To say that Christians should meet together to pray seems to state the obvious. The more crucial issue is, “Why are meetings for prayer either non-existent, poorly attended, or considered optional in many churches? We need answers if we are going to experience healthy, meaningful seasons of corporate prayer in a true Biblical manner in these days.
When Jesus came to the Temple and found it full of salesmen lining their own pockets, He drove them out with this question, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17, quoting from Isaiah 56:7). If Jesus considers God’s house a “house of prayer,” should not His people consider prayer a priority? For everything in the work of God must be founded on prayer. Yes, our churches must proclaim Christ and win souls for whom He died, and encourage and build up the saints, and teach children in the ways of the Lord. But all this important work must be surrounded by the effectual, fervent, intercession of God’s people.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “Beloved, let every church learn the value of its prayer-meetings in its darkest hour. When the pastor is gone, and when it has been difficult to find a suitable successor; when, it may be, there are splits and divisions; when death falls upon honored members, when poverty comes in, when there is a spiritual famine, and when the Holy Spirit appears to have withdrawn himself — then there is but one remedy for these and a thousand other evils, and that one remedy is contained in this short sentence, ‘Let us pray’.”
The devil despises the work of prayer because he knows that a Christian in touch with God and crying out for the Lord’s deliverance and the defeat of evil is a powerful force. If this is true of one believer, how powerful will be a gathering of two or three or many believers gathered in the Lord’s name? William Cowper wrote this haunting thought, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”
It is no surprise, then, that more than anything our adversary desires to hinder prayer. Zechariah spoke of Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. The evil one attends more prayer meetings than many Christians and he is on time too! But when Christians fervently express their heart, calling on God for cleansing from sin, personal reviving, and the Holy Spirit’s direction in prayer, much work will be done for God’s kingdom and only then can the local church be strengthened.
It is not only Satan who hates our praying, but our own flesh resists this vital spiritual business. Our flesh rebels against that which should be our greatest desire. We cannot overcome by self-convincing arguments which will only bring us into bondage when we try and fail. Labor for prayer must be done by the power of the Spirit of God, influencing, enabling, breathing His life into us, so that our words are the true expression of a heart in touch with God.
Time constraints may also interfere with our need to meet for prayer. Legitimate concerns can vie for our time and attention. Important family-oriented or business-related pursuits become badly misplaced when they replace the prayer meeting. Mr. Spurgeon said, “It is one of the truest signs that God is with his people when they pray, and it is one of the darkest signs that he has departed when prayer is lacking.”
Two prominent Bible prayer meetings show us the Lord’s pattern: the upper room before Pentecost and the Church praying for Peter’s release from prison. In both cases God answered beyond expectation. This is what we should expect in our prayer meetings, but we must take care to focus our praying and not to grieve the Spirit of God.
Sadly, some Christians come to the prayer meeting for the wrong reasons. They expect to be entertained instead of being prepared to wrestle, so they conclude that the prayer meeting does not satisfy them. It is recorded of the New Testament saint Epaphras that he labored “fervently” in prayer. Prayer is not an easy work, but it is a most blessed work. E.M. Bounds said that prayer is the most serious work of our most serious years. Yes, the little prayer meeting may be despised or ignored, but it is the place where God promises to meet His people (even two or three of them) who gather for prayer in His name.
By the grace of God let us be in our place to pray, to pray for the glory and power of Christ in our churches, in our families, and in our own lives. Our Savior said, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” The time is short and we must be about our heavenly Father’s business by meeting to pray.
Rev. Larry Saunders is senior minister of Toronto FPC, Ontario.