Power Through Prayer: The Life and Writings of E.M. Bounds

Group of young Christians holding hands and praying | EM Bounds - Power Through Prayer

Article By: Sarah Koontz

One of my favorite authors on the subject of prayer is a Civil War-era preacher named Edward McKendree Bounds (1835-1913). 

Receiving his law degree at age nineteen, Edward became the youngest practicing lawyer in the state of Missouri. 

Bounds felt a call to Christian ministry in his early twenties, and two years later was ordained as a pastor.

His life was filled with suffering and loss—trials and tribulations. 

Photo of E.M. Bounds

In 1861, Bounds was arrested by Union troops and spent a year-and-a-half in federal prison. 

He later became a chaplain in the Confederate army and was injured during a battle and taken prisoner for a second time.

Upon his release, Bounds returned to Franklin, Tennessee, to pastor a local church. 

His primary ministry method was establishing weekly prayer sessions where he would lead the people in prayers for spiritual revival and healing of the war-torn country.

His first wife died in 1886, a few months before their tenth wedding anniversary. 

His firstborn son died at the age of six, and his son, Charles, died eight days after his first birthday.  

Bounds dedicated the hours of 4 am to 7 am each morning to prayer, and it’s been said that no man could have made more melting appeals for lost souls and backslidden Christians than him. 

Bounds was a wise and passionate pastor who was convinced of the transformative power of prayer.

Not only was this man committed to a life of prayer, but he was also committed to sound doctrine and Christian service.

E.M. Bounds was a wise and passionate nineteenth-century pastor who was convinced of the transformative power of prayer.Click to Tweet

I began studying the Complete Works of E.M. Bounds a little over a year ago, at the recommendation of my pastor. 

Much of his writing on the subject of prayer is in the public domain and can be accessed for free online.

His writing has had a profound impact on my prayer life, and I hope that this article will inspire you to pick up one of his books for yourself. 

Although I am still working my way through the many books he wrote on prayer, I felt it was important to share what I’ve learned so far. 

Husband and wife praying together

A Definition of Prayer by E.M. Bounds

When reading books written in a different era, it is essential for readers to recognize that language is everchanging.

I find it helpful to search for an author’s definition of critical terms early on in the reading process. 

What a joy it was to search out E.M. Bounds’ definition of prayer in his writing.

Ten quotes from his writing that illuminate his beliefs about prayer:

  • “Prayer is simply…faith taking possession of its illimitable inheritance.”
  • “Faith in Christ’s ability to do and do greatly is the faith which prays greatly.”
  • “Faith gives birth to prayer, and grows stronger, strikes deeper, rises higher, in the struggles and wrestlings of mighty petitioning.”
  • “We ought to pray for the desire to pray; for such a desire is God-given and heaven-born.”
  • “This holy and fervid flame in the soul awakens the interest of heaven, attracts the attention of God, and places at the disposal of those who exercise it, the exhaustless riches of Divine grace.”
  • “To be absorbed in God’s will, to be so greatly in earnest about doing it that our whole being takes fire, is the qualifying condition of the man who would engage in effectual prayer.”
  • “Prayer has everything to do with moulding the soul into the image of God…for prayer is the only way in which the soul of man can enter into fellowship and communion with the Source of all Christlike spirit and energy.
  • “In order to have full access to God in prayer, there must be a total abandonment of conscious and premeditated sin.”
  • “The business of real observance of God’s commands inseparably accompanies the business of real praying.”
  • “If you have an earnest desire to pray well, you must learn how to obey well.”
“Prayer is simply...faith taking possession of its illimitable inheritance.” E.M. BoundsClick to Tweet
Couple praying together in church | EM Bounds - Power Through Prayer

5 Lessons about Prayer from E.M. Bounds

Although much of his writing was aimed at preachers, all Christians can can learn from his enthusiastic instruction on prayer.

Here are five of the most profound lessons I’ve learned about prayer by studying the words penned by E.M. Bounds more than a century ago.

1 – Preaching is not a performance; it is the outflow of a life dedicated to prayer.

Bounds was convinced that prayer was to be a pillar of the pastoral life. When he taught on the subject of prayer and the pulpit, he declared, “Prayer is the preacher’s mightiest weapon. The real sermon is made in the closet. Every preacher who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God’s work.”

Practical takeaway: Authenticity and humility are key attributes of the prayer-filled life. If we want to make a difference during our time on earth, we must learn to invest ourselves in the practice of prayer.

If we want to make a difference during our time on earth, we must learn to invest ourselves in the practice of prayer.Click to Tweet

2 – God doesn’t anoint plans; He anoints people—people of prayer!

Bounds writes, “the true ministry is God-touched, God-enabled, and God-made.” He goes on to say, “Prayer lies at the root of all personal godliness.” 

Practical takeaway: The best-laid plans cannot withstand the devastating consequence of poor moral character. If you want to have an effective ministry, you must commit to the process of becoming an effective minister.

3 – The heart of our time (the best of our time) must be given to prayer.

Prayer is not to be an afterthought. It is not to be used only “in case of emergency.” It is to be the priority of our lives. As Bounds says, “the closet first, the study and activities second, both study and activities freshened and made efficient by the closet.”

Practical takeaway:  Prayer is serious work and must be given a regular spot in our calendar. If you don’t prioritize time in prayer, don’t expect to have the power you need to live a fruitful life. 

Prayer is not to be an afterthought. It is not to be used only “in case of emergency.” It is to be the priority of our lives.Click to Tweet
Prayer is the power source of the Christian life. | EM Bounds - Power Through Prayer

4 – No earthly ministry will have eternal impact without much prayer. 

Prayer is the power source of the Christian life. When we fail to pray, we fail to invite the power of God into our life and ministry. Every facet of Christian ministry should be the outflowing of prayer. 

Practical takeaway: Every facet of Christian ministry should be the outflowing of prayer. We may disagree on theology, but we must be unified in prayer.

5 – Endurance and fruitfulness in ministry are rooted in faithful prayer.

Bounds writes, “No man can do a great and enduring work for God who is not a man of prayer, and no man can be a man of prayer who does not give much time to praying.” If God is not our first thought in the morning, He will be an afterthought the rest of the day.

Practical takeaway: In the same way that Christ found strength in communion with God, so must we! Begin the day with prayer, and don’t stop praying until your work is complete. 

Learning to pray is one of the most powerful and practical pursuits of the Christian life.

When our prayers are full of wisdom and in-step with God’s commands, we begin to see God as the source of peace and purpose in every circumstance.

Learning to pray is one of the most powerful and practical pursuits of the Christian life.Click to Tweet

Learn How to Pray Like David

I’d like to invite you to join me for “Pray Like David,” a free online Bible study exploring King David’s life and prayers.

This study of David’s sacred songs will bring comfort, direction, and confidence to our prayer lives.

David was a shepherd, a warrior, a musician, and a poet. He was rugged and refined, strong and sympathetic—a man after God’s heart—chosen for God’s purposes, and dedicated to God’s service.

Our study of David’s sacred songs will bring comfort, direction, and confidence to our prayer lives.Click to Tweet

The “Pray Like David” Bible Study will help you:

  • Learn about the life and legacy of King David
  • Study the language of prayer in the Psalms
  • Draw near to God through personal prayer
  • Infuse your worship with the songs of the Bible
  • Rest and rejoice in the beauty of the Psalms

In the same way that children absorb and acquire language from their parents, we will learn the language of prayer by studying the Psalms of David together.

The worshipful language of the Psalms, paired with an understanding of the context in which they were penned, will build a template for our prayers.

Sign up today and don’t forget to invite your friends to join us. Bible study is always more fun with friends!

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About the Author: Sarah Koontz

About the Author: Sarah Koontz

Sarah Koontz is the founder of Living by Design Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to deliver free Bible Studies to inboxes around the world. She is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah and her husband Ryan live on thirteen acres in the heart of the Black Hills, SD. They have two beautiful daughters, a rowdy flock of chickens, and a house full of foster kittens. Sarah is an avid gardener, a faithful coffee drinker, lover of one-pot-dinners, an unexpected homeschooler, and a Dallas Seminary student.

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