E.M. Bounds on Humility and its Effect on Prayer

Prayer has no beginning, no ending, no being, without humility.
I have written extensively about pride, and will probably continue to do so until I'm free from it. However, I don't anticipate that happening in this life. So brace yourself for more.

Bounds' writing on humility focuses primarily on the parable of the the pharisee and the tax collector from Luke 18. The story, you probably know is that the pharisee goes up to the temple and prays a prayer to the effect of, "God thank you that I am good man who follows your statutes and doesn't really sin much like others do." The tax collector stands far off, and won't even raise his eyes. He merely beats his chest and prays, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" And we're told the tax collector leaves justified before the Lord and not the pharisee.

Bounds notes of the Pharisee:
Words are uttered by him, but words are not prayer. God hears his words only to condemn him.
But what is sad about this is the Pharisee of all people should have known where he stood before the Lord because of his knowledge of the law. Instead the tax collector merely is aware of his sin, his shame, and is rightfully fearful of the Lord.
Humility is just feeling little because we are little. Humility is realizing our unworthiness because we are unworthy, the feeling and declaring ourselves sinners because are sinners.
The problem we have with pride is our comparison of ourselves to others. We, like the pharisee look at others and measure ourselves up to them counting ourselves better. The truth is we may be better than others in some ways. But the analogy I think of is two homeless beggars in the street. One has a penny and the other has two pennies to his name. The one with two looks upon the one with one penny and thinks, "Ha! I'm wealthy compared to that guy." In fact it's true, he is wealthy compared to the other man. But both are overwhelmingly poor. A penny can't buy even the beginnings of food.

In the same way we measure ourselves up to others in sin. But we are both shamefully impoverished in sin. One slave may have more freedom than another slave, but both are slaves. And thus we are all slaves to sin, we are not in any way better than others by our own merit. We are impoverished before the Lord. The only one we should be comparing ourselves to is Christ, and compared to Him none of us come close to measuring up. And if we think otherwise, our prayers become merely words uttered, but not prayed.

If you're anything like me, when it comes time to confess sin before the Lord you sit and pray a prayer of thanks for not doing such and such one sin for a while, for making it a whole week without yelling at your kid, for not being as sinful as we used to be. Instead we should be lying shamefully on our faces repenting of our unworthiness and begging for mercy.

So how do we seek humility in prayer?
Humility flourishes in the soil of a true and deep sense of our sinfulness and our nothingness. Nowhere does humility grow so rankly and so rapidly and shine so brilliantly, as when it feels all guilty, confesses all sin, and trusts all grace. "I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me." That is praying ground, the ground of humility, low down, far away seemingly, but in reality brought nigh by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bounds then points out that in the Old Testament humility was expressed by putting dust and ashes on the head — by wearing sackcloth, and fasting.

Today, humility calls for the posture of kneeling in prayer.

I'm reminded of how the parable ends, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."