Thursday, October 20, 2005

In Praise of Prayer Meetings

In many churches “prayer meetings” have gone the way of the dinosaur. What I find interesting is that when I ask people why they do not attend our midweek time of Bible Study and prayer I frequently discover that many Christians are uncomfortable praying in public. Another cause of prayer meeting absenteeism are less than satisfactory experiences in the past. Meetings that go too long or are dominated by wannabe “prayer warriors” who like to hear the sound of their own voices drone on and on. There is nothing wrong with being a true prayer warrior and the church needs more of them, but that kind of intercessory combat should be reserved for the private prayer closet not the public prayer meeting.

It is unfortunate that more Christians do not see the need to gather with other Christians to pray. Ever effort should be made to eliminate or at least minimize those things that make people feel uncomfortable and to encourage them to develop new skills in this area of their lives. Prayers need not be profound to be a blessing. Simple expressions of praise, thanksgiving and confession, combined with sincere intercession on behalf of an individual or situation, can be a tremendous spiritual boost to those who are gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ.

So in spite of the potential pitfalls and past blunders I think the prayer meeting is something that should be rediscovered, revived, maintained, and promoted in our day. Historically great works of God were often preceded by humble, contrite, believing prayer on the part of those who were longing for something wonderful to happen that would extent the kingdom and glorify the Savior. After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, prior to the day of Pentecost both men and women “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14). Still basking in the glory of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the early church is described as a community of believers who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Even when threatened and persecuted the early church did not stop praying. In fact the troubles they were experiencing instinctively drove them to pour out their hearts to God and as a result “the place where they were meeting was shaken… and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).

With the cross looming before him, Jesus told his disciples that in the days ahead, based on what he was about to accomplish, that they would experience a new intimacy and power in prayer. “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:24). While these words were primarily intended for them they do speak of blessings which are for all God’s new covenant people. Because our own needs and the needs around us are very great we need to begin by asking our Lord to teach us to pray. We need his help to enter into to all that the Father has treasured up for us in him.


kerux said...

I agree wholeheartedly! One thing that has helped us at Grace in our times of corporate prayer has been developing a mindset that sees prayer as intrumental as opposed to supplemental. I stole the phrase from Alistair Begg nearly 20 years ago, but it has been a help.
If our churches are not praying, how dare we suggest we are depending on the Lord? He has ordained the means and it would be good if we followed His instructions!
Thanks for this.
I think I am going to make my worship class read it!

kerux said...

I had one other thought about this (since it is dear to my heart!). Maybe part of the reason that prayer meetings are poorly attended in some places is that they are not prayer meetings - just re-vamped Adult Sunday School classes with a few more minutes of prayer tacked on to the end?
We only do a 5-10 MAX sermon review on Wednesday nights, and that only after we started meeting earlier. We are committed to our 45-60 minutes in corporate prayer.
We are also committed to ending at the same time every week. We are RIGID about this - I think people need to know when they can go home.
Just some thoughts!

Kirk M. Wellum said...

No argument from me on either count. At Pilgrim we prefer a longer look at the Bible but even then it is done in a discussion format deliberately looking for ways in which the passage should shape and mold our prayers that evening. Right now we are working our way through the life of David so there are some challenges when it comes to properly applying the lessons we discover to ourselves.

Like you, we have a definite start and finish time so people know that if they attend they will get home and attend to their families and all the other responsibilities that press upon them in the middle of the week.

I think the lesson is that we must take a look at how our prayer meetings are structured and make changes if necessary, before we uncritically jump to the tempting conclusion that people are just plain unspiritual and don't want to pray. Times of prayer with God's people should be a delight and something we all look forward to, not some form of penance that is grudgingly endured and resented.