The prayer meeting
In many places the church prayer meeting has become the poor relation among church activities.
But the prayer meeting is vital in the life of the local church.
We can see this in a number of different ways.
Every great revival has been preceded with prayer. Someone has said: ‘When God’s about to do a great work, he sets his people praying’. Preceding the 18th-century revival in Scotland there was a significant increase in the number of Societies for Prayer. The Ulster Revival of 1859 started in the prayer meeting. Similarly in Wales in 1904. Evan John Roberts, one of the leaders, attributed his calling and empowering to the prayer meeting. He wrote after the Revival: ‘When a few more had prayed, I felt a living power pervading my bosom… This living power became stronger… I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour’.
If it could happen in the past, why can it not happen in the present, and in the future, as God answers the cries of his people offered at the church prayer meeting? Evan Roberts is not the only one in church history, and in times of revival in particular, to have attributed the usefulness of their preaching in bringing people to Christ, to the fact that their people prayed for them! ‘If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7.14).
What a responsibility and privilege we have, and what a place the church prayer meeting has in the gracious purposes of God in saving the lost!
Following the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the disciples, along with the women, met in an upper room in Jerusalem. For what? For regular and sustained prayer! ‘They all joined together constantly in prayer…’ (Acts 1:14). And what followed? Pentecost, and arguably the greatest ever movement of the Holy Spirit, when 3,000 were converted in one day! The early church ‘devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer’ (Acts 2.42).
When Peter and John met and healed the crippled beggar at the temple gate, where were they heading? To the prayer meeting (Acts 3.1)! When Peter was released from prison by an angel, where did he head? To the Prayer Meeting! (Acts 12:12).
Jesus himself taught us to pray together in the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer — sometimes called, the family prayer — ‘Our Father in heaven…’ (Matthew 6.9).
They do say that a week is a long time in politics! Well, a week can be a long time in the Christian life!
A lot can happen in a week. We need the support and prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ that the church prayer meeting provides. We’re tempted, discouraged, troubled — or we have a joy to share!
Where do we go? First and foremost to the Lord himself, of course, but it is he who ‘sets the lonely in families’ (Psalm 68.6). The Lord brings his people together into local churches, or families of believers. We are to take our troubles and joys to the church prayer meeting!
In the middle of the week, therefore, when we feel weak, let us make every effort to be at the church prayer meeting. If we are present, we will be an encouragement to others. If we are absent, we will be missed. And who knows but that we might miss out on something quite extraordinary!
So what are the ingredients of a good church prayer meeting? It is good...
1 Where every member makes every effort to be present.
Family matters, work, illness, care for others, and old age are legitimate reasons for absence. But let us be careful of making lame excuses to absent ourselves. Let us be convinced that the church prayer meeting is essential and not optional to our Christian lives and church membership.
2 Where all present participate in prayer.
If we agree with what has been prayed, we should give a hearty ‘Amen!’ Psalm 106 ends with a prayer and with the exhortation: ‘Let all the people say, “Amen!”’ Even the shy can say ‘Amen!’ and, having heard their own voice, begin to offer a short prayer. All eyes are closed, no one is looking at you! God hears brief, heart-felt prayers, and your brothers and sisters in Christ will be greatly encouraged to hear you pray! ‘Prayer is the simplest form of speech that infant lips can try’ (James Montgomery).
3 Where prayer is earnest, sincere and persistent.
Ultimately only God himself can judge the earnestness and sincerity of our prayers; we must not judge other people’s prayers. But let each one seek to pray with earnestness and sincerity — from the heart.
‘For words without the heart the Lord will never hear, nor will he to those lips attend whose prayers are not sincere’ (John Burton).
Persistence should also be a feature of both personal prayer and corporate prayer at the church prayer meeting. Jesus said: ‘Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’ (Matthew 7.7). This is spoken in the imperative — ‘ask and keep on asking… seek… knock…’
4 Where there is a spirit of unity in prayer.
Following the ascension of Jesus, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and met, with the women, in an upper room. ‘These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1.14). What followed?
Pentecost, the preaching of Peter and the conversion of 3,000! Jesus said: ‘I tell you that if two of you agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven’ (Matthew 18.19). We must all ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4.3). Disunity will hinder our prayers.
5 Where prayers are not too long!
Pray as long as you like in private, but the church prayer meeting is for public prayer. Others are waiting to pray, so do not hog the time. Long prayers can discourage those who do not presently pray. ‘God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5.2). Jesus said: ‘And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him’ (Matthew 6.7,8). The evangelist George Whitfield commented: ‘The brother prayed me into a good frame of mind, but then went on so long that he prayed me out of it again!’
6 Where every topic under the sun is prayed for.
Prayer, according to the Apostle Paul, is to ‘…be made for everyone’ (1 Timothy 2:1). Not, of course, at every church prayer meeting! There are those regular matters for prayer within church life and witness, but the subjects for prayer are almost endless. While there is a gospel to proclaim to a lost world, while there are brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted, while there is pain, suffering, hardship, bereavement and injustice in the world, we need never be short of something to pray about.
A visitor to Wales pointed to a building nestling in the valley and asked: ‘What’s that, it looks like a church?’ ‘No’, replied the guide, ‘it’s not a church, but it’s what every church should be, a powerhouse!’
That is it — a powerhouse. Oh, that our church prayer meeting might be the powerhouse, the engine room of all our gospel endeavours, as we seek to serve the Lord in fellowship with his people.