The Prayer Meeting: Reclaim It or Rename It!
Prayer meeting is the most neglected meeting of the church today. Many churches could accurately refer to their weakly prayer meeting. However, we must remember that the prayer meeting was the birthplace of the early church (Acts 1:14). Prayer meetings were a key element in the First Great Awakening and were the centerpiece of the Prayer Revival of 1857-58. Historically, it has been the prayer meeting that fueled the flames of evangelism, missions, revival and spiritual awakening.
As you embark on the journey of reclaiming the prayer meeting you will quickly be motivated by several opportunities. Simultaneously you will be greatly challenged by obstacles. Rest assured, the reward of the opportunities overshadows the risk of the obstacles. However, it is important that we encounter both of them realistically.
OPPORTUNITIES IN RECLAIMING THE PRAYER MEETING
It is important to reclaim the prayer meeting with great vision and purpose. Your God-given vision will determine the direction and destiny of your prayer meeting. Keeping yourself focused on the following objectives, and opportunities can serve as a source of direction and perspective.
Coming Before the Father Corporately
Few churches have a set time each week to intentionally spend extended time in corporate prayer. The Father longs for His people to come into His presence individually and corporately. Therefore, the ultimate goal of the prayer meeting is to guide your people into His presence. This demands that you lead them out of the overflow of your life of prayer. It is very important that your are often in the Father’s presence so that you can invite the people whom you lead to join you there. Prayer meeting should be the consistent fulfillment of the promise of Jesus: “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Mentoring People in a Life of Prayer
A common assumption is that private prayer promotes corporate prayer. However, just the opposite seems to be true. The personal praying of church members is a reflection of corporate prayer in the local church. Jesus taught the multitudes about prayer through principles and parables. But, He mentored the disciples in prayer on a different level. The pastor should constantly challenge his people to an ever-deepening life of prayer. The prayer meeting is an opportune time, and place to model and mentor prayer that is biblical, practical and strategic.
Developing a Prayer-Based Ministry
It is important that the ministry of a local church be the outgrowth of intensive praying, rather than extensive planning. A true prayer meeting has the potential of releasing the guidance of the Holy Spirit in shaping the ministry of your local church through the vehicle of corporate prayer. We need much more than a prayer base for ministry. We need a prayer-based ministry that is birthed and nurtured in the weekly prayer meeting.
Practicing Mutual Intercession
Prayer meeting can motivate people to pray for one another by leading them to pray with one another. As your people practice mutual intercession, their relationships will take on a new dimension. They will begin to relate to one another in greater love, deeper unity and sincere compassion. Relationships will be centered on that which is spiritual rather than superficial. This will build cohesiveness and cooperation into the very fiber of your church family.
Congregational Ministry of Intercession
An effective prayer meeting can literally extend the ministry of your church around the world. In response to your commitment to become a house of prayer, and an army of global intercessors, the Father will bring prayer requests to your church from all directions. The Father takes your commitment to prayer seriously. Corresponding specifically with those for whom you intercede will also broaden, and deepen your local church’s ministry of intercession.
Unifying Pastor and People
Nothing has the potential to unify a local church more than consistent genuine corporate prayer. Through mutual intercession relationships are deepened, and fellowship is strengthened. This is most evident in the unity built between the pastor and those whom he guides in corporate prayer. The prayer meeting can become a vehicle for anchoring the unity of your church to the throne of grace, and the cross of Christ.
OBSTACLES IN RECLAIMING THE PRAYER MEETING
Reclaiming the weekly prayer meeting in a local church is not the path of least resistance. There are several common obstacles that you will encounter as you seek to maximize your weekly prayer meeting. These obstacles can be overcome through patient and diligent attention. Prayerfully consider the following suggestions to disarming and dissolving these obstacles.
Gossiping vs. Praying
If we are not careful we will find ourselves in the midst of a gossip session rather than a prayer meeting. There are people who would rather spend time in horizontal discussion instead of vertical intercession. They would much rather pry than pray. It is important for us to pray intelligently, but a limited amount of details are necessary. One way to disarm this obstacle is by asking, “Does anyone have a prayer request for someone for whom you are already praying?” This tends to keep the surgery descriptions and lengthy explanations to a minimum.
Prayerless Prayer Letters
When you are bombarded with prayer requests that range from illnesses to vacations, it is easy to fail to pray specifically for each request. Two common responses to this dilemma are: (1) to pray a vague blanket prayer, or (2) a roll call prayer that quickly begins to feel like an impersonal, meaningless ritual.
One solution to this obstacle is to simply say after each request, “Is there someone who will specifically pray for ____________ in just a moment when we pray?” This ensures that each request is prayed for by at least one person. This also guarantees that those to whom you send letters telling of your intercession have actually been prayed for specifically.
During prayer meeting, people tend to have one eye on the prayer list, and the other on the clock. Prayer meetings have an announced beginning time, and an assumed ending time. Many prayer meetings are conclude not by the leadership of the Holy Spirit but by doors being opened of children or choir members.
In order to overcome time-consciousness, the leader must be prepared to lead prayer meeting with a divine sense of direction. This can only happen if you preparer to lead your prayer meeting. Only the manifest presence of God can shift the attention from the ticking of the clock to the timing of eternity.
Vague Prayer Lists
A typical prayer list at prayer meeting has four sections: (1) hospitalized, (2) sick at home, (3) bereaved, and (4) other. This type of prayer list can easily be consumed with outdated prayer requests that have little strategic value to the local church or the kingdom of God. Requests for revival, evangelism and missions are blatantly absent. There is great power in allowing the Holy Spirit to strategically streamline our praying through Scriptural prayer focuses (see Appendix E: Sample Weekly Corporate Prayer Guide).
We are quick to say that God cannot be put in a box while we are opening the box of the newest innovative program in hopes that it will breathe life into our church. There is a subtle temptation to allow ourselves to depend upon programs rather than God. One reason for this is that programs can be maintained by a lazy dependence upon the flesh but, following the leadership of the Holy Spirit requires a quality relationship with the Father. Prayer can energize programs at times, but programs can never replace prayer. There is no substitute for the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit moving among praying people!
©2012 Prayeridigm Publishing. An excerpt taken from "Prayer Meeting First Aid Kit:Over 350 Corporate Prayer Excercises" by Keeney Dickenson. For more info on this, or to purchase a copy, please visit http://prayeridigm.com/