Since I am sharing my views on hearing God’s voice in the church, I thought today I would focus on my favorite topic: the prayer meeting. It is here where I have experienced the greatest closeness to God in a corporate setting. But unfortunately, some prayer meetings have also brought my greatest frustrations with the church.
Why? Some prayer times are truly a fulfillment of the passage, ‘where two or more are gathered in My name there I will be.’ As the people humble themselves and share from their hearts, His presence consumes the room and lives are changed. This is the kind of prayer meeting that is powerful and effective. People are eager to participate. There is never any need to beg church members to attend. His presence is so contagious, His people are drawn in.Excellent! Does this describe your church prayer meeting?
If not, maybe your meetings are more like this. Only a few show up, the faithful few who just know it is important to pray. Occasionally someone else comes when life has him or her so defeated they don’t know where else to turn. The meeting starts with a short Bible study that normally consumes at least half of the allotted hour. Next, prayer requests are discussed which consumes the other half of the hour. This is often where the prayer meeting begins to sound more like a medical convention or it can become dangerously close to being a gossip fest.
Suddenly the leader announces, “Time is up. Who would like to pray these requests back to God?” The closing prayer usually consists of a repeat of the list plus the prayer’s take on how best God should answer. Amen, whew, it’s over for another week and out everyone runs.
Maybe your meetings aren’t exactly as I just described. Maybe you do spend more time praying than you spend talking about the requests. Maybe the people are sincere in their concerns. But an evaluation of the meeting shows that it was a corporate meeting of individual prayers. A room of people taking turns and praying exactly as they would if they were home alone. In these meetings it is impossible to stay focused as a group when each person can take his or her own soapbox for a ride.
It is unfair to expect believers to know how to pray corporately if they have not been taught. Most new believers have only seen modeled the ‘zipper-prayer’: opening and closing a meeting in prayer format. These are short, one person uttering the ‘bless us Lord’ prayers. The average prayers in church are never long enough or sincere enough to ensure an encounter with God. People need to be taught how to pray individually. But people need to know that there is also a way to pray corporately.
The goal of a prayer meeting is to be with God. That’s it. It is not to speak our minds and then go home. The prayer meeting is more about what God says than what we say. Therefore it is imperative that believers know what is required of God in order for Him to be with us in the prayer meeting.
1. We need to come with hearts eager and hungry for Him. No other focus will draw His presence. Two ways this is taught. Everyone brings his or her Bible expecting God to speak through His word. Also, no one wears a watch. A heart that has come to meet with God does not confine The God of the Universe to man’s schedule.
2. Our hearts need to be humble and repentant before Him. Sin hinders our prayers. People need to come prepared and time must be given for the Spirit to search and cleanse hearts.
3. We need to be united in our focus. This is the most overlooked foundation to a powerful corporate prayer meeting. If everyone comes in with their own agenda, their own soapbox, then the meeting will have no unity. We need to come together, unified in His name. Praying in Jesus’ name means we are praying in His character. Jesus was focused solely on His Father’s business. So should we be.
4. There is a designated leader and the people know to follow his or her lead through each stage of the meeting. This person must be a mature leader who is yielded to the leading of the Spirit.
5. Believers are trained to be few in words and considerate to others. The more verbal people need to limit themselves to short sentences so that others are not intimidated to offer their prayers. Remember, we don’t pray to impress.
6. Expect variety. God does not do routine. Each meeting can take a different format as the Spirit leads. Sometimes the meeting never gets past praise and worship. Other times repentance is all that is done. There can be small groups, couples, round robin, quiet intercession kneeling at the altar, and yes, sometimes just one person prays and all agree with that prayer.
7. Do not fear silence. It is in the silent times that we hear His voice.
OOPs, I have just committed the very sin I am writing against. I have talked about prayer and not allowed time for prayer. I rode my soapbox around the block a few too many times. This blog will have to be continued next week where I will walk you through a focused, Spirit-lead corporate prayer meeting.
Until then, pray this prayer daily and for the rest of your life,
“Father, teach me to pray.”