Musical artists, celebrities, and football games attract exuberant crowds. Even a popular preacher or a well-known worship leader can draw thousands of enthusiastic people. But when a prayer meeting is announced, few show up.
Leonard Ravenhill spoke poignantly to this matter: “Sunday morning shows how popular the church is; Sunday night shows how popular the preacher is; prayer meeting shows how popular God is.”1 Sadly, when God is the only attraction, there is normally plenty of open seats. God may be the most unpopular person in today’s churches. How have God’s people gotten to this dismal place?
Why the Prayer Meeting Has Died
The methods utilized for prayer in most churches contribute to the lack of participation in and enthusiasm for prayer.
Prayer meetings are problem centered. The trouble with most prayer meetings is that they are problem centered, not God centered. Everything revolves around people’s difficulties and crises. Most prayer gatherings begin without a word of praise or thanksgiving to God. From the outset, a dizzying array of special requests are typically verbalized—issues like Aunt Susie’s toe fungus, traveling mercies for a third cousin ten states away, physical needs, ailing body parts, and a host of other man-centered requests. It’s impossible to remember all the details. And who has the capacity to identify on a heart level with such a huge number of people they have never even met? Prayer bulletins are loaded with more needs and requests. The deluge of difficulties can be overwhelming.
After fifteen to twenty minutes of sharing special requests (special only to the people making the requests), someone offers a two-minute prayer asking for blanket blessing over all the challenges. After the “Amen” people file out with little expectation for change. This is repeated week after week. The same faithful few come back to rehearse a repeated litany of ills and concerns.
Let’s be candid. A needs-based, problem-centered, request-focused prayer meeting can be discouraging and even depressing. Further, listening to problem after problem without faith for change is draining. Prayer meetings should impart life, not exhaust us.
Prayer meetings are boring. I asked a group of teenagers why they did not pray more than they did. They replied that prayer was boring. How did they get the idea that prayer was tedious, uninspiring, tiresome, and uninteresting? More than likely by listening to older Christians drone on and on over trivia and endless minutiae. Many prayer meetings (as well as some church services) appear to be attempts to cure insomnia! But real communication with God is anything but boring.
Prayer meetings are vague. Asking God to “be with the missionaries” will never inspire anyone to pray with fervency. Neither do we have any way of discerning whether such requests are answered. Ambiguous supplications manifest the unbelief of those who pray them. Conversely, the prayers recorded in the Bible are specific, pointed, dogmatic, and often urgent. Of the 222 prayers documented in the Bible, none of them is bland or generic. Each one is offered with desire, specificity, and anticipation.
Prayer meetings lack expectancy. Ultimately, the biggest problem with our praying today is a lack of expectancy. Unbelieving believers do not expect results from their praying. Much so-called praying is more like a distant hope that fate will smile on those offering the appeal. That’s why so many offer timid petitions and close their prayers with “if it be Your will.” This terminology is employed to lessen the blow when nothing happens. It’s like an escape clause. It’s really an attempt to avoid disappointment. This type of praying is similar to thumbing through rosary beads: the motions of prayer are employed; words are uttered; but this task of ritual, while it may satisfy the conscience, includes no real anticipation that anything will change.
The climate of unbelief is so ingrained in believers today that attempts to reform the prayer meeting may meet with strong resistance. I know of congregations in which pastors have implemented time for prayer in their “prayer meetings,” and some members stopped attending! Religionists, ritualists, traditionalists, moralists, and unsaved church members have an aversion to coming face to face with God.
But don’t despair—Spirit-filled individuals are drawn to vital prayer meetings! Revamping the prayer ministries in our churches can be the gateway to revival.
Resurrecting the Prayer Meeting
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.”2 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. These are applicable individually as well as corporately.
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 are God-focused: 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 a Christian legal foundation 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 in prayer, they had a God-focused 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’s 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 (anticipation 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. Ephesians 6:18 says that we should be “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” We should start with God-focused prayer and then highlight the area of prayer most applicable to our current situations.
Reading Bible prayers is a good way to start a prayer time. As we read the Bible, 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. Then we can pray through these verses that echo in our souls. We can select promises of God appropriate to our 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. The Bible reveals to us God’s nature and moral will. 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 itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). The Holy Spirit is the generator of all prayer. 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 in prayer when we elect to follow His lead.
Being rightly connected to the Spirit will lead us to effective prayer. A man saw Ben Franklin holding a string during a thunder storm 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 can’t 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.
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, he said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Afterward Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). Upon seeing the resurrected Christ, Thomas finally believed that Jesus was alive. Then Jesus said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Biblical faith believes before the answer is obvious. We must train ourselves and others to pray in faith.
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 of their use of prayer in overseeing the early church. They prayed about mobilizing the congregation in prayer.
Surveys have found that pastors today spend up to fifteen hours a week preparing for their Sunday morning sermons and three to four hours for Sunday evening messages. But preparation time for prayer meetings is generally token at best. 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 pastors emphasizing academics in preaching and neglecting 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. Why not invest adequate time to transforming the church into a house of prayer? The Lord will give us wisdom in this regard if we ask Him (see James 1:5).
The lack of spiritual hunger in churches today is an indictment on pastors. 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.
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. On occasion they may even designate a day of prayer for special needs. But very few churches are houses of prayer, in which everything is saturated with and covered by prayer. Houses of prayer dedicate time to prayer during worship services, even on Sunday mornings.
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 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.
- Seek the Lord for His direction as to how to resurrect the prayer life of your church.
- Move toward God-focused prayer meetings. Incorporate singing and praise in your gatherings for prayer.
- 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 needs-based prayer toward worship-based prayer. Petition and intercession for human concerns are essential, but they come after God’s concerns.
- Emphasize one prayer protocol from this book per week and build your entire prayer meeting or church service around it. Give a brief explanation to those gathered to pray, and implement the protocol accordingly.
- Pray about your church’s prayer meetings. Listen to the creative instructions that God gives you to direct your church in prayer.
- 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.
- Declutter the prayer meeting. Have people pray prayer requests instead of speaking them out. Encourage people to exercise faith and believe God as others share their requests and needs.
- 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!
This article is included as the appendix in the book “Approaching Gods Throne: Biblical Protocols For Prayer”.
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