The Prayer Meeting
It’s probably true — though I can’t prove it — that every Church Prayer Meeting will have people in attendance that do not pray. We all know what it’s like to be in a meeting with those ‘awkward silences’. Not only that, it’s probably every minister’s goal to get everyone praying. It’s the ministerial equivalent of bringing peace to the Middle East. Many have tried: all have failed.
Believe me, none of the following is meant to be in a critical spirit. I too attend the prayer meeting. I too want to see God moving. I want to be blessed. I want the local church to be blessed. I want God’s people to be blessed. I too would like the experience of the early church:
‘And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and contninued to speak the word of God with boldness.’ — Acts 4:31
What a thing that would be! I’ve been a Christian for nearly 40 years and my experience tells me not everyone prays. I know this because I can easily be the one that doesn’t pray. I’ve sat under countless pleas from ministers to get their people praying in public. It doesn’t seem to make a lasting difference no matter what’s done or said. Something isn’t working.
This is my rambling take on the problem (if it is a problem), and some comments that will hopefully help both the meeting and the minister.
Audible and Silent Prayer
We all need to realise that because a person does not pray audibly, it does not necessarily mean they are not praying. They may not be, but isn’t it more charitable to assume they are? And when someone is praying audibly the others are following (one would hope) the prayer and saying a silent amen (if not an audible one) to the prayer.
I recently read an article about ladies praying in the prayer meeting. More specifically, that they should be praying. I know ladies that would never pray audibly in a prayer meeting. This is because it is their honest biblical conviction they should remain silent — I’m thinking especially of some elderly godly ladies. Forcing them to go against their conscience, I believe, is unhelpful. There are differing views on women praying in public. Personally, I have no objection to women praying in the prayer meeting if that is their conviction. Though to be honest, after looking into this, there’s a strong case against the practice. And it has nothing to do with male superiority but everything to do with how God has ordered differing roles for men and women.
Men not praying in the prayer meeting is another thing altogether and I must address myself in this regard. Though even here there should be room for charity given differing abilities, self-consciousness, immaturity and so on. But as a general rule, the men ought to be praying. If they are not praying, how should this be remedied? That is the question. I don’t believe strong arm tactics are effective. Pummelling non-praying men with guilt is not helpful either, but there may be a case for the minister to lovingly draw alongside to counsel and encourage the brother.
The ‘Awkward Silence’
The ‘awkward silences’ are only a problem if we make them a problem. Let’s assume, for the sake of charity, the people are praying, just not audibly. Ok, it is a church prayer meeting where people, God’s people, gather to pray aloud. But people will pray. People do pray. Just not everyone. Just not continuous, non-stop prayer throughout the meeting. Perhaps accepting this as the norm is just giving in to the problem. But maybe it would take the pressure off if more would pray.
Vicissitudes of Life and Warfare
The condition of the people is very varied. Some come almost straight from work, some with great burdens, some struggling with sin, lack of assurance, worries, illness, caring for loved ones, debt, and many other conditions. Some are simply terrified at hearing the sound of their own voice or speaking in public. We definitely need encouraging. What I believe is needed most is preaching. Mini-sermons if you will. Not a bible study, no hobby horses, preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Preach the majesty of God and his grace to us, his people. Preach his kindness to undeserving sinners. Preach the Word and let the Spirit of God do the work only he can do.
‘Inspirer and Hearer of prayer
Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine.’
‘Great Shepherd of Thy people hear;
Thy presence now display;
As Thou hast given a place for prayer,
So give us hearts to pray.’
There’s no doubt we are in a warfare as soon as we enter the prayer meeting. It will give the enemy of our souls great delight to see us not praying. On the other hand:
‘Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.’
And it’s true! But then I’ve heard that verse quoted many times in a prayer meeting and, it has to be said, to little effect. One of the problems is the belief that if there’s a free flow of prayer, that’s a good meeting. But if it’s hard work and a struggle, it’s a bad meeting. The one makes us feel good, the other not so much. It’s good to have a sense of the Lord with us — of course it is — but we can easily come to wrong conclusions, The reality is not always what it appears to be. Unless there’s a supernatural empowerment to pray, engagement in warfare is going to be tough.
Priorities in Prayer Meetings
In our prayer meetings, we all too easily start praying for stuff. It’s so easy to make it all about ourselves. We need to make a conscious effort not to do that. Even when urged to give God praise and thanks we so quickly and easily fall into making it all about ourselves. We need to cultivate a different attitude — this takes time. We need to be patient with ourselves and with one another, but cultivate the attitude we must.
What is wanted is something to ‘fix’ the meeting. I don’t believe that is possible. We can’t ‘fix’ anything. We need the Spirit of God to lead and guide us in our prayers. What does God want us to pray for, to thank him for, or to confess? With the best will in the world there will always be needs in the local, national, and worldwide church and there will always be needs that suddenly arise so these could be mentioned at the meeting. But what if we ha a list in our Bibles (Perhaps inside the church bibles as well) or on our phones that we can always bring to the meeting?
Here are a few suggestions:
- To thank God for his being: Thank him for who he is. He is entirely self-sufficient, in need of nothing and creator of all that exists.
- The person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ: His cross, his blood, his resurrection, his intercession.
- The person of the Holy Spirit: Pray that he would reveal the Lord Jesus to us and guide and help us as we pray.
- To thank him for the Holy Scriptures and the preservation of them for us.
- To know God’s will.
- For his providences and the grace to persevere
- That the triune God would be glorified in our church.
- Thank God that he has purchased the Church and those in it.
- Thank him for our salvation and that he keeps us by his grace.
- Thank him for forgiveness, sanctification, justification, and glory.
- Pray for the pastors, elders, and deacons: Pray that they would be kept faithful and kept from falling.
- Pray for the word as it is proclaimed: Pray that it might have the unction of God upon it.
- Pray for the advance of the gospel in our lives, church, locality, nation, and world: Pray that the Lord Jesus would see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.
- Pray for the persecuted brethren around the world.
Many more could be added to this list. It isn’t exhaustive but these are the sorts of things that should be on our minds (and in our bibles, I suggest) already. But then add to this more specific needs (in the local church) as they arise. Keep these to a minimum though. Perhaps communicate the needs of the church through other means as well (email, text, etc.) so we arrive at the meeting ready to bring our requests before the throne of grace. If there’s a need you know about, pray about it.
Be Challenged and Encouraged
I hope this has been of some help. It has challenged me to think in the way I’ve suggested, and it challenges me to put what I can into practice.
I’m not naive enough to think any of this will ‘fix’ the prayer meeting, and certainly not a quick fix, but I do pray both people and our ministers will be encouraged: God is with us! Christ is our advocate! We are indwelt by his Spirit!
Come Down Lord!
‘Oh that thou wouldest render the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.’ — Isaiah 64:1
I’m reminded often of a passage in The Experience Meeting by William Williams, translated by Bethan Lloyd-Jones. I’m paraphrasing, but — ‘One brother began to pray in his usual lifeless and boring manner and as he continued praying in this way, his prayer began to have life. As he then continued, others were moved and the Spirit of God fell upon them — and revival broke out.’
That’s the gist anyway. Isn’t that what we all want? But it’s not usually like that and it wasn’t for them either. May it be so for his glory — AMEN!
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