‘Men ought always to pray and not to faint’, Luke 18. 1
‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ Matt. 26. 40
‘What, could ye not watch with me one hour?’ Matt. 26. 40
Getting started in relation to prayer
The Lord Jesus Christ was a man of prayer, see Mark 1. 35, ‘a great while before day’, Luke 6. 12, ‘all night’. If there were no other references, examples or encouragements about prayer, this fact alone should make us men and women of prayer also.
The life of prayer does not appeal to the flesh. It does not receive the applause of the crowds. It is not written up in magazines. Its blessings and power are only known by the prayer warrior – and sometimes by those who have been prayed for.
Prayer is a vital part of an assembly. May I repeat this for emphasis? The prayer meeting is not merely a good suggestion – it is vital. No assembly can survive without prayer. It may carry on an impressive schedule of meetings and activities. It may be organized. It may even attract crowds of people. But it will lack spiritual power and purpose for God if there is no real prayer meeting.
The prayer meeting is as essential as the exposition of Scripture, fellowship with one another, worship and remembrance and the preaching of the gospel. Our Lord taught about prayer. It was the practice of the early church and apostles. Without a doubt prayer is the powerhouse of the assembly.
Among the many things the Lord taught about prayer was that it was an antidote to fainting or giving up, Luke 18. 1. He taught that persistence in prayer would be rewarded speedily, Luke 18. 8.
The disciples demonstrate our own lethargy in the matter when they in their sleepiness neglected to use it and at such a critical time when vigilant prayer was needed. We can sense the Lord’s disappointment in their lethargy. Does our prayer life disappoint Him? Can we not give Him one hour in the week?
The first meeting of the church was a prayer meeting
‘These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren’, Acts 1. 14.
This little band of disciples formed the nucleus of the early church. There is no record of the Lord asking them to meet for prayer. His prior teaching on the subject evidently got through to them and they prayed.
We notice in this prayer meeting they were in ‘one accord’. This is a beautiful expression of harmony among the early believers and no doubt was partly the basis of blessing in those early days. This reminds us of Psalm 133. 1, 3, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! … for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore’. It is difficult to be at odds with one another when we come together for prayer.
The early converts understood the importance of prayer
‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’ Acts 2. 42. The prayer meetings were steadfast, not intermittent or occasional. This example is not purely some interesting history. It is a divine revelation to us. Our prayer meetings – and my personal attendance – should be steadfast as well.
They met to pray in times of crisis
‘Peter, therefore, was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him’, Acts 12. 5.
The happy conclusion of this episode was Peter’s miraculous release. We smile at the disciples’ immediate disbelief in the answer to their own prayer. We too perhaps are not enthusiastic about the assembly prayer meeting because deep down we too do not even think the Lord will answer the prayer in the first place.
But we must give credit where credit is due. We cannot fault their immediate resort to prayer in time of crisis. Peter was in a lifethreatening situation. Herod had already killed James. He was now going after Peter. The believers were powerless, humanly speaking, to do anything; but they prayed. They prayed without ceasing.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, ‘Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds, that in this I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak’, Eph. 6. 18-20. Or consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians, ‘Ye also helping together by prayer for us’, 2 Cor. 1. 11. Incidentally, did you notice how in Peter’s case the church’s prayer was for the release of Peter? In Paul’s case the church’s prayer was for boldness in the gospel in prison.
If we could come to our prayer meetings with this kind of burden, for those in the front lines of gospel witness and the attendant dangers, perhaps, we would be more faithful and interested in the prayer meeting.
They prayed when missionaries were sent out
‘And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away’, Acts 13. 3.
The sending of a worker to special full time service is an act of the Holy Spirit together with the believers with whom the candidate is already serving, Acts 13. 2. Intelligent prayer and spiritual exercise was essential in this important step. What tremendous encouragement and confidence Barnabas and Saul must have had in knowing their fellow believers through prayer were assured of the Lord’s calling for them. Too often today missionaries are sent out without that kind of fellowship in prayer. A casual interest in another’s calling, without personal or collective exercise in prayer too often prevails. It should not surprise us then that unsuitable candidates sometimes are commended and suitable candidates go out with little sense of local fellowship and interest. Is God’s call to special service ever raised as an issue before God at your prayer meeting?
They were encouraged to pray for the spread of the gospel
‘Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak’, Col. 4. 2-4.
Paul’s plea to the Colossian believers was that they might pray that God would open doors in the work of the gospel. We cannot underestimate the value of our partnership with one another in the spread of the gospel. The prayer was not only that doors would open, but also when they did open, that Paul himself would seize that opportunity for the Lord. A similar appeal to the Ephesians asks for boldness. What is our prayer meeting like for gospel work? We all have a vital role to pray for the spread of the gospel and prayer is a major part in this.
Comparing the prayer requests in Ephesians and Colossians with Romans chapter 15 verses 30 and 31 shows a similar call by the apostle for help in his ministry among believers. Those who preach the gospel and serve in other kinds of gospel work need our prayers. Those who teach the saints need our prayers too.
They prayed for other assemblies
‘And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you’, 2 Cor. 9. 14.
Both the Macedonians and Corinthians were providing financial aid to poorer believers elsewhere. These recipients of this kindness prayed for their generous helpers.
Has your assembly prayer meeting ever prayed for the spiritual growth of another assembly? Sadly, we are quick to be informed of the spiritual lack of another assembly, maybe feeding on half-truths, but do we earnestly seek the spiritual welfare of the other assembly? These believers in Paul’s day, while materially poor, were remarkably rich spiritually in their prayer life.
Examples of Paul’s prayer life
He prayed for practical sanctification of believers,
‘And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, 1 Thess. 5. 23.
How eager Paul was that doctrine and duty be aligned in the believers’ lives. Talk is one thing, but it must be displayed by the practical walk. Here the apostle gives us something vital to pray for – ‘blamelessness in spirit, soul and body.’ The Lord’s return was a powerful force in purging the believer’s life from sin. Here the apostle connects a blameless life and the coming of the Lord. There will only be one moment of time when the Lord returns. What if we were found sinning at that very moment? God forbid! This experienced man of God prayed for preservation.
Notice how thorough he is – ‘whole spirit, soul and body’. Are there sins of the spirit, the soul, and the body? At different ages and stages of life we are susceptible to various kinds of sin. In this life we are never at the place of sinless perfection. None of us, young or old, is beyond grieving our Lord. Watchfulness and prayer are necessary for all. If this prayer were prayed at the assembly prayer meetings, what a difference it would make among us as the people of God.
Space prohibits examining all the prayers of the apostle. There are, of course, many scattered through his epistles and worthy of our study and emulation.
Prayer meeting attendance – a worldwide problem
In a recent newsletter from a missionary in central Africa I read of his concern over poor attendance at the assembly mid-week prayer meeting. Assemblies in western countries are no different. While many cannot attend the mid-week prayer meeting for legitimate reasons, there are many others who have no legitimate reason not to attend, and yet are absent. If we applied the same standards of commitment to the prayer meeting as we do to our business, career, education, entertainment or social engagements, our prayer meetings would be much fuller. Sadly we don’t and they aren’t.
But there is great power with God even though only a few gather for prayer. Many numbers alone at a prayer meeting will not accomplish much for God. Be it only the few who gather, yet believing that God answers prayer, that have an intelligent appreciation of prayer, that are faithful in prayer, they will accomplish great things. They will be the real powerhouse of the assembly.
A final plea
What about you business people? Can your day be scheduled to allow plenty of time to be at the prayer meeting? Busy students, can you organize your workload to be sure to have time for the prayer meeting? Senior citizens, can you get some rest during your day, so you can be there to pray? Will you be at the prayer meeting this week?
AT THE PRAYER MEETING
There were only two or three of us
Who came to the place of prayer;
Came in the teeth of a driving storm;
But for that we did not care,
Since after our hymns of praise had risen,
And our earnest prayers were said,
The Master Himself was present there
And gave us the living bread.
We knew His look in speaker’s face,
So rapt and glad and free;
We felt His touch when our heads we bowed,
We heard His ‘Come to Me!’
Nobody saw Him lift the latch,
And none unbarred the door;
But peace was His token to every heart,
And how could we ask for more?
It was only a handful gathered in
To the little place of prayer,
Outside was struggle and pain and sin,
But the Lord Himself was there;
He came to redeem the pledge He gave
Wherever His loved ones be,
To stand Himself in the midst of them,
Though they count but two or three.
And forth we turned into the bitter rain.
Yet our hearts had grown so warm,
It seemed like the pelting of summer flowers
And not the crash of a storm;
‘Twas a time of the dearest privilege
At the Lord’s right hand’, we said,
And we thought how Jesus Himself had come
To feed us the Living Bread.
Margaret E. Sangster