What should a church prayer meeting look like? If I had been asked that question a number of years ago, I think I might have responded with some bewilderment. Surely there’s only one way to do a prayer meeting? I have since learned through personal experience and through conversation with others that prayer meetings are not all alike in their structure and purpose. I trust you have known the sweetness of meeting with the saints of God in prayer – times when God draws near, hearts are filled with faith, and blessings sought descend upon the church of Jesus Christ.
As wonderful as it is, such experiences are rarely permanent and I believe prayer meetings become targets for satanic assault. If the devil could close the church prayer meeting, he would. Short of that, his preference is that our times of prayer become ineffective. We’ve all known what it is to endure a prayer meeting where there seems to be a dullness over all our souls. Perhaps we’ve had to acknowledge, “The prayer meeting was dead.” Can such language really be used to describe a prayer meeting?
A few months ago, I was listening to Dr. Alan Cairns preach in a Free Presbyterian Church in Ulster. In this sermon he spoke very candidly at one point with reference to the church prayer meeting,
“There is a deadness in our prayer meetings. It used to be there was a pleading with God in prayer, a passionate pleading with God, a holding up of the promises of God, where the prayer meeting wasn’t all taken up with health and wealth. Now I believe in praying for the sick, I believe in being compassionate to the needy, but men and women, there’s a greater burden. Our land is going to hell, our nation is under judgment, our churches are facing the greatest challenge they’ve ever faced since the days of the reformation and we are at our weakest point. We need to get through to God. There has to be a pleading. A yearning. A burning out in prayer, the burden that Knox had when he looked at Scotland and he cried, ‘God, give me Scotland or I die!'”
None of us want tow admit that our prayer meetings are dead, but the realization of their deadness is often the first step on the path of revitalization. The prayer meeting has always had a very high place in my estimation of the work of God. God has so ordered things so that nothing is accomplished without prayer. It was Charles Spurgeon who said,
“We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.”
Over the years, I have learned a number of things about the prayer meeting which, by the grace of God, I am seeking to implement through my own ministry. If you detect that the prayer meetings you are involved with need to be revitalized, perhaps these points may be helpful.
Take direction from the Word. There is no greater motivator to prayer than the Word of God. As individuals, we should come to the season of prayer with scriptural arguments, passages of comfort, and words of promise to rehearse in the ear of our God. We can bring no stronger plea than, “Lord, thou hast said…” It is also helpful when the message brought at the meeting leads the people into prayer which has been enriched and directed from the Word.
Draw from what God has done in the past. In Psalm 44 and other places, we see that the past had a distinct influence upon how to pray. Being aware of what God has done for His people in the Word and in church history is a great stimulus to purposeful corporate prayer.
Focus on the eternal. One of fastest ways to kill the vision of a church is to focus the time spent together in prayer on matters of temporal need. I’m not against praying for the sick, or financial needs, but these matters can quickly become the sole purpose for gathering. None of these matters are as pressing as the conversion of souls, spiritual strengthening of saints, raising labourers, the revival of the church, etc. The vast majority of prayer offered needs to focus on matters of eternal significance.
Mention only your burdens. If you like to pray for everyone whom you know is in need, and every matter you know needs prayer, God bless you. Just don’t do it at the corporate prayer meeting. To quote Mr. Spurgeon again,
“It is dreadful to hear a brother or sister pray us into a good frame of mind and heart, and then, by their long prayer, pray us out of it again.”
Thus, before you open your mouth, prioritize your burdens and take only one or two to mention in your audible prayer. Some of the best prayer meetings I’ve ever been in have been ones where nearly everyone prayed, and they focused solely on just one or two matters each.
Revitalizing the prayer meeting could also include meeting for specific prayer for one matter solely. We see such a prayer meeting in Acts chapter 12, when the church united to pray for Peter’s release from prison. By such a united focus on one pressing need, they got through to God. Dr. Cairns is right, “We need to get through to God” in our prayer meetings.
Rev. Armen Thomassian is minister of Calgary FPC, Alberta