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Preacher & Prayer

Shortly after responding to my call to ministry, I read a little book by E.M. Bounds called Power Through Prayer (originally called Preacher and Prayer).

In recent years, I’ve wanted to re-read the book, as well as other books by Bounds, so I bought The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer (a collection of eight small books on prayer). I finally re-read Power Through Prayer in the last few days.

Edward McKendree Bounds (1835-1913) was a lawyer until he responded to God’s call to ministry at age 24. During his ministry, he served as a chaplain in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War (after spending a year and a half as a prisoner of war, suspected of being a Confederate sympathizer). He was a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (the Methodist Episcopal Church split into North and South factions over slavery in 1844; in 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and the Methodist Protestant Church, which had split in 1828, reunited to form the The Methodist Church).

Bounds is the author of eleven books, two of which were published before he died at the age of 78. In Power Through Prayer, Bounds challenges preachers to be people of prayer. Even though it’s been a little over 20 years since I read the book, I remembered some of the stories and statements that have impacted my life.

Several days ago, I wrote Discipleship is More Important Than Methodology, based on the opening paragraph of the book. Here, I’ll pick up with some of my favorite quotes (page numbers are from The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer). Please note: writing at the turn of the last century, Bounds did not use inclusive language.

Bounds places great importance on the character of the preacher.

The man makes the preacher. God must make the man. The messenger is, if possible, more than the message. The preacher is more than the sermon. The preacher makes the sermon. … Preaching is not the performance of an hour. It is the outflow of a life. It takes twenty years to make a sermon, because it takes twenty years to make the man. (448)

I quoted the “twenty years” statement a few years ago; see It Takes 20 Years to Make a Sermon.

Bounds continues this line of thought …

The sermon cannot rise in its life-giving forces above the man. Dead men give out dead sermons, and dead sermons kill. Everything depends on the spiritual character of the preacher. (448)

God does his work on the preacher through prayer. Bounds argues …

The real sermon is made in the closet. The man—God’s man—is made in the closet. His life and his profoundest convictions were born in his secret communion with God. (449)

Life-giving preaching costs the preacher much—death to self, crucifixion to the world, the travail of his own soul. Only crucified preaching can give life. Crucified preaching can come only from a crucified man. (451)

The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Light praying will make light preaching. Prayer makes preaching strong … (455)

The preacher’s study must be a closet. (456) … The preachers who are the mightiest in their closets with God are the mightiest in their pulpits with men. (457)

Bounds asserts that “much time” must be spent with God in prayer …

Much time spent with God is the secret of all successful praying. … God’s acquaintance is not made by quick visits. God does not bestow his gifts on the casual or hasty comers and goers. (460)

Bounds also places great importance on praying in early morning …

The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. … If God is not the first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, he will be in the last place the remainder of the day. (464)

Bounds contends, “Our great need is heart preparation,” (472) saying, “The closet is the heart’s study” (475). He writes …

Praying makes the preacher a heart preacher. Prayer puts the preacher’s heart into the sermon; prayer puts the preacher’s sermon into the preacher’s heart. (471)

Bounds emphasizes “unction,” a word we don’t use a lot today. Bounds acknowledges that unction is difficult to define, but equates it with the “anointing of the Holy Spirit” (481). He writes …

It is this unction which gives the preacher such point, sharpness, and power, and which creates such friction and stir in many a dead congregation. (478)

Well, the challenge today is much the same as it was a century ago. Toward the end of the book, Bounds laments the fact that prayer is often neglected by preachers in his day …

This, however, is not a day of prayer. Few men there are who pray. Prayer is defamed by preacher and preist. In these days of hurry and bustle, of electricity and steam, men will not take time to pray. (491)

As always, E.M. Bounds challenges me to be a person of prayer. He doesn’t give a lot of practical advice on prayer in this book. He simply says, spend much time in prayer, beginning early in the morning. Let prayer be the foundation for your ministry. Let ministry flow out of your time with God. Remember that it’s “the closet first, study and activities second” (455).

Through prayer, God leaves a mark on preachers so that preachers can, in turn, leave a mark on the world for God!

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