The Prayer of a Broken Heart
February 22nd, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
THE PRAYER OF A BROKEN HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-22-89 7:30 p.m.
In our following through the chapters in the Book of Genesis we have come to the thirtieth chapter, and the text is the first verse. And the message from it could be entitled The Prayer of a Broken Heart. Genesis chapter 30, verse 1: “And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die” [Genesis 30:1].
All of us familiar with the story know how deeply Jacob loved Rachel. She must have been beautiful; one of the most beautiful women that the Lord ever created. He worked for her for fourteen years [Genesis 29:15-30], and he bestowed upon her every beautiful gift imaginable; jewelry and bracelets, as well as the love and affection of his heart.
But her sister—and there is never an instance of polygamy in the Bible but that it brings sorrow and tears—her sister Leah, also the wife of Jacob, possessed the woman’s greatest joy and gladness and delight; she had one child after another. She was the mother of four boys, Reuben and Simeon and Levi and Judah [Genesis 29:32-35]. And the heartbreak of Rachel knew no end, and this word is a cry of despair, “Give me children, or I die” [Genesis 30:1].
I spent one time a good many days going through India, and I would stand at those heathen temples—the gods, oh, they were frightful to me, the very configuration of them! But India is a land of immense and illimitable idolatry! I one time read where they said there were more than 330 million gods in India. Well, what moved my heart was, standing in those temples and standing in those shrines, I would see women, oh, just pouring out their souls to that image, to that idol. And not being able to understand the language, I would ask the missionary who stood by my side, “What is this woman pleading for? What is the agony of soul?” And the missionary would reply, “She is barren. She has no child.”
“Well,” I would say, “why such agony of soul, that she does not be a mother?”
And he replied to me, “The reason she’s in such agony is not only because she is not a mother, but in India she has no standing and no status if she doesn’t bear a child immediately after her marriage. And having no status and having no standing, the husband is free to drive her out of the house, which means she faces starvation itself.” The plight of a barren wife in India is indescribably sad.
Now that is somewhat of the agony that broke the heart of Rachel. She had no child, and Leah her sister had those boys and that girl [Genesis 30:17-21]. And she bowed before God, praying in desperation. You know, it’s interesting how in the Bible there are women who have not been the mother of children, and how they agonized before God. Sarah was ninety years of age, you remember, and God had shut up her womb [Genesis 17:13-17]. And Hannah, here again, polygamist; Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, one after another, and Hannah had no child [1 Samuel 1:1-2]. And the story of 1 Samuel begins with her bowing in agony in the temple, in the tabernacle at Shiloh before old Eli. And though her lips moved, her agony was such that she could not express it in verbal language, weeping before God in desperation of heart [1 Samuel 1:9-13]. Now I speak of the earnestness of that supplication. It was parodied by John Knox when he fell on his face in Scotland, and prayed, “O God, give me Scotland or I die!” A parody of this: “Give me children, O God, or I die” [Genesis 30:1].
It’s remarkable in the Bible, those dramatic incidents of praying with a broken heart. Moses stood yet before the Lord, when God says, “You stand aside, and I will destroy this nation, and out of your loins I will raise Me up a people who will do My will” [Exodus 32:9-10] And Moses, pleading before God—you remember how in the King James Version there is a long, dark, hyphen there: “O God, if You will forgive their sins—” and he never finishes it; just a dark long hyphen. “O God, if You will forgive their sins—” and then, “if not, I pray Thee, You will blot my name out of the book which Thou has written” [Exodus 32:32]; praying with a broken heart.
Paul describes that in his own heart in Romans 9, verses 2 and 3: “I could wish myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” [Romans 9:2-3]; the prayer of a broken heart. It’s the kind of an intercession that God will hear, and that’s the need, the agonizing, earnest supplication of heart that we need in our life and in our congregation.
In Isaiah 64, “We are all as an unclean thing . . . we do fade as a leaf; our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. O God, there is none that calls upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee” [Isaiah 64:6-7]. How we need someone to intercede, and to pray. One man praying before God is a majority; just one. Preaching affects men, but praying affects God. Preaching affects time, but praying affects eternity. Revival delays because prayer decays.
There is no one of us but that in his heart of hearts senses our need of an outpouring of the Pentecostal Spirit—of God’s great manifestation of grace and saving power in our midst. Just revival, that there be a marvelous turning in the hearts of our people, and it comes only in prayer. We look at ourselves and many of our leaders and teachers do not earnestly pray, agonizingly pray; they never weep, they shed no tears. They don’t know what it is to travail before God. How is it possible for us to teach what we do not know? And how is it for the church to give what it does not possess? We can talk, but we can’t pray. A Niagara of words does not move God. Hannah, I spoke of a moment ago, her lips moved [1 Samuel 1:13], but the agony of her heart was not expressed in language.
So many times in our midst the spirit of prayer and intercession is dead. The invitation, “Let’s go to a prayer meeting”: how many would turn and accept it? Our attitude is that we finish in the flesh what God has begun in the Spirit. And the desperate need of our beseeching the Spirit and the presence of God in what we do is drowned in our own persuasions that our organizations will do it, and our programs will do it, and our reluctant flesh will do it.
God gave His only Son for sinners [John 3:16], the Bible for our instruction [2 Timothy 3:16-17], the Holy Spirit to come to equip us for the work [1 Corinthians 12:8-10], the open door of invitation to ask boldly [Hebrews 4:14-16]; but what good is a checkbook if the check is not written, and what good are all of the gifts of God if they are not used, if they are useless in our presence?
Men build churches, but they do not enter them. I go to this church, of course. I don’t go to any other church here in the city of Dallas, but [there are] over a thousand churches here in the City of Dallas, and people who know say that most of them are hardly attended. And I don’t know how many of them have services at night. They are dark! And this is in the Bible belt.
When you get out of where we live—I remember we drove one time for miles and miles to the northeastern part of the United States, looking for a church that was open on Sunday night, and never found one. Not one! Got churches, but they’re not attended. We print Bibles, but we don’t read them. We preach about God, but we don’t believe Him. We write about Christ, but we don’t trust Him. We sing hymns, but don’t remember them. And we talk about prayer, but we don’t share in it. God is delighted with an incredible faith. He is complimented.
As I read through the Word of God, some of the things that I find there are just almost unthinkable to me. Here’s one: how Elijah made it hard for God, not easy for Him; hard for God. On Mt. Carmel he built that altar out of unhewn stones, placed the wood and then the sacrifice on top [1 Kings 18:32-33]. Then he said to all of the people there, “You bring in barrels of water.” And they brought in barrels of water, and when they poured out barrels of water on the sacrifice and on the altar and dug a trench around it, he said, “Bring in more barrels of water.” They brought in more barrels of water, and then he said, “Bring in more barrels of water,” making it hard for God. And the Lord was delighted! The Lord didn’t look down from heaven and say, “Listen, it is enough for My hand to send fire to burn up that sacrifice, to set fire to the wood. What do you mean pouring barrels of water and barrels of water? That makes it more difficult.” But you know the end of the story. When Elijah got down on his knees and on his face before the Lord God and asked God to affirm His commission and mission from heaven to Israel, backsliding Israel, the fire came, and—the Bible is careful to point out—and it burned up the sacrifice, and it burned up the wood, and it burned up the stones, and it burned up the water [1 Kings 18:33-39]. That’s God! That’s God! God loves holy boldness. Just ask. With incredible faith, ask!
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Simon Peter sees Jesus walking on the water. Walking on the water! And Simon Peter said, “Lord, if it is Thou, if this is not an apparition, Lord, bid me come to Thee.” And the Lord was delighted! “You come. You come” [Matthew 14:25-29]. There is not anything too hard for God. Nothing is impossible with God [Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37]. And when the invitation was given to Simon Peter, “You come,” Simon Peter climbed over the side of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus. Isn’t it a tragedy that you have to end the story like this? When he took his eyes off of the Lord and began to look at the wind and the water, he began to sink [Matthew 14:30]. But God was complimented by his faith: “You want to walk on the water? Come, welcome,” and he walked on the water [Matthew 14:29].
O Lord in heaven, that we could have that kind of a faith. Ask of God a tremendous, incredible thing, and believing it, see it come to pass before our very eyes. And in our own hearts and in our own lives, there are things that seemingly are impossible. Don’t let that be a discouragement or disheartening to you. God is able! God is mighty! Ask it of Him, in faith believing [Matthew 21:22]. Ask it of Him! See what God does for you in your life.
I want to close with a thing that I read here in the Word of God. Isaiah stands before Ahaz [Isaiah 7:3], and because of the waywardness, and infidelity, and backsliding, and iniquity, and transgression, and on and on of Judah, Isaiah predicts the destruction of the nation; the carrying away into captivity [Isaiah 39:6], which came to pass; the whole nation destroyed [1 Kings 25:8-10]. But God is one pent-up revival! He just is! That’s God. Sweet people, I don’t know for whom or I don’t know for what, but God always is a God of intercession, a God of intervention. He just is a God of renewal and a God of revival. He is that! And the deader a thing is, the chances are the more likely God’s going to do a marvelous thing in giving life.
Well, anyway, this thing of the destruction of Israel, of Judah, came to pass, as you know, and the nation was carried away into slavery [1 Kings 25:11]. Then what happened? Ezekiel, God’s servant, God said to him, “Ezekiel, what do you see?” And Ezekiel said, “I see mountains of dry bones; a valley filled with dry bones.” And God says to Ezekiel, “Can these dry bones live?” And Ezekiel, overwhelmed and unable to reply in faith, said, “Lord, I do not know. Thou knowest. Thou knowest” [Ezekiel 37:1-3]. And God said to Ezekiel, “You speak to them, and you pray for the wind of God’s presence to blow over them” [Ezekiel 37:4-6]. And before Ezekiel’s very eyes, these bones arranged themselves according to the anatomical place and location, and under his very eyes, the flesh came upon them [Ezekiel 37:7-8]. And then when God said to Ezekiel once more, “Pray for the Spirit of God to blow upon them,” Ezekiel prayed, and they stood up [Ezekiel 37:9-10]. A living nation! Of course, it was a picture of Judah and the house of David and the people of God. God is a God of renewal, of revival, the outpouring of the Spirit [Acts 2:17]. God is a God of resurrection! Of life! [Romans 8:11].
O God in heaven, how I pray that there be in us, starting here tonight, that there be in us that earnest supplication and faith and intercession, O God, and then name it. I don’t like to say things that aren’t up, but last Sunday morning at the 10:50 o’clock service, we had one of the finest hours I’ve ever been in. One of the finest! The whole thing, from its beginning to its ending, all of it, and sweet people, there was not one who was saved, and there was not one who joined the church. Not one. We had a wonderful response with babies being dedicated, these coming to reconsecrate themselves, but nobody saved.
O God, how I pray that Dr. Wemp, who is now the leader of our evangelistic thrust, he says to you, to me, to our staff, “Every Sunday there ought to be twenty-five to thirty men, grown men, who ought to be coming down this aisle accepting the Lord as his Savior.” Sweet people, that seems like an impossible dream; every Sunday, twenty-five to thirty coming down this aisle, but it would be barely anything compared to the vast number of lost in this metroplex; just hardly anything compared to the number that need God.
O Lord of revival, Lord of resurrection, God of the impossible, Lord, hear us, Bless us, See us on our faces and on our knees, asking for a great outpouring of the Spirit of salvation. Do it, God, and let our eyes see it. And I have a deep conviction that God is going to do something wonderful here in our church. I just feel that, it’s on the way. God is going to do it.
Now we are going to sing us a song, and while we sing the hymn, I’ll be standing right here. And if there is a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple, a one somebody you answering God’s call, if the Spirit of the Lord bids you here, on the first note of the first stanza, come, and may angels attend in the way while you come. Now let’s stand and sing our song.