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Quiet Talks on Prayer
S. D. Gordon
Copyright, 1904, by
Fleming H. Revell Company
I. The Meaning and Mission of Prayer
1. Prayer the Greatest Outlet of Power
2. Prayer the Deciding Factor in a Spirit Conflict
3. The Earth, the Battle-Field in Prayer
4. Does Prayer Influence God?
II. Hindrances to Prayer
1. Why the Results Fail
2. Why the Results are Delayed
3. The Great Outside Hindrance
III. How to Pray
1. The "How" of Relationship
2. The "How" of Method
3. The Listening Side of Prayer
4. Something about God's Will in Connection with Prayer
5. May We Pray with Assurance for the Conversion of Our Loved Ones
IV. Jesus' Habits of Prayer
1. A Pen Sketch
2. Dissolving Views
3. Deepening Shadows
4. Under the Olive Trees
5. A Composite Picture
I. The Meaning And Mission Of Prayer
1. Prayer the Greatest Outlet of Power.
2. Prayer the Deciding Factor in a Spirit Conflict.
3. The Earth, the Battle-Field in Prayer.
4. Does Prayer Influence God?
Prayer the Greatest Outlet of Power
Five Outlets of Power.
A great sorrow has come into the heart of God. Let it be told only in
hushed voice--one of His worlds is _a prodigal_! Hush your voice yet
more--_ours_ is that prodigal world. Let your voice soften down still
more--_we_ have _consented_ to the prodigal part of the story. But, in
softest tones yet, He has won some of us back with His strong tender love.
And now let the voice ring out with great gladness--we won ones may be the
pathway back to God for the others. That is His earnest desire. That
should be our dominant ambition. For that purpose He has endowed us with
There is one inlet of power in the life--anybody's life--any kind of
power: just one inlet--the Holy Spirit. He is power. He is in every one
who opens his door to God. He eagerly enters every open door. He comes in
by our invitation and consent. His presence within is the vital thing.
But with many of us while He is in, He is not in control: in as guest; not
as host. That is to say He is hindered in His natural movements; tied up,
so that He cannot do what He would. And so we are not conscious or only
partially conscious of His presence. And others are still less so. But to
yield to His mastery, to cultivate His friendship, to give Him full
swing--that will result in what is called power. One inlet of power--the
Holy Spirit in control.
There are five outlets of power: five avenues through which this One
within shows Himself, and reveals His power.
First: through the life, what we are. Just simply what we are. If we be
right the power of God will be constantly flowing out, though we be not
conscious of it. It throws the keenest kind of emphasis on a man being
right in his life. There will be an eager desire to serve. Yet we may
constantly do more in what we are than in what we do. We may serve better
in the lives we live than in the best service we ever give. The memory of
that should bring rest to your spirit when a bit tired, and may be
disheartened because tired.
Second: through the lips, what we say. It may be said stammeringly and
falteringly. But if said your best with the desire to please the Master it
will be God-blest. I have heard a man talk. And he stuttered and blushed
and got his grammar badly tangled, but my heart burned as I listened. And
I have heard a man talk with smooth speech, and it rolled off me as easily
as it rolled out of him. Do your best, and leave the rest. If we are in
touch with God His fire burns whether the tongue stammer or has good
control of its powers.
Third: through our service, what we do. It may be done bunglingly and
blunderingly. Your best may not be the best, but if it be your best it
will bring a harvest.
Fourth: through our money, what we do not keep, but loosen out for God.
Money comes the nearest to omnipotence of anything we handle.
And, fifth: through our prayer, what we claim in Jesus' name.
And by all odds the greatest of these is the outlet through prayer. The
power of a life touches just one spot, but the touch is tremendous. What
is there we think to be compared with a pure, unselfish, gently strong
life. Yet its power is limited to one spot where it is being lived. Power
through the lips depends wholly upon the life back of the lips. Words that
come brokenly are often made burning and eloquent by the life behind them.
And words that are smooth and easy, often have all their meaning sapped by
the life back of them. Power through service may be great, and may be
touching many spots, yet it is always less than that of a life. Power
through money depends wholly upon the motive back of the money. Begrudged
money, stained money, soils the treasury. That which comes nearest to
omnipotence also comes nearest to impotence. But the power loosened out
through prayer is as tremendous, at the least, to say no more just now, is
as tremendous as the power of a true fragrant life and, mark you, _and_,
may touch not one spot but wherever in the whole round world you may
choose to turn it.
The greatest thing any one can do for God and for man is to pray. It is
not the only thing. But it is the chief thing. A correct balancing of the
possible powers one may exert puts it first. For if a man is to pray
right, he must first _be_ right in his motives and life. And if a man _be_
right, and put the practice of praying in its right place, then his
serving and giving and speaking will be fairly fragrant with the presence
The great people of the earth to-day are the people who pray. I do not
mean those who talk about prayer; nor those who say they believe in
prayer; nor yet those who can explain about prayer; but I mean these
people who _take_ time and _pray_. They have not time. It must be taken
from something else. This something else is important. Very important, and
pressing than prayer. There are people that put prayer first, and group
the other items in life's schedule around and after prayer.
These are the people to-day who are doing the most for God; in winning
souls; in solving problems; in awakening churches; in supplying both men
and money for mission posts; in keeping fresh and strong these lives far
off in sacrificial service on the foreign field where the thickest
fighting is going on; in keeping the old earth sweet awhile longer.
It is wholly a secret service. We do not know who these people are, though
sometimes shrewd guesses may be made. I often think that sometimes we pass
some plain-looking woman quietly slipping out of church; gown been turned
two or three times; bonnet fixed over more than once; hands that have not
known much of the softening of gloves; and we hardly giver her a passing
thought, and do not know, nor guess, that perhaps _she_ is the one who is
doing far more for her church, and for the world, and for God than a
hundred who would claim more attention and thought, _because she prays_;
truly prays as the Spirit of God inspires and guides.
Let me put it this way: God will do as a result of the praying of the
humblest one here what otherwise He _would_ not do. Yes, I can make it
stronger than that, and I must make it stronger, for the Book does.
Listen: God will do in answer to the prayer of the weakest one here what
otherwise he _could_ not do. "Oh!" someone thinks, "you are getting that
too strong now." Well, you listen to Jesus' own words in that last long
quiet talk He had with the eleven men between the upper room and the
olive-green. John preserves much of that talk for us. Listen: "Ye did not
choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear
fruit, and that your fruit should abide: that"--listen, a part of the
purpose why we have been chosen--"that whatsoever ye shall ask of the
Father in My name, He _may_ give it you." Mark that word "may"; not
"shall" this time but _may_. "Shall" throws the matter over on God--His
purpose. "May" throws it over upon us--our cooperation. That is to say our
praying makes it possible for God to do what otherwise He could not do.
And if you think into it a bit, this fits in with the true conception of
prayer. In its simplest analysis prayer--all prayer--has, must have, two
parts. First, a God to give. "Yes," you say, "certainly, a God wealthy,
willing, all of that." And, just as certainly, there must be a second
factor, _a man to receive_. Man's willingness is God's channel to the
earth. God never crowds nor coerces. Everything God does for man and
through man He does with man's consent, always. With due reverence, but
very plainly, let it be said that God can do nothing for the man with shut
hand and shut life. There must be an open hand and heart and life
_through_ which God can give what He longs to. An open life, an open hand,
open upward, is the pipe line of communication between the heart of God
and this poor befooled old world. Our prayer is God's opportunity to get
into the world that would shut Him out.
In touch with a planet.
Prayer opens a whole planet to a man's activities. I can as really be
touching hearts for God in far away India or China through prayer, as
though I were there. Not in as many ways as though there, but as truly.
Understand me, I think the highest possible _privilege_ of service is in
those far off lands. There the need is greatest, the darkness densest, and
the pleading call most eloquently pathetic. And if one _may_ go
there--happy man!--if one be _privileged_ to go to the honoured place of
service he may then use all five outlets direct in the spot where he is.
Yet this is only one spot. But his relationship is as wide as his Master's
and his sympathies should be. A man may be in Africa, but if his heart be
in touch with Jesus it will be burning for _a world_. Prayer puts us into
direct dynamic touch with a world.
A man may go aside to-day, and shut his door, and as really spend a
half-hour in India--I am thinking of my words as I say them, it seems so
much to say, and yet it is true--as really spend a half hour of his life
in India for God as though he were there in person. _Is_ that true? If it
be true, surely you and I must get more half-hours for this secret
service. Without any doubt he may turn his key and be for a bit of time as
potentially in China by the power of prayer, as though there in actual
bodily form. I say _potentially_ present. Of course not consciously
present. But in the _power exerted upon men_ he may be truly present at
the objective point of his prayer. He may give a new meaning to the
printed page being read by some native down in Africa. He may give a new
tongue of flame to the preacher or teacher. He may make it easier for men
to accept the story of Jesus, and then to yield themselves to
Jesus--yonder men swept and swayed by evil spirits, and by prejudices for
generations--make it easier for them to accept the story, and, if need be,
to cut with loved ones, and step out and up into a new life.
Some earnest heart enters an objection here, perhaps. You are thinking
that if you were there you could influence men by your personal contact,
by the living voice. So you could. And there must be the personal touch.
Would that there were many times more going for that blessed personal
touch. But this is the thing to mark keenly both for those who may go, and
for those who must stay: no matter where you are you do more through your
praying than through your personality. If you were in India you could _add
your personality to your prayer_. That would be a great thing to do. But
whether there or here, you must first win the victory, every step, every
life, every foot of the way, in secret, in the spirit-realm, and then add
the mighty touch of your personality in service. You can do _more _ than
pray, _after_ you have prayed. But you can _not_ do more than pray _until_
you have prayed. And just there is where we have all seemed to make a
slip at times, and many of us are yet making it--a bad slip. We think we
can do more where we are through our service: then prayer to give power to
service. _No_--with the blackest underscoring of emphasis, let it be
said--NO. We can do no thing of real power until we have done the prayer
Here is a man by my side. I can talk to him. I can bring my personality to
bear upon him, that I may win him. But before I can influence his will a
jot for God, I must first have won the victory in the secret place.
Intercession is winning the victory over the chief, and service is taking
the field after the chief is driven off. Such service is limited by the
limitation of personality to one place. This spirit-telegraphy called
prayer puts a man into direct dynamic touch with a planet.
There are some of our friends who think themselves of the practical sort
who say, "the great thing is work: prayer is good, and right, but the
great need is to be doing something practical." The truth is that when one
understands about prayer, and puts prayer in its right place in his life,
he finds a new motive power burning in his bones to be _doing_; and
further he finds that it is the doing that grows out of praying that is
mightiest in touching human hearts. And he finds further yet with a great
joy that he may be _doing_ something for an entire world. His service
becomes as broad as his Master's thought.
Intercession is Service.
It helps greatly to remember that intercession is service: the chief
service of a life on God's plan. It is unlike all other forms of service,
and superior to them in this: that it has fewer limitations. In all other
service we are constantly limited by space, bodily strength, equipment,
material obstacles, difficulties involved in the peculiar differences of
personality. Prayer knows no such limitations. It ignores space. It may be
free of expenditure of bodily strength, where rightly practiced, and one's
powers are under proper control. It goes directly, by the telegraphy of
spirit, into men's hearts, quietly passes through walls, and past locks
unhindered, and comes into most direct touch with the inner heart and will
to be affected.
In service, as ordinarily understood, one is limited to the space where
his body is, the distance his voice can reach, the length of time he can
keep going before he must quit to eat, or rest, or sleep. He is limited by
walls, and locks, by the prejudices of men's minds, and by those peculiar
differences of temperament which must be studied in laying siege to men's
The whole circle of endeavour in winning men includes such an infinite
variety. There is speaking the truth to a number of persons, and to one at
a time; the doing of needed kindly acts of helpfulness, supplying food,
and the like; there is teaching; the almost omnipotent ministry of money;
the constant contact with a pure unselfish life; letter writing; printer's
ink in endless variety. All these are in God's plan for winning men. But
the intensely fascinating fact to mark is this:--that the real victory in
all of this service is won in secret, beforehand, by prayer, and these
other indispensable things are the moving upon the works of the enemy, and
claiming the victory already won. And when these things are put in their
proper order, prayer first, and the other things second; _second_, I say,
not omitted, not slurred over; done with all the earnestness and power of
brain and hand and heart possible; but done _after_ the victory has been
won in secret, against the real foe, and done _while_ the winner is still
claiming the victory already assured,--then will come far greater
achievements in this outer open service.
Then we go into this service with that fine spirit of expectancy that
sweeps the field at the start, and steadily sticks on the stubbornly
contested spots until the whipped foe turns tail, and goes. Prayer is
striking the winning blow at the concealed enemy. Service is gathering up
the results of that blow among the men we see and touch. Great patience
and tact and persistence are needed in the service because each man must
be influenced in his own will. But the shrewd strategy that wins puts the
keen stiff secret fighting first.
The Spirit Switchboard.
Electricity is a strange element. It is catalogued in the study of
physics. It is supposed to be properly classed among the forces of nature.
Yet it seems to have many properties of the spirit world. Those who know
most of it say they know least of what it is. Some of the laws of its
being have been learned, and so its marvellous power harnessed for man's
use, but in much ignorance of what it is. It seems almost to belong
somewhere in between the physical and spirit realms. It furnishes many
similes of graphic helpfulness in understanding more nearly much truth of
the Spirit life.
In the power-house where the electricity is being wooed into man's
harnessing, or generated, as the experts say, is found a switchboard, or
switch-room with a number of boards. Here in a large city plant a man may
go and turn a switch, that is, move a little handle, a very short
distance. It is a very simple act, easily performed, involving almost no
strength. But that act has loosened the power in the house back of the
switchboard out along the wires, and perhaps lighted a whole section of
the city. He goes in again at another hour, and turns _this_ set of
switches, and _this_, and sets in motion maybe scores of cars, carrying
swiftly, hundreds of passengers. Again he goes in, and moves the little
handles and sets in motion the wheels in some factory employing hundreds
It is a secret service, usually as far as any observers are concerned. It
is a very quiet, matter of fact service. But the power influenced is
unmeasured and immeasurable. And no one, seemingly, thus far, can explain
the mysterious but tremendous agent involved. Does the fluid--it a fluid?
or, what?--pass _through_ the wire? or, _around_ the wire? The experts say
they do not know. But the laws which it obeys are known. And as men comply
with them its almost omnipotence is manifested.
Just such a switch-room in the spirit realm is one's prayer-room. Every
one who will may have such a spirit switching-board in his life. There he
may go and in compliance with the laws of the power used loosen out the
gracious persuasive irresistible power of God _where he wills to_; now in
Japan; now in China; among the hungry human hearts of India's plains and
mountains; again in Africa which is full as near to where Jesus sits as is
England or America; and now into the house across the alley from your
home; and down in the slum district; and now into your preacher's heart
for next Sunday's work; and now again unto the hearts of those you will be
meeting in the settlement house, or the mission school.
Children are not allowed at the electrical switchboard, nor any unskilled
hand. For misuse means possibility of great damage to property and life.
And the spirit switchboard does not yield to the unskilled touch. Though
sometimes there seems to be much tampering by those with crude fingers,
and with selfish desire to turn this current to personal advantage merely.
It takes skill here. Yet such is our winsome God's wondrous plan that
skill may come to any one who is willing; simply that--who is willing; and
it comes _very simply_ too.
Strange too, as with the electrical counterpart, the thing is beyond full
or satisfying explanation.
How does it come to pass that a man turns a few handles, and miles away
great wheels begin to revolve, and enormous power is manifested? Will some
one kindly explain? Yet we know it is so, and men govern their actions by
How does it come to pass that a woman in Iowa prays for the conversion of
her skeptical husband, and he, down in the thick of the most absorbing
congress Washington has known since the civil war, and in full ignorance
of her purpose becomes conscious and repeatedly conscious of the presence
and power of the God in whose existence he does not believe; and months
afterwards with his keen, legally trained mind, finds the calendar to fit
together the beginning of her praying with the beginning of his unwelcome
consciousness? Will some one kindly explain? Ah! who can, adequately! Yet
the facts, easy ascertainable, are there, and evidenced in the complete
change in the life and calling of the man.
How comes it to pass that a woman in Missouri praying for a friend of keen
intellectual skeptically in Glasgow, who can skillfully measure and parry
argument, yet finds afterwards that the time of her praying is the time of
his, at first decidedly unwelcome, but finally radical change of
convictions! Yet groups of thoughtful men and women know these two
instances to be even so though unable to explain how.
And as the mysterious electrical power is being used by obedience to its
laws, even so is the power of prayer being used by many who understand
simply enough of its laws to obey, and to bring the stupendous results.
The Broad Inner Horizon.
This suggests at once that the rightly rounded Christian life has two
sides; the _out_-side, and the _inner_ side. To most of us the outer side
seems the greater. The living, the serving, the giving, the doing, the
absorption in life's work, the contact with men, with the great majority
the sheer struggle for existence--these take the greater thought and time
of us all. They seem to be the great business of life even to those of us
who thoroughly believe in the inner life.
But when the real eyes open, the inner eyes that see the unseen, the
change of perspective is first ludicrous, then terrific, then pathetic.
Ludicrous, because of the change of proportions; terrific, because of the
issues at stake; pathetic, because of strong men that see not, and push on
spending splendid strength whittling sticks. The outer side is narrow in
its limits. It has to do with food and clothing, bricks and lumber, time
and the passing hour, the culture of the mind, the joys of social contact,
the smoothing of the way for the suffering. And it needs not to be said,
that these are right; they belong in the picture; they are its physical
The inner side _includes all of these_, and stretches infinitely beyond.
Its limits are broad; broad as the home of man; with its enswathing
atmosphere added. It touches the inner spirit. It moves in upon the
motives, the loves, the heart. It moves out upon the myriad spirit-beings
and forces that swarm ceaselessly about the earth staining and sliming
men's souls and lives. It moves up to the arm of God in cooperation with
His great love-plan for a world.
Shall we follow for a day one who has gotten the true perspective? Here is
the outer side: a humble home, a narrow circle, tending the baby,
patching, sewing, cooking, calling; _or_, measuring dry goods, chopping a
typewriter, checking up a ledger, feeding the swift machinery, endless
stitching, gripping a locomotive lever, pushing the plow, tending the
stock, doing the chores, tiresome examination papers; and all the rest of
the endless, endless, doing, day by day, of the commonplace treadmill
things, that must be done, that fill out the day of the great majority of
human lives. This one whom we are following unseen is doing quietly,
cheerily his daily round, with a bit of sunshine in his face, a light in
his eye, and lightness in his step, and the commonplace place becomes
uncommon by reason of the presence of this man with the uncommon spirit.
He is working for God. No, better, he is working with God. He has an
unseen Friend at his side. That changes all. The common drudgery ceases to
be common, and ceases to be drudgery because it is done for such an
uncommon Master. That is the outer, the narrow side of this life: not
narrow in itself but in its proportion to the whole.
Now, hold your breath, and look, for here is the inner side where the
larger work of life is being done. Here is the quiet bit of time alone
with God, with the Book. The door is shut, as the Master said. Now it is
the morning hour with a bit of made light, for the sun is busy yet farther
east. Now it is the evening hour, with the sun speeding towards western
service, and the bed invitingly near. There is a looking up into God's
face; then keen but reverent reading, and then a simple intelligent
pleading with its many variations of this--"Thy will be done, in the
Victor's name." God Himself is here, in this inner room. The angels are
here. This room opens out into and is in direct touch with a spirit space
as wide as the earth. The horizon of this room is as broad as the globe.
God's presence with this man makes it so.
To-day a half hour is spent in China, for its missionaries, its native
Christians, its millions, the printed page, the personal contact, the
telling of the story, the school, the dispensary, the hospital. And in
through the petitions runs this golden thread--"Victory in Jesus' name:
victory in Jesus' name; to-day: to-day: Thy will be being done: the other
will undone: victory in Jesus' name." Tomorrow's bit of time is largely
spent in India perhaps. And so this man with the narrow outer horizon and
the broad inner horizon pushes his spirit-way through Japan, India,
Ceylon, Persia, Arabia, Turkey, Africa, Europe's papal lands, the South
American States, the home land, its cities, frontiers, slums, the home
town, the home church, the man across the alley; in and out; out and in;
the tide of prayer sweeps quietly, resistlessly day by day.
This is the true Christian life. This man is winning souls and refreshing
lives in these far-off lands and in near-by places as truly as though he
were in each place. This is the Master's plan. The true follower of Jesus
has as broad a horizon as his Master. Jesus thought in continents and
seas. His follower prays in continents and seas. This man does not know
what is being accomplished. Yes! He _does_ know, too. He knows by the
inference of faith.
This room where we are meeting and talking together might be shut up so
completely that no light comes in. A single crack breaking somewhere lets
in a thin line of light. But that line of light shining in the darkness
tells of a whole sun of light flooding the outer world.
There comes to this man occasional, yes frequent, evidences of changes
being wrought, yet he knows that these are but the thin line of glory
light which speaks of the fuller shining. And with a spirit touched with
glad awe that he can and may help God, and a heart full alike of peace and
of yearning, and a life fragrant with an unseen Presence he goes steadily
on his way, towards the dawning of the day.
Prayer the Deciding Factor in a Spirit Conflict
A Prehistoric Conflict.
In its simplest meaning prayer has to do with a conflict. Rightly
understood it is the deciding factor in a spirit conflict. The scene of
the conflict is the earth. The purpose of the conflict is to decide the
control of the earth, and its inhabitants. The conflict runs back into the
misty ages of the creation time.
The rightful prince of the earth is Jesus, the King's Son. There is a
pretender prince who was once rightful prince. He was guilty of a breach
of trust. But like King Saul, after his rejection and David's anointing in
his place, he has been and is trying his best by dint of force to hold the
realm and oust the rightful ruler.
The rightful Prince is seeking by utterly different means, namely by
persuasion, to win the world back to its first allegiance. He had a fierce
set-to with the pretender, and after a series of victories won the great
victory of the resurrection morning.
There is one peculiarity of this conflict making it different from all
others; namely, a decided victory, and the utter vanquishing of the
leading general has not stopped the war. And the reason is remarkable. The
Victor has a deep love-ambition to win, not merely against the enemy, but
_into men's hearts, by their free consent_. And so, with marvellous
love-born wisdom and courage, the conflict is left open, for men's sake.
It is a spirit conflict. The earth is swung in a spirit atmosphere. There
are unnumbered thousands of spirit beings good and evil, tramping the
earth's surface, and filling its atmosphere. They are splendidly organized
into two compact organizations.
Man is a spirit being; an embodied spirit being. He has a body and a mind.
He is a spirit. His real conflicts are of the spirit sort; in the spirit
realm, with other spirit beings.
Satan is a spirit being; an unembodied spirit being. That is, unembodied,
save as in much cunning, with deep, dark purpose he secures embodiment in
The only sort of power that influences in the spirit realm is _moral_
power. By which is not meant _goodness_, but that sort of power either bad
or good which is not of a physical sort: that higher, infinitely higher
and greater power than the mere physical. Moral power is the opposite of
violent or physical power.
God does not use force, violent physical force. There are some exceptions
to this statement. There have been righteous wars, righteous on one side.
Turning to the Bible record, in emergencies, in extreme instances God has
ordered war measures. The nations that Israel was told to remove by the
death of war would have inevitably worn themselves out through their
physical excesses, and disobedience of the laws of life. But a wide view
of the race revealed an emergency which demanded a speedier movement. And
as an exception, for the sake of His plan for the ultimate saving of a
race, and a world, God gave an extermination order. The emergency makes
the exception. There is one circumstance under which the taking of human
life is right, namely, when it can be clearly established that God the
giver and sovereign of life has so directed. But the rule clearly is that
God does not use force.
But note sharply in contrast with this that physical force is one of
Satan's chief weapons. But mark there two intensely interesting facts:
first, he can use it only as he secures man as his ally, and uses it
through him. And, second, in using it he has with great subtlety sought to
shift the sphere of action. He knows that in the sphere of spirit force
pure and simple he is at a disadvantage: indeed, worse yet, he is
defeated. For there is a moral force on the other side greater than any at
his command. The forces of purity and righteousness he simply _can_not
withstand. Jesus is the personification of purity and righteousness. It
was on this moral ground, in this spirit sphere that He won the great
victory. He ran a terrific gauntlet of tests, subtle and fierce, through
those human years, and came out victor with His purity and righteousness
Prayer is Projecting One's Spirit Personality.
Now prayer is a spirit force, it has to do wholly with spirit beings and
forces. It is an insistent claiming, by a man, an embodied spirit being,
down on the contested earth, that the power of Jesus' victory over the
great evil-spirit chieftain shall extend to particular lives now under his
control. The prayer takes on the characteristic of the man praying. He is
a spirit being. It becomes a spirit force. It is a projecting into the
spirit realm of his spirit personality. Being a spirit force it has
certain qualities or characteristics of unembodied spirit beings. An
unembodied spirit being is not limited by space as we embodied folk are.
It can go as swiftly as we can think. If I want to go to London it will
take at least a week's time to get my body through the intervening space.
But I can think myself into London more quickly than I can say the words,
and be walking down the Strand. Now a spirit being can go as quickly as I
Further, spirit beings are not limited by material obstructions such as
the walls of this building. When I came in here to-day I came in by this
door. You all came in by these doors. We were obliged to come in either by
doors or windows. But the spirit beings who are here listening to us, and
deeply concerned with our discussion did not bother with the doors. They
came in through the walls, or the roof, if they were above us, or through
the floor here, if they happened to be below this level.
Prayer has these qualities of spirit beings of not being limited by space,
or by material obstacles. Prayer is really projecting my spirit, that is,
my real personality to the spot concerned, and doing business there with
other spirit beings. For example there is a man in a city on the Atlantic
seaboard for whom I pray daily. It makes my praying for him very tangible
and definite to recall that every time I pray my prayer is a spirit force
instantly traversing the space in between him and me, and going without
hindrance through the walls of the house where he is, and influencing the
spirit beings surrounding him, and so influencing his own will.
When it became clear to me some few years ago that my Master would not
have me go yet to those parts of the earth where the need is greatest, a
deep tinge of disappointment came over me. Then as I realized the wisdom
of His sovereignty in service, it came to me anew that I could exert a
positive influence in those lands for Him by prayer. As many others have
done, I marked out a daily schedule of prayer. There are certain ones for
whom I pray by name, at certain intervals. And it gives great simplicity
to my faith, and great gladness to my heart to remember that every time
such prayer is breathed out, my spirit personality is being projected
yonder, and in effect I am standing in Shanghai, and Calcutta and Tokyo in
turn and pleading the power of Jesus' victory over the evil one there, and
on behalf of those faithful ones standing there for God.
It is a fiercely contested conflict. Satan is a trained strategist, and an
obstinate fighter. He refuses to acknowledge defeat until he must. It is
the fight of his life. Strange as it must seem, and perhaps absurd, he
apparently hopes to succeed. If we knew all, it might seem less strange
and absurd, because of the factors on his side. There is surely much down
in the world of the sort which we can fully appreciate to give colour to
his expectations. Prayer is insisting upon Jesus' victory, and the retreat
of the enemy on each particular spot, and heart and problem concerned.
The enemy yields only what he must. He yields only what is taken.
Therefore the ground must be taken step by step. Prayer must be definite.
He yields only when he must. Therefore the prayer must be persistent. He
continually renews his attacks, therefore the ground taken must be _held_
against him in the Victor's name. This helps to understand why prayer
must be persisted in after we have full assurance of the result, and even
after some immediate results have come, or, after the general results have
Giving God a Fresh Footing.
The Victor's best ally in this conflict is the man, who while he remains
down on the battle-field, puts his life in full touch with his
Saviour-Victor, and then incessantly, insistently, believingly claims
_victory in Jesus' name_. He is the one foe among men whom Satan cannot
withstand. He is projecting an irresistible spirit force into the spirit
realm. Satan is obliged to yield. We are so accustomed through history's
long record to seeing victories won through force, physical force, alone,
that it is difficult for us to realize that moral force defeats as the
other never can. Witness the demons in the gospels, and in modern days in
China, clearly against their own set purpose, notwithstanding intensest
struggle on their part obliged to admit defeat, and even to ask favours of
their Conqueror. The records of personal Christian service give
fascinating instances of fierce opposition utterly subdued and individuals
transformed through such influence.
Had we eyes to see spirit beings and spirit conflicts we would constantly
see the enemy's defeat in numberless instances through the persistent
praying of some one allied to Jesus in the spirit of his life. Every time
such a man prays it is a waving of the red-dyed flag of Jesus Christ above
Satan's head in the spirit world. Every such man who freely gives himself
over to God, and gives himself up to prayer is giving God a new spot in
the contested territory on which to erect His banner of victory.
The Japanese struggled for weeks to get a footing on the Port Arthur
peninsula, even after the naval victories had practically rendered Russia
helpless on the seas. It was an unusual spectacle to witness such
difficulty in getting a landing after such victories. But with the bulldog
tenacity that has marked her fighting Japan fought for a footing. Nothing
could be done till a footing was gotten.
Prayer is man giving God a footing on the contested territory of this
earth. The man in full touch of purpose with God praying, insistently
praying--that man is God's footing on the enemy's soil. The man wholly
given over to God gives Him a new sub-headquarters on the battle-field
from which to work out. And the Holy Spirit within that man, on the new
spot, will insist on the enemy's retreat in Jesus the Victor's name. That
is prayer. Shall we not, every one of us, increase God's footing down upon
His prodigal earth!
The Earth, the Battle-Field in Prayer
Prayer a War Measure.
This world is God's prodigal son. The heart of God's bleeds over His
prodigal. It has been gone so long, and the home circle is broken. He has
spent all the wealth of His thought on a plan for winning the prodigal
back home. Angels and men have marvelled over that plan, its sweep, its
detail, its strength and wisdom, its tenderness. He needs man for His
plan. He will _use_ man. That is true. He will _honour_ man in service.
That is true. But these only touch the edge of the truth. The pathway from
God to a human heart is through a human heart. When He came to the great
strategic move in His plan, He Himself came down as a man and made that
move. _He needs man for His plan._
The greatest agency put into man's hands is prayer. To understand that at
all fully one needs to define prayer. And to define prayer adequately one
must use the language of war. Peace language is not equal to the
situation. The earth is in a state of war. It is being hotly besieged and
so one must use war talk to grasp the facts with which prayer is
concerned. _Prayer from God's side is communication between Himself and
His allies in the enemy's country_. Prayer is not persuading God. It does
not influence God's purpose. It is not winning Him over to our side; never
that. He is far more eager for what we are rightly eager for than we ever
are. What there is of wrong and sin and suffering that pains you, pains
Him far more. He knows more about it. He is more keenly sensitive to it
than the most sensitive one of us. Whatever of heart yearning there may be
that moves you to prayer is from Him. God takes the initiative in all
prayer. It starts with Him. True prayer moves in a circle. It begins in
the heart of God, sweeps down into a human heart upon the earth, so
intersecting the circle of the earth, which is the battle-field of prayer,
and then it goes back again to its starting point, having accomplished its
purpose on the downward swing.
Three Forms of Prayer.
Prayer is the word commonly used for all intercourse with God. But it
should be kept in mind that that word covers and includes three forms of
intercourse. All prayer grows up through, and ever continues in three
The first form of prayer is _communion_. That is simply being on good
terms with God. It involves the blood of the cross as the basis of our
getting and being on good terms. It involves my coming to God through
Jesus. Communion is fellowship with God. Not request for some particular
thing; not asking, but simply enjoying Himself, loving Him, thinking about
Him, how beautiful, and intelligent, and strong and loving and lovable He
is; talking to Him without words. That is the truest worship, thinking how
worthy He is of all the best we can possibly bring to Him, and infinitely
more. It has to do wholly with God and a man being on good terms with each
other. Of necessity it includes confession on my part and forgiveness upon
God's part, for only so can we come into the relation of fellowship.
Adoration, worship belong to this first phase of prayer. Communion is the
basis of all prayer. It is the essential breath of the true Christian
life. It concerns just two, God and myself, yourself. Its influence is
directly subjective. _It affects me._
The second form of prayer is _petition_. And I am using that word now in
the narrower meaning of asking something for one's self. Petition is
definite request of God for something I need. A man's whole life is
utterly dependent upon the giving hand of God. Everything we need comes
from Him. Our friendships, ability to make money, health, strength in
temptation, and in sorrow, guidance in difficult circumstances, and in all
of life's movements; help of all sorts, financial, bodily, mental,
spiritual--all come from God, and necessitate a constant touch with Him.
There needs to be a constant stream of petition going up, many times
wordless prayer. And there will be a constant return stream of answer and
supply coming down. The door between God and one's own self must be kept
ever open. The knob to be turned is on our side. He opened His side long
ago, and propped it open, and threw the knob away. The whole life hinges
upon this continual intercourse with our wondrous God. This is the second
stage or form of prayer. It concerns just two: God and the man dealing
with God. It is subjective in its influence: _its reach is within_.
The third form of prayer is _intercession_. True prayer never stops with
petition for one's self. It reaches out for others. The very word
intercession implies a reaching out for some one else. It is standing as a
go-between, a mutual friend, between God and some one who is either out of
touch with Him, or is needing special help. Intercession is the climax of
prayer. It is the outward drive of prayer. It is the effective end of
prayer _outward_. Communion and petition are upward and downward.
Intercession rests upon these two as its foundation. Communion and
petition store the life with the power of God; intercession lets it out on
behalf of others. The first two are necessarily for self; this third is
for others. They ally a man fully with God: it makes use of that alliance
for others. Intercession is the full-bloomed plant whose roots and
strength lie back and down in the other two forms. _It_ is the form of
prayer that helps God in His great love-plan for winning a planet back to
its true sphere. It will help through these talks to keep this simple
analysis of prayer in mind. For much that will be said will deal chiefly
with this third form, intercession, the outward movement of prayer.
The Climax of Prayer.
To God man is first an objective point, and then, without ceasing to be
that, he further becomes a distributing centre. God ever thinks of a man
doubly: first for his own self, and then for his possible use in reaching
others. Communion and petition fix and continue one's relation to God, and
so prepare for the great outreaching form of prayer--intercession. Prayer
must begin in the first two but reaches its climax in the third. Communion
and petition are of necessity self-wide. Intercession is world-wide in its
reach. And all true rounded prayer will ever have all three elements in
it. There must be the touch with God. One's constant needs make constant
petition. But the heart of the true follower has caught the warm contagion
of the heart of God and reaches out hungrily for the world. Intercession
is the climax of prayer.
Much is said of the subjective and objective value of prayer; its
influence upon one's self, and its possible influence upon persons and
events quite outside of one's self. Of necessity the first two sorts of
prayer here named are subjective; they have to do wholly with one's self.
Of equal necessity intercessory prayer is objective; it has to do wholly
with others. There is even here a reflex influence; in the first two
directly subjective; here incidentally reflex. Contact with God while
dealing with Him for another of necessity influences me. But that is the
mere fringe of the garment. The main driving purpose is outward.
Just now in certain circles it seems quite the thing to lay great stress
upon the subjective value of prayer and to whittle down small, or, deny
entirely its value in influencing others. Some who have the popular ear
are quite free with tongue and pen in this direction. From both without
and within distinctly Christian circles their voices come. One wonders if
these friends lay the greater emphasis on the subjective value of prayer
so as to get a good deep breath for their hard drive at the other. Yet the
greater probability is that they honestly believe as they say, but have
failed to grasp the full perspective of the picture. In listening to such
statements one remembers with vivid distinctness that the scriptural
_standpoint_ always is this: that things quite outside of one's self, that
in the natural order of prevailing circumstances would not occur, are made
to occur through prayer. Jesus constantly so _assumed_. The first-flush,
commonsense view of successful prayer is that some actual result is
secured through its agency.
It is an utter begging of the question to advance such a theory as a
sufficient explanation of prayer. For prayer in its simplest conception
supposes something changed that is not otherwise reachable. Both from the
scriptural, and from a rugged philosophical standpoint the objective is
the real driving point of all full prayer. The subjective is in order to
the objective, as the final outward climactic reach of God's great
love-plan for a world.
Six Facts Underlying Prayer.
It will help greatly to step back and up a bit for a fresh look at certain
facts that underlie prayer. Everything depends on a right point of view.
There may be many view-points, from which to study any subject; but of
necessity any one view-point must take in all the essential facts
concerned. If not, the impression formed will be wrong, and a man will be
misled in his actions. In these talks I make no attempt to prove the
Bible's statements, nor to suggest a common law for their interpretation.
That would be a matter for quite a separate series of talks. It clears the
ground to assume certain things. I am assuming the accuracy of these
scriptural statements. And I am glad to say I have no difficulty in doing
Now there are certain facts constantly stated and assumed in this old
Book. They are clearly stated in its history, they are woven into its
songs, and they underlie all these prophetic writings, from Genesis clear
to the end of John's Patmos visions. Possibly they have been so familiar
and taken for granted so long as to have grown unfamiliar. The very old
may need stating as though very new. Here is a chain of six facts:
First:--The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof. His by
creation and by sovereign rule. The Lord sat as King at the flood.
Second:--God gave the dominion of the earth to man. The kingship of its
life, the control and mastery of its forces.
Third:--Man, who held the dominion of the earth in trust from God,
transferred his dominion to somebody else, by an act which was a double
act. He was deceived into doing that act. It was an act of disobedience
and of obedience. Disobedience to God, and obedience to another one, a
prince who was seeking to get the dominion of the earth into his own
hands. That act of the first man did this. The disobedience broke with
God, and transferred the allegiance from God. The obedience to the other
one transferred the allegiance, and through that, the dominion to this
The fourth fact is this:--The dominion or kingship of this earth so far
as given to man, is now not God's, for He gave it to man. And it is not
man's, for he has transferred it to another. It is in the control of that
magnificent prince whose changed character supplies his name--Satan, the
hater, the enemy. Jesus repeatedly speaks of "the prince"--that is the
ruling one--"of this world." John speaks in his vision-book of a time
coming when "the kingdom (not kingdoms, as in the old version) of the
world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ." By clear
inference previous to that time it is somebody's else kingdom than His.
The kingship or rulership of the earth which was given to man is now
The fifth fact:--God was eager to swing the world back to its original
sway: for His own sake, for man's sake, for the earth's sake. You see, we
do not know God's world as it came from His hand. It is a rarely beautiful
world even yet--the stars above, the plant life, the waters, the exquisite
colouring and blending, the combinations of all these--an exquisitely
beautiful world even yet. But it is not the world it was, nor that some
coming day it will be. It has been sadly scarred and changed under its
present ruler. Probably Eve would not recognize in the present world her
early home-earth as it came fresh from the hand of its Maker.
God was eager to swing the old world back to its original control. But to
do so He must get a man, one of the original trustee class through whom He
might swing it back to its first allegiance. It was given to man. It was
swung away by man. It must be swung back by man. And so a Man came, and
while Jesus was perfectly and utterly human, we spell that word Man with a
capital M because He was a man quite distinct from all men. Because He was
more truly human than all other men He is quite apart from other men. This
Man was to head a movement for swinging the world back to its first
The sixth fact is this:--These two, God's Man, and the pretender-prince,
had a combat: the most terrific combat ever waged or witnessed. From the
cruel, malicious cradle attack until Calvary's morning and two days longer
it ran. Through those thirty-three years it continued with a terrificness
and intensity unknown before or since. The master-prince of subtlety and
force did his best and his worst, through those Nazareth years, then into
the wilderness,--and Gethsemane--and Calvary. And that day at three
o'clock and for a bit longer the evil one thought he had won. And there
was great glee up in the headquarters of the prince of this world. They
thought the victory was theirs when God's Man lay in the grave under the
bars of death, within the immediate control of the lord of death. But the
third morning came and the bars of death were snapped like cotton thread.
_Jesus rose a Victor._ For it was not possible that such as _He_ could be
held by death's lord. And then Satan knew that he was defeated. Jesus,
God's Man, the King's rightful prince, had gotten the victory.
But, please mark very carefully four sub-facts on Satan's side. First, he
refuses to acknowledge his defeat. Second, he refuses to surrender his
dominion until he must. He yields only what he must and when he must.
Third, he is supported in his ambitions by man. He has man's consent to
his control. The majority of men on the earth to-day, and in every day,
have assented to his control. He has control only through man's consent.
(Satan _can_not get into a man's heart without his consent, and God _will_
not.) And, fourth, he hopes yet to make his possession of the earth
The Victor's Great Plan.
Now, hold your breath and note, on the side of the Victor-prince, this
unparalleled and unimitated action: He has left the conflict open, and the
defeated chief on the field that He may win not simply against the chief,
but through that victory may win the whole prodigal race back to His
Father's home circle again. But the great pitched battle is yet to come. I
would better say _a_ pitched battle, for the greatest one is past. Jesus
rides into the future fight a Victor. Satan will fight his last fight
under the shadow and sting of a defeat. Satan is apparently trying hard to
get a Jesus. That is to say Jesus was God's Man sent down to swing the
world back. Satan is trying his best to get _a man_--one of the original
trustee class, to whom the dominion of the earth was intrusted--a man who
will stand for him even as Jesus stood for God. Indeed a man who will
personify himself even as Jesus was the personification of God, the
express image of His person. When he shall succeed in that the last
desperate crisis will come.
_Now prayer is this: A man_, one of the original trustee class, who
received the earth in trust from God, and who gave its control over to
Satan; a man, _on the earth_, the poor old Satan-stolen, sin-slimed,
sin-cursed, contested earth; a man, on the earth, _with his life in full
touch with the Victor, and sheer out of touch with the pretender-prince,
insistently claiming that Satan shall yield before Jesus'-victory, step by
step, life after life_. Jesus is the victor. Satan knows it, and fears
Him. He must yield before His advance, and he must yield before this man
who stands for Jesus down on the earth. And he _will_ yield. Reluctantly,
angrily, as slowly as may be, stubbornly contesting every inch of ground,
his clutches will loosen and he will go before this Jesus-man.
Jesus said "the prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in Me."
When you and I say, as we may say, very humbly depending on His grace,
very determinedly in the resolution of our own imperial will, "though the
prince of this world come he shall have nothing in me, no coaling station
however small on the shores of my life," then we shall be in position
where Satan must yield as we claim--victory in the Victor's Name.
Does Prayer Influence God?
How God Gives.
Some one may object to all this that the statements of God's word do not
agree with this point of view.
At random memory brings up a few very familiar passages, frequently
quoted. "Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and will shew thee great
things, and difficult, that thou knowest not." "And call upon Me in the
day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me." "Ask,
and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you." Here it seems, as we have for generations been
accustomed to think, that our asking is the thing that influences God to
do. And further, that many times persistent, continued asking is necessary
to induce God to do. And the usual explanation for this need of
persistence is that God is testing our faith, and seeking to make certain
changes in us, before granting our requests. This explanation is without
doubt quite true, _in part_. Yet the thing to mark is that it explains
_only_ in part. And when the whole circle of truth is brought into view,
this explanation is found to cover only a small part of the whole.
We seem to learn best about God by analogies. The analogy never brings all
there is to be learned. Yet it seems to be the nearest we can get. From
what we know of ourselves we come to know Him.
Will you notice how men give? Among those who give to benevolent
enterprises there are three sorts of givers, with variations in each.
There is the man who gives because he is influenced by others. If the
right man or committee of men call, and deftly present their pleas,
playing skillfully upon what may appeal to him; his position; his egotism;
the possible advantage to accrue; what men whom he wants to be classed
with are doing, and so on through the wide range that such men are
familiar with; if they persist, by and by he gives. At first he seems
reluctant, but finally gives with more or less grace. That is one sort of
There is a second sort: the man of truly benevolent heart who is desirous
of giving that he may be of help to other men. He listens attentively when
pleas come to him, and waits only long enough to satisfy himself of the
worth of the cause, and the proper sort of amount to give, and then gives.
There is a third sort, the rarest sort. This second man a stage farther
on, who _takes the initiative_. He looks about him, makes inquiries, and
thinks over the great need in every direction of his fellow men. He
decides where his money may best be used to help; and then himself offers
to give. But his gift may be abused by some who would get his money if
they could, and use it injudiciously, or otherwise than he intends. So he
makes certain conditions which must be met, the purpose of which is to
establish sympathetic relations in some particular with those whom he
would help. An Englishman's heart is strongly moved to get the story of
Jesus to the inland millions of Chinese. He requests the China-Inland
Mission to control the expenditure of almost a million dollars of his
money in such a way as best to secure the object in his heart. An American
gives a large sum to the Young Men's Christian Association of his home
city to be expended as directed. His thought is not to build up this
particular organization, but to benefit large numbers of the young men of
his town who will meet certain conditions which he thinks to be for their
good. He has learned to trust this organization, and so it becomes his
Another man feels that if the people of New York City can be given good
reading they can thereby best be helped in life. And so he volunteers
money for a number of libraries throughout that city. And thousands who
yearn to increase their knowledge come into sympathy with him in that one
point through his gift. In all such cases the giver's thought is to
accomplish certain results in those whose purpose in certain directions is
sympathetic with his own.
Any human illustration of God must seem crude. Yet of these three sorts of
givers there is one and only one that begins to suggest how God gives. It
may seem like a very sweeping statement to make, yet I am more and more
disposed to believe it true that _most persons_ have unthinkingly thought
of God's answering prayer as the first of these three men give. Many
others have had in mind some such thought as the second suggests. Yet to
state the case even thus definitely is to make it plain that neither of
these ways in any manner illustrate God's giving. The third comes the
nearest to picturing the God who hears and answers prayer. Our God has a
great heart yearning after His poor prodigal world, and after each one in
it. He longs to have the effects of sin removed, and the original image
restored. He takes the initiative. Yet everything that is done for man
must of necessity be through man's will; by his free and glad consent. The
obstacles in the way are not numberless nor insurmountable, but they are
many and they are stubborn. There is a keen, cunning pretender-prince who
is a past-master in the fine art of handling men. There are wills warped
and weakened; consciences blurred; minds the opposite of keen,
sensibilities whose edge has been dulled beyond ordinary hope of being
ever made keen again. Sin has not only stained the life, but warped the
judgment, sapped the will, and blurred the mental vision. And God has a
hard time just because every change must of necessity be through that
sapped and warped will.
Yet the difficulty though great is never complex but very simple. And so
the statement of His purpose is ever exquisitely simple. Listen again:
"Call unto Me, and I will answer thee and shew thee great things and
difficult which thou knowest not." If a man call he has already turned his
face towards God. His will has acted, and acted doubly; away from the
opposite, and _towards_ God, a simple step but a tremendous one. The
calling is the point of sympathetic contact with God where their purposes
become the same. The caller is beset by difficulties and longs for
freedom. The God who speaks to him saw the difficulties long ago and
eagerly longed to remove them. Now they have come to agreement. And
through this willing will God eagerly works out His purpose.
A Very Old Question.
This leads to a very old question: Does prayer influence God? No question
has been discussed more, or more earnestly. Skeptical men of fine
scientific training have with great positiveness said "no." And Christian
men of scholarly training and strong faith have with equal positiveness
said "yes." Strange to say both have been right. Not right in all their
statements, nor right in all their beliefs, nor right in all their
processes of thinking, but right in their ultimate conclusions as
represented by these short words, "no," and "yes." Prayer does not
influence God. Prayer surely does influence God. It does not influence His
purpose. It does influence His action. Everything that ever has been
prayed for, of course I mean every right thing, God has already purposed
to do. But He does nothing without our consent. He has been hindered in
His purposes by our lack of willingness. When we learn His purposes and
make them our prayers we are giving Him the opportunity to act. It is a
double opportunity: manward and Satanward. We are willing. Our willingness
checkmates Satan's opposition. It opens the path to God and rids it of the
obstacles. And so the road is cleared for the free action already planned.
The further question of nature's laws being sometimes set aside is wholly
a secondary matter. Nature's laws are merely God's habit of action in
handling secondary forces. They involve no purpose of God. His purposes
are regarding moral issues. That the sun shall stay a bit longer than
usual over a certain part of the earth is a mere detail with God. It does
not affect His power for the whole affair is under His finger. It does not
affect His purpose for that as concerning far more serious matters. The
emergencies of earth wrought by sin necessitate just such incidents, that
the great purpose of God for man shall be accomplished.
Emergencies change all habits of action, divine and human. They are the
real test of power. If a man throw down the bundle he is carrying and make
a quick wild dash out into the middle of the street, dropping his hat on
the way, and grasp convulsively for something on the ground when no cause
appears for such action we would quickly conclude that the proper place
for him is an asylum. But if a little toddling child is almost under the
horse's hoofs, or the trolley car, no one thinks of criticising, but
instead admires his courage, and quick action, and breathlessly watches
for the result. Emergencies call for special action. They should control
actions, where they exist. Emergencies explain action, and explain
satisfactorily what nothing else could explain.
_The world is in a great emergency through sin._ Only as that tremendous
fact grips us shall we be men of prayer, and men of action up to the limit
of the need, and to the limit of the possibilities. Only as that intense
fact is kept in mind shall we begin to understand God's actions in
history, and in our personal experiences. The greatest event of earth, the
cross, was an emergency action.
The fact that prayer does not make any change in God's thought or
purpose, reveals His marvellous love in a very tender way.
Suppose I want something very much and _need_ as well as want. And I go to
God and ask for it. And suppose He is reluctant about giving: had not
thought about giving me that thing; and rather hesitates. But I am
insistent, and plead and persist and by and by God is impressed with my
earnestness, and sees that I really need the thing, and answers my prayer,
and gives me what I ask. Is not that a loving God so to listen and yield
to my plea? Surely. How many times just such an instance has taken place
between a child and his father, or mother. And the child thinks to
himself, "How loving father is; he has given me the thing I asked for."
But suppose God is thinking about me all the time, and planning, with
love-plans for me, and longing to give me much that He has. Yet in His
wisdom He does not give because I do not know my own need, and have not
opened my hand to receive, yes, and, further yet, likely as not, not
knowing my need I might abuse, or misuse, or fail to use, something given
before I had felt the need of it. And now I come to see and feel that need
and come and ask and He, delighted with the change in me, eagerly gives.
Tell me, is not that a very much more loving God than the other conception
suggests? The truth is _that_ is God. Jesus says, "Your Father knoweth
what things ye have need of _before ye ask_." And He is a Father. And
with God the word father means mother too. Then what He _knows_ we need He
has _already planned_ to give. The great question for me then in praying
for some personal thing is this: Do _I_ know what _He_ knows I need? Am I
thinking about what He is thinking about for me?
And then remember that God is so much more in His loving planning than the
wisest, most loving father we know. Does a mother think into her child's
needs, the food, and clothing and the extras too, the luxuries? That is
God, only He is more loving and wiser than the best of us. I have
sometimes thought this: that if God were to say to me: "I want to give you
something as a special love-gift; an extra because I love you: what would
you like to have?" Do you know I have thought I would say, "Dear God,
_you_ choose. _I_ choose what _you_ choose." He is thinking about me. He
knows what I am thinking of, and what I would most enjoy, and He is such a
lover-God that He would choose something Just a bit finer than I would
think. I might be thinking of a dollar, but likely as not He is thinking
of a double eagle. I am thinking of blackberries, big, juicy blackberries,
but really I do not know what blackberries are beside the sort He knows
and would choose for me. That is our God. Prayer does not and cannot
change the purpose of such a God. For every right and good thing we might
ask for He has already planned to give us. But prayer does change the
action of God. Because He cannot give against our wills, and our
willingness as expressed by our asking gives Him the opportunity to do as
He has already planned.
The Greatest Prayer.
There is a greatest prayer, _the_ greatest that can be offered. It is the
substratum of every true prayer. It is the undercurrent in the stream of
all Spirit-breathed prayer. Jesus Himself gives it to us in the only form
of prayer He left for our use. It is small in size, but mighty in power.
Four words--"Thy will be done." Let us draw up our chairs, and _brew_ it
over mentally, that its strength and fragrance may come up into our
nostrils, and fill our very beings.
"_Thy_": That is God. On one side, He is wise, with all of the
intellectual strength, and keenness and poised judgment that that word
among men brings to us. On another side, He is strong, with all that that
word can imply of might and power irresistible. On still another side He
is good, pure, holy with the finest thought those words ever suggest to us
in those whom we know best, or in our dreams and visions. Then on a side
remaining, the tender personal side, He is--loving? No, that is quite
inadequate. He is _love_. Its personification is He. Now remember that we
do not know the meaning of those words. Our best definition and thought of
them, even in our dreams, when we let ourselves out, but hang around the
outskirts. The heart of them we do not know. Those words mean infinitely
more than we think. Their meaning is a projection along the lines of our
thought of them, but measurelessly beyond our highest reach.
And then, this God, wise, strong, good, and love, _is kin to us_. We
belong to Him.
"We are His flock;
He doth us feed.
And for His sheep,
He doth us take."
We are His children by creation, and by a new creation in Jesus Christ. He
is ours, by His own act. That is the "Thy"--a God wise, strong, pure, who
is love, and who is a Father-mother-God, and is _our_ God.
"Thy _will_." God's will is His desires, His purposes, that which He
wishes to occur, and that to which He gives His strength that it may
occur. The earth is His creation. Men are His children. Judging from wise
loving parents among men He has given Himself to thinking and studying and
planning for all men, and every man, and for the earth. His plan is the
most wise, pure, loving plan that can be thought of, _and more._ It takes
in the whole sweep of our lives, and every detail of them. Nothing escapes
the love-vigilance of our God. What _can_ be so vigilant and keen as love?
Hate, the exact reverse, comes the nearest. It is ever the extremes that
meet. But hate cannot come up to love for keen watchfulness at every
turn. Health, strength, home, loved ones, friendships, money, guidance,
protecting care, the necessities, the extras that love ever thinks of,
service--all these are included in God's loving thought for us. That is
His will. It is modified by the degree of our consent, and further
modified by the circumstances of our lives. Life has become a badly
tangled skein of threads. God with infinite patience and skill is at work
untangling and bringing the best possible out of the tangle. What is
absolutely best is rarely relatively best. That which is best in itself is
usually not best under certain circumstances, with human lives in the
balance. God has fathomless skill, and measureless patience, and a love
utterly beyond both. He is ever working out the best thing possible under
every circumstance. He could oftentimes do more, and do it in much less
time if our human wills were more pliant to His. He can be trusted. And of
course _trust_ means _trust in the darkest dark_ where you cannot see. And
trust means trust. It does not mean test. Where you trust you do not test.
Where you test you do not trust. Making this our prayer means trusting
God. That is God, and that His will, and that the meaning of our offering
this prayer. "Thy will _be_." A man's will is the man in action, within
the limits of his power. God's will for man is Himself in action, within
the limits of our cooperation. _Be_ is a verb, an action-word, in the
passive voice. It takes some form of the verb to be to express the
passive voice of any action-word. It takes the intensest activity of will
to put this passive voice into human action. The greatest strength is
revealed in intelligent yielding. Here the prayer is expressing the utter
willingness of a man that God's will shall be done in him, and through
him. A man never _loses_ his will, unless indeed he lose his manhood. But
here he makes that will as strong as it can be made, as a bit of steel,
better like the strong oak, strong enough to sway and bend in the wind.
Then he uses all its strength in becoming passive to a higher will. And
that too when the purpose of that higher will is not clear to his own
limited knowledge and understanding.
"Thy will be _done_." That is, be accomplished, be brought to pass. The
word stands for the action in its perfected, finished state. Thy will be
fully accomplished in its whole sweep and in all its items. It speaks not
only the earnest desire of the heart praying, but the set purpose that
everything in the life is held subject to the doing of this purpose of
God. It means that surrender of purpose that has utterly changed the lives
of the strongest men in order that the purpose of God might be dominant.
It cut off from a great throne earth's greatest jurist, the Hebrew
lawgiver, and led him instead to be allied to a race of slaves. It led
that intellectual giant Jeremiah from an easy enjoyable leadership to
espouse a despised cause and so be himself despised. It led Paul from the
leadership of his generation in a great nation to untold suffering, and to
a block and an ax. It led Jesus the very Son of God, away from a kingship
to a cross. In every generation it has radically changed lives, and
life-ambitions. "Thy will be done" is the great dominant purpose-prayer
that has been the pathway of God in all His great doings among men.
That will is being done everywhere else in God's great world of worlds,
save on the earth and that portion of the spirit world allied to this
earth. Everywhere else there is the perfect music of harmony with God's
will. Here only is heard the harsh discordant note.
With this prayer go two clauses that really particularize and explain it.
They are included in it, and are added to make more clear the full intent.
The first of these clauses gives the sweep of His will in its broadest
outlines. The second touches the opposition to that will both for our
individual lives and for the race and the earth.
The first clause is this, "Thy kingdom come." In both of these short
sentences, "Thy will be done," "Thy kingdom come," the emphatic word is
"Thy." That word is set in sharpest possible contrast here. There is
another kingdom now on the earth. There is another will being done. This
other kingdom must go if God's kingdom is to come. These kingdoms are
antagonistic at every point of contact. They are rivals for the same
allegiance and the same territory. They cannot exist together. Charles II
and Cromwell cannot remain in London together. "Thy kingdom come," of
necessity includes this, "the other kingdom go." "Thy kingdom come" means
likewise "Thy king come," for in the nature of things there cannot be a
kingdom without a king. That means again by the same inference, "the other
prince go," the one who makes pretensions to being rightful heir to the
throne. "Thy will be done" includes by the same inference this:--"the
other will be undone." This is the first great explanatory clause to be
connected with this greatest prayer, "Thy kingdom come." It gives the
sweep of God's will in its broadest outlines.
The second clause included in the prayer, and added to make clear the
swing of action is this--"deliver us from the evil one." These two
sentences, "Thy will be done," and "deliver us from the evil one," are
naturally connected. Each statement includes the other. To have God's will
fully done in us means emancipation from every influence of the evil one,
either direct or indirect, or by hereditary taint. To be delivered from
the evil one means that every thought and plan of God for our lives shall
be fully carried out.
There are the two great wills at work in the world ever clashing in the
action of history and in our individual lives. In many of us, aye, in all
of us, though in greatly varying degree, these two wills constantly clash.
Man is the real battle-field. The pitch of the battle is in his will. God
will not do His will in a man without the man's will consenting. And Satan
cannot. At the root the one thing that works against God's will is the
evil one's will. And on the other hand the one thing that effectively
thwarts Satan's plans is a man wholly given up to God's will.
The greatest prayer then fully expressed, sweeps first the whole field of
action, then touches the heart of the action, and then attacks the
opposition. It is this:--Thy kingdom come: Thy will be done: deliver us
from the evil one. Every true prayer ever offered comes under this simple
comprehensive prayer. It may be offered, it _is_ offered with an infinite
variety of detail. It is greatest because of its sweep. It includes all
other petitions, for God's will includes everything for which prayer is
rightly offered. It is greatest in its intensity. It hits the very
bull's-eye of opposition to God.
II. Hindrances to Prayer
1. Why the Results Fail. 2. Why the Results Are Delayed. 3. The Great
Outside Hindrance, or, the Relation of Prayer to Satan.
Why the Results Fail
Breaking with God.
God answers prayer. Prayer is God and man joining hands to secure some
high end. He joins with us through the communication of prayer in
accomplishing certain great results. This is the main drive of prayer. Our
asking and expecting and God's doing jointly bring to pass things that
otherwise would not come to pass. Prayer changes things. This is the great
fact of prayer.
Yet a great many prayers are not answered. Or, to put it more accurately,
a great many prayers fail utterly of accomplishing any results. Probably
it is accurate to say that _thousands_ of prayers go up and bring nothing
down. This is certainly true. Let us say it just as bluntly and plainly as
it can be said. As a result many persons are saying: "Well, prayer is not
what you claim for it: we prayed and no answer came: nothing was changed."
From all sorts of circles, and in all sorts of language comes this
statement. Scholarly men who write with wisdom's words, and thoughtless
people whose thinking never even pricks the skin of the subject, and all
sorts of people in between group themselves together here. And they are
right, quite right. The bother is that what they say is not all there is
to be said. There is yet more to be said, that is right too, and that
changes the final conclusion radically. Partial truth is a very mean sort
The prayer plan like many another has been much disturbed, and often
broken. And one who would be a partner with God up to the limit of his
power must understand the things that hinder the prayer plan. There are
three sorts of hindrances to prayer. First of all there are things in us
that _break off connection_ with God, the source of the changing power.
Then there are certain things in us that _delay, or diminish_ the results;
that interfere with the full swing of the prayer plan of operations. And
then there is a great _outside_ hindrance to be reckoned upon. To-day we
want to talk together of the first of these, namely, the hindrances that
_break off connections_ between God and His human partner.
Here again there is a division into three. There are three things directly
spoken of in the book of God that hinder prayer. One of these is a
familiar thing. What a pity that repugnant things may become so familiar
as no longer to repel. It is this:--_sin_ hinders prayer. In Isaiah's
first chapter God Himself speaking says, "When you stretch out your
hands"--the way they prayed, standing with outstretched hands--"I will
shut My eyes; when you make many prayers, I will shut My ears." Why?
What's the difficulty? These outstretched hands are _soiled!_ They are
actually holding their sin-soiled hands up into God's face; and He is
compelled to look at the thing most hateful to Him. In the fifty-ninth
chapter of this same book, God Himself is talking again. Listen
"Behold! the _Lord's_ hand is not shortened: _His_ ear is not heavy."
There is no trouble on the _up_ side. God is all right. "But"--listen with
both your ears--"your _iniquities_ ... your _sins_ ... your _hands_ ...
your _fingers_ ... your _lips_ ... your _tongue_ ..." the slime of sin is
oozing over everything! Turn back to that sixty-sixth Psalm--"if I
regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me." How much more if
the sin of the heart get into the hands or the life! And the fact to put
down plainly in blackest ink once for all is this--_sin hinders prayer_.
There is nothing surprising about this. That we can think the reverse is
the surprising thing. Prayer is transacting business with God. Sin is
_breaking with God_.
Suppose I had a private wire from my apartments here to my home in
Cleveland, and some one should go outside and drag the wire down until it
touches the ground--a good square touch with the ground--the electricians
would call it grounded, could I telegraph over that wire? Almost any child
knows I could not. Suppose some one _cuts_ the wire, a good clean cut; the
two ends are apart: not a mile; not a yard; but distinctly apart. Could I
telegraph on that wire? Of course not. Yet I might sit in my room and tick
away by the hour wholly absorbed, and use most beautiful persuasive
language--what is the good? The wire's cut. All my fine pleading goes into
the ground, or the air. Now _sin cuts the wire;_ it runs the message into
"Well," some one will object, "now you're cutting us all out, are you not?
Are we not all conscious of a sinful something inside here that has to be
fought, and held under all the while?" It certainly seems to be true that
the nearer a man gets to God the more keenly conscious he is of a sinful
tendency within even while having continual victory. But plainly enough
what the Book means here is this:--if I am holding something in my life
that the Master does not like, if I am failing to obey when His voice has
spoken, that to me is sin. It may be wrong in itself. It may _not_ be
wrong in itself. It may not be wrong for another. Sometimes it is not the
thing involved but the One involved that makes the issue. If that faithful
quiet inner voice has spoken and I know what the Master would prefer and I
fail to keep in line, that to me is sin. Then prayer is useless; sheer
waste of breath. Aye, worse, it is deceptive. For I am apt to say or
think, "Well, I am not as good as you, or you, but then I am not so bad;
_I pray._" And the truth is because I have broken with God the
praying--saying words in that form--is utterly worthless.
You see _sin is slapping God in the face_. It may be polished, cultured
sin. Sin seems capable of taking quite a high polish. Or it may be the
common gutter stuff. A man is not concerned about the grain of a club that
strikes him a blow. How can He and I talk together if I have done that,
and stick to it--not even apologized. And of what good is an apology if
the offense is being repeated. And if we cannot talk together of course
working together is out of the question. And prayer is working together
with God. Prayer is _pulling with God_ in His plan for a world.
Shall we not put out the thing that is wrong? or put in the thing the
Master wants in? For _Jesus'_ sake? Aye for _men's_ sake: poor befooled
men's sake who are being kept out and away because God cannot get at them
Shall we bow and ask forgiveness for our sin, and petty stubbornness that
has been thwarting the Master's love-plan? And yet even while we ask
forgiveness there are lives out yonder warped and dwarfed and worse
because of the hindrance in us; yes, and remaining so as we slip out of
this meeting. May the fact send us out to walk very softly these coming
A Coaling Station for Satan's Fleet.
There is a second thing that is plainly spoken of that hinders prayer.
James speaks of it in his letter. "Ye have not because ye _ask_
not"--that explains many parched up lives and churches and unsolved
problems: no pipe lines run up to tap the reservoir, and give God an
opening into the troubled territory. Then he pushes on to say--"Ye ask,
_and receive not_"--ah! there's just the rub; it is evidently an old
story, this thing of not receiving--why? "because ye ask amiss to spend it
_in your pleasures_." That is to say selfish praying; asking for something
just because I want it; want it for myself.
Here is a mother praying for her boy. He is just growing up towards young
manhood; not a Christian boy yet; but a good boy. She is thinking, "I want
_my_ boy to be an honour to me; he bears my name; my blood is in his
veins; I don't want my boy to be a prodigal. I want him to be a fine man,
an honour to the family; and if he is a true Christian, he likely will be;
_I wish he were a Christian_." And so she prays, and prays repeatedly and
fervently. God might touch her boy's heart and say, "I want you out here
in India to help win my prodigal world back." _Oh!_ she did not mean that!
_Her_ boy in far, far off _India!_ Oh, no! Not that!! Yes, what _she_
wanted--that was the whole thought--selfishness; the stream turning in to
a dead sea within her own narrow circle; no thought of sympathy with God
in His eager outreach for His poor sin-befooled world. The prayer itself
in its object is perfectly proper, and rightly offered and answered times
without number; but the _motive_ wholly, uglily selfish and the
selfishness itself becomes a foothold for Satan and so the purpose of the
prayer is thwarted.
Here is a wife praying that her husband might become a Christian. Perhaps
her thought is: "I wish John _were_ a Christian: it would be so good: it
really seems the proper thing: he would go to church with me, and sit in
the pew Sunday morning: I'd like that." Perhaps she thinks: "He would be
careful about swearing; he would quit drinking; and be nicer and gentler
at home." Maybe she thinks: "He would ask a blessing at the meals; that
would be so nice." Maybe she thinks: "We would have family prayers."
_Maybe_ that does not occur to her these days. This is what I say: _If_
her thought does not go beyond some such range, of course _you_ would say
it is selfish. She is thinking of herself; not of the loving grieved God
against whom her husband is in rebellion; not of the real significance to
the man. God might touch her husband's heart, and then say: "I want you to
help Me win My poor world back." And the change would mean a reduced
income, and a different social position. _Oh!_ she had not meant _that!_
Yes--what _she_ wanted for herself!
Here is a minister praying for a revival in his church. Maybe he is
thinking; no, not exactly thinking; it is just half thinking itself out in
his sub-consciousness--"I wish we had a good revival in our church;
increased membership; larger attendance; easier finances; may be an extra
hundred or two in my own pocket; increased prestige in the denomination; a
better call or appointment: I wish we might have a revival." Now no true
minister ever talked that way even to himself or deliberately thought it.
To do so would be to see the mean contemptibility of it. But you know how
sly we all are in our underneath scarcely-thought-out thoughts. This is
what I say: _if_ that be the sort of thing underneath a man's praying of
course the motive is utterly selfish; a bit of the same thing that brought
Satan his change of name and character.
Please notice that the reason for the prayer not being answered here is
not an arbitrary reluctance upon God's part to do a desirable thing. He
never fails to work whenever He has a half chance as far as it is possible
to work, even through men of faulty conceptions and mixed motives. The
reason lies much deeper. It is this: selfishness gives Satan a footing. It
gives a coaling station for his fleet on the shore of your life. And of
course he does his best to prevent the prayer, or when he cannot wholly
prevent, to spoil the results as far as he can.
Prayer may properly be offered--_will_ be properly offered for many wholly
personal things; for physical strength, healing in sickness, about dearly
loved ones, money needed; indeed regarding things that may not be
necessary but only desirable and enjoyable, for ours is a loving God who
would have His dear ones enjoy to the full their lives down here. But the
_motive_ determines the propriety of such requests. Where the whole
purpose of one's life is _for Him_ these things may be asked for freely as
His gracious Spirit within guides. And there need be no bondage of morbid
introspection, no continual internal rakings. _He knows if the purpose of
the heart is to please Him_.
The Shortest Way to God.
A third thing spoken of as hindering prayer is an unforgiving spirit. You
have noticed that Jesus speaks much about prayer and also speaks much
about forgiveness. But have you noticed how, over and over again He
_couples_ these two--prayer _and_ forgiveness? I used to wonder why. I do
not so much now. Nearly everywhere evidence keeps slipping in of the sore
spots. One may try to keep his lips closed on certain subjects, but it
seems about impossible to keep the ears entirely shut. And continually the
evidence keeps sifting in revealing the thin skin, raw flesh, wounds
never healed over, and some jaggedly open, almost everywhere one goes.
Jesus' continual references reveal how strikingly alike is the oriental
and the occidental; the first and the twentieth centuries.
Run through Matthew alone a moment. Here in the fifth chapter: "If
thou are coming to the altar"--that is approaching God; what we call
prayer--"and rememberest that thy brother hath aught _against thee_"--that
side of it--"leave there thy gift and go thy way, _first_ be reconciled,"
and so on. Here comes a man with a lamb to offer. He approaches solemnly,
reverently, towards the altar of God. But as he is coming there flashes
across his mind the face of _that man_, with whom he has had difficulty.
And instantly he can feel his grip tightening on the offering, and his
teeth shutting closer at the quick memory. Jesus says, "If that be so lay
your lamb right down." What! go abruptly away! Why! how the folks around
the temple will talk! "Lay the lamb right down, and go thy way." The
shortest way to God for that man is not the way to the altar, but around
by that man's house. "_First_, be reconciled"--keep your perspective
straight--follow the right order--"_first_ be reconciled"--not _second;
"then_ come and offer thy gift."
In the sixth chapter He gives the form of prayer which we commonly
call the Lord's prayer. It contains seven petitions. At the close He
stops to emphasize just one of the seven. You remember which one; the one
about forgiveness. In the eighteenth chapter Jesus is talking alone
with the disciples about prayer. Peter seems to remember the previous
remarks about forgiveness in connection with prayer; and he asks a
question. It is never difficult to think of Peter asking a question or
making a few remarks. He says, "Master, how many times _must_ I forgive a
man? _Seven_ times!" Apparently Peter thinks he is growing in grace. He
can actually _think_ now of forgiving a man seven times in succession. But
the Master in effect says, "Peter, you haven't caught the idea.
Forgiveness is not a question of mathematics; not a matter of _keeping
tab_ on somebody: not seven times but _seventy times seven._" And Peter's
eyes bulge open with an incredulous stare--"four hundred and ninety
times!... one man--straightway!!" Apparently the Master is thinking, that
he will lose count, or get tired of counting and conclude that forgiveness
is preferable, or else by practice _breathe in the spirit of
forgiveness--the_ thing He meant.
Then as He was so fond of doing Jesus told a story to illustrate His
meaning. A man owed his lord a great debt, twelve millions of dollars;
that is to say practically an _unpayable_ amount. By comparison with money
to-day, in the western world, it would be about twelve billions. And he
went to him and asked for time. He said: "I'm short just now; but I mean
to pay; I don't mean to shirk: be easy with me; and I'll pay up the whole
sum in time." And his lord generously forgave him the whole debt. That is
Jesus' picture of God, as He knows Him who knows Him best. Then this
forgiven man went out and found a fellow servant who owed him--how much do
you think? Have you ever thought that Jesus had a keen sense of the
ludicrous? Surely it shows here. He owed him about sixteen dollars and
a-quarter or a-half! And you can almost feel the clutch of this fellow's
fingers on the other's throat as he sternly demands:--"Pay me that thou
owest." And his fellow earnestly replies, "Please be easy with me; I mean
to pay; I'm rather short just now: but I'm not trying to shirk; be easy
with me." Is it possible the words do not sound familiar! But he would
not, but put him in the jail. The last place to pay a debt! That is Jesus'
picture of man as He knows him who knows him best. And in effect He says
what we have been forgiven by God is as an unpayable amount. And what are
not willing to forgive is like sixteen dollars and a fraction by contrast.
What little puny folks some of us are in our thinking and feeling!
"Oh, well," some one says, "you do not know how hard it is to forgive."
You think not? I know this much:--that some persons, and some things you
_can_not forgive of yourself. But I am glad to say that I know this too
that if one allows the Spirit of Jesus to sway the heart He will make you
love persons you _can_not like. No natural affinity or drawing together
through disposition, but a real yearning love in the heart. Jesus' love,
when allowed to come in as freely as He means, fills your heart with pity
for the man who has wounded you. An infinite, tender pity that he has sunk
so low as to be capable of such actions.
But the fact to put down in the sharpest contrast of white and black is
that we must forgive freely, frankly, generously, "_even as God_," if we
are to be in prayer touch with God.
And the reason is not far to find; a double reason, Godward and Satanward.
If prayer be partnership in the highest sense then the same spirit must
animate both partners, the human and the divine, if the largest results
are to come. And since unforgiveness roots itself down in hate Satan has
room for both feet in such a heart with all the leeway in action of such
purchase. That word _unforgiving_! What a group of relatives it has, near
and far! Jealousy, envy, bitterness, the cutting word, the polished shaft
of sarcasm with the poisoned tip, the green eye, the acid saliva--what
Sin, selfishness, an unforgiving spirit--what searchlights these words
are! Many a splendid life to-day is an utter cipher in the spirit
atmosphere because of some such hindrance. And God's great love-plan for
His prodigal world is being held back; and lives being lost even where
ultimately souls shall be saved because of the lack of human prayer
May we not well pray:--Search me, oh God, and know my heart and help me
know it; try me and know my innermost, undermost thoughts and purposes and
ambitions, and help me know them; and see what way there be in me that is
a grief to Thee; and then lead me--and here the prayer may be a purpose as
well as a prayer--lead me out of that way unto _Thy_ way, _the_ way
everlasting. For Jesus' sake; aye for men's sake, too.
Why the Results are Delayed
God's Pathway to Human Hearts.
God touches men through men. The Spirit's path to a human heart is through
another human heart. With reverence be it said, yet with blunt plainness
that in His plan for winning men to their true allegiance God is limited
by the human limitations. That may seem to mean more than it really does.
For our thought of the human is of the scarred, warped, shrivelled
humanity that we know, and great changes come when God's Spirit controls.
But the fact is there, however limited our understanding of it.
God needs man for His plan. That is the fact that stands out strong in
thinking about prayer. God's greatest agency; man's greatest agency, for
defeating the enemy and winning men back is intercession. God is counting
mightily upon that. And He can count most mightily upon the man that
faithfully practices that.
The results He longs for are being held back, and made smaller because so
many of us have not learned how to pray simply and skilfully. We need
training. And God understands that. He Himself will train. But we must be
willing; actively willing. And just there the great bother comes in. A
strong will perfectly yielded to God's will, or perfectly willing to be
yielded, is His mightiest ally in redeeming the world.
Answers to prayer are delayed, or denied, out of kindness, _or_, that more
may be given, _or_, that a far larger purpose may be served. But deeper
down by far than that is this: _God's purposes are being delayed_; delayed
because of our unwillingness to learn how to pray, _or_, our slowness--I
almost said--our stupidity in learning. It is a small matter that my
prayer be answered, or unanswered; not small to me; everything perhaps to
me; but small in proportion. It is a tremendous thing that _God's purpose_
for a world is being held back through my lack. The thought that prayer is
_getting things_ from God; chiefly that, is so small, pitiably small, and
yet so common. The true conception understands that prayer is partnership
with God in His planet-sized purposes, and includes the "all things"
beside, as an important detail of the whole.
The real reason for the delay or failure lies simply in the difference
between God's view-point and ours. In our asking either we have not
reached the _wisdom_ that asks best, _or_, we have not reached the
_unselfishness_ that is willing to sacrifice a good thing, for a better,
or the best; the unselfishness that is willing to sacrifice the smaller
personal desire for the larger thing that affects the lives of many.
We learn best by pictures, and by stories which are pen or word pictures.
This was Jesus' favourite method of teaching. There are in the Bible four
great, striking instances of delayed, or qualified answers to prayer.
There are some others; but these stand out sharply, and perhaps include
the main teachings of all. Probably all the instances of hindered prayer
with which we are familiar will come under one of these. That is to say,
where there are good connections upward as suggested in our last talk,
_and_, excepting those that come under the talk succeeding this, namely,
the great outside hindrance. These four are Moses' request to enter
Canaan; Hannah's prayer for a son; Paul's thorn; and Jesus' prayer in
Let us look a bit at these in turn.
For the Sake of a Nation.
First is the incident of Moses' ungranted petition. Moses was the leader
of his people. He is one of the giants of the human race from whatever
standpoint considered. His codes are the basis of all English and American
jurisprudence. From his own account of his career, the secret of all his
power as a maker of laws, the organizer of a strangely marvellous nation,
a military general and strategist--the secret of all was in his direct
communication with God. He was peculiarly a man of prayer. Everything was
referred to God, and he declared that everything--laws, organization,
worship, plans--came to him from God. In national emergencies where moral
catastrophe was threatened he petitioned God and the plans were changed in
accordance with his request. He makes personal requests and they are
granted. He was peculiarly a man who dealt directly with God about every
sort of thing, national and personal, simple and complex. The record
commonly credited to him puts prayer as the simple profound explanation of
his stupendous career and achievements. He prayed. God worked along the
line of his prayer. The great things recorded are the result. That is the
simple inferential summary.
Now there is one exception to all this in Moses' life. It stands out the
more strikingly that it is an exception; the one exception of a very long
line. Moses asked repeatedly for one thing. It was not given him. God is
not capricious nor arbitrary. There must be a reason. _There is._ And it
is fairly luminous with light.
Here are the facts. These freed men of Egypt are a hard lot to lead and to
live with. Slow, sensuous, petty, ignorant, narrow, impulsive, strangers
to self-control, critical, exasperating--what an undertaking God had to
make a nation, _the_ nation of history, about which centred His deep
reaching, far-seeing love ambition for redeeming a world out of such
stuff! Only paralleled by the church being built upon such men as these
Galilean peasants! What victories these! What a God to do such things!
Only a God could do either and both! What immense patience it required to
shape this people. What patience God has. Moses had learned much of
patience in the desert sands with his sheep; for he had learned much of
God. But the finishing touches were supplied by the grindstone of friction
with the fickle temper of this mob of ex-slaves.
Here are the immediate circumstances. They lacked water. They grew very
thirsty. It was a serious matter in those desert sands with human lives,
and young children, and the stock. No, it was not serious: really a very
small matter, for _God was along_, and the enterprise was of His starting.
It was His affair, all this strange journey. And they knew Him quite well
enough in their brief experience to be expecting something fully equal to
all needs with a margin thrown in. There was that series of stupendous
things before leaving Egypt. There was the Red Sea, and fresh food daily
delivered at every man's tent door, and game, juicy birds, brought down
within arms' reach, yes, and--surely this alone were enough--there was
living, cool water gushing abundantly, gladly out of the very heart of a
flinty rock--if such a thing can be said to have a heart! Oh, yes it was a
very small matter to be lacking anything with such a lavish God along.
_But they forgot._ Their noses were keener than their memories. They had
better stomachs than hearts. The odorous onions of Egypt made more
lasting impressions than this tender, patient, planning God. Yet here
even their stomachs forgot those rock-freed waters. These people must be
kinsfolk of ours. They seem to have some of the same family traits.
Listen: they begin to complain, to criticise. God patiently says nothing
but provides for their needs. But Moses has not yet reached the high level
that later experiences brought him. He is standing to them for God. Yet he
is very un-Godlike. Angrily, with hot word, he _smites_ the rock. Once
smiting was God's plan; then the quiet word ever after. How many a time
has the once smitten Rock been smitten again in our impatience! _The
waters came_! Just like God! They were cared for, though He had been
disobeyed and dishonoured. And there are the crowds eagerly drinking with
faces down; and up yonder in the shadow standeth God _grieved_, deeply
grieved at the false picture this immature people had gotten of Him that
day through Moses. Moses' hot tongue and flashing eye made a deep moral
scar upon their minds, that it would take years to remove. Something must
be done for the people's sake. Moses disobeyed God. He dishonoured God.
Yet the waters came, for _they needed water_. And God is ever
tender-hearted. But they must be taught the need of obedience, the evil of
disobedience. Taught it so they never could forget.
Moses was a leader. Leaders may not do as common men. And leaders may not
be dealt with as followers. They stand too high in the air. They affect
too many lives. So God said to Moses:--"You will not go into Canaan. You
may lead them clear up to the line; you may even see over, but you may not
go in." That hurt Moses deep down. It hurt God deeper down, in a heart
more sensitive to hurt than was Moses'. Without doubt it was said with
_reluctance_, for _Moses'_ sake. But _it was said_, plainly, irrevocably,
for _their_ sakes. Moses' petition was for a reversal of this decision.
Once and again he asked. He wanted to see that wondrous land of God's
choosing. He felt the sting too. The edge of the knife of discipline cut
keenly, and the blood spurted. But God said:--"Do not speak to Me again of
this." The decision was not to be changed. For Moses' sake only He would
gladly have changed, judging by His previous conduct. For the sake of the
nation--aye, for the sake of the prodigal world to be won back through
this nation, the petition might not be granted. That ungranted petition
taught those millions the lesson of obedience, of reverence, as no
command, or smoking mount, or drowning Egyptians had done. It became
common talk in every tent, by every camp-fire of the tented nation. "Moses
disobeyed,--he failed to reverence God;--he cannot enter Canaan."--With
hushed tones, and awed hearts and moved, strangely moved faces it passed
from lip to lip. Some of the women and children wept. They all loved
Moses. They revered him. How gladly they would have had him go over. The
double-sided truth--obedience--disobedience--kept burning in through the
In after years many a Hebrew mother told her baby, eager for a story, of
Moses their great leader; his appearance, deep-set eyes, long beard,
majestic mien, yet infinite tenderness and gentleness, the softness of
strength; his presence with God in the mount, the shining face. And the
baby would listen so quietly, and then the eyes would grow so big and the
hush of spirit come as the mother would repeat softly, "but he could not
come over into the land of promise because _he did not obey God_." And
strong fathers reminded their growing sons. And so it was woven into the
warp and woof of the nation--_obedience, reverent obedience to God_. And
one can well understand Moses looking down from above with grateful heart
that he had been denied for _their_ sakes. The unselfishness and wisdom of
later years would not have made the prayer. _The prayer of a man was
denied that a nation might be taught obedience_.
That More Might be Given and Gotten.
Now let us look a bit at the second of these, the portrait of Hannah the
Hebrew woman. First the broader lines for perspective. This peculiar
Hebrew nation had two deep dips down morally between Egypt and Babylon;
between the first making, and the final breaking. The national tide ebbed
very low twice, before it finally ran out in the Euphrates Valley. Elijah
stemmed the tide the second time, and saved the day for a later night. The
Hannah story belongs in the first of these ebb-tides; the first bad sag;
the first deep gap.
The giant lawgiver is long gone. His successor, only a less giant than
himself is gone too, and all that generation, and more. The giants gave
way to smaller-sized leaders. Now they are gone also. The mountain peaks
have been lost in the foothills, and these have yielded to dunes, and
levels; mostly levels; dead levels. These mountains must have had long
legs. The foothills are so far away, and are running all to toes. Now the
toes have disappeared.
It is a leaderless people, for the true Leader as originally planned has
been, first ignored, then forgot. The people have no ideals. They grub in
the earth content. There is a deep, hidden-away current of good. But it
needs leadership to bring it to the surface. A leaderless people! This is
the niche of the Hannah story.
The nation was rapidly drifting down to the moral level of the lowest. At
Shiloh the formal worship was kept up, but the very priests were tainted
with the worst impurity. A sort of sleepy, slovenly anarchy prevailed.
Every man did that which was right in his own eyes, with every indication
of a gutter standard. "There was none in the land possessing power of
restraint that might put them to shame in anything." No government; no
dominant spirit. Indeed the actual conditions of Sodom and her sister
cities of the plain existed among the people. This is the setting of the
simple graphic incident of Hannah. One must get the picture clearly in
mind to understand the story.
Up in the hill country of Ephraim there lived a wise-hearted religious
man, a farmer, raising stock, and grain; and fruit, too, likely. He was
earnest but not of the sort to rise above the habit of his time. His farm
was not far from Shiloh, the national place of worship, and he made yearly
trips there with the family. But the woman-degrading curse of Lamech was
over his home. He had two wives. Hannah was the loved one. (No man ever
yet gave his heart to two women.) She was a gentle-spoken, thoughtful
woman, with a deep, earnest spirit. But she had a disappointment which
grew in intensity as it continued. The desire of her heart had been
withheld. She was childless.
Though the thing is not mentioned the whole inference is that she prayed
earnestly and persistently but to her surprise and deep disappointment the
desired answer came not. To make it worse her rival--what a word, for the
other one in the home with her--her rival provoked her sore to make her
fret. And that thing _went on_ year after year. That teasing, nagging,
picking of a small nature was her constant prod. What an atmosphere for a
home! Is it any wonder that "she was in bitterness of soul" and "wept
sore"? Her husband tenderly tries to comfort her. But her inner spirit
remains chafed to the quick. And all this goes on for years; the yearning,
the praying, the failure of answer, the biting, bitter atmosphere,--for
_years_. And she wonders why.
Why was it? Step back and up a bit and get the broader view which the
narrow limits of her surroundings, and shall I say, too, though not
critically, of her spirit, shut out from her eyes. Here is what she saw:
her fondest hope unrealized, long praying unanswered, a constant ferment
at home. Here is what she wanted:--_a son_. That is her horizon. Beyond
that her thought does not rise.
Here is what God saw:--a nation--no, much worse--_the_ nation, in which
centred His great love-plan for winning His prodigal world, going to
pieces. The messenger to the prodigal was being slyly, subtly seduced by
the prodigal. The saviour-nation was being itself lost. The plan so long
and patiently fostered for saving a world was threatened with utter
Here is what He wanted--_a leader_! But there were no leaders. And, worse
yet, there were no men out of whom leaders might be made, no men of
leader-size. And worse yet _there were no women_ of the sort to train and
shape a man for leadership. That is the lowest level to which a people
ever gets, aye, ever _can_ get. God had to get a woman before He could get
a man. Hannah had in her the making of the woman He needed. God honoured
her by choosing her. But she must be changed before she could be used. And
so there came those years of pruning, and sifting, and discipline. Shall
we spell that word discipline with a final g instead of e--discipling, so
the love of it may be plainer to our near-sightedness? And out of those
years and experiences there came a new woman. A woman with vision
broadened, with spirit mellowed, with strength seasoned, with will so
sinewy supple as to yield to a higher will, to sacrifice the dearest
_personal pleasure_ for the world-wide purpose; willing that he who was
her dearest treasure should be the nation's _first_.
Then followed months of prayer while the man was coming. Samuel was born,
no, farther back yet, was conceived in the atmosphere of prayer and
devotion to God. The prenatal influences for those months gave the sort of
man God wanted. And a nation, _the_ nation, the _world-plan,_ was saved!
This man became a living answer to prayer. The romantic story of the
little boy up in the Shiloh tabernacle quickly spread over the nation. His
very name--Samuel, God hears--sifted into people's ears the facts of a
God, and of the power of prayer. The very sight of the boy and of the man
clear to the end kept deepening the brain impression through eyeballs that
God answers prayer. And the seeds of that re-belief in God that Samuel's
leadership brought about were sown by the unusual story of his birth.
_The answer was delayed that more might be given and gotten_. And Hannah's
exultant song of praise reveals the fineness to which the texture of her
nature had been spun. And it tells too how grateful she was for a God who
in great patience and of strong deliberate purpose delayed the answer to
The Best Light for Studying a Thorn.
The third great picture in this group is that of Paul and his
needle-pointed thorn. Talks about the certainty of prayer being answered
are very apt to bring this question: "What about Paul's thorn?" Sometimes
asked by earnest hearts puzzled; _some_times with a look in the eye almost
exultant as though of gladness for that thorn because it seems to help out
a theory. These pictures are put into the gallery for our help. Let us
pull up our chairs in front of this one and see what points we may get to
help our hearts.
First a look at Paul himself. The best light on this thorn is through the
man. The man explains the thorn. We have a halo about Paul's head; and
rightly, too. What a splendid man of God he was! God's chosen one for a
peculiar ministry. One of the twelve could be used to open the door to the
great outside world, but God had to go aside from this circle and get a
man of different training for this wider sphere. Cradled and schooled in a
Jewish atmosphere, he never lost the Jew standpoint, yet the training of