How To Resurrect The Prayer Meeting
By Harold Vaughan
Charles Spurgeon said, “We shall never see much change for the better in our church in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” His ministry was fueled by what he called the “furnace room,” where hundreds of believers bombarded heaven with believing prayer. Spurgeon credited the success of his ministry to the prayers offered by the members of his church.
What can we do to resurrect the prayer meeting in our churches today? Five simple principles can change and invigorate our prayer times.
Be God focused. The model prayer, or the Lord’s Prayer, opens with “Our Father” and ends with an appeal to God’s glory. Note carefully that the first three petitions focus on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will: “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:9-10). Hallowing God’s name, advancing God’s kingdom, and implementing God’s will come before any man-centered petitions. To revitalize our prayer meetings, we must begin with these vertical concerns.
When Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into jail for casting a demon out of a woman, how did they react? They did not contact the prayer chain. They did not call the Jerusalem Law Association or the Anti-Defamation League. Instead, “Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25). Instead of appealing to man for help or moaning about their woes, they “sang praises unto God.” They had a worship-based prayer meeting.
Praise should precede petition. When we begin our praying with needs instead of God’s glory, we go against the scriptural pattern. Our prayer times must begin with worship. The God-focused prayers of individuals who faced staggering problems (Daniel in Daniel 6:10; Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:14-17) are strong examples for us in this. Then we can move on to the needs of others and our own needs: daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil.
Be Scripture driven. The model prayer is a pattern for prayer. It is not a formula for us to repeat but a guide for us to pray through. It is more like a scaffolding than a building, more like a skeleton than a body. It gives us categories, or guidelines, to pray through. When the disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1), Jesus instructed them to pray this way:
• Our Father (recognition of God)
• Hallowed be Your name (worship of God)
• Your kingdom come (expansion of God’s kingdom)
• Your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth (implementation of God’s will)
• Give us day by day our daily bread (asking of God)
• Forgive us our sins (confession to God)
• For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us (forgiveness of others)
• Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil (deliverance from the enemy)
This prayer from Scripture teaches us to cover numerous aspects of life in prayer. Different seasons call for differing facets of prayer. We should start with God-focused and worship-based prayer, and then highlight the area of prayer most applicable to our current situations.
Reading Bible prayers is a good way to start a corporate prayer time. As leaders, we should take note of the scriptures that resonate with our spirits, paying attention to verses that jump off the page, excite our imaginations, and speak to our hearts. We can then select promises of God appropriate to current circumstances and plead those promises to God in prayer. Scripture-driven prayer is always in season.
As we read the Bible, it should read us. In other words, the Lord should direct the dialogue. Biblical praying is always in accordance with scriptural principles, so we must allow the Bible to be our springboard into prayer.
Be Spirit led. “…We know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is the missing Person in countless prayer gatherings. He is the only Person qualified to guide us in prayer. He is so fervent about prayer that He literally groans when He prays. As we pray under His gracious influence, we enter into the burdens of God’s heart. The Spirit of God will direct us to lead our people in prayer.
Being rightly connected to the Spirit will lead us to effective prayer. A man saw Ben Franklin holding a string during a thunderstorm and asked what he was doing. Franklin told him that he was flying a kite. “I don’t see a kite,” the man replied. Franklin told him, “I can’t see it, but I can feel the tug.” We cannot see God’s Spirit, but when we feel the Spirit of prayer calling us to intercede, we should indulge His promptings. The flesh never prods us to pray, and neither does the devil. Only the Spirit of God knows the mind and heart of God. We must cooperate with God by seizing every holy impulse to approach His throne in prayer.
Be faith filled. Biblical praying is more than hoping for an answer; it is believing ahead of time that our requests will be answered. Faith-filled praying anticipates God’s response by thanking Him in advance. Anyone can offer thanks after an answer is manifested; it is easy to believe once the answers are evident. But faith-filled praying banks on the answer before it arrives. Thanking God is the first step in faith.
The Apostle Thomas typified modern church members when he found it difficult to believe. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas stated he would not believe without visual and physical evidence (John 20:25). Afterward Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands…and be not faithless, but believing” (v. 27). Upon seeing the resurrected Christ, Thomas finally believed that Jesus was alive. He believed because he “saw” with his eyes. Then Jesus said, “…Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (v. 29). Biblical faith believes before the answer is obvious. We must train ourselves and others to pray in faith. Stop praying with question marks and start praying with exclamation points. Pray faith-filled prayers!
Be shepherd directed. The apostles who shepherded the early church limited themselves to two key functions: prayer and ministering the Word (see Acts 6:4), and of these two priorities, prayer came first. The apostles gave themselves to prayer, which speaks not just of personal prayer, but their responsibility to oversee and lead the early church in prayer. They prayed about mobilizing the congregation in prayer. Then they implemented the directives the Lord placed upon their hearts.
Surveys have found that pastors today spend hours preparing for Sunday sermons. But preparation time for prayer meetings is generally token at best. Could it be that the attendance in each of these services reflects the time spent in preparation? We are top heavy on instruction and woefully weak on implementation of prayer. The passionless congregations in our churches today are a direct result of emphasizing academics in preaching while neglecting the planning of corporate prayer.
So much effort goes into organizing the activities of the church, but God’s presence and power in our midst come from united prayer. The early church prioritized prayer, and the shepherds led the way by organizing the church to pray. The role of the shepherd in resurrecting and revitalizing the prayer meetings in our churches cannot be overstated. Will you invest adequate time toward transforming your church into a house of prayer?
Building Houses of Prayer
Many churches use prayer like a zipper: they open their services with a prayer and then close them with a prayer. Some churches also have a weekly prayer meeting, which a handful of people attend. A pastor of a large church became burdened about the lack of prayer in his congregation, so he preached a series of messages on prayer over the course of a year. But no noticeable improvement took place. Talking about prayer without putting it into practice corporately will never transform a congregation into a house of prayer. The only way to develop a praying church is to incorporate life-giving prayer into the services. Preaching is vitally important, but activating the church to pray is the foundation for effective preaching and transforming a congregation into a house of prayer.
• Pray about your church’s prayer meetings. Listen to the creative instructions that God gives you to direct your church in prayer.
• Move toward God-focused prayer meetings. Let the worship of God be primary. Honoring God’s name, advancing God’s kingdom, and implementing God’s will must come first. Move from a needs-based prayer format toward a worship-based format. Petition and intercession for human concerns are essential, but they come after God’s concerns.
• Incorporate singing and praise in your gatherings for prayer. A Spirit-filled song leader who enjoys worship creates an inviting atmosphere for others to enter in the spirit of praise. Sample format: Begin with joyful songs. Then give a brief scriptural challenge and instruct the people to huddle in groups of three to implement the challenge. Sing more songs before giving another concise scriptural exhortation followed with implementation. This sequence can be repeated for the entire meeting.
• “Life” in the prayer meeting is more important than the “length” of the prayer meeting. Vary the way you conduct prayer times: Pray in groups. Pray as families. Pray out loud. Pray individually. Target specific burdens. Pray over the sick. Pray for the unsaved. Pray for God’s reviving presence to invade your assembly.
• Delete all human requests from your church’s prayer bulletin one week, and center on only God-focused requests. This will get people’s attention!
• Declutter the prayer meeting. Have people pray prayer requests instead of speaking them out. Encourage people to exercise faith and believe God as others pray their requests and needs.
• Celebrate answers to prayer. Offer praise for answered requests.
– Used by permission of Christ Life Ministries. ChristLifeMin.org