(Excerpts from Banner of Truth Magazine, Sep 3, 2021)
Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? 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 which will give way amidst the pressures of life.
So, why should you, as a Christian, be at your church’s prayer meeting?
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 prayers, one after another. We do not believe God hears us because of our many words,……. 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.
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,…. 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.
It is also a particular opportunity for fellowship. … 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. 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.
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, … The blessings of Pentecost were enjoyed as the people gathered together to pray (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?
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,…… 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. 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.