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

of lie.

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."[12] 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,[13] 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[14]--"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

the ground.

"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

through us!

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.[15] "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:[16] "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[17] 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[18] 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

kinsfolk these!

Search Me.

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.