Blerkins Unbounded | 1.00 | When you’re availithing not-so-much and wish you could availith more.
“…the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
– James 5:16b (KJV)
For some time now, I have felt that my prayer life is inadequate. Okay...let's be honest...it's a train wreck.
I’ve long set aside this nagging by the Holy spirit, pretending it wasn't as bad as all that; telling myself at various times that this is merely a subjective feeling, or that it isn’t my “spiritual gift," or that I was judging myself against people who were older and more experienced, or that I really didn’t know how to pray – or perhaps how to pray properly (whatever that even means).
My excuses ring hollow. I am always forced back again to confront the late Mayre Rigby, a very godly woman who prayed for me nearly every day for 25+ years -- long after I had left home, graduated college, and started my adult life a thousand miles away. Who are these strange churchmen and women, these so-called “prayer warriors"? How do you get the title?
I am not a little as ashamed to admit that I can’t really tell you what it means. Is it that the person prays more frequently? or more powerfully? or both? Does it mean that they have God on speed dial? I * just * don’t * know.
This prayer thing…it’s a longstanding blind spot in my spiritual development. I’m stunted. And I know it.
It’s not that I don’t pray, of course. I do. And I am at least reasonably sure that God does hear my prayers. My suspicion, however, is that God receives those prayers with the same sort of indulgence I show my toddler when starts babbling something unintelligible. Nevertheless, he does it with a big smile and a lot of hand gestures. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to hug him even though I haven’t a clue what he just said. I just nod and smile and hug. Thankfully, God understands gibberish and hand signs. I can sort of imagine Christ – the Great Intercessor – sitting at the right hand of the Father, receiving my prayer, and then, turning and making eye contact with the Father, grimaces and shrugs a bit, as if to say, “Well, he is trying.” I wonder if Yahweh is an eye-rolling God?
What's more, we’re told in 1 Peter 3 that it is possible for prayers to be hindered. Here again, I don’t rightly think I could explain how that works, precisely. Yet intuitively, I sense that my prayer life is, in fact, hindered. I want that to change.
If I were to address this problem in my own wisdom, I might just start pray more, or longer, or try not to fall asleep when I’m praying, or get up at 3 A.M to pray early. But I suspect none of this would make my prayer life any better. The principle of “multum non multa” comes to mind. That being translated, “Much, not many.” More prayer is not adequate -- I want better prayer. Prayer that is (as they used to say) efficacious – prayer that achieves results.
And by way of exclusion, we’re not talking about any Joel Osteen prosperity nonsense. I’m looking towards a deeper intimacy with God through personal and familial prayer. We're talking about developing the kind of familiarity with God that makes me a familiar face at the throne of God. Or, at least, I would like to get to the point where prayer seems a little less ritualistic -- not because I think that ritualized prayer is bad, but because it is not, by itself, sufficient.
(Not being a touchy-feely person by disposition, I wonder whether all this intimacy with God business won't ultimately prove a tallish order.)
Enter: The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer.
E.M. Bounds was a 19th century prairie preacher. I gather his was a hard, if successful, life. He lost his first wife only a few years into their marriage. He remarried, and between the two wives had six children; four of which died in childhood. That’s a heartache to which I cannot – and hopefully will not – relate. Perhaps this is what transformed him into the praying man he was later remembered to be?
Bounds lived an eventful life. He lived in Missouri during the era in which Missouri was at the center of a growing national conflict over slavery. Trained as a lawyer, he gave up law for the ministry. The legal training made him a clear thinker, and his prose -- which is simultaneously logical, clever, and clear -- seems the beneficiary.
Later, when the Civil War broke out, he served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army – a choice which got him arrested and jailed for a year-and-a-half as a non-combatant Confederate sympathizer. After the war and some additional years in parish ministry, Bounds became the editor of his denomination’s weekly magazine – the sort of publication which seems to have been a common feature of church life in most American denominations during the 19th century. This gig, which lasted almost a decade, would be his last professional role.
By 1894, Bounds had retired to Georgia with his family. The remaining twenty years of his life were spent engaged in prayer, Bible study, and writing. It is said he was up every morning at 4 o’clock in prayer. Perhaps prayer was for Bounds rather more a way of life than an event in the course of his day. Enoch, another man said to have walked with God, comes to mind. Yet at this point, I can only acknowledge that he prayer. We'll endeavor in the coming months to uncover more clearly how he prayer.
At the time of Bounds' death, only two of his eight books on prayer had been published. Friends and benefactors issued the remainder of his books posthumously. Today, these eight books on prayer are considered essential reading. A friend (and man of God whose judgment I respect) suggested that on the subject of prayer, “There’s nobody better than Bounds.”
To more-actively engage with these texts, I will be blogging my way through the entirety of the Bounds' anthology in a series I am calling Blerkins Unbounded.
Having no bound or limit; unlimited in extent; infinite; interminable; as unbounded space; unbounded power; having no check or control; unrestrained. The young man has unbounded license. His extravagance is unbounded
This definition intimidates me a little. Words like "unlimited" and "uncontrolled" are not states of being I am comfortable with. But, given that my present unsatisfactory prayer life seems a bit bound up, perhaps it’s time for some theological fiber. After all, my prayer life could definitely stand to become a little more powerful and extravagant.
As I embark on this journey, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.” Amen.
Citation & Specs
A quick word about the edition. This is a single-volume anthology of all eight of E.M. Bounds works on prayer, and published by Baker Book House, compiles eight individual books which were originally published separately between 1912-1931. This edition has been edited by Baker to bring some of the more archaic terms into modern English, though the editors assert they were careful “…not to dim the intense spirit and clear challenges…” of the original. The Scripture passages, which go uncited in the book, are rendered in the original King James Version. I'm writing the references in as I go. Finally, the cover featured here reflects the text I have in hand. Be advised the same ISBN returns the book with a different cover on Amazon here. CBD offers a less-expensive digital copy here.