Here is a little gem of a topic, to get you thinking! The arguments in this article arise from decades of observing what happens in churches today, and from scripture itself. See what you think.
How’s about a little honesty? Hands up, all those Believers who think that the mid-week prayer meeting is the most boring meeting they ever attend! Hands up, too, if you make all sorts of excuses for not going, and later feel guilty because you don’t attend! Then join the queue, for thousands feel the same way, but are too afraid to say so! (Peculiarly, this argument applies even if you think prayer meetings are exciting).
You have probably been told – as I was when I became a Christian – that the “prayer meeting is the very core of local church life”, or, “without a lively prayer meeting, a church is spiritually dead”. Or, something along those lines. Yes? Let me throw a bomb into these claims by saying:
(a) I gave up attending these ‘vital’ meetings many years ago
(b) Prayer meetings, as we know them today, are not found in scripture
Before you emit gasps of horror and consign me to the ‘heretic’ bin, let me show you why I say these things. For over twenty years I dutifully attended prayer meetings. Most times I came away more depressed than uplifted, as I listened to those fluent ‘prayer-warriors’ who could pray birds down from the trees!
By contrast, I could hardly ever think of anything to say, and when I did say something, it was often halting and feeble when put against the words of the ‘warriors’. And if there was one of those terrifying ‘circular-prayers’ going on, where each person prayed in turn, inevitably I would be one of the very last ones to pray, and by that time everyone else had said it all! Come now, friends… does all this ring true in your experience? Of course it does! Be honest.
Then, something changed. A bit of truth entered my head and I admitted that what I was doing did not, somehow, tie-in with what I read in scripture. I started to examine what the Bible says about prayer and the results were eye-opening. Let me summarize what was discovered:
It seemed odd to me that the most ‘vital’ meeting of all was the one that was the least attended! Not only that, but the problem appeared to be widespread. Now, if a doctor is faced with the same symptoms in different people over a wide area, he will naturally and quickly try to find out what is going on. He will instigate research or inform the proper authorities, because the disease had assumed epidemic proportion. The cause will, hopefully, be found and rooted out, and the disease can be controlled or even eradicated. So – why doesn’t that happen in our churches?
Strangely, this common, widespread ‘disease’ is not dealt with. Instead, few churches face it and it is rarely brought into the open. After all, to admit that your prayer-meeting is badly attended, consistently, is to admit there is something radically wrong with the members/pastor. Or, is that true? No, it is not necessarily so…
In the Bible, which should be the source and check-list for all our actions and beliefs, we do not find prayer meetings! That’s right: no prayer meetings. Ah! you may shout – what about this or that instance, when the apostles met and prayed together? With much respect I would ask you to read those texts again, for they do not speak of ‘prayer meetings’ as we know them today. Rather, they speak of special, impromptu gatherings of people with a like mind. That is, God prompted each one of them to meet for a specific purpose at the same time.
Something urgent and important was going on and the people concerned all had the overwhelming, God-led desire to deal with it, by going direct to their Lord in prayer. Not weekly, but as and when needed. Now, that is not what happened in any prayer meeting I have ever attended! And I doubt very much if many of you have experienced such a dynamic and powerful thing, either! (What many call ‘dynamic’ is really emotionalism). Am I saying that the modern prayer meeting is useless? Yes! (I do not speak of true prayer, here, only of false prayer during fabricated ‘prayer meetings’. Sorry to be so blunt).
Look at prayer meetings: Firstly, they are duly slotted into the regular weekly routine – and that is the biggest mistake because it schedules God to suit an human calendar of events. Prayer is meant to be impromptu and offered at any time. Secondly, at these prayer meetings, the ‘prayer warriors’ always take pride of place. But, are they all prayer-warriors, or are some just people with golden tongues who love to speak in public? The question is tough but necessary. Thirdly, these prayers are either very broad or very personal: the first is useless and the second is not for public ears. Indeed, Christ instructed us to pray in private – the biggest reason to cancel all scheduled prayer meetings (except for those following the New Testament pattern).
When the apostles and others prayed together, they prayed with one accord about a single urgent matter. Once said, the prayer ‘meeting’ was over! We are not told there were regular meetings. To have regular meetings is to say that we can all pray to order, without God’s prompting. Some men love to organize everybody else, hence the regular meetings (of any kind); and if somebody does not attend, they must be at fault – maybe even backsliders!
Could it be, simply, that people instinctively realize something is amiss, and that is why they do not attend prayer meetings? Could these meetings be a product of ‘tradition’ rather than of real Holy Spirit activity? I know this article will touch on many honest doubts; now is the time to face them. If, however, you feel uncomfortable or even angry – then ask yourself why. Remember – I am talking about regular weekly prayer meetings and NOT those very rare meetings that agree with scriptural examples. Does our church hold prayer meetings? No. But, we do pray together when a situation arises that needs it.
(For a longer detailed biblical analysis and argument see Article A/01 ‘Prayer Meetings’, on my website. This does not cover prayer itself).