The Church Prayer Meeting
The first meeting our church had more than thirty years ago was a Saturday night prayer meeting. A core group of several individuals met to pray for the infant mission work that was in due time to become Immanuel Presbyterian Church. Yet, the group prayed not only for embryonic Immanuel but also for their brethren and servants of Christ locally, nationally, and internationally. Those pioneers of church planting began as they meant to continue, and the Saturday night prayer meeting has been ever since a regular feature and driving powerhouse of the ministry not only of Immanuel but also of scores of other ministries and missions that cover the earth.
In recent years, attendance at our prayer meetings has diminished and has caused concern to the elders. Still, we carry on as a praying company each Saturday night, being fit though few at times. We do so for a number of very good reasons. I want to share with you seven reasons why I consider our prayer meeting to be both valuable and vital. I do so as one who wrestles, just as others do, with the commitment to this vital work. I confess to you that there are and have been Saturdays when I have looked forward to the prayer meeting with a sense of delightful anticipation. However, there have been a great many Saturdays when I have dreaded the thought of the coming gathering for prayer. But I also testify to you that in my more than thirty years of participating in prayer meetings, I have never once found myself returning home after a meeting with the slightest regret that I have joined with my brethren in prayer. Surely an enemy is at work targeting our prayers. Satan tries to stop me, as well as others in Immanuel, from gathering to employ one of the offensive and wonderfully effective pieces of the Christian armour (Eph. 6:10ff). The devil also tries to stops us from experiencing the sweet blessedness with which our Lord rewards us when we persevere in such a vital work for his glory and for the good of others.
1] The first reason I consider our prayer meeting to be valuable and vital is that it affords us yet another opportunity to assemble in mutually fortifying fellowship and to hear and feed on a brief meditation upon God’s Word. I have often asked myself after prayer meetings if anything I could have done instead of my opening and reflecting upon the Lord’s Word at the prayer meeting would have had greater eternal value. The answer is that although in times of vacation or sickness I do other things, they do not compare with the Saturday night feeding upon God’s Word. Nor do we simply feed ourselves the Word, but we have immediate opportunity to respond to the Word in our prayers of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving, and find ourselves in our going out to the Lord in such praise, drawn closer to him in delightful pleasure.
2] A second reason that commends our prayer meeting is that it gives us an excellent way to fulfil the Lord’s command to love one another. Nothing we could give our brethren can be so precious and potent as are our prayers for them. When we intercede for our brethren, we are calling upon the highest source of blessing for their highest good and most fruitful service. Our committing to meet together and to pray together helps us to persevere in this good work wherein we look out lovingly for the interests of others.
3] The third commending reason follows from the second. If it is a loving thing for us to uphold our brethren and the servants of the Lord in our intercessions, they receive the blessed fruits of our loving endeavour greatly amplified and purified by the Lord answering our imperfect requests with his perfect provision. A growing number of pastors, keen church members, as well as military and university chaplains, and all sorts of missionaries serving near and far (some of them in very hard situations) look to us for prayer and rely upon our loving intercessions.
4] The fourth reason that commends our prayer meetings is that they serve not only to advance the work of the gospel but also to knit us together with gospel workers. Our prayers in assembly serve to bind us more closely to the Lord to whom we pray, and to the Lord’s servants for whom we pray. It has been a deep and sweet delight for us to have visits from those for whom we have prayed and to sense a mutual, holy intimacy that has developed through our prayers for them and their prayers for us.
5] The fifth reason is that our prayer meetings knit us more closely to our brethren with whom we pray, as we agree with each prayer offered and add our ‘Amen’ to our shared petitions. Few things help us to be lovingly subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph. 5:21) more than our corporately bowing together before the throne of our Father’s grace.
6] The sixth reason: our prayer meetings serve to fix our minds on heaven’s King and on His gracious help and His great and precious promises. Such focus on heavenly realities always blesses us.
7] The seventh reason that makes our prayer meetings valuable and vital is that they help us make perhaps the best preparation for our worship of our Lord on his day. I certainly can discern a difference in myself and in my preaching when we do not have a prayer meeting on those occasional Saturdays when we have cancelled that meeting.
Recently, we had several Immanuel members come to a prayer meeting who had rarely if ever come before. Far from their having died from the experience, they contributed life and fresh perspective to the meeting. We can fall into praying ruts if we do not have fresh prayer warriors coming to make the contribution that only they can make to our prayer meetings.
I share these thoughts to encourage those of you who do attend the prayer meeting to continue in this vital work. I share with those who come occasionally, encouraging you to come more often. I share with those who never come an encouragement to come, at least occasionally.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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