Last night, we had a sweet time of singing God’s praises and praying together as a church—prior to eating a meal. We do this once a month at New Covenant. This gathering serves as a monthly prayer meeting. The other times of prayer in the life of our church occur in our morning worship service and during our weekly/bi-weekly small groups. Most of the time, our monthly prayer meeting is fairly well attended. I suspect that it is, at least in part, due to the fact that we have a meal. However, it is a sad reality of the church in the Western world that the prayer meeting is “the least attended church gathering.” I have experienced this sad reality firsthand as a member of a church of 1000+ where eight to 10 people would show up for the weekly prayer meeting. It didn’t take me long to realize that prayerlessness is one of the foremost sins and symptoms of an anemic church. I fight against this sin in my own heart and life. The end result of a prayerless church is that it inevitably becomes a powerless church.
God has ordered things in His church in such a way that prayer is one of the foremost means by which He gives His people spiritual power and vitality for the advancement of His Kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel and the carrying out of deeds of love and mercy. So why does the church in the Western world fail so miserably at coming to the throne of grace in order to receive the grace and mercy needed on a daily and weekly basis (Heb. 4:16)? I would offer the following four reasons:
- The Church in the Western World Is Far Too Rich. Just as is true in marriage, money can mask deficiencies and defects in the church. If the money wasn’t there, we would see just what things really look like. Having enough money and resources can keep churches and ministries going for a very long time. Being able to build big enough buildings, staffing well-enough and paying a man who can preach skillfully enough can subtly send the message that everything is healthy. One of the most dangerous places to be as the church is in a place of material prosperity. It is not sin for a church to have large buildings, a robust staff and a gifted pastor(s)—but it is laden with dangers. If this is true of the church in the Western world, then we need to emphasize just how important a prayer meeting is for the life of the particular local church of which we are a part.
- The Church in the Western World Is Far Too Ambitious. Prayer is, in one very real sense, a pulling away from the busyness of life and bowing before God the Father and at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the cessation of work and the entering into the presence of the living and true God in order to call on Him to “work for us” (Isaiah 64:4). Our culture is one of relentless production. Many of the churches in our culture are fueled by the quest for more. The end result of such a culture is that the church is infected with a restlessness. Another outreach event, another music production and another special service or service project takes the driver’s seat while we kick the prayer meeting out of the car. We need to put the prayer meeting in the passenger’s seat directly beside the worship service.
- The Church in the Western World Is Far Too Frenetic. Arguably, we live in the most active time in human history. When there are hundreds of events happening simultaneously, professing believers often give in to the social pressure of being at the next social event in their community rather than being with the people of God in worship and prayer. The prayer meeting is a glorious corrective to the frenetic culture around us. The prayer meeting helps quiet our minds as we direct our thoughts and prayers up to the God of heaven. After all, He has promised to keep at perfect peace those who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 26:3).
- The Church in the Western World Is Far Too Earthly-Minded. The allure of the frenetic culture is often driven by the fact that the members of the church in the Western world are often far too earthly-minded. There is a serious lack of heavenly-mindedness in our lives. Those who are heavenly-minded long to be with the people of God as they gather to be in the presence of God. They recognize that this world is passing away and that the events of the culture around them are meaningless in comparison with the eternal significance of worshiping and praying to the eternal God who is our everlasting home. They are pressing onto Zion with songs and prayers accompanying their pilgrimage. As the saying goes, we need to become so heavenly-minded that we’re finally of some earthly good. Heavenly-mindedness is fostered and manifests itself, first and foremost, in worship and at the prayer meeting.
There is much more that could be said about this subject, but I would simply raise an appeal to those who read this: Don’t neglect the prayer meeting. Make it a point to recognize that we have the enormous privilege and responsibility of coming together as the people of God to call on the God of all grace for the power we lack to participate with Him in seeing His Kingdom advance through the ministry of the word, prayer and worship. We have a God in heaven who has given us the unparalleled privilege of “casting all of our cares on Him” knowing that “He cares for us.” May He give His church—especially in the Western world—the grace to enter in on this most precious means of grace for His glory, our fruitfulness and the advancement of His Kingdom.