Gathering to pray

  • Roger Carswell
  • 25 September 2015

Prayer from God’s children to our heavenly Father is never wasted. Every prayer is heard, and we “ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1-8). Throughout Scripture, though, I have noticed that, whilst individual prayer is vital and significant in the life of each believer, it’s when Christians gather together to pray that God chooses to intervene.

When Ai defeated the Israelites in battle, Joshua called a prayer meeting with the elders, and God answered their petition (Josh 7). When Jehoshaphat was told that the Moabites and Ammonites were preparing to attack, he called together Judah to pray and fast to ask help from the Lord, and God wonderfully answered (1 Chr 20). When Nebuchadnezzar planned to kill the ‘wise men’ of Babylon, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah prayed together, and God revealed the secret that spared their lives (Dan 2). When Peter was imprisoned, the church offered constant, earnest prayer before God delivered him (Acts 12:5-17). It was as the church was praying and fasting that God called Paul and Barnabas into missionary work (Acts 13:2-3).

James says that when one is sick the elders should be called to pray (Jas 5:14-15). Paul repeatedly wrote to churches and encouraged them to pray. Jesus said:

Again [he’d obviously taught this before] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matthew 18:19-20)

All this seems obvious, so I am bewildered by the church’s lack of a prayer meeting. There are growth groups, small groups, evangelistic courses and a host of events. We gather for food, for fellowship, for music and for work, all of which is great. We sign petitions and rightly raise our voices to protest as Christianity is marginalized, but what has happened to the church gathering together to earnestly seek God, and his blessing?

It’s not as if the church is doing so wonderfully well that we could think we don’t need the Lord. The church in the UK, some encouragements aside, is really in a pitiful state. Society knows more about our beliefs about homosexuality than about Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross. We grieve at the lost state of children, teens and twenties, the middle aged and the baby boomers. We are startled at the rise of Islam and the brazen belligerence of atheism, yet strangely, we rarely gather to pray. So is our reaction to the tide of godlessness in our land a tribal or emotional one, when really it should be a spiritual, God-ward one?

I began learning how to pray by joining others in weekly prayer meetings. We didn’t break up into twos and threes, but prayed with older Christians. In prayer meetings I learned how to pray out loud, how to petition for specific needs, how to concentrate in communion with God, how to “do business with God”. I also learned to look to the Lord for answers to specific prayers. I remember the blessing when, as a young teenager in Young Life, we had a weekly Saturday night prayer meeting, plus days of prayer and fasting. I remember too the sheer joy of the large Christian Union at Southampton University gathering early each Sunday morning to pray before going to our church services.

Are these meetings consigned to the footnotes of church history? If so, are we not guilty of, in effect, saying to God that we don’t need him? I spend my time urging people to repent and believe, assuring them that they will enter into a relationship with the living God. But our lack of prayer meetings surely demonstrates that we don’t enjoy the vital expression of our relationship with him. Something has gone radically wrong.

If any church leader reads this, may I please beg you to arrange church prayer meetings to which all are called and regularly found praying and pleading with God? And for the rest of us, isn’t it our delightful duty to be regular at church prayer meetings? This is to be our priority. It is the must-attend event in our weekly diary. Let us each attend at least one prayer meeting a week, and then to pray out loud whilst there.

Photo credit: Kate Ausburn