Make It A Matter of Prayer
September 8th, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 5:17-25
MAKE IT A MATTER OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 5:17
9-08-91 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled Make It a Matter of Prayer. We are so grateful to God for His heavenly watch-care over our pastor, who has just returned from a mission to India, dedicating a marvelous hospital there in the name of the Lord, and for the blessing of those Indian people. And this is the beginning of a week of prayer for state missions—that God will bless the response of our churches in creating fifteen hundred other congregations, and helping bring the saving message of Christ to the expanding population of our Lone Star State of Texas.
Out of the passage that you read just now, from 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, is a little brief text of three words: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. Make it a matter of prayer. This is the first letter in our Holy Bible that Paul has written. From Corinth he addressed it to the church at Thessalonica [1 Thessalonians 1:1]. And in this first letter of the sainted apostle, we find an insight into his spiritual life. It is one of prayer. In every chapter, and on every page of the letter, you will find his appeal to the Lord.
In chapter 1: “We give thanks to God always for you all…” A good Southerner was the apostle Paul—did you catch that? “Always thanking God for y’all.” “We give thanks always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers” [1 Thessalonians 1:2]. Next chapter: “For this cause also thank we God for you without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 2:13]. The next chapter: “Night and day praying exceedingly” [1 Thessalonians 3:10]. And turning the page: “Brethren, pray for us” [1 Thessalonians 5:25], and again, “pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
In our text, does the apostle mean that we are always—through the hours of every day and night—to be found on our knees? “Pray without ceasing.” Not at all! Even in the eleventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke—that tremendous portrayal of the prayer life of our Lord—it begins with: “When the Lord ceased praying,” His disciples came and asked that He teach them how to pray [Luke 11:1]. What the apostle means is that in all of life we are to make it a matter of prayer.
When you are weary in body and soul
Cumbered with many a care
When work is claiming its strength-taking toll
Make it a matter of prayer.
And when you’re discouraged, distraught or dismayed
Sinking almost in despair
Remember there’s One who will come to your aid,
If you’ll make it a matter of prayer.
And when you are lost
In this world’s tangled maze
When life seems a hopeless 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, 1943]
And could I also take from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of England in this last century, one of the most beautiful poems that he ever wrote?
More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me day and night.
For what are men better than animals
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and for those who call them friend?
For so the whole world round earth is thus in every way
Bound by chains of gold about the feet of God.
[from “The Passing of Arthur,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
Make It a Matter of Prayer. There are critics sarcastically avowing that the appeal to prayer is an admission of insecurity, and ineffectiveness, and disablement, and weakness. We admit it—cannot help but saying it! There is an innate congenital weakness, an incapacity, an inability in us that we cannot obviate or disguise. Do you remember Abraham when he came to God and said, “Behold, I have taken upon me to speak unto Thee—I, who am but dust and ashes” [Genesis 18:27]. How can we obviate the obvious? “I am made out of dust. And Lord, there is an innate, congenital, genetic weakness in me that I cannot deny—disease, and age, and death, beside frustration and despair—it brings one to his knees. O God, I need Thy strong arm and Thy help from heaven!”
And again, how do we obviate the vicissitudes and the fortunes of life that inevitably overwhelm us, all alike? You know, it’s strange when you read the conclusion to the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29], closing the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. He said life is like one building a house in the face of a storm and of a flood. The foolish man, He says, builds his house on the sand. The wise man builds his house on the rock [Matthew 7:24-27]. And we cannot help but think, in reading that closing parable of our Lord, “Why didn’t that wise man build his house away from the flood and from the storm?” and the answer is obvious. You don’t build your house except in the path of the flood. All of us face those exigencies and fortunes of life; and it brings us to our knees. “Lord, I’m not equal to the exigencies that overwhelm me. I need Your help.”
And we are encouraged to pray by the living Word of the living God. Jeremiah 33:3: “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Or, in the beautiful passage of our Lord that was the text of our so-gifted pastor at the eight-fifteen o’clock hour—the eleventh chapter of the Book of Luke: “Ask, and I will answer; seek, and you will find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For he that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh the door shall be opened” [Luke 11: 9-10]. That’s our Lord’s promise from heaven. And as though that were not enough, He said in John 14:13—that incomparable comforting chapter—He said: “Whatsoever ye shall ask [whatsoever ye shall ask, in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Ask. He encourages us to make it a matter of prayer [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. And what more could I say of Philippians chapter 4, the last chapter of Philippians, verse 6: “Be anxious for nothing”—careful for nothing, burdened for nothing, in despair about nothing—“but in every thing by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” [Philippians 4:6]—encouraged to pray by the Scriptures, God’s holy and infallible Word [2 Timothy 3:16].
And we are encouraged to pray by the example of God’s servants in Holy Scripture. “Abraham stood yet before the Lord,” when the angel announced to him he was sent to destroy Sodom; and in that city was his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family. And in the face of that destruction [Genesis 18:20-21], “Abraham stood yet before the Lord. If there were fifty righteous, would You spare it? Forty-five? Forty? Thirty? Twenty? Ten?” [Genesis 18:22-32] Did you know, I think God would have answered it, had Abraham said, “If there’s none but two righteous, Lot and his wife?” God would have said, “Yes.”
We are encouraged to pray by the example of these saints of God. At the River Jabbok, Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord all night long. And the Angel touched him, and thereafter he hobbled on his thigh. It was a remembrance of that night of desperate prayer, and God changed his name from Jacob to Israel. And Jacob changed the name of Jabbok to Peniel: “For I have seen the face of God” [Genesis 32:24-31]. What an incomparable experience!
And the Lord God said to Moses, “Stand aside, let My wrath burn against these people, and I will destroy them out of My sight!” [Exodus 32:9-10]. For they were down there at the base of the mountain naked [Exodus 32:25], and dancing around a golden calf [Exodus 32:19]. And Moses stood yet before the Lord and cried, saying: “O Lord God, if You will forgive their sins—” and in the Bible there is a long black dash [Exodus 32:32]. He never finished it. Couldn’t! His heart broke, and he couldn’t speak. “O God, if Thou wilt forgive their sins—and if not, blot my name out of the book which Thou has written in heaven” [Exodus 32:32], and for Moses’ sake, He spared those evil people [Exodus 32:34].
Hannah: “O God, give me a child; my barren womb and my desolate life! O God, give me a child!” [1 Samuel 1:11] And that was the beginning of the era of the prophets and of the kings. And Elijah cried on Mt. Carmel, “Lord, these prophets of Baal, hundreds of them [1 Kings 18:19-24], Lord God, this altar I have built in Thy name, and this sacrifice made for Thy sake, O God, send the fire! Send the fire!” And God sent fire down from heaven and burned up the water around the altar, in the trench, burned up the sacrifice, burned up the wood, burned up the stones [1 Kings 18:32-39], a prayer-answering God!
And Hezekiah said: “O God, look! Look!” And he brought before the Lord God in the house of Jehovah the letter of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, threatening to destroy the nation—carry them away into captivity. Hezekiah brought the letter before God and said: “O God, look! Look! Look! We cast ourselves upon Thy mercies! Please, God, from heaven…” [Isaiah 37:14-20]. And the Lord God sent Isaiah to him and said, “This night will be one of deliverance for My people” [Isaiah 37:21, 33-35]. And that night the angel of death passed over the army of Assyria that was surrounding the holy city of Jerusalem. And they counted 185,000 dead corpses in the morning [Isaiah 37:36]. And the king went back to Nineveh in defeat and frustration [Isaiah 37:37-38]. That’s God!
Could I follow through one other thing in the life of good King Hezekiah? Isaiah said to him: “Thou shalt die, and not live. Set your house in order” [Isaiah 38:1]. And as Isaiah left with that tragic message of death, Hezekiah turned his face to the wall; and he wept before God; and he prayed to the Lord [Isaiah 38:2-3]. And God said to Isaiah: “You turn around and go back, and you tell Hezekiah I have seen his tears; I have heard his prayers, and I am adding fifteen wonderful years to his life” [Isaiah 38:4-5]. Make it a matter of prayer! [1 Thessalonians 5:17].
So, the king said to Daniel and to all of the wise men of Babylon: “Because you cannot tell me my dream or its meaning, all of you face death” [Daniel 2:5]. And Daniel went to the three Hebrew children and read to them the ordinance of death. And they prayed; and God gave to Daniel the king’s dream and its meaning [Daniel 2:17-19,27-29].
And time would fail me to speak of the prayer-answering God in the days of this dispensation, the days of grace; the church, and those apostles praying for it in Jerusalem. The church gathered, praying for Peter, as the next morning he faced death at the hands of Herod Agrippa I [Acts 12:1-12]; or the sweet company of saints that met Paul at the edge of the sea. And he—in the Bible, I’m just quoting—“He kneeled down and prayed with them all” [Acts 20:36].
And what more could I say of our Lord in heaven? The great fourth chapter of Hebrews ends: “For we have not an High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our needs, and necessities, and infirmities, and weaknesses, for He was tried in all points as we are, though He without sin. Wherefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace”—you are invited and encouraged to come—“come boldly to the throne of grace, that you obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” [Hebrews 4:15-16]. “For He is able to save to [them] to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us” [Hebrews 7:25]; He prays for us in heaven, our Lord.
May I now be forgiven to take a leaf out of my own life? God answers prayer—the prayer-answering God, our Lord in heaven, making it a matter of prayer [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. When I was a teenager, I was called to be pastor of the White Mound Baptist Church in Coryell County, a country church, beautiful with columns, white columns out in front of it, and a very, very, very large, large, large churchyard, surrounded by a white fence; and by the side of the church a large tabernacle, an open tabernacle. And I’m speaking now of sixty-five years ago. In the summertime, when the crops were laid by, the greatest event of the year was the annual summer revival meeting, and I was to conduct it under that open tabernacle.
When the time came and the evening service to begin, the people of the county flooded in by the uncounted numbers. They came by horseback. They came by buggy. They came by wagon. They came by foot—a throng of them. And when I looked at that throng gathering under that big tabernacle for their annual revival meeting, my heart failed within me. I was frightened to death! To preach to that throng—O God!
The singer was Fred Swank. Were you in his church? The singer was Fred Swank. Never had but one church in his life, and that was over there in Fort Worth—Fred Swank. I told him that I was just dying inside of my heart; that great throng from the ends of the county, and I was just a teenager—O God!
He said, “You come with me.” There is a parsonage there in the corner of that churchyard, and I followed Fred Swank to that parsonage. And in the back were steps leading up to the kitchen door. And he said to me, “You sit down there on those steps.” And he opened his Bible to 1 Peter chapter 5, verses 6 and 7: “Humble yourselves therefore 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]. Then he said, “You come now and kneel down here by my side.” And he put his arm around me, and he prayed for me, that God would bless me, and help me, and stand by me in this hour of the great revival.
Sweet people, if I may be forgiven a little side of egotism, you should have been there that night. You could have heard me five miles as I preached up and down the aisles of that tabernacle, and outside and inside. And the Lord came down, our souls to greet, and mercy filled the glory seat. God answers prayer! Make it a matter of prayer!
I have time, just one other: this age of grace in which we live—a few days ago there was a large group of preachers asking me questions. And they said, “What is the greatest service in which you ever took part in your life? What is the greatest service you ever had in your life?” Then they suggested some: “Was it that time when the Baptist General Convention Evangelism Conference was held in Fort Worth in the Will Rogers Coliseum, and you preached on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and that man up there on the back row of the top-most balcony began to shout? And he came down the balcony, and down the steps, and down through the throng and up on the platform shouting?” Were you there that night? You are too young—too young—just a boy. They said to me, “We were there. And I never felt anything like that in my life! Was that the greatest experience you’ve ever had in a service?”
And another one said, “You know that address that you made at the Southern Baptist Convention, ‘Whether We Live or Die,’ that turned our convention into a Bible-believing commitment to God. Was that your greatest experience?” And they said several suggestions. I said, “No, let me tell you the greatest experience I ever had in my life.”
The great George W. Truett—pastor of this sweet church for forty-seven years—Dr. Truett died in July 1944, and they called me as pastor of the congregation to follow him in September; just a month in between. And the first day of October was the first Sunday in October, and after having been called as pastor of the church, I stood here and preached my first sermon. And the title of that sermon was Make It a Matter of Prayer, and when I got through preaching, I knelt down right here, on the side of the pulpit, and began to pray.
Dr. Truett was a very austere and dignified man. That was the first time the church had ever seen a man kneel in prayer in this pulpit. And when I knelt to pray—there was three thousand people jammed into this sanctuary—they burst into tears. Have you ever heard three thousand people crying? I had never heard a sound like that in all of my life—three thousand people, weeping unashamedly before the Lord. And when the service was done, Bob Coleman—the assistant to Dr. Truett for forty years—as we walked out the door together, he put his arm around me, and he said, “Young man, this is your anniversary.” The first Sunday in October, before we moved here to Dallas; “This is your anniversary,” he said. “For we’ve never seen, and we’ve never felt, and we’ve never experienced a thing like this in our lives.”
Make it a matter of prayer [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. God bows down His ear from heaven to hear His people when they pray. And that is our appeal to you who have listened to this service on television. Make it a matter of prayer. Ask God to come into your house and heart and home.
And if you don’t know how to accept Jesus as your Savior, there’s a number on the screen, call it. And there will be a consecrated man or woman to guide you into the kingdom of God. And if you will answer with your heart and open your heart to the Lord, I’ll meet you in heaven some glorious and triumphant day. And to the great throng in the sanctuary this hour, in the balcony round, the throng on this lower floor, down those steps or down this aisle: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m answering with my life.” On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.