The Importance Of The Prayer Meeting
This Friday, at 8 pm, we will have our usual, weekly prayer meeting. It is our church prayer meeting. Although it is not held in a church building or even in our regular worship venue, it is our church prayer meeting simply because it is a time set aside each week that we may get together as an assembly of saints to pray. Here, we pray for each other, for the ministries of this church, for other churches, for the government of Singapore and for the advancement of God’s kingdom here and in other lands.
However, if this article is not read or makes no difference, then the meeting this Friday will be like most other prayer meetings we have had. When you come, you will not see the whole church there. You will see only a sampling of our regular congregation—less than a third of the congregation we see every Lord’s Day. I write this with a certain sense of disappointment in my heart. Disappointed, because, while, I see the importance that the Scripture places on corporate prayer meetings, I know that as a church we are not doing very well in this area. I do realise that many of us are unable to come for a variety of good reasons such as work, coupled with distance, young children, etc. But I wonder if some of us do not come because of a failure to grasp the importance of prayer meetings; and thus a failure to put in more effort to be there.
It is therefore my purpose to demonstrate to you from the Scripture that attendance at prayer meeting is really a duty of every Christian.
The principle behind the idea of prayer meetings is taken from the Lord’s words in Matthew 18:19-20, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt 18:19-20). This statement was made as an appendix to the Lord’s teaching on church discipline. The Lord has just given the disciples instruction about how a brother who trespasses another is to be handled. The last step in the process, i.e. if the erring brother remains unrepentant despite having been censured by the elders representing the church, is to count him as "an heathen man and a publican" (Matt 18:17), which means he is to be excommunicated.
It is in the context of explaining the significance of excommunication (v. 18), that the Lord makes the remarks in v. 19-20 (above). For this reason, some interpreters believe that the gathering together (v. 20) refers to the meeting of the church or the elders to decide on the excommunication of the erring person, and the agreement (v. 19) has to do with the judgement meted out. This interpretation is, however, too restrictive. True, the context is on discipline, but the Lord seems to be stating a general principle that is applicable in other situations too. You see, the Lord says "if two of you shall agree on earth as touchinganything they shall ask …" The Lord does not restrict His promise to the matter of church discipline. Moreover, the word ‘agree’ translates a Greek word sumphôneô, from which we get the English word ‘symphony’. Etymologically, the word literally means, "to call out together." This, together with the word ‘ask’ (Grk. aiteô) or ‘request’, suggests to us a context of corporate prayer where there is harmony in what is being asked for.
The idea of a prayer meeting is further augmented by the phrase "gathered together in my name" (v. 20), which suggests a purposeful Christian meeting. It is clear from the context that the Lord is not referring directly to the weekly Sabbath worship service. He promises that when the brethren are so gathered, He would be in the midst of them (v. 20); and when they pray, He would answer their prayers (v. 19). In other words, the Lord promises His special presence and power when we meet for prayer, just as He promises His presence and His power when we engage in the work of evangelisation (Matt 28:18-20).
The Early Church, undoubtedly, saw the importance of corporate prayer. Although it is not possible to prove from the New Testament that they set aside a weekday each week for corporate prayer meeting, we have ample evidence that the church did meet regularly for prayer, apart from their weekly Lord’s Day worship services. Very soon after the ascension of Christ, we find that the disciples constantly gathered in corporate prayer. "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:14). It is possible that they were meeting continually because they were dwelling together in the same house (cf. Acts 1:13). The next recorded prayer meeting occurred after Peter and John were warned by the Sanhedrin not to preach anymore in the name of Jesus. When the matter was reported to the brethren, they immediately met together in prayer. "They lifted up their voice to God with one accord" (Acts 4:24), we are told. Some time later, King Herod arrested Peter. While he was in prison, "prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" (Acts 12:5). This does not mean that members of the church were praying for him privately, for after Peter was released from the prison by the angel of the Lord, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, where, we are told, "many were gathered together praying" (Acts 12:12). Prayer meetings, moreover, did not end with Acts. We have evidence to suggest that whenever, Paul had company with him, he would call for "prayer meetings." Writing to the Colossians, he mentions about praying for them with Timothy (Col 1:3, 9; notice the plural pronouns). Similarly, writing to the Thessalonians, he tells them that he prays for them together with Silas and Timothy. "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers" (1Thes 1:2; cf. 3:10; 2 Thes 1:11).
In our busy modern society, it is practically impossible to meet regularly on ad hoc bases to pray, as did the early Christians. But the principle and importance of corporate prayer remains. It remains our duty to pray with fellow believers, to call out together to the Lord for the needs of the church. What better way to achieve this than to meet at the scheduled week day prayer meeting? The Lord teaches us that by our love for one another, all men may know that we are His disciples (Jn 13:35). What better way to demonstrate our love for one another, than to meet to pray for one another during the week? What’s more, the Lord promises us His special audience and blessings when we meet to pray.
Of course, we do pray for various items during our pastoral prayer before the sermon each week, but there is a big difference between the pastoral prayer and the corporate prayer at prayer meetings. For, firstly, during prayer meeting, more than one person will pray—so we learn from each other and feel with each other. Secondly, the prayer meeting is more personal, so that specific personal and intimate items may be brought up and prayed for, which may not be possible during the pastoral prayers. Thirdly, in the prayer meeting, we may appropriately pray for the ministry of the coming weekend—the pulpit ministry, the catechism classes, the church in fellowship etc. Prayer does make a difference! Fourthly, during prayer meetings, an opportunity is given to everyone to update one another on his or her needs and items of thanksgiving, which is obviously impossible during worship services. Additionally, of course, those who come for the prayer meeting will testify to the warmth of the fellowship after the meeting—something which is somewhat lacking on the Lord’s Day for some reasons.
Dearly beloved, I do believe that it is legalistic to measure a person’s spiritual condition by whether he or she attends prayer meetings. But I also believe that attendance at prayer meeting does in some sense indicate the spiritual condition of the church as a local assembly. I am convinced that if more of us come to pray and take the prayer meeting seriously, we can expect the Lord to bless the ministry of our church in ways we cannot even imagine or ask for (cf. Eph 3:20). On the other hand, it will be hard for us to attain unto the unity of faith and love that we constantly pray for, if only a few come together to pray. May the Lord grant that we will grow to be a body of saints concerned for one another, caring for one another and seeking the Lord together not only on the sabbath day. Spurgeon is right, I believe, when he told his congregation: "Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians" (The Kind of Revival We Need).
May the exhortation of Spurgeon rebuke and remind us concerning our duty to come to pray: "I should like to know of some of you, how long it is since you have been to a prayer meeting. Shall I stop and let you count? … Some of you very seldom come at all. If you are lawfully detained at home, I would never ask you to come or upbraid you for minding your home duties; for you have no right to leave legitimate business that ought to be done to come here. But I am certain that some of you are idle and might come if you liked. I pray the Lord to send you a horsewhip in the shape of trouble in your conscience till you do come, for it very much weakens us all in our prayers when our numbers decline; and whenever people come to despise weeknight services, be sure of it, farewell to the vital power of godliness, for weeknight services are very, very much the stamp of the man. Any hypocrite will come on a Sunday, but a man does need to take some interest in religious services to be found mingling with the people of God in prayer. Am I to believe that some of you do not care whether souls are saved or not? Am I to believe that some of you, our church members, have no care whether our ministry is blessed or not? Am I to believe that you continue members of a church in which you take no interest? Am I to believe that it is nothing to you whether Christ is crowned or despised? I will not believe it, and yet your absence from the meetings for prayer tends to make me fear that it must be so. I beg you correct yourselves in this matter, and as the King’s garden wants rain and sunshine, and we cannot expect to have it without prayer, let us not forget the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is. Oh! for more prayer, more to pray, and for those who do pray, to pray with more fervor and more constancy in supplication!" (King’s Garden).
Will you not make extra effort to come, dearly beloved? And if you really cannot come for some valid reason, may I urge you to be praying with us in your family, and to let us know you are doing so. Not that we believe in the superstition of synchronised prayers, but that it will both serve as a reminder to you to pray for the church and as an encouragement to those who do come to know that you are praying though you cannot come. This is how the oneness of the church may be manifest: for as a church, we should be able account for every member whenever we meet corporately. The fact that you can expect to receive a phone call from me or from other members in the church if you are absent for Sabbath worship indicates that we are still able to account for everyone on the Lord’s Day. Pray that this will continue to be so, but pray also that it may be so for the weekday prayer meeting too.
Just writing this sends a chill down my spine as I think of how impersonal and disintegrated our church can be if we cannot even account for our members on the Lord’s Day. On the other hand, what a thrill fills my heart as I try to imagine what a blessing and effective witness it will be for this church when we begin to be able to account for every members during our weekday prayer meeting.