Prayer meetings. In a time when many churches have employed producers to run their worship services, the idea of a prayer meeting seems almost archaic. Is it really possible for the church to come together without a production simply to pray as the body of Christ? Not only is the prayer meeting possible for the contemporary American church, it is vital. Over the next few weeks I want to talk about prayer meetings: why they matter, what they look like, and how to run an effective prayer meeting with a large group of people.
I remember when I first came to Desert Hills, the church did not have a regular prayer meeting. Instituting a regular prayer meeting was one of the first things we changed. At a meeting of local pastors, I remember discussing our monthly prayer meeting with some of the other men. They asked how many we had in attendance on a regular basis. In a church with around 135 in attendance on Sunday mornings, we averaged about 15-25 at the Sunday evening prayer meeting each month (six of the attendees were my wife, kids, and I!). To me, that seemed minuscule, but the other men were shocked we had that many in attendance each month. The idea that an average of 20 people at a prayer meeting is a well-attended prayer meeting shows just how low prayer has fallen on the church’s list of priorities. We all know prayer is important, but it seems like that rarely translates into dedicated, regular times of prayer together as the people of God.
At this point someone might object that believers can just as well pray alone in their homes, or perhaps they have prayer times together with their small groups or individual ministries in which they are involved. That is fantastic! I would never want to discourage anyone from praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for His name to be glorified and His church to be built up in the faith. However, I do want to encourage believers to come together not only as small groups or individual ministries for prayer but also as the body of Christ. That includes the senior saints in the congregation, single people, newly married couples, parents of young children, parents of teens and college students, and the young adults, teens, and children as well. If you have teenagers, how many of them have sat down for prayer for an extended period of time with one of the men over 60 years old in your church? If you are a senior saint, when was the last time you prayed with a 9-year-old girl and her parents for thirty minutes? These types of prayer times have a way of reminding us of the needs of our fellow believers, needs we might not recognize because we are too far removed from them or maybe never had them ourselves. They allow us to pray for one another more carefully, more thoughtfully, and more personally. They build fellowship among diverse groups within the body of Christ.
Beyond all of these benefits, we have to confess that the Scriptural pattern is for the church, the entire local body of believers, to gather together for regular prayer. The book of Acts irrefutably presents the early believers as dedicated to prayer as a corporate body. In Acts 1:14 all of the believers were continually gathered together for prayer, and verse 15 explains that the prayer meeting consisted of 120 people! Acts 2 relates the marvelous events of Pentecost, and we should not be surprised to find the church gathered together once again at the beginning of the chapter when the Spirit was poured out. Given the emphasis in Acts 1 on the church gathering together for prayer, the natural conclusion is that they were in one place praying together as the people of God. Acts 2:42 indicates this devotion to prayer continued after Pentecost.
Furthermore, they experienced one of the greatest revivals history has ever seen! In Acts 4, after Peter and John had been arrested for preaching the Gospel, the church gathered together to pray (Acts 4:23-31), and the divine response was to shake the building where they were meeting. Imagine a prayer meeting ending like that! But the even greater result was the Spirit filling them and empowering them to speak the Word with boldness, even in the face of suffering and persecution. Skipping ahead to Acts 12, we find Peter in prison. What is the church doing? Many of the believers had gathered together for a prayer meeting (Acts 12:12). Through their effective prayers, Peter was released from prison and avoided execution. While the church was praying in Acts 13, the Spirit set apart the Apostle Paul for his first missionary journey, a journey that would launch missions throughout the known world. Truly the book of Acts contains a record of the remarkable work of the Spirit of God conjoined with the prayers of the church of God.
Prayer meetings are significant because we understand that God works His will in the world through the sovereignty ordained prayers of His people. The New Testament, exemplified in the book of Acts and reinforced in the epistles, places a priority on prayer. Prayer is not merely something we are to do as individuals but corporately as the body of Christ. It brings about fellowship, unity, and encouragement among God’s people. It follows the biblical model for the church. It results in God’s will being done through the prayers of His people.
If you are attending a church where there is no regular prayer meeting, I would encourage you to pray God would put it on the hearts of the church’s leadership to start one. Perhaps you might pray about approaching your pastor or the elder board to see if they would be willing to have a regular prayer meeting. If you’re a pastor and you’re not sure how to get started, we’ll focus on that next week.