For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Demise of Corporate Prayer

The Faithful Few. The Dedicated Dozen. The Elite Eight. Whatever the size, and however you refer to them, the truth is that those who regularly and faithfully gather for prayer in the local church seems to dwindle year by year.
Of course, not every church. I know of a few places where those gathered for prayer are a constant, and sometimes even growing number. Sadly, in my experience, these are the exception.

And of course, that's assuming the church even still has a "prayer meeting." I know there isn't anything magical or even biblical necessarily about a "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," In some cases, it's just a tradition. But in doing away with tradition, many have done away with corporate prayer all together. Those that still meet midweek often are entertained with all sorts of programs for the kids, some helpful, some not. But where is the prayer?

It's sad that the average church of about 100 in attendance grabs only a fraction of those during stated times for prayer, again assuming such a time even exists. What's going on? Why are folks not interested? Are these meetings even necessary?

Charles Spurgeon once taught on the subject and outlined several biblical benefits of the corporate prayer meeting, based on the church in Acts. He reminds us that these times are good for encouraging the believers, for receiving divine power, strengthening during persecution, achieving the deliverance of individuals, empowering missions, among other things. He points out that this gathered prayer is where we find our true spiritual power as a church. He said:

"United prayer is useful inasmuch as God has promised extraordinary and peculiar blessings in connection with it, “Wherever two or -three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”…God asks agreement, and, once the saints agree, he pledges himself that the prayer of his agreeing ones shall be answered. Why, see what accumulated force there is in prayer, when one after another pours out his vehement desires; when many seem to be tugging at the rope; when many seem to be knocking mercy’s gate; when the mighty cries of many burning hearts come up to heaven. When, my beloved, you go and shake the very gates thereof with the powerful battering-ram of a holy vehemence, and a sacred importunity, then is it that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. When first one, and then another, and yet another, throws his whole soul into the prayer, the kingdom of heaven is conquered and the victory becomes great indeed."

He then made application to his own church in particular, saying: 

"The prayer-meeting is an institution which ought to be very precious to us, and to be cherished very much by us as a Church, for to it we owe everything. When our comparatively little chapel was all but empty, was it not a well-known fact that the prayer-meeting was always full? And when the Church increased, and the place was scarce large enough, it was the prayer meeting that did it all. When we went to Exeter Hall, we were a praying people, indeed; and when we entered on the larger speculation, as it seemed, of the Surrey Music-hall, what cries and tears went up to heaven for our success! And so it has been ever since. It is in the spirit of prayer that our strength lies; and if we lose this, the locks will be shorn from Samson, and the Church of God will become weak as water and though we, as Samson did, go and try to shake ourselves as at other times, we shall hear the cry, “The Philistines be upon thee,” and our eyes will be put out, and our glory will depart, unless we continue mighty and earnest in prayer."

How I would love to give that testimony, that our church is known as a place of prayer, that even when worship services may lag in attendance, the prayer meeting is full.  I do know that the opposite end of that is true, though.  Our lack of prayer is much to blame for our lack of power in the church today, and in extreme cases why the "glory has departed."

Is it that our churches are filled with unbelievers, who don't care about prayer?  Or are they filled with immature believers who have forgotten their need for prayer?  Or are they filled with over busy believers who forget that the busier they are, the more they require prayer?  Some combination?  I don't know. 

So what's the answer?  I wish I knew.  I know that only God can motivate His people to want to pray.  I can sure offer a lot of gimmicks and gadgets to get folks to come out, but unless they really want to come and pray, all we end up with is better attended entertainments, not true prayer.   So all I can do is...pray.  Pray and thank God for the faithful few.  Pray that He honors their faithful prayers on behalf of the church.  Pray that others are convicted of their need for prayer in general and their need for corporate prayer in particular.  Pray for God to send His Spirit to motivated and empower His church again.  We need revival in the land, and that will only come through prayer.

So I urge you.  Go to your church's prayer meeting.  If they don't have one, ask to start one.  If they have one in name but fill it with activities and stuff, humbly request to set aside time for prayer.  May God restore His Church to a place of prayer.  

Note: Spurgeon's message on Prayer Meetings is well worth your time to read. You can find a pdf copy here.


Gregg Metcalf said...

The main reason most prayer meetings have dwindled or gone by the wayside is due to the fact that God is no longer present in most of them. Most prayer meetings are a "Give Me" session where believers, no matter how sincere or well-meaning simply want peace, prosperity, possessions, and presents. Almost all (not every one I know) prayer meetings focus on the temporal and rarely if ever focus on the spiritual.

People have to be taught how to pray. It is no different than any other spiritual discipline. Also, the pew will pray no more (and much less) than the pulpit prays. Are the Pastors (Elders) leading the way? Are the people taught how to pray, what to pray for?

I stopped taking and praying for any "unspoken request" long ago. I try make God the focus of prayer in a prayer meeting. I assign a topic that is to be prayed for. Topics such as the attributes of God, the moving of God amongst His people, A cry for revival. We don't take many "temporal" requests any longer. If anyone is sick let him call the Elders. If anyone has a burden or problem send or assign a mature member to walk beside them, etc.

I am with you, I grieve over most prayer meetings, which really aren't a prayer meeting.

Start with one or two, pray God's presence, watch how He adds to it and it will grow. Remember, a seed doesn't sprout and produce a harvest until it first is put in the ground and dies. Kill the traditional "prayer meeting", get rid of the prayer request format and list and fall on your face and beg God to move among His people, to be honored, to send His Spirit. He will.

Eddie Eddings said...

Scott's post and Gregg's comment - power full!