, and if we don’t buy it, we’ll never possess it! A 50-story building will be erected on it; and I’ve asked the deacons to buy it, and the deacons unanimously refused.”
Mr. Souther looked at me and said, “Well, why don’t you ask God for it?”
“Well,” I said to him, “I never had thought of that. I thought you were to ask the deacons for it.”
“Well,” he said, “why don’t you ask God for it? Why don’t you ask God for it?” I thought I’d try it.
After I’d been praying about that for a few weeks, I received a telephone call from Mrs. Minnie Slaughter Veal, and she said to me, “I hear that you’re down on your face, praying. What you praying for?”
I said, “Mrs. Veal, I’m praying that God will give us that Central Christian Church. It’s up for sale.”
She said, “Well, how much is it?”
I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll sure find out real soon.” I found out. I called her back.
She said, “You buy it, and I’ll give you the money for it.” So in about a week or two, she called me again, and she said, “By the way, I forgot to ask you. What do you want it for? What do you want to do with it?”
“Well,” I said, “I want to build a parking building on it, and on top of the parking building, I want to build a facility where our people can come and there’s a gymnasium there, there’s a skating rink for our children there, there’s a hamburger joint in it, where our people can just be together.”
“Well,” she said, “how much does it cost?”
I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you real soon.”
So, I called her back, and I said, “The architect says it will cost $1,500,000.”
She said, “You build the building, and I’ll give you the money.” I built that building over there, and the church did not know what was going on. She didn’t want the church to know that she was giving the money, “For,” she said, “if people find out that I give money like that, they will drive me to the wall, asking me for money. And I don’t want you to tell anybody. You just go do what you want to do.” So I built that building over there, and the church didn’t know what was going on—the most amazing answer to prayer!
Again, I used to go around with Wycliffe missionaries. The Wycliffe missionary is out in tribes where nobody goes, in difficult places where the language isn’t even known. I saw a Wycliffe missionary this afternoon and said that I had gone thousands of miles with Cameron Townsend, who founded the Wycliffe missionary organization. He wanted me to see Tariri. He was a head-shrinker, had been wonderfully converted, and he wanted me to go see him. Well, I was in Yarinacocha in Peru, in the jungle camp of the Wycliffe missionary in Peru. So it was arranged that I’d get in a little one-seated plane, one-engine plane with Floyd Lyon, a Wycliffe missionary, pilot like Orville Rogers here, and he’s going to take me over there to see Tariri. In order to get to where Tariri was, you flew down the Ucayali River, then what they call a crossover to the Marañón River. Where the Ucayali and Marañón come together, you call it the Amazon river.
The plane had pontoons on it. Those pontoons are as big as the plane itself. There are no roads in that vast Amazon jungle, millions and millions of square miles. So, you go by waterways, and those pontoons on the plane are so the plane can land on the bosom of the river.
Early in the morning, we got in the little plane and went down the Ucayali and then the crossover to the Marañón. As long as you are where there’s water, you don’t have to worry. If you come down, that pontoon will just bear you up. But over the crossover, you pray God for safety. In the middle of that crossover—in the middle of it, it seemed to me that the plane exploded!
The engine made an awesome sound and quit! We were 6,500 feet up there in the air, and when the engine stopped, of course, the plane immediately began to fall. I tightened my seat belt around me, and I tightened the shoulder strap over me, and prayed, “God, Lord, just one thing; grant, Lord, that I’m not left with a broken back or a broken neck and my mind gone. If this is God’s day for me to be welcomed into heaven, I’ll love seeing You, Lord, but don’t let me hit the ground, and in the dashing of the plane to the earth, my body’s broken and my mind’s gone and I’m left a helpless, mindless invalid.”
For the only place, in and I do not know how many thousands and thousands of square miles, there was a village right beneath us: a little round thing from the air with those huts all the way around it. I thought he was coming down into that village, and with those pontoons, I knew it would be an awesome crash! There was a little creek going close by, and he maneuvered that plane into that little creek; had about that much water on it.
There was one of those Indians pulling a canoe across that creek. We missed him, hit the canoe, hit the water. How in the earth—there were stones and boulders and logs everywhere. We skimmed along on the top of the water of that creek and hit a sandbank, and the plane suddenly stopped!
We bowed our heads, and I prayed with many tears, thanking God for His gracious intervention. When I raised my head and my eyes, every villager was there. They filled that creek. I’ve often thought, “Had we hit that man, who was pulling that canoe across, and killed him, it would have been an awesome mob.” Instead, they were kind.
The radio on the plane was still intact. They called a Presbyterian mission on the Ucayali, that relayed the word to Yarinacocha, and they sent a wheel plane. The middle of that opening in the village was dug out, waist-deep, where hogs had rooted it out. They all filled those holes, everybody. Even the children took spoons and worked, filling those holes so that the little wheel plane would have a place in that central circle to land. And the wheel plane came in the middle of the afternoon and landed in that circle of the village.
When we got into the little plane to go off, why, when he gunned the engine, the plane went out, of course, into the circle, and because the land was dirt-filled and was wet, the plane spun around violently. And they pulled it back into the jungle just as far as they could. And the pilot prayed, “Dear God, lift us up. Lift us up.” And he gunned that engine, and when the plane entered into that circle, about halfway, it lifted up. And there in front of the plane and all the way back to Yarinacocha was a rainbow—a rainbow. It wasn’t raining. It was a clear day. I never saw anything like that. There was a rainbow that preceded us all the way back to Yarinacocha; God answering prayer.
May I just speak of one other? In the building of our parking facilities and in the acquisition of the Spurgeon-Harris Building, we incurred a debt on our church of $10,500,000—$10,500,000! And to the astonishment of the entire financial world, the prime rate went up to 22 1/2 percent. And we were obligated to the bank to pay one point above prime. We were paying 23 1/2 percent interest on that $10,500,000 debt. That meant that our church was paying in interest about $2,300,000 – $2,500,000 a year interest—nothing on the principle or the debt itself. And it was crushing our congregation!
In the fellowship of deacons, there is what they call an “executive committee.” It is made up of former chairmen of the fellowship. They had a meeting at the Dallas Country Club at breakfast time, and sent word for me, and they said to me, “We cannot carry this debt. It is crushing the church. We have to sell one of our buildings. And pastor, you can choose any building that you want to sell, but we suggest selling the Spurgeon-Harris Building. And we don’t have any other choice. We don’t want to sell it. It breaks our heart to say we have to sell it, but the time is come, that building must be sold. We cannot carry this debt.”
I lamented and wept and cried before God, day after day and week after week. It was a heartache beyond anything I had ever experienced in my life. If you ever lose any of this downtown property, you’ll never get it back again—never! And if we sold that building, it would never be in our hands again—never. So I asked God, “Lord God, I don’t know how to frame the petition, but please, God, do something.”
I took it to the church in this pulpit, pled and begged and wept and cried. And the church gave $2,500,000 to help secure that property. That left $8,000,000. I continued to pray and beg and plead with God. And what happened? There’s not a financial, corporate leader or a bank president or a financial entrepreneur in this world that would say such a thing as came to pass came to pass. What happened was, the Lincoln Properties came and said, “We will give you $7,500,000 for the use of these two parking buildings that you possess: the Ross Avenue parking building there, and the Spurgeon-Harris parking building there. We’ll give you $7,500,000 for the use of those buildings. And we will let you have the revenue from them.”
That revenue amounts to about $1,500,000 a year! They gave us $7,500,000 just for the use of the buildings, and give us $1,500,000 a year income from them! There’s nothing like that that was ever arranged financially in the corporate world. God did that! God did that!
And these properties—we are clear. They are paid for. When you look at that Ross Avenue property: it’s paid for. Look at that chapel building, it’s paid for. Look at the KCBI building, it’s paid for. Look at that L-shaped lot directly across San Jacinto from the sanctuary: it’s paid for. Look at the Mary C Building: it’s paid for. Look at the Veal Building: it’s paid for. Look at the Burt Building: it’s paid for. Look at the Christian Education Building: it’s paid for. Look at that wonderful lot right next to the Post Office: it’s paid for. Look at the Spurgeon-Harris Building: it’s paid for. And in just a little while, we shall have paid that full $4,600,000 for the Youth Building, and the $1,500,000 it has taken to remodel it for Doug Wood and these precious teenagers. It is a story beyond anything I could ever have dreamed for in my life. God did it.
I feel like begging your pardon for parading my personal testimony of our prayer-answering God. You could do the same thing, each one of you. When I thought through the service tonight, I thought I’d do it that way. I’d just have volunteers come up here and tell us marvelous things that God has done for you. Then, as I continued to think about it, I thought, “Well, maybe it would be better that I be our spokesman.”
Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask. Take it to God. Lay it before the Lord. Ask. He encourages us to do it. It pleases God for us to ask [John 14:13-14, 15:7, 16:23-24]. Just take it to the Lord, and see what God is able to do.
Now Denny, let’s sing us a song. And while we the song, to give your heart to the Lord; to come into the fellowship of our dear church; to answer a call of the Lord in your heart; anything that the Spirit might whisper to your soul, if you would like to come forward, we’ll pray with you; we’ll welcome you; we’ll love you; we’ll grow in grace together; we’ll strengthen each other. As the Spirit shall say the word of appeal, you come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
14:13-14, 15:7, 16:23-24
A. We are encouraged to
B. No wrong way to ask
(John 15:8, Luke 11:9)
II. I want to be a pastor
A. Asked God to grant a
way through school
B. Answered by giving
me country churches to pastor
III. If I am faithful, will You send us
A. God has not failed
to honor that supplication
IV. Ask God for the property
A. Minnie Slaughter
V. Plane crash in the Amazon
A. Rainbow before us
VI. Debt upon us
A. Church responded;
Lincoln Properties responded