Lord, Teach Us To Pray
March 13th, 1988 @ 8:15 AM
LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-13-88 8:15 a.m.
And again, welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message.
I had a most unusual experience Friday morning. As you know, for these days and days I have been preaching through the Gospel of John. And I have one other message, an exposition of the whole eleventh chapter of the Gospel of John. And early Friday morning, I was completing it. And just suddenly, like the Lord spoke to me, He said, “I want you to change this and prepare a message on prayer.” Because of our prayer seminar under Don Miller, I presume, it was unconsciously weighing on my heart.
So I turned aside immediately and prepared this message on prayer from Luke 11. Luke chapter 11: “And it came to pass, that, as He was praying . . . one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. “Lord, teach us to pray.” The first word there refers to our Lord as a master teacher, “Teach us to pray.”
Our Lord was so oft times accosted, introduced, greeted, as a wonderful teacher. One of the men from the Sanhedrin, in the third chapter of John, begins his word to the Master like that. “Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God” [John 3:2]. And even the bitter enemies in the Sanhedrin, when they sought to entangle Him in His speech in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, they say, “Lord, we know that You teach the way of God” [Matthew 22:16]. All the Gospels say that He went around the villages and the synagogues, teaching the things of the kingdom of heaven. And Matthew writes at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, “For He taught them as one that had authority” [Matthew 7:29].
So here, out of all of the things that the Master taught, the thing that impressed them the most was this teaching concerning prayer. Thus the appeal, “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. It was impressed upon the apostles by the example of the Lord Himself. It’s an usual thing how Luke will refer to the praying of our Lord. Before He was baptized Luke says He prayed [Luke 3:21]. He was praying as He was baptized. Luke says before the apostles were chosen, our Lord prayed all night long [Luke 6:12]. Luke says that our Lord was praying when He was transfigured with Moses and Elijah [Luke 9:28-29]. And it is Luke alone who says that in the praying in Gethsemane, “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” [Luke 22:44].
But something else: not only were the apostles impressed to ask this question by the example of our Lord, but they came to the conclusion that there was a connection between the public life of our Savior and His secret life of prayer. It was never so seen in Israel [Matthew 9:33], the mightiness, the omnipotence invested in the life and ministry of our Lord. There was power in His hands. He could put His hands upon the blind, and they could see [Matthew 9: 27-30], on the deaf and their ears were unstopped [Matthew 7:32-35], upon the lepers and they’d be cleansed [Matthew 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42]. Such power they’d never seen.
There was power in His robes. The Greek word dunamis, translated “virtue,” power, even in His robes. That poor afflicted woman said in her heart, “If I would but touch the hem of His garment, I will be made whole” [Matthew 9:20-21].
There was power in His voice. He could speak and the storms were stilled [Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:37-39]. He could call and the buried dead would rise from the grave [John 11:43-44]. And not only was there power in His voice and in His robes, but His life was unsullied, uncorroded, untouched by the corruptions that afflict all of us weary sinners; He was separate and apart [Hebrews 7:26]. And the disciples concluded that there was somehow a connection between His secret life of prayer and the marvelous power in His voice, in His words, and in His life.
So they came to Him and said, “Lord Jesus, that we might know how to reach that power from heaven, that we might have that enduement from above that opens the gates of glory.” And we sing a song like that:
Teach me to pray, Lord. Teach me to pray.
This is my heart cry, day unto day.
I long to know Thy will and Thy way.
Teach me to pray, Lord. Teach me to pray.
Power in prayer, Lord, power in prayer,
Here, mid earth’s sin and sorrow and care.
Men lost and dying, souls in despair
Oh, give me power, power in prayer.
My weakened will, Lord, Thou canst renew,
My sinful nature, Thou can subdue.
Fill me just now with power anew,
Power to pray and power to do.
Living in Thee, Lord, and Thou in me.
Constant abiding, this is my plea.
Grant me Thy power, boundless and free.
Power with men, and power with Thee.
[“Teach Me to Pray” by Albert S. Reitz]
“Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1].
It’s a remarkable thing in God’s revealed Word what prayer can do. In the Book of Joshua, stopped the sun in its orbit over the Valley of Aijalon [Joshua 10:12-13]; in 1 Samuel, gave into the arms of Hannah a precious baby [1 Samuel 1: 11, 19-20]; in 1 Kings, brought fire down from God in heaven and rain from the sky [1 Kings 18:24, 36-38], In Isaiah, delivered Jerusalem from Sennacherib [Isaiah 37:36], and gave fifteen years added to the life of Hezekiah [Isaiah 38:4-5]; in the Book of Daniel, closed the mouths of the lions [Daniel 6:21-22]; and in the Book of Acts, opened the doors of prison [Acts 12:5-10, 16:25-26]. It is remarkable what prayer can do.
And we need encouragement in those intercessions. What begins as so simple a thing as to pray, but in continuance it is so difficult. Even Paul, in the eighth chapter of Romans was forced to say, “O God, I do not know how to pray as I ought” [Romans 8:26]. We don’t know how to pray as we ought. So the Lord invites us to His school of prayer. “Come unto Me. Sit at My feet, and learn of Me” [Matthew 11:28-29]. And the Lord delights to teach us in that holy and heavenly way. Strange thing, He never taught His disciples how to preach, but He did teach them how to pray [Luke 11:1-4]. How vital it is if we learn how to speak to men, but first we learn how to speak to God. If we have power with men, we must have power with God.
So the disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1]. Almost always that verse will be misquoted, “Lord teach us how to pray.” That may be implied. I will not deny that it isn’t in the background, but it’s not in the text and it’s not in the question. “Lord, teach us to pray” [Luke 11:1].
It’s not natural for us to give up what we want and to accept what God assigns. We have a will that is stubborn and selfish. “I want what I want, in my way. And O God, whatever Your will may be, I want my will achieved.” It’s not easy to give up what we want and to accept what God wills. “Lord, teach us to pray,” the will to pray, and in it to be importunate. Our Lord, when He would teach, would tell little stories, little parables, emphasizing the message that He was bringing to the hearts of the people. And He does it here in speaking of importunity, staying with it. In the eleventh chapter, He tells the story of a man who has a guest, and there’s no bread in the house. And he goes to his friend and neighbor at midnight, pounds on the door. And the man upstairs, getting out of bed says, “Go away.” And the man keeps on pounding. And though he won’t give him bread because he’s his friend, because of his importunity, Jesus says, he will come down and give him everything that he wants [Luke 11:5-8].
When I turn to the eighteenth chapter of this same Gospel of Luke, it starts off that same way, Jesus saying the same thing again. “He spake a parable unto them, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” [Luke 18:1]. Staying with it; not discouraged, waiting on the Lord, knocking at the door. Then he tells the story of this woman who was not given justice by a corrupt judge, but she stayed with him until he said, “Lest this woman weary me, I will give her anything she wants” [Luke 18:2-5]. Our Lord says in our praying we’re to be importunate, stay with it, stay with it.
We see that so encouragingly in the life of God’s great servants. On top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah said to his servant—and have you ever been to Mt. Carmel? It juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. Elijah says to his servant, “Go stand at the brow of the hill and see if there is rain.” Elijah, praying for rain, three and a half years of drought, praying for rain [James 5:17-18]; and the servant came back and said, “My Master, there is not a cloud in the sky” [1 Kings 18:43]. Elijah pled before the Lord and said to the servant, “Go to the brow of the hill.” And the servant came back and said, “The sky is iron and brass.” Elijah prayed before the Lord; sent the servant the third time. And he came back, “There is not a sign of rain in the heavens.” Elijah stayed before the Lord and sent his servant back a fourth time and the fifth time and the sixth time [1 Kings 19:43]. And when he sent him the seventh time, the servant came back and said, “My Master, there is a cloud the size of a man’s hand” [1 Kings 18:44]. And Elijah said to the king, “Rise, there is a sound and a sign of an abundance of rain” [1 Kings 18:41, 44-45].
That’s prayer. “Lord, I will not let Thee go till You bless me” [Genesis 32:26].
May I speak of just one other out of so much in the Bible? Importunity in prayer; staying with the Lord. When Jacob stole the blessing from Esau [Genesis 27:1-29] and connived to take away from him his birthright [Genesis 25:29-34], Esau, furious said, “I will slay him with my own hand; I’ll kill him” [Genesis 27:41]. And as you remember, Jacob fled from the wrath and the face of his brother to Padan Aram, up there at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley [Genesis 28:2-5].
Then the day came and the passing of many years, when God said to Jacob, “You go back to Canaan. Take your flocks and your herds and your families and you go back” [Genesis 31:13]. So Jacob is going back to Canaan [Genesis 31:13]. And on his way, when he came to the River Jabbok, a messenger came to Jacob and said, “Oh sir! Esau, Esau is coming with four hundred armed men” [Genesis 32:6].
And Jacob divided his flocks and his herds and his cattle and sent them ahead of him [Genesis 32:7-8]. Then he divided his families: Zilpah and her children, Bilhah and her children, Leah and her children, and Rachel and little Joseph [Genesis 32:22-23]. And then he stayed before the Lord.
And that night an Angel of the Lord, that’s another name for Jesus; that’s another name for Christ; that’s another name for God—an Angel of the Lord at the Jabbok wrestled with Jacob, perverse, deceiver, cheater; and couldn’t prevail; and He touched his thigh [Genesis 32;24-25]. And the Angel of the Lord began to leave, leaving Jacob hurt, crippled. And Jacob clung to Him, “You cannot leave me now!” And he clung to the Angel of the Lord. And the Angel of the Lord said, “Let Me go. It is coming the dawn and I must go.” And Jacob clung to Him, “You can’t go! I’ll not leave. You can’t leave until You have blessed me” [Genesis 32:26]. Importunity, ”Lord, I’ll not let go until You bless me.”
And the Angel of the Lord said, “What is your name?” And Jacob said, “My name is Jacob, deceiver, cheater.” And the Angel of the Lord said, “No longer will your name be Jacob, deceiver, cheater. Your name, now and forever, will be Israel; Israel, a prince of God, for as a prince of God you have power with men and with the Lord, and you have prevailed with God” [Genesis 32:27-28].
“I am not going to let You go till You bless me!” And the Angel said, “Prince of God; you have prevailed” [Genesis 32:26-28].
And the next morning, that morning, Esau came, fierce, with his sword drawn and with four hundred men to slay his brother! [Genesis 33:1]. And when Esau approached him, Jacob came to him, halting. And Esau looked upon his brother, and the Bible says when he saw him he burst into tears, and ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and welcomed him back to the Land of Promise [Genesis 33:1-4].
O God, what prayer is able to do. What importunity is able to do. “I will not leave Thee, Lord, till You bless me” [Genesis 3:26]. And the Lord said to him, “As a prince you have prevailed” [Genesis 32:28]. Oh, oh, oh! That we could be like that? Lord God, stand by me. And I’ll not let Thee go till You answer my prayer. These are going to be great days as we learn together, calling upon the name of our wonderful Savior.
Now let’s sing us a song. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, coming to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], coming to us, answering a call of the Lord in your heart, as the Spirit shall press the appeal, make it now. Answer now. “Lord, You have spoken to my heart today, and here I stand.” Welcome, while all of us stand and sing our hymn together, “This is God’s day, and God’s choice, and God’s time for me.”