We're going to begin this article with a hard statement of fact: many churches do NOT have prayer meetings anymore. And when we say "prayer meeting" we're not just talking about a regular service dedicated to nothing but the practice of prayer. We are also referencing the lack of prayer meetings before worship services. Pre-service prayer, it is often called. The lack of prayer in the house of prayer is alarming. Even in those churches where prayer meetings are still on the schedule, it is going to be the one service every week when people will find a reason not to attend.
Pre-service prayer is optional, after all, because "having church" really doesn't start until the worship team steps to the stage to perform. Being there for "having church" is the most important thing. "It's just prayer meeting," some will say. "It's not all that important. It's not like it's REAL church or anything." We adopt these attitudes along with the complaint that "the power of God isn't in our church like it used to be." One individual (who, incidentally, never attended prayer meetings at his church) was known to say, "it sure ain't happenin' like it used to in the Book of Acts!" This was his chief complaint about the church he attended. Things aren't happening like they did in the Book of Acts.
If our complaint is that things aren't happening in our churches today as they did in the Book of Acts, perhaps an examination of the Book of Acts would give us a possible clue as to why.
Acts 1:12-14 tells us that the preface to the Day of Pentecost was a prayer meeting. Verse 14 says, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication." If we expect a Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, perhaps we need to start with a prayer meeting.
Acts 1:23-26 tells us that, before a new Apostle was chosen to replace Judas and fulfill prophecy, there was a prayer meeting. Verse 24 says, "And they prayed..." If we expect God-ordained leadership to rise among us, perhaps we need to start with a prayer meeting.
Acts 2:42-47 tells us that signs, wonders and conversions occurred because of a perpetuation of prayer meetings. Verse 42 says, "And they continued steadfastly...in prayers." If we expect the manifestation of the presence of God in miraculous ways, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 3:1-8 tells us that a lame man walked again by the power of God after a prayer made by Peter and John on the way to a prayer meeting. Verse 3 says, "Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." If we expect to see the sick healed, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 4:23-31 tells us that, when arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus Christ, the disciples received an anointing powerful enough to shake the house where they were sitting after they were released and joined together in a prayer meeting. Verse 31 says, "And when they had prayed..." If we expect to receive a supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit for the preaching of the Gospel, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 6:1-7 tells us that anointed, faithful laborers were needed to tend to the business affairs of the Church and, when chosen, were set apart to their work in a prayer meeting. Verse 6 says, "and when they had prayed." If we expect the business affairs of the Church to be conducted by faithful stewards with God's blessings, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 8:14-17 tell us that the Samaritans had received the Gospel and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ but did not receive the Holy Spirit until they were in a prayer meeting. Verse 15 says, "when they were come down, (they) prayed for them..." If we want to see individuals receive the baptism of the Spirit, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 12:5-17 tells us that, when Peter was in prison and almost certainly facing execution, the Church pleaded his cause before God in a prayer meeting. Verse 5 says, "prayer was made without ceasing..." If we want to see the delivering hand of God move on our behalf, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings. This event would repeat itself in Acts 16:25-26 when Paul and Silas, in the depths of the prison, had their own prayer meeting.
Acts 13:1-3 tells us that the Lord desired to appoint Missionaries and called Barnabas and Saul to the work. They were anointed in a prayer meeting. Verse 3 says, "when they had fasted and prayed...they sent them." If we want to see anointed Missionaries sent out into the darkness of the present age, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 14:19-23 tells us that Elders were ordained in every church in the atmosphere of a prayer meeting. Verse 23 says, "and had prayed with fasting..." If we want the blessing of God-ordained and anointed Pastors, Bishops and Elders, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 16:16-18 tells us that a demon possessed woman was delivered from her affliction when prayer was made by Paul on his way to a prayer meeting. Verse 16 says, "as we went to prayer..." If we want to see demon possessed people delivered, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.
Acts 20:36-38 tells us that Paul was embarking on a journey and was in need of the guidance of the Spirit, he was strengthened by a prayer meeting. Verse 36 says, "he kneeled down and prayed with them all." If we desire the direction of the Lord in our lives and ministries, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings. This event would repeat itself in Acts 21:5.
Perhaps, if these manifestation are missing from our lives, the restoration can be found in a sincere return to that which preceded, followed and entirely encapsulated the move of the Spirit in the Book of Acts: A DEVOTION TO CORPORATE PRAYER. Certainly we are encouraged to pray individually. Corporate prayer - prayer meetings - will never take the place of a personal, private prayer life. One does not supplant the other. Both must be present in the life of a Christian and in a healthy Church environment.
So, why don't we commit completely to prayer meeting? D.A. Carson in his "A Call To Spiritual Reformation" gave six obstacles to corporate prayer:
1. I am too busy to pray.
2. I feel too spiritually dry to pray.
3. I feel no need to pray.
4. I am too bitter to pray.
5. I am too ashamed to pray.
6. I am content with mediocrity.
The cure for all six is, clearly, prayer. It's a matter of the heart. Why doesn't a Church join together in prayer meetings? They don't want to. Plain and simple. It is a manifestation of a "heart condition" in the Body. The heart of the Church has turned away from the fundamental principle of Divine fellowship - communication with their Lord, Saviour and Creator in prayer. People will never spontaneously become faithful to prayer meetings. It takes both corporate and individual commitment and desire. Let us return to and recapture the power of prayer meetings. They're not "just" anything; they're just everything.