Where are the Praying People?
"If you want to see how popular the church is, attend Sunday morning worship. If you want to see how popular the pastor is, attend Sunday evening. If you want to see how popular God is, attend the prayer meeting."— Armin Gesswein, Everything by Prayer, Fred Hartley, page 123
The church bulletin
Following is a look at a typical church bulletin we read every Sunday morning or in the church newsletter. I start with this to show where the hearts and minds of the church are often focused on.
Welcome to Average American Church. Here are the upcoming events for this month:
This week in church:
Potluck - Sunday after church we will be having a potluck. Come out for a great time of food and fellowship. Bring a side dish or dessert. Hot dogs and hamburgers will be provided. All are welcome.
Youth Group - Tuesday evenings at 6 pm. Games, food, and the word.
Before the Throne Intercessory Prayer Meeting - Wednesday night at 5:30 to 6 pm. We will be praying for our church, one another, our loved ones, and the community. "Let us come boldly before the throne..."
Midweek Bible Study - Wednesday nights from 6 - 7 pm. We will be studying the book of Acts. Join us as we follow the adventures of the Apostles as they turn the world upside down.
Children's ministry - Wednesday evenings at 6 pm. Games, food, the word, memory verses.
Men's breakfast - Saturday morning at 7 am the men will meet at the Main Street Cafe on Main street for a time of food, fellowship, and inspiration.
Women's Bible Study - Thursday mornings at 9 am. We are currently studying Proverbs 31. Goodies and coffee provided.
Special events this month:
March 10th Volunteer meeting - Immediately following church there is a volunteer children and youth workers meeting. A hot lunch will be provided.
March 15th - Worship Fest - It's almost here. The third annual Worship Fest will be in town at the convention center. Contemporary Christian music's most popular worship leaders and bands will be featured in a worship extravaganza. Tickets are $25.
March 25th - 27th Franklin Graham Crusade - Evangelist Franklin Graham will be in our city to preach the gospel. They are looking for volunteers from the local churches to help with greeting, ushering, follow-up and prayer team. Sign-up sheets are in the narthex.
March 29th Feed homeless downtown - We will be handing out lunches to the homeless downtown. All are welcome. We will meet at the church at 5pm. Dress warm.
Which of these activities get the most attention and brings people the most joy? I do not condemn all of these. They are all important to the life of the church. In fact, much of them are crucial to the body - Bible study, serving God, ministering to our youth, etc.
Which of these is the most well attended in your church
What does your flock flock to?
Which of the above church activities has the most participation in your church?
Excuses for not participating in prayer meetings
I think we can all agree that the prayer meeting is the least attended meeting in churches today. People will go to the ends of the earth for a potluck or a concert, but not a prayer meeting. Why is corporate prayer so neglected and rejected in the church? Why the lackluster attitude on prayer? Here are some reasons I have heard, followed by a response. See if you can relate:
Prayer meetings are long and boring. If we consider prayer as boring, it is indicative that our view of God and the reason we pray is gravely amiss. God is glorious, not humdrum. If we are bored and keeping a stopwatch, our hearts are humdrum, not God or prayer. Boredom requires repentance and revival in our hearts and church.
We don't have time what with other life and church demands. God always has time for you. If we neglect prayer, we will not glorify Him and the ministry of the church will not be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We prefer doing the work of the church that is more visible and hands on. Being the hands and feet of Jesus. The work will be effective and powerful if we seek his guidance and power. If we serve without prayer we are not His hands and feet, but our own.
We are not to pray as the Pharisees by praying for men to see and take notice. We are not being Pharisees by meeting together to pray. The Pharisees stood out on the street corners and in the town squares and market places praying at the top of their voices to be looked upon as holy by men. They were not conducting a sacred assembly or small group intercession, with humble hearts. They were not praying in God's will or by His Spirit. They were not praying to God, they were exalting themselves for glory.
We are to pray alone in our prayer closet. Yes we are. But to argue that only praying alone is acceptable is conveniently editing out or ignorantly missing that God also calls us to pray together. Imagine if the 120 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost had not been praying together. The three thousand that were saved that day would not have been saved. Guess where they would be?
We can pray at home. There was a pastor who said this when someone brought up the fact in a Bible study one day that no one was coming to prayer meetings. When he announced the prayer meeting from the pulpit, he gave the when and where - and then said he realized, "Many of you are tired from commutes or other things, so if you can't make it out, no need to worry as you can pray at home." I believe this minister was trying to prevent guilt on people for staying home. People who say, "Well, we can pray at home," seldom pray at home. All you have to do is ask them and they are quite open or they will tell you they said a prayer. God has called us to pray together as well as in our prayer closets. Our ministry and our lives are directed and empowered by God when we pray and invite God to move in our midst.
If the church is not meeting to pray, the work being done in the flesh will not last or bear lasting fruit. J.B. Johnston said "As prayer meetings fail in a congregation, so will the ministrations of the pastor become unfruitful, the preaching of the word fail to convert sinners and promote holiness in the professors of religion."
The boiler room
The story is told of five young college students who were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C. H. Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the boiler room of this church?” They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July. But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented. The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our boiler room.” Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself. It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.
Charles Spurgeon had a vibrant and powerful ministry. Every week he preached to over 10,000 parishioners. Many, many came to Christ, and many saints grew in holiness and effective service. It would not have happened with out the saints in the boiler room. Spurgeon said this,
"The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So the prayer meeting is a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if He be not there, one of die first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!"
Once Spurgeon was asked what he felt was the reason for such a powerful ministry. His answer was, "My people pray for me." He was absolutely right.
Spurgeon again on prayer meetings
Above we have the boiler room story of Charles Spurgeon's parishioners praying for him. And yet, in his sermon, Spiritual Revival, the Want of the Church he says the following:
"Look at our prayer-meetings, with here and there a bright exception. Go in. There are six women; scarcely ever enough members come to pray four times. Look at them. Prayer-meetings they are called; spare meetings they ought to be called, for sparely enough they are attended."
Perhaps he was talking about churches in general at that time, but it's true for today.
How do you feel about meeting with other believers to pray regularly?
Prayer meetings the arteries of the early church
D.A. Carson said, "Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived." Don't you love the word arteries? Arteries are channels through which blood (life and power) flows throughout the body and pumped through the heart. Corporate prayer is where the power flowed for the first church. With the Holy Spirit empowering them to evangelize the world and plant churches, the Jews accused the Christians of turning the world upside down (Acts 17:6). What a compliment! What evidence that prayer was being answered. Through the book of Acts we read about prayer meetings.
Acts 1:12-26 - They prayed in the upper room and chose the twelfth disciple to replace Judas.
Acts 2: 1-39 is the account of the day of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit came down resulting in three thousand souls being saved.
Acts 2:42 tells us that they met together continuously to pray, fellowship, breaking of bread (1st century potluck no doubt), and doctrine.
Acts 4:24 they got together raised their voices to God when they heard Peter and John's arrest and persecution.
Acts 6:4 The apostles state they would devote themselves to the word and to prayer. This was after assigning a godly group of believer to organize the distribution of food.
Acts 6:6-7 They laid hands on the men they chose and the word of God spread and multitudes came to the Lord.
Acts 8:14-17 Peter and John prayed that the new Samaritan believers would receive the Holy Spirit and they laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
Acts 12:12 The disciples were praying for Peter because he was imprisoned. It happened that Peter was miraculously released by an angel.
Acts 13:3 The church at Antioch fasted and prayed and laid hands on a group of men who were being sent out, two being Saul and Barnabas.
Prayer meetings are the arteries of the early church
The purpose of prayer meetings
"Prayer, then, is cooperating with God to bring about His plan, not trying to bend Him to our will." ~ S. Michael Houdman
The central reason we gather together to pray is to seek God's will and direction for the church and anything else the Lord lays on our hearts. The quote above reminds us that in corporate prayer we are not to seek or direct God to what we want, but what He desires. Praying for and according to God's will is the only way He answers. We dumb sheep in the flock (and we do it as individuals as well) get it into our heads that we need x, y, and z to make the church more successful and happy. We are sure it will take a, b, and c, to solve this or that problem. So we join hands and tell God what we need, tag his name on the end as a seal of approval, and wonder when He doesn't give it to us. Sometimes, there is a specific need that we know is God's will and we pray and God delivers. But we must be careful not to meet to force God's hand to do what we want. Waiting upon the Lord is an integral part of praying in His name and according to His will.
The second reason we are to pray in prayer meetings is to intercede for the saints, the church, the community, the country and the world. We can indeed intercede at home, but interceding corporately is a blessing from God. The disciples and apostles did this regularly. When Peter was imprisoned, the disciples back home were praying for him fervently. In this case, God delivered Peter. Who knows how it would have gone had they not prayed.
Bill Kovacic (Lifegate), another hubpages writer, wrote an article , Ten Hindrances to Prayer Part 1, (I highly recommend you read it) and talked at length about prayer meetings that look more like a Sunday worship service than a prayer meeting. Music, message, and ten or 15 minutes of prayer. I won't elaborate because he said it so well.
I have participated in hundreds of prayer meetings over the years, as well as facilitated many, and have found some things that work and don't work.
Enter into His gates with Thanksgiving and praise - this should be our established attitude as we enter into his presence. Barraging the Lord with requests from the get go is rather selfish. An attitude of gratitude and giving or even singing our praises to God opens the floodgates.
Keep the corporate agenda loose - Sometimes a prayer meeting is brought together to pray for a certain issue or concern. Let's say you are meeting to pray for the persecuted church or a particular person who is being persecuted. The facilitator or other members may have a Scripture to read and then everyone is asked to pray along the lines of the Scripture. I have done this many times I think it is a good way to go if the meeting is for a specific topic. But we should hold it loosely in that the Spirit may start directing people in another vein as the prayers are going on. He may reveal to one that there is this or that thing to consider. He may want us to focus more on one aspect than another. Rigidity does not allow for the Spirit to move. It's all about praying God's will.
Allow the Holy Spirit to lead - Invite the Holy Spirit go be present and guide the prayers and the focus. Be discerning between personal agenda and the Lord laying something on your heart. Sometimes strong personalities try to dominate or have an agenda.
Time of the prayer meeting - Many prayer meetings have a time allotment - an hour or two. Prayer does not have to be long to be effective, but sometimes the Spirit has much to say and direct people in their prayers. To stop a prayer meeting right when the Spirit seems to be moving powerfully stifles and grieves the Spirit, and we miss the blessing. It's sometimes tempting to rush the prayer meeting as the set time draws near. Some people need to leave at the set time for practical reasons. It's good to tell people in the beginning that if they they need to leave to do so quietly. We need to be understanding.
Avoid rabbit trails - If you are meeting to seek God's will on finding a new pastor, don't pray about abortion.
Allow the holy hush - Often times a prayer meeting will be praying along and then everything recedes into silence. This does not necessarily mean God has left the building. It is a "holy hush." This is a listening time. This is where we often hear that still small voice. Some people find such quiet moments uncomfortable so they continue filling up that quiet space. I have experienced God's presence and direction more powerfully during a holy hush on many an occasion than when everyone was praying aloud.
Talk to the Lord alone - I cringe, recoil, when someone in the group is praying to the Lord then suddenly starts railing at Satan all in one sentence. "Lord Jesus, we love you, we worship you, we thank you for Your blood, and Satan, we bind you and take authority over you in Jesus name. Take your hands off any here in this prayer meeting, you are not welcome. And so now Lord we lift our hands and call upon you, blah blah." People think this is a biblical practice and it is not. We don't need to do it for preventative measures either.
I was in a class recently. We learned some important things about God and how He works in our life. At the end the leader asked us to stand and repeat a prayer of confession, repentance and thanksgiving to God for being our healer and deliverer. After the amen he then asked us to repeat a dialogue to Satan telling Him he has no authority and so on. I didn't participate. Why do people think it's necessary to pray to the devil when they've just prayed to the Lord who is all sufficient?
Silence your cellphones - This is a no brainer but it can and has happened to almost everyone in a variety of settings. It's a good idea for the leader to remind people to silence their phones. I suggest turning off phones completely because vibration is just as disrupting, not only because of the noise, but because the person stops and checks their phone to see who's calling. I remember being in a Spirit filled prayer meeting and someone's phone went off. She immediately got up when it rang and left the room, but was talking the whole way. We could hear her talking even when she stepped out because the hallway was rather cavernous. It totally disrupted the Spirit.
Hooray, we get to pray
We in the household of faith have the tendency to say in dire situations "All we can do is pray." That sounds like Eyeore theology to me. In Christ we need not be a glum lot. We need to say when things get difficult or even hopeless "We need to pray," or "Let's go to prayer," or "Let's not despair, we can pray." Prayer should never be relegated to the last resort. It should be the first thing we do. And if things get tougher, we get to pray again. Prayer is a divine privilege and a divine responsibility. I love Joseph Scriven's words in his hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus -
"What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."
God has called His people to pray always, everywhere, without ceasing, in our prayer closet and in the upper rooms with the saints. It is our highest and greatest calling.
We get to pray to the Lord of all creation, we must pray, we are commanded to pray. Hooray we get to pray, so lets start praying.
Prayer-meetings they are called; spare meetings they ought to be called, for sparely enough they are attended."— Charles H Spurgeon
© 2013 Lori Colbo