Of all the meetings a church conducts, the prayer meeting is perhaps the most challenging for the church family to attend. Christians who work long and hard during the week feel very keenly what Christ Himself said of His disciples when He admonished them: “Watch and pray, … the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew. 26:41). I can easily tell myself, “Tomorrow is another work day, another day in which I must rise early and apply myself diligently to my employment with all its demands. If I decide that I should pray, should I go through the added trouble of attending the church prayer meeting? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to simply pray at home?
Where did the practice of the church prayer meeting come from?” The church prayer meeting dates back to the Early Church itself: “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). The disciples of Christ obeyed His instructions to remain in Jerusalem and, “Wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me” (Acts 1:4). That promise came in answer to their prayers when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. Following that manifestation of power which brought many souls to Christ, we read of the Early Church, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Prayer meetings were an essential part of the Early Church. The next time you read the book of Acts, pay attention to the number of prayer meetings that took place and the number of instances in which prayer is mentioned. You’ll discover that the believers prayed often, and in every kind of situation, whether it was to choose the next apostle in Judas’s place or seek the Lord for protection against the threats against the church by the Jewish authorities. Christians in the Early Church prayed before choosing men to serve as deacons, and they prayed before sending forth Paul and Barnabas to evangelize the Gentiles. It is with good reason that prayer meetings are referred to as the life-breath of the church as they often indicate the spiritual pulse of the church. So, the next time you are feeling the weight of the flesh hindering you from coming to the prayer meeting, remember the power of the Lord enjoyed by the Early Church on account of their earnest prayers.
With this precedent in mind, remember that it is always best to keep the prayer meeting simple and focused on prayer. The prayer meeting is a time to bear one another’s burdens. Too often prayer meetings can become mere social gatherings, or taken up with lengthy Bible studies. Fellowship and Bible study have their places, but the purpose of the prayer meeting is to pray! Even the hymns sung at a prayer meeting should focus on prayer. Time in the Word is also good, but the focus of the Bible study should be to prepare the people of God to pray.
The prayer meeting is also a time when church members should begin to anticipate the coming of the Lord’s day. Let the prayer meeting be the time when the congregation prays for its minister that divine help be given him in his sermon-preparation and for God’s power in preaching. Pray that the Sunday meetings will be well attended and that visitors will be drawn to the meetings. Pray for the salvation of children who have wandered away from the Lord so that families are united in Christ. The prayers of God’s people should be kept simple and short to allow everyone the opportunity to pray, even children.
It is a sad testimony of the spiritual condition of many churches today when they cease to hold prayer meetings, or they are poorly attended. In some cases, prayer meetings might be reduced to what Isaiah refers to as “a bruised reed and smoking flax” (Isa. 42:3). In such cases, may the Lord gently breathe life into our prayer meetings and cause them to become blazing flames of holy devotion to Him. If the church is able to accomplish anything at all in these days, it will only be by giving special attention to the church prayer meeting.
Rev. Geoff Banister is minister of Indianapolis FPC, Indiana