One of the great highlights on my calendar every year is the Twin Lakes Fellowship. The Fellowship is an annual pastors’ fraternal, offered free to pastors and elders, church planters and missionaries from around the country. It is one of the best ministries of our church, impacting many thousands for the kingdom through your generosity. This year was a wonderful time of worship and study, reflection and fellowship, and all those with whom I spoke seemed to have been really helped by it. A particular highlight for me this year was the address by Dr. Douglas Kelly on “Weapons to Win the War” in which he opened for us Ephesians 6:17-18, where Paul identifies the only two offensive weapons in the armory of the Christian: the sword of the Spirit and prayer. Dr. Kelly’s target for the exhortation of the men in the room was prayer, especially the prayer meeting. Citing the practice of Calvin’s Geneva, he pointed out that the prayer meeting has always been vital to the spiritual welfare of the Reformed churches from their very beginning, but noting the widespread declension of prayer meetings and prayer-meeting attendance in our circles, Dr. Kelly challenged us all to restore the weekly prayer meeting to its central place in the life of the church.
When we consider the pattern of the early church in the book of Acts, we find that emphasis on corporate congregational prayer clearly affirmed. In Acts 1:14, when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles at Pentecost, it was while they were gathered in the Upper Room “devoting themselves to prayer.” The Spirit came during a prayer meeting. In Acts 2:42, as Luke summarizes the habitual practice of the post-Pentecostal church, he notes that they devoted “themselves to…the prayers.” In Acts 4, after Peter and John are released from prison for preaching Christ, they return to the church. Upon hearing the reports of the persecution, they all lifted their voices together in prayer. Likewise, when Peter was arrested in Acts 12, “earnest prayer was made for him by the church” (vs. 5), and when he was released, he found the church gathered and praying for him (vs. 12). The response of the church to crisis was a prayer meeting. In Acts 13, when Saul and Barnabas are sent as missionaries of the church in Antioch after a season of corporate prayer where they were set apart for the work. In Acts 14:23 when the elders are ordained in the churches of Lystra and Derbe, a season of prayer and fasting was held. Looking at Acts alone, it is clear that almost every major event in the book was accompanied by corporate prayer. The Spirit came upon the church as the people prayed. They faced down persecution at the prayer meeting. The Lord identified men for leadership at the prayer meeting.
There are many things in which we can profitably invest our time. Prayer meetings are often awkward and uncomfortable. It can be hard to devote sustained time praying with others. But I am persuaded that if First Presbyterian Church is yet to see seasons of spiritual growth and evangelistic effectiveness, if we are to grow in depth and numbers, if the Word of God is to prosper among us and we are to serve our city with the gospel well, it will be because we have given ourselves to corporate congregational prayer. If our unity is to be preserved and our passion for the things of God deepened, it will be because we have devoted ourselves anew to the corporate congregational prayer meeting. When asked about the secret of the success of his preaching ministry, C. H. Spurgeon is said to have remarked simply, “My people pray for me.” If the Word preached and prayed and sung on the Sabbath Day is to have its way in our hearts and nourish our souls as it might, it will be because we have been diligent in prayer—especially prayer together—pleading for the blessing of the Spirit upon the Lord’s Day services.
Spurgeon is also said to have called the prayer meeting the “engine room” of the church. I think he was absolutely correct. It has long been my conviction that outside of Lord’s Day worship, the prayer meeting is the most important meeting in the church’s life. The heavy lifting gets done at the prayer meeting. God often unravels heart-breaking pastoral dilemmas in response to the cries of his people at the prayer meeting. There has never been a revival that did not come as God’s people renewed their commitment to the prayer meeting. Churches turn corners, the spiritual atmosphere changes, an air of expectation descends, a hunger for God grows, and the blessing of heaven comes when prayer meetings are well-attended, vibrant, and filled with bold, urgent, kingdom-centered prayer. Brothers and sisters, our city needs the gospel, our homes needs grace, our lives need a fresh effusion of the Spirit, your pastors need help, and Christ demands your devotion. Therefore, let us pray!