Effective Praying

GETTING THINGS FROM GOD

Dr. W. A. Criswell

James 4:1-3

10-27-74    10:50 a.m.

Active Link to Video for this message.  http://www.wacriswell.com/serm…/1974/getting-things-from-god

 

W A Criswell in white suitOn the radio and on television all of us are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  In our preaching through the Book of James, we have come to the fourth chapter; and the message is an exposition of the first three verses.  It is entitled Getting Things From God.

The pastor of the church in Jerusalem writes:

 

From whence come wars and fightings among you?  Come they not hence, even of your lusts at war in your members?

Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your own lusts.

[James 4:1-3]

 

There are some words in the passage that in 1611 might have reflected the true passage that the pastor wrote, but to us they have a somewhat different color and connotation.  He says, “Do not these troubles that arise between you, arise of your lusts that war in your members?” [James 4:1].  The word ishēdonē.  A very common word in the English language is hedonism, hedonistic; that is, pleasure-loving.  Lust has a little different turn to us, today.  But hēdonē: self gratification, ministering to one’s self, pleasure.

Then the second verse: “Ye lust, and have not” [James 4:2].  Epithumia has no gesture toward lust.  Epithumia means to long for earnestly, to desire.  Then he says, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss” [James 4:3].  That’s all right.  Kakos, literally means, “badly,” and can mean, “evilly.”  “That ye may consume it,” dapaneō, means “to spend wastefully, luxuriously,” that you may consume it upon your lusts [James 4:3].  And there again, the word is hēdonē, for selfish pleasures.

So the pastor is writing about why we don’t get things from God.  Now he’s going to speak of it, not prayer in the sense of communion, or fellowship, or a surrendered yieldedness to God; but he’s going to write a prayer as an instrument, a means of receiving things from the hands of God.  How do you do that?

First of all, we would say, a truism: most people don’t even try.  Prayer is extraneous to their thought and to their life.  To the natural man, prayer would be a burdensome task.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

The same inspired apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:7, he said, “The carnal mind is enmity against God and is not subject to the law of God, neither can be.”  And he said further that the flesh cannot please God [Romans 8:8].  So to an unspiritual man, to a natural man, the man of the flesh, the carnal man, prayer is extraneous, and is looked upon as a burden, and as a tedious task.

Even in our church you will find that same repercussion, that holdover from our old carnal nature.  For to many of us, prayer would be a wearisome assignment.  I can see that in how our people respond, say, to an invitation to come to dinner, or to an invitation for entertainment.  And they’ll be there, but when they are invited to pray, they find other places that are more alluring and attractive.  And of course to a skeptic, and to an unbeliever, prayer is absolutely impertinent; it has no meaning whatsoever.  Prayer is nothing to an unbelieving world.  And to ask or not ask would be just the same.

Now when we come to ourselves—we who are Christians and have been baptized into the faith and belong to the household of God—we also find frustration in prayer; for we ask and we don’t receive.  That seems such a diametrical contradiction of what our Lord wrote.  You read Luke’s account of it in his eleventh chapter [Luke 11:9-13].  Matthew makes it a part of the Sermon on the Mount, when our Lord said in Matthew 7:7:

 

Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

 

Then He added:

If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to them that ask Him?

[Matthew 7:7-811]

 

So we ask, and surely enough, there is nothing returned: nothing received, nothing given, nothing found, and nothing opened for us.

Well, that’s why the pastor at Jerusalem—the apostle James—that’s why he writes this passage.  “You do not have because you do not ask; and you ask and receive not because ye ask kakos [James 4:3].  You don’t ask correctly.

God has put this world together in a way that it runs according to certain principles and certain laws.  And if you obey those principles and those laws, you will find a response, a return.  But if you don’t, you don’t find the response; and you don’t find the return.  It has to be done according to the way God set it up.  And to tell whether or not you are obeying the law or not, being obedient to the principle of God is whether the thing works or not, whether you get what you are after or not.

If you have a problem in mathematics, the answer as to whether you did it right or not is the sum of it.  Is it correct?  If you had a machine, the answer to whether the thing is put together right or not is whether it does what you want it to do.  Does it run?  And does it produce?

So it is in this thing of prayer, of getting things from God.  If you do it right, you have to use the instrument in the correct way.  If you get what you want, you have to do it in the way God set it up.  No matter what kind of an instrument, or how effectively it may be put together, if it is not used correctly, then it won’t work right.

For example, when our little fellow Cris was a baby, he was in a highchair, eating at the table.  And he had a spoon in his hand, and he was trying to eat with the spoon turned upside down.  Did you ever try to eat with a spoon turned upside down?  It’s just the opposite of what you want.  It doesn’t scoop up.  You have to turn it up, you know, to make it scoop up.  Well, he was trying to eat with it upside down.  So I took his little hand, and I turned the spoon up.  And I said, “Son, this is the way you eat.”  Well, sure enough, he turned it backside up and tried to go through eating, cramming that into his mouth.  No!  You can’t do it that way.  It was made to do this way.  And if you don’t do it this way and you do it that way, it doesn’t work.  It’s not made that way.

I was over there in Embree Hall one time, and I never heard such raucous noises in my life.  There were some of these teenage kids that somehow or the other had gotten the key to the organ; and they had opened it, and they were fooling around with that organ.  And the sounds out of it, Tommy, would drive a man insane.  It was made to work in a certain way, such as Tommy can do it.  But the way they were doing it, it sounded terrible.

Now all the things in God’s whole universe are like that.  He puts it together in a certain way.  And when we follow that way, and follow those principles and those laws, the way God made it to work, it works beautifully, marvelously—anywhere in it, up and down, high and low, from side to side.  But when we don’t do it that way, when we don’t follow the principles and the laws of the Lord, then we follow into ways that lead to frustration, and defeat, and sometimes abject despair.

So the apostle, the pastor, James, the Lord’s brother, writing here about prayer, he says several things.  One: we do not have because we do not ask.  And another: when we do ask, we do not receive because we ask kakos, badly, that we may consume it, dapaneō, wastefully spend it on our own hēdonē, our own personal pleasures [James 4:3].

All of us are made pretty much alike; and apparently there is no limit to our wanting.  If we have two cars, we want a third one.  If we have one, we want a second one.  If we are affluent enough to have a beautiful townhouse, we’d like to have one also out in the country.  If we have a million dollars, we want two.  If we have 500 million dollars, we want a billion.  The people who are the most avaricious and grasping for money are rich people.  There seems to be no satiety, no satiation to the wants of people.  They just expand, and expand, and expand; and the more we have, the more we want.  Nations are like that.  This is why the apostle writes, “From whence come wars among you and fighting?” [James 4:1].  It’s because these things that you seek, and desire, and covet, you just want more, and more, and more.  And so the nations finally come to bitter grips about possessions.

There is no solution to this oil industry.  Someday you are going to find, when it comes to a choice between the poverty and impoverishment of industrialized nations, and seizing the oil, I can tell you exactly what will happen.  They will attempt to seize the oil.  That’s the way humanity is put together.  We are just made that way.

So he says, that in our praying, so much of why we don’t get what we ask for is, we use God.  “Why should there be a God,” we say to ourselves, “if He is not usable to us?”  So we use Him.  And we ask in order that we may consume what we ask for, for our own selfish pleasures [James 4:3].

Now, I haven’t time to add to that.  There are many reasons why the Scriptures reveal to us that we ask, and we don’t receive.  For one thing, we don’t expect it.  We ask without any expectation of our prayer being answered at all.  The Lord said to a man one time, “According to your faith be it done unto you” [Matthew 9:29].

Sometimes we ask indifferently.  We don’t agonize.  The Lord spoke of that when He spoke of our importunity in prayer: to pray, to ask, to ask again and again, earnestness in our intercession [Luke 18:3-7].

Sometimes, we don’t get our answer because we have harshness in our hearts toward others.  The Lord said when you pray, if you have aught against your brother, forgive him; ask him to forgive you.  Make it right with him [Mark 11:25].

Then sometimes our prayers are not answered because of sin in us.  The psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” [Psalm 66:18].

Isaiah wrote the first two verses in the fifty-ninth chapter of his prophecy:

 

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.

[Isaiah 59:1-2]

 

So, these things interfere; they come between us and God.  But he also says, and this is the emphasis of the message this morning—he also says that there are times when we have not, because we ask not [James 4:2].  We just don’t take it to God in prayer.  We don’t make it a matter of prayer.

 

I got up early one morning

And rushed right into the day.

I had so much to accomplish

That I didn’t have time to pray.

 

Problems just tumbling about me,

And heavier came each task.

“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered.

And God answered, “You didn’t ask.”

 

I tried to come into God’s presence

And used all my keys at the lock.

God gently and lovingly chided,

“My child, you didn’t knock.”

 

I wanted to see joy in beauty.

The day tore on gray and bleak.

I wondered, “Why doesn’t God show me?”

He said, “You didn’t seek.”

 

So I woke up early this morning

And paused before entering the day.

I had so much to accomplish.

I had to take time to pray.

[“No Time to Pray,” Grace L. Naessens]

 

The reason we don’t have help from heaven is we don’t ask for it [James 4:2].  We don’t take it to God.  We don’t make it a matter of prayer.  We just rush into it ourselves, make decisions ourselves, plan things for ourselves, and just leave God out of it.  Then we wonder why life can be so bleak and so gray, so frustrating and disappointing.  We don’t have because we don’t ask.

You know, it is a marvelous thing, how God can be moved to answer if we ask—just ask.  Now I stumbled into this in Psalm 107.  The psalmist is going to talk about a man who is sick unto death, and in his extremity, he prays.  Then he is going to talk about a mariner, a sailor in a storm, and in the agony and terror of the hurricane, and the boat about to sink; then he is going to talk about the man as he prays.  And in both instances, the man is heard.  God hears him and saves him.  But the psalmist says, why can’t we take it to God before the extremity?

Now, you listen to the psalmist: “His soul abhorreth”—this, beginning at verse 18—“all manner of food.”  He’s sick.  He’s nauseated.  And he draws near to the gates of death [Psalm 107:18].  Then he cries unto the Lord in his trouble, and God saves him.  God sends His word and heals him and delivers him [Psalm 107:19-20].  Then, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” [Psalm 107:21].

Now, he’s going to talk of a mariner.  “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do great business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord ….” [Psalm 107:23-24]. God commands and raises the wind, and lifts up the waves [Psalm 107:25].  “They mount up to the heavens, and they go down again to the depths; and their soul is melted because of trouble.  They reel to and fro,” on a deck of a ship that is torn like a leaf on the water.  The people “reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end” [Psalm 107:26-27].

 

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and God brings them out of all their distresses.

He makes the storm a calm, and the waves thereof still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; and so He bringeth

them unto their desired haven.

Oh that men—Oh that men would praise the Lord for His

goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!

[Psalm 107:28-31]

 

God answers prayer.  He just does.  Here’s a sick man, in his extremity and he hadn’t prayed.  But in his final, agonizing moments, he asks God; and God hears him.

Or here are sailors that never think about God. Or if they do, they use His name in vain—like our politicians.  They just cuss all the time.  Isn’t that tragedy?  How in the world can God bless America when our men in highest office use God’s name in vain with no thought at all?  They all do it, practically.  I am so disappointed I don’t how to say it.  Here are men who, like drunken sailors, they reel and they are men that never have called on the name of the Lord.  And in their extremity, they pray, and God hears them.  He is that kind of a God.  We don’t have because we don’t ask.  We don’t take it the Lord.  We don’t make it a matter of prayer.

You know, in my preparing the message, I came across the story of a sweet little boy.  He was a German lad, and he was so devout.  He loved the Lord, and he prayed to God.  His father and mother were very dilatory, but the little boy was so devout.  The pastor would speak of him in praise for the godliness and holiness of such a little lad.  The headmaster at the school said, “Be sure always to be on time.”  So the little boy sought to be on time when he went to school.

This day, this morning, on account of his parents, the little boy couldn’t get away.  And when he walked out the door to go to school, the clock struck the time that he was to be there.  That was a long walk from his house to the schoolhouse, and the little fellow bowed his head and prayed aloud, “O Lord, O Lord, don’t let me be late for school!”

There was a man who overheard the boy’s prayer.  And he thought, “This is unthinkable!  It has already struck time for the boy to be there, yet he prays, ‘O God, don’t let me be late for school.’”  And out of curiosity, the man, the listener, followed behind the boy just to see what would happen.

You know what happened?  The headmaster of the school had put his key in the doorknob, in the lock, and somehow he had turned it the wrong way, and he jammed the lock.  He couldn’t get the door open.  They called for a locksmith.  And when the locksmith had finished his work, and the door opened, and the headmaster and the students walked in, in walked in that devout little boy, just on time.  Isn’t that blessed?  “Ask,” He says.  “Ask.”  Make it a matter of prayer.  “Ask.”  [Matthew 7:7].

Yesterday afternoon, I went out to Collins Hospital, a part of our Baylor University Complex, to visit one of our members.  He was there on the fourth floor in a wheelchair, as an invalid, where they had placed him out in the hallway; so I visited with him.  And after my visit, I said, “Let’s pray.”  So I bowed my head, and he bowed his.  And then I prayed.  When I said, “Amen,” and had finished my prayer, he seized my hand with both of his and said, “Now, I want to pray.”  I said, “Fine.”  So I bowed my head and closed my eyes again, as I stood by his wheelchair, and he prayed.

And this is what he prayed: he said, “O Lord, how wonderful it is to have the pastor to come to see me.”  He said, “My dear, sainted mother never had but two pastors: Dr. Truett and Brother Criswell.  And now he has come to see me, and I am so happy to have him.  And now, dear Lord, you know I don’t have a penny.  I don’t have a cent.  I don’t have any money at all.  And, O Lord, you know how I want a package of cigarettes.  Now Lord, put it in the pastor’s heart to give me the money to buy a carton of cigarettes.”  Then he said, “And dear Lord, if he won’t give me the money to buy a carton of cigarettes, dear Lord,” and he just held onto my hand, “dear Lord, put it into his heart to give me the money to buy just one package of cigarettes.  Please, Lord.  Amen.”

I pulled out my billfold.  You know, I couldn’t walk away from that guy without giving him that dollar bill for those cigarettes, as much as I hate those “coffin nails.”  I just couldn’t do it.  Well, the Book says we are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27].  I guess God is a little like that.  The rule is to ask.  The first principle is to ask.  “Ask, and you shall receive” [Matthew 7:7].

And He doesn’t say, “Study a book about it.”  You don’t have to be learned.  You don’t have to have doctor’s degrees.  You don’t have to have a diploma in theology.  You don’t have to go to the library and read a book.  Just as you’d talk to your own father, so the Lord invites us to talk to Him: the high and mighty, the low and menial.  All of us, just ask—just take it to God and ask.

Sometimes God will say, “It is not best.”  When Moses pled with the Lord to let him go over into the Promised Land, God said to him, “Moses, speak no more to Me of the matter.  No.  No.  No”[Deuteronomy 3:23-26].

When the Lord prayed, “Lord, let this cup pass from Me” [Matthew 26:39].  God said, “No.”  And the Lord died on the cross [Matthew 27:46-501 Corinthians 15:3].

When Paul said, “Lord, this thorn in the flesh; remove it from me” [2 Corinthians 12:7-8].  God said, “No, My strength is made perfect in weakness.  My grace is sufficient for thee” [2 Corinthians 12:9].  God may say no, but God’s rule and God’s principle is that we ask.  That’s the way He has put this thing together.  It pleases God that we ask.  Make it a matter of prayer.  Take it to God, and ask of God [1 Thessalonians 5:17].

The Lord, when He was incarnate, prayed.  In the second Psalm it says, “Ask of God, and He will “give you the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession”[Psalm 2:8].  But He is to ask.  Even the Lord Jesus is to pray.  It was the purpose of God to bless all Israel, but Samuel had to pray for the blessing [1 Samuel 12:19].  It was the purpose of God, in the days of Elijah, to send the rain [1 Kings 18:1].  But Elijah had to pray for it [1 Kings 18:41-45].

When Daniel read after seventy years in the prophet Jeremiah God was to visit His people and they could return back home, Daniel yet had to pray for it [Daniel 9:2-19].

It was the purpose of God to save the Gentiles, and God raised up Paul, Saul, to preach the gospel to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15], but he had to pray for us that we might be saved [Ephesians 3:14-17].  That’s the way God has put it together.

Why doesn’t God just do it anyway?  I don’t know.  It pleased God.  The principle, and the rule, and the program of God is that I ask Him, that I pray, that I take it before Him.  That’s the way God makes it work.

We have a tremendous assignment in our church.  We have our stewardship program that we are underwriting now.  I can tell all of our deacons, and I can tell all of our people this: we’re not going to succeed in that, if we don’t pray.  We must ask God for it.  And that sweet family that was up here, the Bristol family, they don’t do that of themselves.  That father of that boy prayed, and that lad prays.  And if he doesn’t teach his children to pray, they’re not going to do that.  They just won’t.  The time will come inevitably when they’ll say to themselves, “This is just too much trouble.  This is too much burden.  This is too much to give to God.”  These things come out of our prayer life, and they don’t come, they don’t arise any other place.

Same way about the spirit of our church: If God is here, we have to ask God to be here.  If we feel His presence, we must ask God, in saving grace, to walk among us, to sit down by our side, to live in our hearts.

 

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,

With all Thy quickening powers.

Kindle in us a flame of sacred love,

Even in these hearts of ours.

[“Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,” Isaac Watts]

 

We can’t do this without prayer.  It can’t be done.  I think the apostle is avowing, nor can it done anywhere in the world, nor can it be done nationally, unless a people pray and ask God, they would be thrown into wars, and conflicts, and judgments.  That’s the way God made it, that we pray [1 Thessalonians 5:17].

But if we do, God gives us above all that we ask or think.  That’s the way the apostle Paul closed his prayer in the third chapter of Ephesians:

 

Now unto Him who is able to do above all that we ask or think. . . .

Unto Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus. . .

world without end.  Amen.

[Ephesians 3:2021]

 

“Above all that we ask or think.”  If you ask, God will do above all that we have asked for, and all that we could even think for.  Abraham asked God for Ishmael [Genesis 17:18], prayed to God for Ishmael.  The Lord was pleased, and said, “I will make of Ishmael a great people.”  All of those Arab people, “I will make of them a great people” [Genesis 17:20].  But, He gave him more than he asked for.  When he was a hundred years old, and when Sarah was ninety years old [Genesis 17:17], out of his own loins, God gave him Isaac [Genesis 21:235-11].  “Above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20].

Jacob said, “Lord, if You will just give me raiment, and food, and bring me back home, I will give the tenth unto Thee” [Genesis 28:20-22].  When God brought him back to Bethel, Jacob was enriched immeasurably [Genesis 33:5-11].

Solomon said, “Lord, give me wisdom.”  And God said, “I will give you everything else beside” [1 Kings 3:9-13].

When the transgressor, the thief on the other side of the Lord Jesus, prayed, “Lord, remember me,” Jesus said to him, “Today—semeron—”This day you will be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43].

When the prodigal son came back to his father and said, “Father!  I am not worthy to be called thy son.  Just make me one of these menial hired servants.  Send me out into the field, or whatever, and just give me the wages of a hired hand.”  The father said, “Bring hither the finest robe, and put it on him; and put a ring upon his finger; and kill the fatted calf.  For this my boy was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” [Luke 15:18-24].  And they began to rejoice.  That is God.

“Above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20].  Ask Him.  Ask Him.  Make it a matter of prayer.  “Lord, I don’t know the decision to make in this.”  Ask Him.

James begins his book with that: “If any of you lack wisdom, knowing how, ask, and God gives abundantly” [James 1:5].  “Lord, I have a problem in my life.”  Take it to God.  Make it a matter of prayer.  “Lord, I’ve got troubles,” or “I have needs.”  Take it to the Lord.  Above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20] will God answer from heaven.

Ask.  It pleases God for you to ask.  He delights in our importunity.  Ask.  Take it to the Lord.  Make it a matter of prayer.  “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thessalonians 5:17]; that is, make everything a subject of intercession before God—little things.  He is not only the God of the big; He is the God of the little.  He is not only the Lord of princes, and presidents, and prime ministers; He is the Lord of the most menial, and the most humble.

Take it to God.  He will answer.  You’ll have a new life, and new hope, and a new uplift in your soul.  There will be a heavenwardness in you, a Christ-wardness in you that you never knew before, if you’ll just ask.

Our time is far spent.  In a moment, we are going to sing our hymn of appeal.  And while we sing that song of invitation, if the Lord has spoken to you, would you come down that aisle, or down that stairway?  “Today, pastor, I take the Lord as my Savior.”  Or, “Today, I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this dear church.”  A family, a couple, or just you, make the decision in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, come.  Do it now.  Make it now, while we stand, and while we sing.

Author: Editor

An ordained Baptist minister. Worked for 10 years with a Christian publishing ministry where I was the circulation manager for a growing publication, The Sword of the Lord. I also did most of direct mail fundraising and promotion. I have pastored churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Arkansas. I served for some four years as Vice President of The Spoken Word of God ministry, Orlando, FL. This ministry was active in church planting in India and broadcasting the Scriptures via Trans World Radio and other radio outlets. My associate in this ministry later invited me to join him and his dad in starting a business working with churches providing multimedia equipment. I have done this work for the last 16 years. This blog, hopefully, will scratch an itch I have for communicating the Word of God to a broader audience via the Internet. I would be honored to hear from you via email.

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