Whatever Happened to Prayer Meetings?

There is a strange phenomenon which has taken root in much of modern Christendom, bearing poisonous fruit in many churches. This phenomenon has to do with people talking about dependence on God and the importance of prayer, all the while jettisoning prayer and the stressing of it in many congregations. (I will talk about its fruit in a moment)).

Case in point, whatever happened to prayer meetings? Many churches no longer have them. After all, typically prayer meetings were quite low in attendance. And being fair, often such meetings were not truly prayer meetings, but most of the time wasted gossiping and sharing prayer requests instead of actually praying. So instead of fixing the problems within the prayer meetings, such meetings are chucked altogether, to use the time in more “profitable” ways.

Ah, but over time some seeds have been unwittingly planted. Sprouts broke through the ground and their roots began digging deep into the soil. Eventually a trees grew and fruit was born, fruit which was “good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the [trees were] to be desired to make [us] wise,” (Gen. 3:6) we’ve partaken of the fruit. This fruit has distorted the perception of much of the church, make no mistake. Men and women alike have mistakenly perceived that they can build churches without the help of God. They mistakenly believe they can offer the sacrifices of Cain and still be accepted (Gen. 4:3-4). By their own hands and wisdom, they build and sustain their congregations, believing that the growth in numbers signifies the life and blessing of God—despite any shallowness of faith, mock reverence, disbelieving of the Scriptures, and the void of real intimacy, power, and revelation of God.

Understand, I am not simply being critical. For all our talk on how dependent we are on God, why is there, in many cases, such a deemphasis on prayer? Why do many churches place so much attention on the worship but not prayer? Why have so many churches abandoned expository preaching and replaced it with “topical,” and merely referencing the Bible (which is God’s revelation to us) instead of digging into it? We have within congregations, as well as among churches professing the name of Christ, persons with differing opinions on crucial issues like sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, etc. Be very clear on this—there is no division within the Godhead on these issues, nor within His revelation. No, but the poisonous fruit of the trees we have planted have poisoned the mind and distorted the perception.

Too often churches and individuals already have the course of action they intend to take, in accordance with their own understanding. Instead of truly seeking the Lord for His wisdom, guidance, and direction, we lay our plans and strategies before Him and ask Him to bless them. We consider this a “prayer of dependence.” E. M. Bounds is right when he says, “We do more of everything else than of praying. As poor as our giving is, our contributions of money exceed our offerings of prayer.” Can most churches and individuals really argue against Bound’s assessment?

Where are the prayer meetings? Where was the emphases on prayer and our need for God’s power? When was the last time we and our churches have truly cried out to God for a genuine and mighty move of His Spirit and power? Oh sure, we might occasionally toss up a prayer for revival, but do we sincerely desire moves of God and revival? These do not come without a cost. Not only do these require the time for seeking and asking of these, but also surrender. A. W. Tozer asks,

“Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late [I dare say, not much in our day]—and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying [in our case, we tend to substitute both praying and obeying for our own ingenuity], and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.”

All around me I hear people or see what they post on social media what a mess our world is in—even from Christians. Strangely, for all the complaining and anxieties, I do not hear the stressing of prayer and crying out to God. Why is this? We say we depend on God and prayer is so important, but are we not liars? Do we think God is indifferent to the condition of our world, He who declares that He takes no delight in the death of anyone (Eze. 18:32)? Is He who created the universe by the sheer power of His command impotent in bringing revival? He “who desires all people to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), will He say, “Absolutely not!” if His people genuinely repent of their own wickedness and plead on behalf of those who are perishing?

How have we become so content with mediocrity and spiritualized excrement? How have we gotten to believe we are some kind of miniature saviors, feeding others crumbs from our own ponderings? Pastors, teachers, I don’t care a wit about our degrees or certificates. I don’t care about any personal skills of leadership. All of it is mere rubbish if not infused by the power of God. All of it! I don’t care how good at preaching or teaching any of us are. Jesus tells us explicitly, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis added). We must ask ourselves, do we truly believe this? Truly?

If we genuinely believe that we can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ and Him in us (for this is what the Master tells us), then we must reestablish the prayer meetings. We must lift our requests to God rather than sharing them with one another. We must cry out to God and ask Him to uproot these trees with poisonous fruit which we have planted and maintained. Oh, that God would grow the fruit of repentance in our hearts and lives. Oh, that we would turn from our wicked ways. No doubt we are guilty as the people of Jeremiah’s day:

“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” ~ Jeremiah 2:13  

Oh, that we would reestablish the prayer meetings and rebuild our altars! I close with words from Bounds: “But not all praying is true praying. The driving power, the conquering force in God’s cause, must be God Himself. ‘Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not’ (Jer. 33:3).”

A House of Prayer 

Jesus says explicitly, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’” (Matt. 21:13; Luke 19:46). Therefore, not only is He stressing the importance of prayer, but it is to be of highest priority of any congregation gathering in His name—from the vocational ministers to the attending laity. So we should ask ourselves, how did churches become houses of worship? Understand, this is not simply a changing of terms. These are not synonymous. No, this shift is quite consequential.

“My house is to be a house of prayer,” the Lord declares. Yet, consider the emphasis of most churches. Is it prayer? No, most churches emphasize the preaching, worship, or missions/outreach of some kind. Yet, typically in any service prayer is given only a couple of minutes. Certainly the preaching of God’s Word, worship, and missions/outreach are all important. However, it is through prayer churches show their dependence on God and seek His directives. Furthermore, it is through prayer these other things are infused with the power of the Holy Spirit versus man’s ingenuity and activity (there is a distinction). Incidentally, it is by the lack of prayer churches reveal their trust in themselves (rather than on God) and seek after their own agendas instead of God’s will. Oh sure, in many cases buildings are erected and congregations grow numerically—but not infused with the power of God and a deeper knowledge of Him!

Henry Blackaby writes this haunting observation, “Those who know they can do nothing apart from abiding in Christ will cry out to God continually (John 15:5). People who become self-confident and proud will find they are too busy to pray.” How much do you and I, as well as our churches, genuinely cry out to God in total dependence and with abandonment of ourselves?

We say that we follow Christ and that He is our Teacher and example—that we want to be like Him. But is this true? Do we follow His example? Do we really want to be like Him? Oswald Chambers is right when he says, “Prayer seems like such a small thing to do—next to nothing at all in fact. But that’s not what Jesus said. To Him prayer is everything.”

Consider how many times in the Gospels we read of the Son of God rising up early in the morning while it was still dark or staying up late into the night for the purpose of praying. Before calling His disciples, He prayed. So devoted was He to prayer that His disciples (who no doubt were familiar with prayer) requested that He teach them to pray. Before His passion, knowing the cup of suffering was being given to Him to drink in its entirety, He pleaded that there was some other way; nevertheless, He wanted the Father’s will to be done. Is this our mindset—our desire—to seek long and hard after God, to enquire of His guidance in every decision, and to surrender our desires and agendas in order to align ourselves with His? This is difficult. In fact, this is impossible if we are not being infused with His Spirit. Cheryl Sacks rightly notes that this cannot happen apart from fervent prayer.

Please understand, I’m not speaking as one who is some great prayer warrior. But I see so much powerlessness of the church as darkness spreads further and many people falling away from the faith. We have Christian literature and media galore, but where is our influence? We have plenty of nice facilities and events, but where is the power? Is not our lack of influence and power simply a result of our lack of prayer?

The purpose of this article is not to shame the church or put her down. Rather, I am simply wanting to encourage you, and that we may encourage one another, to seek passionately after the heart and face of our Father—just as our Savior exemplified. By the moving of the Holy Spirit within us, may our church buildings be restored to houses of prayer instead of houses of worship. May we become completely dependent on God rather than our own abilities, and may we learn to sincerely pray patterned after His, “Your will be done.” From here, only God knows what incredibly positive effects this would have in our lives, our homes, our churches, our communities, and our world. We won’t ever know, except churches becoming what God has willed for them to be—houses of prayer.