The condition of a church can be accurately determined by its prayer meetings. Charles Spurgeon called the prayer meeting a “grace-ometer” from which “we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people.” More recently, Vance Havner said that “the thermometer of a church is its prayer meeting.”
If this is true, and I believe it is, then what does that say about a church when the prayer meeting is the least attended meetings of the week? Or what does it say about a church that no longer has prayer meetings?
I don’t have the definitive answer as to why prayer meetings have become nearly extinct. I suspect some combination of the following factors are involved:
- Prayer doesn’t draw a crowd; there has to be some kind of entertainment factor to get people interested.
- We have put our trust in human methodologies and strategies.
- Prayer is hard work and it’s easier to try to fix things ourselves.
- We’re satisfied with the status quo.
- There is no sense of desperation for God in the church.
Perhaps Spurgeon was right when he said that slothfulness in prayer is one of the first signs of God’s absence from a church.
“My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer”
God’s intention always has been for His house to be a place where people come to pray. God said it in Isaiah 56:7. Jesus repeated it. Nowhere does the Bible say: “My house shall be called a house of music.” Nowhere does the Bible say: “My house shall be called a house of preaching.” I’m not minimizing the importance of those things; we need to sing and to teach and preach. But collectively seeking God in prayer ought always to be a defining characteristic of our meetings and elevated to a place of preeminence in our corporate gatherings.
We can’t help but see in the Book of Acts that corporate prayer was given the highest priority by church leaders and members. When the church came together, they prayer together:
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14, NASB). The early believers had no strategy other than to come together, pray, and wait on God. That’s it; that was their strategy—united and continual prayer. It worked.
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). This first description of the early church after Pentecost gives us a glimpse into the corporate life of the first church. Praying together was one of the essentials that defined church life.
When a complaint arose by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebrew Jews that their widows were being overlooked, seven godly men were appointed to serve the widows. The apostles said: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). I have always understood this to mean the apostles would devote themselves to personal prayer and to the public ministry of preaching and teaching the Word. But when you look at the original language, it seems to be saying something else. Literally it reads “to the prayer and the ministry of the word.” The article the before both “prayer” and “ministry of the word” suggests that the apostles were talking not about their personal prayer lives but rather about two essential ministries to the church: (1) leading the church to pray and (2) preaching the Word. Guiding the church to pray together is no less essential than preaching.
Desperation for God = Powerful Prayer Meetings
A.T. Pierson said: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” It’s well documented that all true revivals in history began in the prayer meeting. Based on the teaching of Scripture, the example of the early church, and church history, it seems to me that the need of the hour is to worry less about doing whatever it takes to draw a crowd and to give greater attention to collectively seeking God in prayer.
What would happen if we came to the place where we are desperate for God and we chased after Him together in prayer with humility and sincerity? What if our praying together as a church became more than just a hospital report? What if the days of rote, comfortable, and convenient prayers were over? What if our praying together was instead characterized by a united, agonizing crying out for God to move among us and to fall upon us in power?
Spurgeon said: “We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” He also said: “If we would have Him, we must meet in greater numbers; we must pray with greater fervency, we must watch with greater earnestness, and believe with firmer steadfastness. The prayer meeting … is the appointed place for the reception of power.”
What if we could change the conversation from whatever happened to prayer meeting to what happened at prayer meeting?
Mike Livingstone is the content editor of Explore the Bible, a book-by-book Bible study series produced by LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to coming to LifeWay, he served as a pastor and a missionary in Kenya. Mike is a graduate of Union University, Liberty University, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is husband to Stacie, father of three, grandfather of five. Find him on Twitter: @m_livingstone.