Breaking With God
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.