E. M. Bounds, a 19th century pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church, wrote a number of definitive books dealing with prayer that are considered classics. Upon his retirement as pastor in 1894, he spent his final 17 years engaged in intercessory prayer, writing, and itinerant revival ministry. He would typically arise at 4 am to be alone with God in prayer until 7 am and was indefatigable in his study of the Bible. Because Bounds so diligently practiced what he preached, he was able to capture the essence of prayer and his works live on as a testimony of the importance of prayer in a Christian’s life. According to Bounds, “the story of every great Christian achievement is the history of answered prayer.”
“Prayer is the contact of a living soul with God. In prayer, God stoops to kiss man, to bless man, and to aid man in everything that God can devise or man can need. Prayer fills man’s emptiness with God’s fullness. It fills man’s poverty with God’s riches. It puts away man’s weakness with God’s strength. It banishes man’s littleness with God’s greatness. Prayer is God’s plan to supply man’s great and continuous need with God’s great and continuous abundance” (Bounds).
To receive the full abundance of God’s supply, the believer must begin at the place where he believes that God not only is capable of meeting every need, but that He also desires to do it. Jesus said that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). These statements bring us to the understanding that God is capable and we are not, so we need Him. And how often do we pray, not knowing what we really need? Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us by interpreting our groanings on behalf of the Father and the Son (Romans 8:26-27). These realities remove the act of praying from the mundane obligation to appease conscience and bring prayer into a higher experience, a real communion with the God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10).
In James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” So much of the Christian’s shortages come not from his bankruptcy, but rather from his unwillingness to ask. A generous God is anxiously waiting to demonstrate His generosity. James 4:2 says you do not have because you do not ask. The New Testament is filled with verses addressing the importance of asking God for the things that God desires to give. It starts with our willingness to believe that God wants to give. When the believer asks in prayer, believing, then the answer will follow (Matthew 21:22). Then there is John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do”. It is in the character and the ability of God that prayer places its faith. The impossible answer can only come from the God of the impossible.
James 5:16 tells us that the effective prayer of a righteous man, the one who lives by faith (Romans 1:17) can accomplish much. This Greek word translated effective is energeo from which we get the English word energy and it means that this prayer is working and operative. Jesus warns the religious man of the meaningless repetition of prayer, that his repetition of words or phrases will carry no weight with God, they will not work (Matthew 6:7). In the same passage, Jesus teaches that the righteous one who prays is not looking for recognition from others, but the prayer comes from an inner room, where no one is watching. Those prayers have rewards attached to them.
Your Father knows
Jesus also said in Matthew 6:8 that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him”. Prayer, then is the process of the believer communing with God around something He already knows. But for what purpose? In Isaiah 65:24, “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear”. It means that God knows what we need before we do and we can trust Him for the solution to our situation no matter what. Although the context of Isaiah 65 is the Milleniel Kingdom, it speaks to new covenant believers in the church age as well. It means that His throne is a throne of grace so we can have confidence that God’s provision is never earned or deserved, but it is given in the exact time of need on the basis of His grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:16).
“Prayer is a solemn service due to God, an adoration, a worship, an approach to God for some request, the presenting of some desire, the expression of some need to Him who supplies all need and who satisfies all desires, who, as a Father, finds his greatest pleasure in relieving the wants and granting the desires of his children. Prayer is the child’s request, not to the winds nor to the world, but to the Father. Prayer is the outstretched arms of the child for the Father’s help. Prayer is the child’s cry calling to the Father’s ear, the Father’s heart, and to the Father’s ability, which the Father is to hear, the Father is to feel, and which the Father is to relieve” (Bounds).
It took a real commitment to prayer to bring E. M. Bounds to a deeper appreciation of not only its importance, but also the intimacy it brings the believer and the expectation for divine solutions it creates. Depending on the situation, prayer can be a time of meditation and solitude and other times, a wrestling match. In any case, prayer opens access to the riches of heaven like no other activity can afford. It is hard work with an eternal return.
John Newton, the one who wrote “Amazing Grace,” wrote many other poems that became hymns. One of them is below, speaking to God’s commitment to answer man’s prayers:
Begone unbelief, my Savior is near
And for my relief shall surely appear.
By prayer let me wrestle and He will perform
With Christ in the vessel, I smile at the storm.
Though dark be my way, since He is my guide,
‘Tis mine to obey, ‘tis His to provide.
Though cisterns be broken and creatures all fail,
The Word He has spoken shall surely prevail.