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 Gethsemane.