Blerkins Unbounded | 1.01 | Prayer = Faith
The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer
Book 1 – The Necessity of Prayer
Chapter 1 – Prayer & Faith
“Quotes” are taken from Bounds. Generally, these are passages I marked as I read. Each quote distills a single line-of-thought. Quotes are numbered to convey Bounds’ line of reasoning in a straight-forward and linear manner. Relevant passages of Scripture are presented in the King James Version (KJV). Subsequent elaboration is our own.
1. “…prayer is simply faith…where faith ceases to pray it ceases to live.”
In this opening chapter, Bounds is keen to establish an equivocal relationship – an interdependency – between faith and prayer. It is an a priori axiom which Christ Himself establishes and which enables the syllogism of Bounds’ argument.
Bounds is forcing us to think of prayer like a muscle that when used can be strong or weak – or even atrophied – in proportion to faith, rather than a discreet skill one masters. A master shipbuilder must not only be a builder of ships, he must be a lover of ships. A master prayer must not merely be one who prays, but one who has faith in the one to Whom he prays. Thus, when we finally finish this project, it will not be for us to say, “We’ve learned to pray.” Rather, we will be able to say only that have learned how to maintain a disciplined life of faithful prayer.”
Honestly, I’m already wondering why I didn’t choose to read about something more challenging. Oy vey.
2. “Prayer projects faith on God, and God on the world.”
24 Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray,
believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
As someone who labors for cultural change and renewal, this is a sharp lesson. To transform and renew people and churches and nations and civilizations, you would need a big God, for I am a small person. I’m over here painting the world with a paintbrush I got from one of those Dollar Tree water-color tins with eight primary colors, wondering why I’m not being more effective. In my head I know that God does all this stuff. Why am I not praying for this? His brush strokes are considerably larger.
3. “…faith [is] the starting point – the basis of the other graces of the Spirit.”
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;
And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;
And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
2 Peter 1:5-7
“There is a divine order, of which Peter was aware…that we are to give diligence to making our calling and election sure, which election is rendered certain adding to faith which, in turn, is done by constant, earnest praying. Thus faith is kept alive by prayer, an every step taken, in this adding grace to grace, is accompanied by prayer.”
In the text immediately preceding, Peter writes that God has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (1:3) and that this is how we get to be “partakers of the divine nature” (1:4). Prayer, I think we can say, is an obvious sort of “partaking”. What does Peter say we should be doing to lay hold of these things which have already been given to us? First, diligent pursuit. Second, that one can partake only when they are added to faith. Bounds refers to this as the “additive principle”. I think this means that if do not take steps to build our faith, it will be difficult to improve our prayer life. Reading and meditating upon the Scriptures, regular church attendance and participation in corporate worship, confession, the Lord’s Supper, etc., surrounding ourselves with art and music which glorifies God, restraining excess – these are all things which are known to strengthen faith. To the extent that we can do these things – that is, to the extent that our faith is strengthened – our prayer life is strengthened as well.
4. “The faith that creates powerful praying is the faith which centers itself on a powerful person.”
28 And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them,
Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord.
29 Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.
Ours is a faith in Christ, who proclaimed that all power is His. Not only does this mean that he can do all things, but that he has the authority to do these things. If faith/prayer prove inseparable, so do power/authority. One presupposes the other. One can be exercised only in relations to the other.
18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying,
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Interestingly, the very next verse (Matt. 28:19) is the Great Commission. Meaning, Christ’s declaration about his all-powerfulness isn’t selfish glorification, but rather our empowerment to carry on His work in this world. He is powerful, therefore we can exercise dominion on His behalf. Christ not only answers our prayers, but He empowers us to do the praying.
5. “Obedience helps faith, and faith in turn helps obedience. “
This is an echo of the additive principle. The faith-building activities we mentioned (Scripture reading, church attendance, etc.) have both a positive and negative benefit. They not only build faith, they also deter disobedience. After all, it seems reasonable that a person who is regularly immersing himself in the Scriptures and meditating on the law of the Lord day and night is probably less likely to stray into a pattern of unrepentant sin.
On the flip, somebody who does enter into a pattern of disobedience (i.e. a sinful lifestyle) he must first justify his conduct, and then accommodate his beliefs to suit his actions. Denial and inversion follow. Either faith will be abandoned altogether and a faux-atheism result, or Scripture will be reconstituted so that his particular evil becomes good in his eyes. Then, having forsaken the body of Christ, he will seek out other communities engaged in the same lifestyle for succor and affirmation. As Bounds phrases it, “To do God’s will is essential to true faith, and faith is necessary to implicit obedience.”
6. “Delay is often the test and the strength of faith.”
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there,
to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.
“Jacob prayed, with point and ardor, to be delivered from Esau. But before that prayer could be answered, there was much to be done with, and for Jacob. He must be changed, as well as Esau. Jacob had to be made into a new man, before Esau could e. Jacob ha to be converted to God, before Esau could be converted to Jacob.”
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me,
the works that I do shall he do also;
and greater works than these shall he do;
because I go unto my Father.
13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do,
that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
Probably the hardest thing for anyone who has ever prayed for anything ever is silence.
“There is bound to be much delay and long days of waiting for true faith, but faith accepts the conditions…and regards such delays as times of testing, in the which, it is privileged to show its mettle, and the stern stuff of which it is made.”
Bounds declares that, “Jesus will come,” which makes me think of John’s ultimate prayer in the Book of Revelation: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (22:20). The Second Coming of Christ will happen. Someday. Eventually. We forget that everything which has happened in this world since that prayer was spoken has been God answering John’s prayer. God is in the process of answering even now. But it’s going to take a while to work this one out. Lots of details. Lots of people. Lots of Christ going to the mat to track down that one sheep who decided to use the restroom in the middle of the tour and never came back, only to get back and realize that yet another one of us has wandered off. And so there He goes again, back out into the rainy night.
In the movie Here Comes Santa Clause (a French film dubbed into English, and a childhood favorite) a two friends find their way to Santa in order to ask him to return the boy’s diplomat parents, who have been captured by tribal warlords. Santa responds to the child, “It’s not a Christmas present you’ve asked for, you know, it’s politics.” In the movie, Santa comes through, of course. But this isn’t one the elves can build in the toyshop. Santa has to travel to Africa, gets chased by a crocodile, ministers to a family of monkeys, ends up captured and imprisoned in a remote African village one day before Christmas Eve. In the process the children’s belief in Santa is strengthened, the monkeys have food, and the children get the rare opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas. Okay, yes, the movie is absurd. The point is, sometimes our prayers – in order to be answered – require God to put into motion a lot of pieces affecting a lot of people. And your prayer is just one of many He may be answering simultaneously. In other words, it’s complicated. The more complicated, the more time it will probably take. But like Hannibal Smith, God loves it when His plan comes together. And we are expected to maintain faith throughout.
“Faith in Christ is the basis of all working, and of all praying. All wonderful works depend on wonderful praying, and all praying is done in the name of Jesus Christ.”
7. “Faith lives in the present.”
“They pray best who pray for today’s needs, not for tomorrow’s…True prayers are born of present trials and present needs. […] We must trust God today and leave the morrow entirely with him. […] As every day demands its bread, so every day demands it prayer. No amount of praying, done today, will suffice for tomorrow’s praying.”
Recall that the context of this chapter is faith. What we need is faith to meet the hardships of today, and for that we must pray for today’s hardships. Praying for the past is pointless and praying for tomorrow (in the sense worrying about tomorrow’s problems) exposes a lack of faith in Christ’s power to manage the future. None of us have any guarantee that we’ll be around tomorrow, anyway. If we pray adequately for today’s provision, we may find ourselves so well fed we’ll have to pray for help with our diet; if we pray abundantly regarding today’s battles, we may well win them; and then tomorrow’s prayer will be one of thanksgiving rather than deliverance. We labor in this world for pensions only to see them mismanaged, the wealth stolen, and the benefits cut. We spend hours petitioning for Social Security. What we should do is invest our wealth wisely today.
Like many of the complex systems God has established in the world, prayer/faith exist in a feedback loop. Learning to pray is to strengthen one’s faith, which in turn can be achieved only through prayer. But how does one start? Just pray…for to pray at all is itself an act of faith. “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). So, here is my first prayer:
“Lord, teach us to pray.”