Prayer has always been made to God by His people. Acts chapter 2 verse 42 tells us that those who received His word were baptized, and ‘continued steadfastly … in prayers’. In the ten-day period between the Lord’s ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples (about 120 of them) met together to pray in an upper room, Acts 1. 14. Prayers were one of the principal practices of the early church so that when a member of the fellowship was imprisoned, he would know the church would be praying for him, Acts 12. 5, 12.
In Acts chapter 4 verses 24-31, the apostles Peter and John were ‘commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus’, v. 18. They went back and reported ‘all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them’, v. 23. The group went to God in prayer. They didn’t pray that the persecution would stop, but began their prayer by saying, ‘Lord, thou art God’, v. 24. The disciples recognized God’s sovereignty, vv. 24, 28, and praised Him first of all as the Creator of all things. They accepted that nothing happens without His knowledge, and that He can use all circumstances for His purposes and glory. Today, when the assembly comes together to pray, we should adopt the same approach, always remembering that God is sovereign.
The glory of God, not the needs of men, should always be the highest aim in assembly prayers. Requests made in accordance with God’s will can be certain of receiving answers to them. We discern God’s will through the scriptures, and should ask accordingly. True prayer is not telling God what to do, but asking God to do His will in us, and through us, 1 John 5. 14-15. The early disciples recognized that they would face opposition, and they petitioned the Lord to give them boldness to speak His word.
In Acts chapter 12 verses 2-17, Peter had been put in prison by Herod the king after ‘he killed James the brother of John with the sword’, v. 2. The assembly prayed without ceasing, v. 5, for Peter, even to the extent of having an all-night prayer meeting. God answered their prayers, and the proof was seen in Peter standing at the door of the house where they had gathered. One of their number, Rhoda, recognized Peter’s voice, and was so excited that she ran to tell the others, but they said she was mad. When eventually they did open the door ‘and saw him, they were astonished’, v. 16.
We must face the fact that even in the most fervent assembly prayer meetings there is sometimes a spirit of doubt and unbelief. These Jerusalem saints believed that God could answer their prayers, so they kept at it night and day. But, when the answer came right to their door, they refused to believe it. Have we ever prayed but without really expecting anything to happen? No doubt many times!
The Lord Jesus gave a pattern to the disciples when they asked Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray’, Luke 11. 1, and it would be good to follow this basic pattern. However, it would be wrong to lay down any ‘rules’, other than that our prayers must be reverent, should commence with praise and thanksgiving to ‘God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’, Eph. 5. 20, and be led by the Spirit of God. We should rise above simply presenting a list of requests to God.
At the assembly prayer meeting, prayer is to be offered for all people, especially for those that are in authority, 1 Tim. 2. 1-2. Prayer for a leading official, a Prime Minister, or a President, is, of itself, of no more importance than that of any other citizen, but the welfare of thousands may depend on him/her, and hence those in authority should be made a special subject of prayer. We may find it difficult to pray for those who are godless, and enemies of the cross of Christ, but we should remember that they are still people for whom Christ has died. Men may spurn our appeal, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers!
Of course, we should also remember our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are having a ‘tough’ time due to employment difficulties, family concerns, failing health, etc. We should pray that even in (or because of) such circumstances their spiritual life will be enhanced by the afflictions they are experiencing. If the difficulties they have cause them to turn more and more to God, then those trials become a blessing.
Paul prayed for people he had never met, and for others who he did not expect to see again. He prayed that they might have a greater appreciation of the love of Christ, to know more of the certain hope that God had given to them, and to experience the greatness of His power. Such positive prayer should be included for all the saints in the assembly prayer time, so that spiritually the assembly, as well as individuals, might grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. It is so easy to limit our prayers to asking God to ease physical suffering.
One special item for assembly prayer is to support before the throne of grace those who are serving the Lord in a ‘full-time’ capacity in the home country, or overseas. Paul asked the Colossians to pray to God that He would open a door for him to preach the gospel, Col. 4. 3. It was a specific need then, and no doubt one that we could bring before the Lord today on behalf of missionaries and evangelists. The missionary expeditions of the book of Acts clearly show that it is God who opens the doors of opportunity. When the sphere of witness became enlarged, and men were called by the Holy Spirit to the work of preaching the gospel, the churches supported them by prayer ‘that the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified’, 2 Thess. 3. 1. As an assembly, we should think of one missionary we know and pray that Satan’s activities will be minimized, allowing the gospel to prosper in the country where that missionary is working.
‘With one accord’, Acts 1. 14; 4. 24. There were no schisms, no divided interests, and no discordant purposes. It doesn’t mean that all the people thought and felt the same way about everything, but it does mean that they set aside personal feelings, and committed themselves to beseech the throne of grace on behalf of others. There was among these believers a wonderful unity that bound them together in Christ, Ps. 133. 1-3; Gal. 3. 28. The people were of one heart and mind, and so should we be. This is one of the great benefits of the assembly prayer meeting! Division in the church always hinders prayer, and robs the church of spiritual power. Prayer promotes unity.
On a practical point, some fellowships have found it helpful to bring before the assembly a list of prayer requests and subjects, so that all present might concentrate on praying to the Lord ‘with one accord’ for the different issues presented.
Every Christian is vital to the functioning of their local church; we are all dependent upon each other, 1 Cor. 12. 26. If we choose not to be with the believers when they meet then we are depriving them as well as ourselves. We shouldn’t be absent when the believers are gathered for prayer. On occasions many would rather do anything than attend the assembly prayer meeting, but it is only when we wait before God in believing, fervent, and united prayer that the power of the Spirit of God is poured out. An elder in the Redcar Assembly once described it as ‘the powerhouse of the assembly’.
In the public gatherings of the assembly it is only the men who pray audibly, 1 Cor. 14. 34, 1 Tim. 2. 8, but this does not mean that the sisters are not to pray. Their silent prayers are every bit as important as the audible prayers of the men.
There is no age restriction. It is not just that the older men pray but ‘men’, that is males of all ages. Public prayer is not a gift, nor is it only for those who are ‘preachers’. If we are male, God expects we will take part in public prayer. It is not only for the few. Don’t even think about giving up. That’s what Satan wants. God says, ‘Continue in prayer’, Col. 4. 2, stick at it, persevere, and don’t ever stop.
Young men might be put off because they cannot pray as long as others, or quote many verses. The assembly prayer meeting is not about showing people how much of the Bible we know, it is about speaking to God. Other believers will be encouraged if they hear younger men praying, however short their prayers. Prayers that are made should be in language that is understood by all, so that all can add their ‘Amen’. It is not necessary to make long prayers, and there should be an intelligent exercise of the mind, 1 Cor. 14. 15.
The only requirement to be fulfilled for those who pray is that they need to have ‘holy hands’, 1 Tim. 2. 8. This is a metaphor for our conduct. If we have been involved in sin, and have not confessed it, then our hands are defiled, and our prayers will not be heard, Ps. 66. 18.
As the last word in a prayer, we would normally say ‘Amen’, and it means ‘may it be so’. When it is God that says it, Rev. 3. 1, it means ‘it shall be so’. Once, a common phrase to close a letter was ‘Your obedient servant’. That’s the attitude in which our prayers should close!
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