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The Prayer Meeting

Category Articles
Date September 3, 2021

Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our children–too boring! It’s the one which will give way amidst the pressures of life.

In fact, the congregational prayer meeting has much the same place in the life of the church as private prayer can have in the life of the Christian. . . not very much.

So, why should you, as a Christian, be at your church’s prayer meeting? Why should this be one of those events, like all the services of the Lord’s day, around which you plan the rest of your week? Why should this be one of those fixed appointment which only a genuine providential hindrance should keep you from attending? What, quite apart from whatever oaths and promises you have made as a church member, should put you in your place there as a child of God?

Let me offer you a few suggestions. My intention is not to ‘guilt you’ into attendance. As with worship on the Lord’s day, I would have every Christian ask not, ‘Why do I have to?’ but, ‘What could stop me!?’

First, the corporate prayer meeting–the gathered church bowed at the mercy seat–provides some of our most direct congregational dealing with heaven. Alongside the prayers of the Lord’s day services, it is here than men speak with God, not just on their own behalf, but as the mouthpiece of the whole body of Christ in a particular place, for that church and for other saints. Do you know what happens when every voice sounds the ‘Amen!’ at the end of a particular prayer? It is the whole membership throwing its weight behind the pray-ers, one after another. We do not believe God hears us because of our many words, nor because of our many voices in sequence or in unison, but there is a holy gravity in which God delights when a united people express together their single appetite for the glory of his name in their midst and in the earth. There we enter together into the holiest place by the blood of Christ, there we exercise our privileges as blood-bought children of God, there we crowd into our Father’s presence to make our wants and burdens known. If you want a little taste of heaven, get to the prayer meeting and cast in your lot with God’s people.

Second, the prayer meeting is often one of the distinct places where we keep up with the spiritual family business of God’s people. This may be particularly true in a smaller church. This is not because it is a hotbed of gossip, or because everyone always relates the latest list of ailments (in the UK we are often warned against this tendency, against the church which prays for Aunt Sally’s big toe–one asks where this church is, who is Aunt Sally, and why, pray tell, is her toe so afflicted as to have become the focal point of the corporate intercession?). But, as the various joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, burdens, and blessings of the church are made known to one another and before heaven, we enter into the life of the body, we share one another’s burdens and we enter into one another’s blessings. I have known too many people who have consistently absented themselves from the prayer meetings who have subsequently complained that they are out on a limb, kept on the fringe, not quite sure what is going on. Of course, there are absences for good and proper reasons, and those we try to make up. But whether deliberate or careless, consistent non-attendance at the prayer meeting is rarely an indication of particular closeness to the whole body, and typically leaves us increasingly out of the loop and drifting ever further toward the fringes of church life.

Furthermore, bear in mind that many congregations are not over-endowed with praying members. If there are only a few who are in a position to pray, how the loss of the one or two is felt! It is like trying to run a relay with a missing member of the team. The rules might allow for one to run further before passing on the baton, but it’s a long leg, felt not only by the one running but by those forced to watch him strain! This is not an argument just for filling the time in a prayer meeting, but investing one’s strength and sharing the load. When a fresh voice is heard leading the congregation to God, when there is vitality and variety, it is a blessing to all, a help to the flesh in offering up a spiritual sacrifice. To be in your place, ready to raise your voice, is a sweet contribution to the life of the church, and it does not matter (much!) if you are particularly long, or humanly eloquent, or notably lively, if you have dealings with God on behalf of his people.

It is also a particular opportunity for fellowship. With all this in mind, even those few words, sometimes more, with others of the saints on the way in or out, can be such a blessing to our souls, and those of others. There is a sweet transparency in prayer which does, or should, draw our hearts out together. It is hard to keep distant from men and women with whom you have been united in prayer. There may be glimpses into one another’s hearts and lives that elicit sympathy, that give opportunity to offer comfort, to express appreciation, to share thanksgiving. There is fellowship in the praying, and there is fellowship around and in connection with the praying.

Taken together, this can make the prayer meeting a spiritual oasis in the middle of what might otherwise feel like a barren week. For some saints, especially those among unconverted families, or without Christian colleagues or contacts, what a refreshment the season of prayer might be! Here heavenly realities are first and foremost. Here spiritual priorities are established and re-established. Here the earthbound heart can be recalibrated heavenward. Here the soul stretches upward and finds refreshment. How often a Christian says, ‘You know, I really didn’t feel like coming out tonight, but I am so glad that I did!’ Yes, because here we were able, by God’s grace, to enter the throne room and sit at the feet of our King and make our praises and petitions known. Here we could draw near to our heavenly Father and pour out our hearts before him.

In addition, such principled attendance helps us to set an example of commitment and service to younger, less mature or struggling Christians. Too often it is the existing membership which sucks the life out of the new convert. Perhaps someone, brimming with new spiritual life, heads to the prayer meeting, only to find seven of the seventy people who normally come on Sunday. And, he discovers after three weeks, of those seven people, the same four are going to repeat on a weekly basis the very same words that they have been mumbling for what may well be time immemorial. Or perhaps there’s someone who’s finding the way hard. Any kind of commitment is difficult, or they are heading through a season of instability, or there’s an ache of weariness about everything. And–urged on–they come, and they find similarly struggling, striving saints, all making an effort to be present and engaged. Here the young Christian begins to see and to hear lessons not just in heartfelt corporate prayer, but in the very pulse of Christian service.

The prayer meeting also energises our souls for other duties and opportunities. From the mercy seat we return refreshed to our other responsibilities, our burdens lifted, our heavy hands lightened, our feeble knees strengthened. The gloom of some souls is not so oppressive, the levity of others not so distracting, the lure of the world not so enticing. We have sought grace and strength from the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and–wisely, generously, abundantly–he has provided what we need for service.

Bear in mind, too, that it is one of the seasons most likely for us to receive a distinct blessing from our Lord. The blessings of Pentecost were enjoyed as the people gathered together to pray. The persecuted church found spiritual joy and courage and power in praying that the Lord, who is God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, would work mightily in and through his people (Acts 4:24–31). How often in the history of Christ’s church has the Holy Spirit made himself known distinctly as the church has gathered to pray? How often have particular spiritual blessings been bestowed in answer to the concerted and consistent prayers of God’s people, calling together upon the name of the Lord? Would you not wish to be there? Do you have no desire to be a part of the progress of God’s kingdom?

Finally, it is one of the places where a child of God demonstrates growing spiritual maturity to his brothers. I cannot imagine that a healthy church would call to the office of elder or deacon a man who made it a habit not to bother with corporate prayer. That is by no means saying it is a reward for attendance, or that someone should check a register; that is crass. It is not some kind of circus arena where men perform for the applause of the audience; that is carnal. But surely, one of the environments when a mature Christian demonstrates his maturity is in the style and substance of his approach to our heavenly Father? If, as has been said, ‘What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more,’ then ought we not to hope that this will bleed out in his public intercessions? Surely if one of the sure signs of a Christian is that he prays, one of the sure signs of a maturing Christian is that he is learning how to lead God’s people to the throne of grace with humility, with simplicity, with clarity, and that every heart and voice can unite behind him?

All these are reasons why the prayer meeting is often called the engine room of the church. Any congregation which builds up a head of spiritual steam typically has a core of engineers casting in the coal of power with the shovels of prayer. For the glory of God, for the good of the church, and for the blessing of your own soul, let us start shovelling, and never stop.

Helps in Prayer

    prayer cover image (John Bunyan)
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    Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our […]

    cover for the paperback version of the Valley of Vision

    The Valley of Vision

    A Collection Of Puritan Prayers

    by Arthur Bennett


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    Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our […]

    Book Cover for 'A Guide to Prayer'
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    Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our […]

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