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 Gethsemane.
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