Book Review: The Essentials Of Prayer

The Essentials Of Prayer:  How Christians Ought To Pray, by E.M. Bounds

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Aneko Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

If there is anyone who would be qualified to write a book about how the sincerity and depth of one’s prayers is not always connected, immediately or otherwise, with one’s conditions in life, the author would have expertise in this matter.  A man of the 19th century who did not marry until his forties and a chaplain in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, the author no doubt knew disappointment pretty well and seriously.  Intriguingly enough, this personal context is not mentioned directly in the book, although a strain of compassion goes through the book that is likely to have been involved with the author’s own personal struggles regarding prayer [1].  Prayer is by no means an unusual subject for people to write about, but the author’s approach certainly allows him a distinctive perspective that is well worth remembering, especially given the seriousness he takes the subject and the way he balances hope and compassion on the one hand with some rather pointed comments on reasons why prayer requires holiness on the part of believers.

In terms of its contents, this book contains thirteen chapters as well as an editor’s foreword and a biography of the author that combined take up a bit more than 150 pages of reading.  The author begins by talking about how prayer takes in the whole person (1).  After this the author discusses prayer in association with various qualities, starting with humility (2) and devotion (3).  He moves on to prayer’s connection with praise and thanksgiving (4), trouble (5), and tribulation (6).  In discussing these matters the author is quick to point out that often people are the cause of their own trouble and that tribulation is a complex matter.  There are discussions about the relationship of prayer and God’s work (7), prayer and consecration (8), which the author defines as the human aspect of setting the will towards the holiness that comes from God, as well as a definite religious standard of righteousness (9).  The author then closes with chapters on prayer born out of compassion (10), concerted and focused prayer (11), before looking at the universality of prayer (12) and the relationship between prayer and missions (13).  Throughout the book as a whole the author combines a focus on practical matters with a deep interest in prayer as it appears in all of its complexity in both the Bible and and in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, that complexity is a hallmark of this book.  The author’s discussion is like a bracing cup of cold water that reminds one of the seriousness of matters that are often taken for granted.  As someone who has personal experience in the way that many people try to avoid giving prayers–especially public prayers–and are not particularly willing to gain practice in such matters, this book is the sort of book that I find deeply interesting.  As someone whose prayer life was pretty complicated–witness his likely long unanswered prayers regarding finding a good wife as well as his prayers on behalf of the wicked cause for which he fought in the Civil War–it is not surprising that the author would have compassion on others whose prayers are born out of trouble and tribulation and frustration, as those were likely serious aspects of his own prayer life.  However, in stark contrast to the way that such matters would be addressed in contemporary books on the subject, the author points the reader to examples of other believers as well as the Bible rather than seeking to discuss his own personal life, showing an admirable level of restraint in doing so.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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