Many prayer meetings in churches have grown cold. I fearfully believe that the root cause of this is that we have whittled down and limited our concerns to the health issues of the members and friends of members.
The health of people should not be marginalized. Health is a deep-rooted concern. God often uses the diminished health of people to draw them back unto Him. In the Scriptures, Jesus did heal. Often, His work of healing was to prove His divinity and authenticate His message. But prayer meeting should go way beyond the concern for such comfort. The need to pray amongst spiritual warfare is a prime example found in Ephesians chapter 6.
The church was told by our Lord that it would have power. To get that power, the church prayed earnestly. In the opening chapters of Acts, they held a ten-day prayer meeting. Imagine, ten days of corporate prayer. I would love to know exactly what that looked like. I wonder who prayed, did they huddle in groups, was there teaching, did they take breaks, was fasting involved, and many more inquires of what they prayed about?
As I write this blog, I am concerned mainly with the corporate prayer within our churches. My particular church has been hit very hard by the Covid 19 disruption. Typically, on Wednesday nights we would meet to pray at 6:30 PM. After announcements, and a short lesson from the Scriptures, we would take requests. After going over requests and the prayer sheet we would often huddle in groups of three to seven and pray, each taking turns. The beauty of God’s people huddled together in intercessory prayer is amazing. It is seeing God at work. The prayers of the saints are powerfully birthing an awareness of the glory of God. Unfortunately, such gathering is on hold for now.
When a church meets corporately for prayer, one aspect that we must take into consideration is that it is more important to pray for holiness than for happiness. That is what I am alluding to when I say we need to pray for more than just health. Health concerns in and of themselves are concerns for our happiness. They sympathetically work to relieve someone’s suffering. This is truly noble; however, we need to be reminded that suffering is God’s way of purging a person of selfishness, worldliness, and a reliance on their own strength. Suffering is the furnace of spiritual refinement. It is a classroom. Thus, when we pray for health concerns, pray first that the person endures and grows closer to Christ in their time of trials and temptation. Next, pray for their holiness, followed by health concerns.
To pray for holiness is to pray for two things directly. The first is holiness in the sense of being righteous, without sin. Pray for conviction by the Holy Spirit for repentance. Second, holiness also means to be separated unto God, for His good works. Pray for this. We are commanded to be holy for He is holy.
Then, in our prayer meetings, we need to pray to be people of praise, that is worship. Jesus spoke to the woman at the Samaritan well in John 4, noting that the Father is seeking worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. That is to say with heartfelt emotion that is guided by His standards and teaching. This is our calling, to worship Him, glorifying Him, and enjoying Him forever.
We need to pray about our practice, our letting our light shine that all the world may see our good works and be drawn unto Him. When we pray for practice, that means to pray about missions, the sharing of the gospel. We should pray for missionaries, at home and abroad, by country, city, and personal name. We should also pray that God would open our eyes and create opportunities for we ourselves to share the gospel. This very aspect should not be a casual request. We must earnestly seek to have hearts that love the building of God’s church and kingdom.
In that same regard, pray for workers of the harvest. For explicitly, Jesus commands that we pray for the workers of the harvest, for the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Therefore, we must also pray for hearts of faithfulness. The old hymn describes it well
Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart Lord take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.[i]
Pray that our affections for God would be greater than our desires for the world. Truly the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life are constant enemies to our sanctification. The puritans were very well known for praying for holiness in this regard. Corporate prayer meetings need a DNA of praying for such resolute surrender unto God, seeking His strength in our great weakness.
As we live in a world that is often shouting its philosophies for living, it would be very easy to be lazy and go with the flow. This is why we must also pray for wisdom. We are sheep among wolves. Jesus told his disciples that they are going out in the midst of wolves, therefore be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. We are no different.
We also need to pray that we are a people of love. Not just a love toward those who will love us back; “For even the gentiles do that.” But rather, pray that just as Christ loved us while we were yet enemies, we too would love our enemies, do good to them, and pray for them.
We need to pray for religious affections as Jonathan Edwards emphasized in his book by the same name. Pray that we would be increasing in our love for Christ. Salvation is not about a ticket to Heaven, but more about an ever-sanctifying love for Christ.
Pray that the church itself would be a people that operate as a group that loves. This will cover the need for harmony, unity, and perseverance. A church that loves is willing to get involved in the messy lives of individuals. A church that loves will speak gospel truth, practice church discipline, defend the faith, and will love lost people.
By definition, love is a verb. So pray that this love will begin in the heart and then bear fruit through action. A great place to start is loving each other and then loving the community.
As we pray about the religious affections, realize that our prayer may be weak and ineffectual because of our heart condition. It is a severe condemnation when Jesus looked over Jerusalem and announced, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Pray that truly our hearts would beat for Christ.
A second cause of ineffectual prayer maybe we emphasize the wrong things. We choose to be good at things that do not matter. I am reminded of Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian gets caught up in “Busy Work.” One saint once said that they feared becoming successful at the wrong goals. We must be seeking first the Kingdom of God and focus on a Christ centered life.
A third hindrance is simply sin. Our prayers ought to include prayers of repentance. In repentance, we pray for God to change us that we despise sin and cling to Him. We want to hate what He hates and love what He loves. We pray not just that we are sorry, but that He would so change our desires that the draw of sin is taken away and replaced with a longing for Jesus. We pray like David, “Search me and try me and reveal any wicked way.”
We simply sin because we fail to take God at His word and try to live on our own abilities. This has been the way since the fall. Oh that the Spirit would move to bring repentance of the assuredness of our own flesh. May we truly abide in Him, longing for true fruit.
One last category of that which hampers our prayers is that of asking wrongly. We are told that we ask with the wrong motives, that we may have requests granted to satisfy our flesh. Another way of saying this is that our focus is on joy from a source other than Christ. This circles back to our attitude about God.
So, in our prayer meetings, we must seek first the Kingdom of God. That is that we hold fast to His ways and His person.
Would you join me in seeking that God would transform our church prayer meetings? It is my hope that the emphasis becomes more on Christ and our obedient abiding in Him rather than on comforts that are fleeting.
[i] “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a Christian hymn written by the 18th century pastor and hymnodist Robert Robinson who penned the words in the year 1758 at the age of 22. As per Wikipedia.