Hints on the Prayer Meeting
Pray for the prayer meeting, and go to it, and go in time, and if possible go and stay till the end. Go to pray, and then you will not begin when it is time to close. Withstand tiredness and listlessness. The present priestly grace of Christ can lift us above every depressing influence.
If you lead in prayer, pray aloud. If you want to send the meeting to sleep, whisper and mumble, or pray with your hand over your mouth, or your face buried in your hands. Such praying is unrighteous, because it may raise the flesh in another straining to hear; or if it does not give him a bad conscience, it may give him a bad head. “Follow righteousness” even when praying, and let all your things be done with love.
Pray briefly. Consider the young and the weak. Think, too, how cruel it is to weary people already wearied with a hard day’s work, by rambling from Dan to Beersheba and back again. Said one brother to another, “You prayed me into a holy frame of mind, and then prayed me out of it again.” The longest audible prayer in the New Testament is the sublime address of the Lord to the Father in John 17. It probably occupied about five minutes.
However imperfectly a brother’s words may express his desires, try and understand what that brother means—the Lord always does (Rom. 8: 26, 27). Avoid all criticism. If I have a critical spirit while another is praying, my spirit is out of touch with God. Refrain from all theological prayers. If we pray to show off our knowledge, we do not pray to God. How can I pray thus if I feel that I am speaking to Him? Keep your eyes closed when another is praying, but keep awake. Keep your eyes open after the meeting. Get on the watch tower (Hab. 2: 1). Let us “watch unto prayer,” lest we miss God’s answer. He always answers in some way.
Be cautious about the hymn book. A hymn may help, but often has it hindered the flow of prayer. Nevertheless, do not get restless if one is given out at an inopportune moment, or the flesh may become more active in you than it is in the brother who has grieved you. “Rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for him”, (Ps. 37: 7). He will come in and set things right again.
When praying avoid voicing grievances, or saying that which may grieve someone, or give him the feeling that you are praying at him. To pray at people is very wicked. It is not only cowardly, but rank hypocrisy, for we pretend we are praying to God, whereas we are preaching at man.
Be slow to bring individual matters into the prayer meeting unless they affect all. Let the collective exercises and joys, and sorrows and needs, of the assembly and the gospel fill our public prayers, and let us, unless under exceptional circumstances, leave personal, family and business cares for our private prayers. When the meeting is over, as you would refrain from poison, so refrain from gossip, scandal and empty talk. Such conversation robs us of all the good we have got. Let us talk about what we have been praying about.
Remember that the prayer meeting is the pulse of the assembly, and hence be concerned about its state and fluctuations. A ratio of fifty saints at the Lord’s day morning meeting with orthodoxy at blood-heat, and ten at the prayer meeting with prayer at zero, surely indicates something wrong with the constitution and vitality of the assembly!
Crisis in the Prayer Meeting
I am convinced of the urgent need for a thorough awakening in regard to the question of collective prayer. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that deadness, coldness, and barrenness characterise our prayer–meetings. No doubt here and there will be found a pleasing exception, but generally speaking, I do not believe that any sober, spiritual person will dispute the truth of what I state, namely that the tone of our prayer meetings is fearfully low. It is thus imperative that saints everywhere enquire as to why this is so. With this in mind I present to you three vital issues that I believe must be addressed if there is to be any power in our collective petitions to God.
First Matthew 18: 19: “if two of you shall agree on the earth concerning any matter, whatsoever it may be that they shall ask, it shall come to them from my Father who is in [the] heavens.” We learn here that one necessary condition of our prayers is unanimity—thorough oneness of mind. The true force of these words is: “If two of you shall symphonize”—make one common sound. There must be no jarring note, no discord. If, for example, saints come together to pray for the Gospel it will not do for each to have some special thought of his own to carry out. We must make one common sound before God. Only then, when there is this harmony of mind and spirit can this promise of answered prayer be claimed.
Now this is a point of great importance in relation to the tone and character of our prayer meetings. Is not the objectless character of many of these occasions to be deplored? Should we not come together more with some definite object on our hearts as to which we are going to wait together upon God? In Acts 1: 14 “These gave themselves all with one accord to continual prayer.” They were thoroughly agreed. Now is there not a sad lack of this “one accord” in our midst? True we are not, like them, waiting for the Spirit to come—He has come—yet we must seek the display of His power in our midst! Suppose our lot is cast in a place where spiritual death and darkness reign. Such a thing as a conversion is never heard of. A withering formalism has settled down upon the place. Powerless profession, dead routine, mechanical religiousness are the order of the day. What is to be done? Are we to allow ourselves to yield to the paralysing influence of the surrounding atmosphere? Should we fold our arms in indifference? Give up in despair? Give vent to complaining, murmuring or irritation? No! Even if there are only two who really feel the state of things, let them get together with one accord and pour out their hearts to God. Let them get down on their knees and pour out their hearts as the heart of one man, until God sends a shower of blessing upon the barren spot. Of course we must beware of mere “excitement”, but it is equally true that we must beware of coldness and apathy! Of course human effort cannot bring blessing, so all the more reason for calling upon God! The simple fact is there is no excuse as long as Matthew 18: 19 is in our Bibles, for deadness and indifference. If we wait upon God in holy concord, blessing is sure to come.
A second essential condition for effectual prayer is found in Matthew 21: 22: “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” What a marvellous statement! It opens the very treasury of heaven to faith: there is absolutely no limit. The Lord assures us that we shall receive whatsoever we ask for in faith.
James gives a similar assurance in regard to asking for wisdom: “But if any one of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all freely and reproaches not, and it shall be given to him: but let him ask in faith, nothing doubting. For he that doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed about; for let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord”, (James 1: 5–7).
Both these passages teach that if our prayers are to have an answer, they must be prayers of faith. It is one thing to utter words in the form of a prayer, quite another to pray in simple faith, in the settled assurance that what is asked for will be received. It is to be feared that many of our so–called prayers never go beyond the ceiling of the room! In order to reach the throne of God they must be borne on the wings of faith, and proceed from hearts united together to wait on the Lord for things we really require.
Finally turn to Luke 11: 5–10 "And he said to them, Who among you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight and say to him, Friend, let me have three loaves, since a friend of mine on a journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him; and he within answering should say, Do not disturb me; the door is already shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise up to give [it] thee?—I say to you, Although he will not get up and give [them] to him because he is his friend, because of his shamelessness, at any rate, he will rise and give him as many as he wants. And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it will be opened.”
These words are significant in that they contain part of the Lord’s reply to the disciples’ request, “teach us to pray.” Firstly they teach us to be definite in prayer: “Friend, let me have three loaves.” There is a positive need felt and expressed; there is one thing on his heart, and to that he confines himself. It is distinct, direct and pointed—I want three loaves! The case is urgent: the time of night, all the circumstances give definiteness and earnestness to the appeal. By contrast is it not apparent that many prayer meetings suffer badly from long, rambling prayers? Some seem to think it necessary to make one long prayer about all sorts of things—many of them right and good no doubt—but the mind gets bewildered by the multiplicity of subjects. It would impart great freshness and reality to our prayer meetings were we to attend with something definite on our hearts, as to which we could invite the fellowship of our brethren. The rule of scripture is for prayers to be short, (Matt. 6; John 17, Acts 4: 24–30, Eph. 1: 3). Indeed, long prayers are referred to in Mark 12: 40 with withering disapproval. Brief, fervent prayers impart freshness and interest to the occasion; on the other hand, as a general rule, long and desultory prayers exert a most depressing influence on all.
The other important moral condition set forth here is persistence: the man succeeds in gaining what he wants because of his refusal to be put off. Now the question is how far do you and I understand this lesson? Of course, it is not that God will ever say to us “Do not disturb me”, but still he does encourage importunity, earnest entreaty, and we need to ponder his teaching. It is sadly lacking in many prayer meetings. Indeed, it will be found that in proportion to the lack of definiteness is the lack of importunity. Where the thing sought is as definite as these loaves, there will be the firm purpose to get it. (See Gen. 18: 23–33; 32: 26; Matt. 15: 21–28; Luke 18: 39).
The fact is we are too vague, and as a consequence, too indifferent in our prayer meetings. We do not seem like people asking for what they want and waiting for what they ask. This is what destroys prayer meetings, rendering them pith-less, pointless, powerless; turning them into teaching or talking meetings. How often are our prayers more like orations than petitions—more like statements of doctrine than utterances of need! It seems, at times as though we need to explain principles to God, and give Him a large amount of information! These are the things which cast a withering influence over our prayer meetings, robbing them of their freshness and value. Those who really know the value of prayer attend the prayer meeting in order to pray—not to hear orations, lectures and expositions! To them, it is the place of expressed need and expected blessing. They are not, therefore, disposed to listen to long preaching prayers! Very often what is called prayer is not prayer at all, but the fluent utterance of certain known truths and principles, to which one has listened so often that the reiteration becomes tiresome in the extreme. What can be more painful than to hear a man on his knees explaining principles and doctrines? The question needs asking: Is he speaking to God, or to us? If to us, then it is not prayer at all—so why call it so? If to God, then is anything more irreverent or profane than to explain things to Him?
Brethren in Christ these are searching questions! Let us not drift on in complacent apathy, but be alerted to the seriousness of these issues! Let us ensure our prayers are offered in the spirit of true unanimity. Let us ensure that real faith accompanies our words. Let us ensure that our desire is heartfelt and earnest. Above all, let our prayers be real!