Make It a Matter of Prayer (43rd anniversary)
October 4th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 5:17-25
MAKE IT A MATTER OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:17-25
10-4-87 10:50 a.m.
I think the greatest piece of music ever written is Handel’s Messiah. When he composed that incomparable oratorio, this was the climactic song. In modern days we have changed it, and we close with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” But when Handel ended, he said he did hear the angels of heaven singing. If you go to Westminster Abbey there will be a monument to Handel, and he’s listening to the angels as he writes down the score for the song. But when Handel wrote it, this was the last and the climactic chorus.
Eddie, where are you? Son, sing some of these songs. I have nothing against Gaither and modern songs; I love to hear them. But let’s not forget these great, tremendous choruses and oratorios and anthems that have lived in the love of God’s people for over 300 years. Do that once in a while; do it. I love it; that’s something to me.
Welcome once again to the uncounted throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor, bringing the message entitled Make It a Matter of Prayer. In the first letter that Paul ever wrote, addressed to the church in the capital city of Macedonia, named for the daughter of Philip and the sister of Alexander the Great, sent to the church at Thessalonica – and in reading through the letter, which was immediately followed by a second one, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, you have an insight into the inner life of this wonderful man of God. It is one of prayer.
As I look at my Bible, on every page there are several references to intercession. For example, in chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians, verse 2: “We give thanks to God always for you all” [1 Thessalonians 1:2]. Good old Southern Baptists; it’s in the Bible. I’m not making this up: “We give thanks to God always for y’all, making mention of you in our prayers” [1 Thessalonians 1:2].
Look in the next chapter: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. In the next chapter, verse 10 of chapter 3: “Night and day praying exceedingly” [1 Thessalonians 3:10]. I turn the page. In this last chapter, verse 17: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. In the twenty-third verse: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord” [1 Thessalonians 5:23]. Verse 25: “Brethren, pray for us” [1 Thessalonians 4:25].
I turn the page; 2 Thessalonians 1:11: “Wherefore also we pray always for you.” The next chapter, verse 13: “We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved” [2 Thessalonians 2:13]. And in the last chapter, that first verse: “Finally, brethren, pray for us” [2 Thessalonians 3:1]. The text; 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” He does not mean that we are always and continuously to be on our knees in formal intercession. Even Jesus did not pray always on His knees.
In Luke 11:1, it says: “When Jesus ceased praying, His disciples came and said, Lord, teach us to pray.” It does not mean, “Pray without ceasing, we’re always to be on our faces before the Lord.” What he means is that prayer is to enter into all of the facets of our lives. Everything is to be made a matter of prayer.
When you’re weary in body and soul
Cumbered with many a care
When work is claiming its strength taking toll
Make it a matter of prayer.
When you’re discouraged, distraught, or dismayed
Sinking almost in despair,
Remember, there is One who will come to your aid
If you’ll make it a matter of prayer.
And when you’re lost in the world’s tangled maze
When life seems a hopeless and helpless affair
Direction will come for all of your ways
If you’ll make it a matter of prayer.
[from “Make it a Matter of Prayer,” Edna R. Brown, in Bible Monitor, Vol XXI,
June 15, 1943, No. 12]
A critic says these who pray are self-confessed persons, people, who are unable, insufficient, inadequate. We confess to that weakness. We are not able. The distresses and the fortunes of life are beyond what we can encompass in our pure human ableness. I think of the fortunes of life over which we have no control. The passing of days age us. The coming of death is inevitable. Tragedies of life such as crushed that young man when he was sixteen years of age, and uncounted, unnamed sorrows that are never shared. O God, how we need Thee, and how we lean on Thy kind arm!
To me, the poignancy of that last parable that closes the great Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says there is a man who built his house on the sand, and the floods came, and the storms beat, and the winds blew. Then, He says, there is a man who built his house on a rock, and the floods came, and the storms beat, and the winds blew [Matthew 7:24-27]. To me, the poignancy of that parable lies that both men, whether one was foolish or whether one was wise, both men built their house in the path of a flood, and of the maelstrom of a storm, and of the hurricane wind.
All of our lives are like that. We live our days before the flood and the storm and the wind. God must help us. And He encourages us to bring our poor souls before Him in prayer. We are encouraged to pray by the infallible Word of God. Jeremiah 33:3: “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” Our precious Lord, in Luke 11, Ask [Luke 11:9], do not be timid or hesitant. Ask. Just ask.
Ask, and it shall be given thee; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
For to the one that asketh, he receives; and to the one that seeks, he shall find; and to the one that knocks, it shall be opened.
We’re encouraged to pray.
That beautiful word in Philippians, chapter 4: “Be burdened for nothing; but in prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]. Ask. Pray. Seek the face of the Lord. He will stand by you. He will help you. He delights in bowing down His ear to hear the cries of His people praying.
We are encouraged to pray by the example of the saints through all of the generations. When the angels went on their way to destroy the cities of the plain, that included Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family. The eighteenth chapter of Genesis says, “And Abraham stood yet before the Lord” [Genesis 18:22]. “O God,” he said, “I have taken upon myself to speak unto Thee, I, who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]. God gave him his entire request: “If there are fifty righteous, I will spare the cities for the sake of fifty” [Genesis 18:26]. And when Abraham asked for forty-five: “I will spare them forty-five” [Genesis 18:28]. For forty, for thirty, for twenty, for ten; “If there are ten righteous, Abraham, I’ll spare the cities for the sake of ten” [Genesis 18:29-32].
You know, I’ve often wondered in that intercession. In the cities, there was Lot and his wife and his three daughters. That’s five. Isn’t that right? Lot, his wife and the three daughters; I’ve often wondered, if Abraham had just had the faith to pull it down to five: “Lord, if there are five righteous, would You spare the cities for the sake of five?” I think God would have said, “Abraham, for your sake, and for five, I will spare the cities of the plain.” O God, how we’re encouraged to pray by the example of Thy sainted children.
Jacob at Jabbok, calling the place Peniel: “I have seen the face of God” [Genesis 32:30], and wrestling with the Lord [Genesis 32:24], God changed his name from “Supplanter, Jacob,” to “Israel, a prince of God,” in praying [Genesis 32:28]. Moses, when God said, “Stand aside and I will destroy this people [Exodus 32:10] . . . Moses stood yet before the Lord and said, Lord, if Thou will forgive their sin” [Exodus 32:32]. And in the Bible there is a long dark dash. He never finished it – : “if not, O God, blot my name out of the book which Thou has written” [Exodus 32:32]. “If they cannot live, I do not want to live. And if You do not spare and forgive them, then, Lord, take me and blot my name out of the book” [Exodus 32:32]. Hannah was barren and sterile [1 Samuel 1:2, 6] and prayed God for a child [1 Samuel 1: 9-11]. Elijah knelt before the Lord and cried, saying, “O God, hear me. Hear me” [1 Kings 18:37].
Our Lord prayed for us in that high priestly intercession recorded in John 17. And the Holy Book says, “He is able to save us to the uttermost . . . seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25]. Jesus, our High Priest, before the throne of glory, calling us by name, answering our prayers. O Lord, how we’re encouraged to bow before Thee and to lay at Thy blessed feet all of the providences of our lives.
In this brief moment I have, may I speak of one other? We’re encouraged to pray by the very assignments that are given us in life. All of us have them, all of us. There are things that God hath committed to us, things that we must do, works that we must work, tasks that we must finish, all of us. May I speak of one in my life then, and one in my life now? When I was about eighteen years of age, I was pastor of a little village church in Coryell County named White Mound. Around a very large churchyard was a fence. And inside of that enclosure was a beautiful white, little white country church, with two columns out in front of it, then, to the side, an open tabernacle and, then, there, the parsonage. For almost the first ten years of my pastoral work, I was single. I was not married. So, the parsonage was empty.
Once a year, and for years, there was a tremendous revival meeting held under that open tabernacle. And some of the finest evangelists in America held meetings there under that tabernacle. It was a great, stupendous week, ten days in the life of that whole part of the world. Well, that year, eighteen years of age, the young pastor, I was to hold the revival meeting. When Sunday night came and the service was to begin under the tabernacle, I stood there in that churchyard and watched those people pour into those grounds from the ends of the earth. They came by horseback. They came by buggy. They came by wagon. They came by foot. They came by T-Model Ford. They came from the whole earth. And when I stood there and looked at them, my heart failed within me: “O God, how can I measure up? How can I do, O Lord!” I was simply overwhelmed.
The singer for the revival meeting was a young fellow named Fred Swank, pastor in his later years. Charles, how long was he pastor over there in Fort Worth? Forty-two years. Never had but one church, pastor over there for forty-two years. Well, it was that young fellow. Dr. McLaughlin was his minister of music and his educational director back yonder in the years. Well, he was the singer. He was my singer for that revival meeting under the tabernacle. And when I said to him, “Fred, I can’t do it. I am crushed beneath the burden of this meeting. I am not able.”
He put his arm around me and said, “You come with me.” And he took me to the back of that empty parsonage. There were steps, three of them from the ground to the back kitchen door. He set me down on one of those steps. He took his Bible and turned to 1 Peter 5, and read to me verses 6 and 7: “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due season, Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” [1 Peter 5:6, 7]. And he knelt down by my side and prayed: “God bless and help and strengthen.” I need not tell you that the Holy Spirit came down upon that tabernacle meeting. We had a great outpouring of the saving grace of our Lord. That was then. That’s how I began.
And now today, here in this sacred place. Dr. Truett died, the greatest preacher and emissary of heaven that we’ve ever known. Dr. Truett died the sixth of July in 1944. I was called as pastor of the church the twenty-eighth day of September, that year, and the first Sunday in October I delivered from this pulpit my first sermon as pastor of the church. When I was done preaching, when I’d delivered the message, I knelt down by the side of the pulpit right here. On the right side of this sacred desk, I knelt down and prayed. They had never seen anyone kneel down in the pulpit to pray. And when I knelt down and began to pray and to plead for the presence and blessing of God, the whole congregation burst into tears. It was a sight and a sound that you could hardly ever witness. People just began to cry before the Lord. And when I walked out the door with Bob Coleman, Truett’s minister, and musician, and assistant for over forty years, he put his arm around me, and said, “Young preacher, young pastor, this is your anniversary.” He said, “I’ve never been in a service like this, not in my life. This is your anniversary.”
And from that sacred moment until this, we have sought the face of God. We have prayed. We’ve asked the Lord to bless every facet of the multifaceted ministries of our church. And God hath answered from heaven; building these properties, founding our schools, organizing these outreach ministries, trying to bring the name of Christ in the heart of this great Metroplex.
And dear God, what we have done in these days past, let it be, Lord, but a harbinger, and a portent, and an earnest, and a promise of the years that lie before. Dear God, somewhere there is a young man who will take my place, as I stood in this sacred place where Dr. Truett preached for forty-seven years. Lord, when I came, I was forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett. And we prayed, and God heard from heaven.
And our Lord, in the unfolding future, somewhere bring to us that young man who will take my place. And O God, may the blessings of heaven rest upon him as the remembrances of Jesus have enriched my heart, my life, and my ministry with You. God, may there always be a glorious First Baptist Church in the heart of this growing metropolis. Do it, Lord. Do it for Jesus’ sake, amen. Now, may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, the God of all mercies, the Savior of our souls, the promise of the heaven that is yet to come; our Lord, we bring our poor souls to Thee. Forgive our sins. Give us strength for the pilgrim way. May God be pleased with the dedicated life we offer unto Thee. Stand by us, Lord. May we finish our course in triumph. May the Lord be pleased to work with us, to save the lost, to build the household of faith, to bless the hearts and homes of our people. Thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us this precious morning hour; in Thy saving name, amen.
In this moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, coming into the fellowship of our dear church; a couple you, a one somebody you: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me. The Lord has spoken to my heart and here I stand.” On the first note of the first stanza, welcome; from the balcony, down a stairway, in the press and throng of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, I am coming.” And welcome, while we stand and while we sing.