Pray With One Another
August 22, 2004 | Randy Smith
Pray With One AnotherActs 1:14
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
The following piece is entitled, "No Excuse Sunday."
"Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, 'Sunday is my only day to sleep in.' We have steel helmets for those who say, 'The roof would cave in if I ever came to church.' Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold, and fans for those who say it is too hot. We have hearing aids for those who say, 'The preacher speaks too softly,' and cotton balls for those who say, 'He preaches too loudly.' Scorecards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present. Some relatives will be in attendance for those who like to go visiting on Sundays. There will be TV dinners for those who can't go to church and cook dinner also. One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to worship God in nature. Finally, the sanctuary will be decorated with Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the church without them" (Source Unknown).
Very few of you here at the Grace Tabernacle need to be convinced of the priority to attend Sunday morning church on a regular basis. For that I praise the Lord and do encourage you in your steadfast commitment in this area.
However, there is another church wide service that also occurs on a weekly basis that does not receive the same degree of attention. Some do have valid excuses such as work obligations and ministry with the children and youth downstairs. But others could be missing out on arguably the most encouraging and most impacting hour of their week. I am referring of course to the Prayer Meeting.
Unfortunately, the prayer meeting even in Bible churches is often the least regarded meeting in the church's program. Most have been discontinued due to minimal interest and other churches that remain committed to corporate prayer, observe with discouragement only a "faithful few" in attendance.
"The story is told of a certain chapel where many years ago the people, having lost heart in public prayer meetings, decided to give them up. But one old lady strongly disagreed. So on the usual prayer meeting night, dressed in her weatherproofs, she braved the storm, unlocked the chapel and taking her usual place, sat down to pray. On the way home she decided to call at one of the members' homes. 'Where have you been on a night like this?' was the inquiry. 'I've been to the prayer meeting.' 'O, I thought that had been discontinued; were any others there?' 'Yes,' said the faithful old lady, 'there were four of us - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and me, and it was a special time'" (Chewter, G. The Church Prayer Meeting, It's Decline and Revival).
This indifference toward the Prayer Meeting is nothing new. C. H. Spurgeon, the man who has been called the greatest preacher since the Apostle Paul, made the following comments while addressing pastors nearly 200 years ago:
"If a church is to be what it ought to be for the purposes of God, we must train it in the holy art of prayer. Churches without prayer meetings are grievously common. Even if there were only one such, it would be one to weep over. In many churches the prayer meeting is only the skeleton of a gathering: the form is kept up, but the people do not come. There is no interest, no power, in connection with the meeting. Oh, my brothers, let it not be so with you! Do train the people to continually meet together for prayer. Rouse them to incessant supplication. There is a holy art in it. Study to show yourselves approved by the prayerfulness of your people. If you pray yourself, you will want them to pray with you; and when they begin to pray with you, and for you, and for the work of the Lord, they will want more prayer themselves, and the appetite will grow. Believe me, if a church does not pray, it is dead. Instead of putting united prayer last, put it first. Everything will hinge upon the power of prayer in the church."
Spurgeon commonly called prayer meetings, "The powerhouse of the church." His words were not idle. In the late 1800's he held prayer meetings in England's Metropolitan Tabernacle every day, both morning and evening. Their main meeting was Monday night were an estimated 3,000 people commonly attended. In his own estimation, this evening was the most important gathering of the week.
One night while addressing these faithful saints he said:
"What a company we have here tonight! It fills my heart with gladness, and my eyes with tears of joy, to see so many hundreds of persons gathered together at what is sometimes wickedly described as 'only a prayer meeting.' It is good for us to draw night unto God in prayer, and specially good to make up a great congregation for such a purpose. We have attended little prayer meetings of four or five, and we have been glad to be there, for we had the promise of our Lord's presence; but our minds are grieved to see so little attention given to united prayer by many of our churches. We have longed to see great numbers of God's people coming up to pray, and we now enjoy this sight. Let us praise God that it is so. How could we expect a blessing if we were too idle to ask for it? How could we look for a Pentecost if we never met with one accord, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians" (Spurgeon, Only a Prayer Meeting, Christian Focus Publications, 2000, p. 9).
This morning I'd like to show you how God adds His special blessing to churches that corporately gather for prayer. Initially we'll look at the first New Testament prayer meetings as they are recorded in Scripture and then we'll fast-forward two millennia and examine how God still uses prayer meetings to accomplish His extraordinary purposes today. When finished, I think you'll agree that this topic is essential for church and home unity.
1. EARLY PRAYER MEETINGS
Since the Book of Acts is not only the best record, but also an inspired record of the early church, let's begin there by looking at the four prayer meetings recorded by the Holy Spirit.
The first one is found in chapter one, beginning in verse 12. "Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers" (Ac. 1:12-14).
Since the Ascension already occurred (Ac. 1:9), the disciples here were without Jesus Christ. They were sheep without a shepherd. But their good Shepherd promised to not "leave (them) as orphans" (Jn. 14:18). He promised before His crucifixion that He would send the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:7) and even after the crucifixion, before the Ascension, Jesus once again reminded the disciples of the Spirit's soon arrival in Acts 1:4.
What were these men and woman to do during this awkward period? Luke tells us in verse 14, they gathered together for prayer. Everybody was present. Verse 14 says they were "all with one mind." They were united in purpose and committed in the priority of group prayer to corporately seek the face of Christ. The words of John Newton's hymn are appropriate here: "The force of their united cries, no power could long withstand, for Jesus helps them from the skies with His almighty hand."
Since they were fearful, they prayed. Since they needed to wait upon God's promises, they prayed. Since they sought the Lord's direction, they prayed. Since they wanted to speak with their Shepherd, they prayed.
As a matter of fact, in addition to being of "one mind," verse 14 also says they "were continually devoting themselves to prayer." Continual corporate prayer was a fundamental characteristic of the early church. According to Acts 2:42, "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (cf. Ac. 6:4; 1 Thes. 5:17). Interestingly the prior verse (2:41) says 3,000 souls were just added top the church. Do you sense an intentional connection between prayer and making converts?
Next we turn to chapter 4. Soon after Pentecost, soon after the arrival of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised, the early church encountered various setbacks and fierce persecution. The Lord clearly told them to bring His Gospel to the world but immediately in their hometown of Jerusalem they were forbidden, threatened with serious consequences to speak about Jesus Christ (4:18). What was the church to do? They resorted to their greatest response.
Let's pick up their prayer meeting in verse 29. "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness."
No doubt God was pleased with the prayer meeting. Through the earthquake, He gave a clear affirmation that He heard the requests of His people. Possibly it was even a sign to these believers, that He would stand behind their commission and shake the world with the Gospel. Nevertheless, He filled them with the Holy Spirit, which resulted, as they requested, in the bold proclamation of His Word (cf. Eph. 6:19).
Was the prayer answered? God did not remove the persecution, but the early Christians continued in the will of God and preached the Gospel fearlessly in spite of the persecution. Look at Acts 5:40 and the verses that follow. "They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they (the apostles) went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Here it is! Due to the answered prayer, what was their response to the persecution?) And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Ac. 5:40-42).
The church prayer meeting also brought tremendous results in Acts 12. James was just put to death with the sword (verse 2). And Peter was arrested and placed in prison (verses 3-4). The church responded in the most effective way they knew how. In verse 5 we read, "So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God." One author described fervent prayer as "laying hold of God until He responds to our cry." As a footnote, the same Greek word translated "fervently" (ektenos) is used of our Lord's prayer in the Garden when "He was praying very fervently and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground" (Lk. 22:44).
Well, God answered the fervent supplications that were offered. Many, including Herod Agrippa, were soon to realize the power of a prayer meeting. Of this account Spurgeon said, "Prayer laughs altogether at stone walls, and handcuffs and iron bars, and gates of brass" (Prayer Meetings, Aug, 30, 1868). In the following verses we learn how their prayers were answered and Peter was delivered in miraculous fashion by the hand of God.
Once free, it's interesting to note that Peter's first stop was none other than the church prayer meeting. Verse 12, "And when he (Peter) realized this (his freedom), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying." It was the natural place for Him to go! Peter knew where to find the Christians; they were at the prayer meeting!
Finally, in chapter 13, we read about the beginning of the great missionary endeavor that would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. How did it all begin? How did they discern the Lord's will? When did they receive their commission? What preceded and accompanied the sending of the missionaries? It was a Prayer Meeting! Acts 13:2-3, "While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away."
Through this brief survey in the book of Acts we have seen the way God not only expects His church to be gathered for corporate prayer, but also blesses His church in a powerful way due to these meetings. Could it be that many churches lack similar encouragement, togetherness, fervency, converts, missions-mindedness, Spiritual-empowerment, boldness and direction due simply to a failure to meet for corporate prayer and pray earnestly with one mind as did the early church?
2. MODERN PRAYER MEETINGS
Unfortunately today the times have changed. God still remains the same, but most of His church has lost an interest in prayer meetings. Activities have dominated our schedules. Leisure is worshipped as a greater god. And many hearts find greater enjoyment and satisfaction in watching the television. By the way, the evening shows on Wednesday night from 7:00-8:00 are: Hollywood Squares, Entertainment Tonight (CBS), Extra, Access Hollywood (NBC), Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune (ABC), Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond (WB11), Weakest Link, Family Feud (WPXN 31), the Simpsons and Seinfeld (FOX). Some fine entertainment and edifying material indeed!
We read in Scripture how God promises to bless prayer meetings, but yet we've been deceived that other activities should receive greater priority. Along these lines one author said, "The lack and neglect of such meetings is, I believe, one of the greatest mistakes in our Bible-believing churches, and such deception by Satan represents a far greater enemy than liberal theology or the cults" (Author Unknown).
How much has the church been deceived? Is there anything greater than meeting with God? Isn't He alone enough attraction to motivate your attendance? Do you not desire to pray for the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Should we not ask God to bless the proclamation of His Word? Have you tasted the intimacy with other believers through prayer? Jesus depended on the Father though prayer (Lk. 3:21; 6:12; 9:29; 22:44; Mk. 1:35). Does the church today think they can honor God, but fail to go before Him in prayer? Could it be that we don't have because we don't ask (Jas. 4:2)? Are you depriving the church of your prayers? Are you depriving yourself of the blessings?
Erroll Hulse said, "It is said that the weekly prayer meeting is the spiritual barometer for any local church. You can tell with a fair degree of accuracy what the church is like by the demeanour or substance of the weekly prayer meeting. Is there genuine evangelistic concern? If so it will be expressed in the prayers. Is there a heartfelt longing for the conversion of unconverted family members? If so that is sure to surface. Is there a world vision and a fervent desire for revival and the glory of our Redeemer among the nations of the world? Such a burden cannot be suppressed. Is there a heart agony about famine and war and the need for the gospel of peace among the suffering multitudes of mankind? The church prayer meeting will answer that question. Intercession in the prayer meeting will soon reveal a loving church that cares for those who are oppressed and weighed down with trials and burdens. Those bearing trials too painful or personal to be described in public will nevertheless find comfort in the prayer meeting, for there the Holy Spirit is especially at work" (Hulse, The Vital Place of the Prayer Meeting).
A few weeks ago, missionary Jim Persons representing FMI, addressed the church on Wednesday evening. A day later I received an e-mail that included these comments: "I believe that mid-week Prayer Meetings are the heartbeat of a church. Your church has a very strong and healthy heartbeat! Tragically, this has become something rather rare in churches."
Prayer Meetings are so important in my eyes that I could hardly imagine having an elder or deacon on staff that is not committed to the weekly Prayer Meeting. If he is too busy to attend the one-hour Prayer Meeting, he is too busy to shepherd the flock. The Apostles were the first ones mentioned on the Prayer Meeting roll call in Acts 1.
For those who might think God has chosen to quit blessing prayer meetings, consider the following account:
"Secular and religious conditions combined to bring about a crash. The third great panic in American history swept away the giddy structure of speculative wealth. Thousands of merchants were forced to the wall as banks failed, and railroads went into bankruptcy. Factories were shut down and vast numbers thrown out of employment, New York City alone having 30,000 idle men. In October 1857, the hearts of the people were thoroughly weaned from speculation and uncertain gain, while hunger and despair stared them in the face.
On 1st July, 1857, a quiet and zealous businessman named Jeremiah Lanphier took up an appointment as a City Missionary in downtown New York. Lanphier was appointed by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination. This church was suffering from depletion of membership due to the removal of the population from the downtown to the better residential quarters, and the new City Missionary was engaged to make diligent visitation in the immediate neighborhood with a view to enlisting church attendance among the floating population of the lower city. The Dutch Consistory felt that it had appointed an ideal layman for the task in hand, and so it was.
Burdened so by the need, Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week. He therefore distributed a handbill:
HOW OFTEN SHALL WE PRAY?
As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit.
In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.
A day Prayer Meeting is held every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 o'clock, in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets.)
This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour, but it is also designed for those who may find it inconvenient to remain more than five or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour.
Accordingly, at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857 the door opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation…Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed.
Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12:30 a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday . . .there were forty intercessors.
Thus in the first week of October 1857, it was decided to hold a meeting daily instead of weekly…
Within six months, ten thousand businessmen were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches . . .
Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York's colorful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray" (Taken from John Piper, Desiring God, 1996, pp. 154-155, originally written in J. Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations, Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 103-105).
In New York City in more recent days, God has blessed the Prayer Meeting of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Before we judge their doctrine and philosophies, we must learn from their commitment to corporate prayer.
After returning from a time of seeking the Lord in Florida, Pastor Jim Cymbala made the following comments to the congregation in the morning service:
"Brothers and sisters, I really feel that I've heard from God about the future of our church. While I was away, I was calling out to God to help us - to help me - understand what He wants most from us. And I believe I've heard an answer. It's not fancy or profound or spectacular. But I want to say to you with all the seriousness I can muster: From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens Tuesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us…No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer" (Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Zondervan, 1997, p. 27).
God has blessed their commitment. Listen to one pastor's comments on the current situation:
"The congregation began to experience fresh fire from Almighty God when they devoted themselves to prayer. They prayed with the desperation that came from the conviction that the heavenly life and power of the church and the salvation of the lost depended on reaching God in prayer. He alone could make the impossible happen, not once or occasionally, but continually. Today Brooklyn Tabernacle ministers to thousands. Twelve to fifteen hundred meet there for prayer meeting every week. There are other prayer gatherings in this church that is, indeed, a house of prayer for all nations" (Oliver W. Price, Heart Cry For Revival)
I've received inquiries from many pastors who wonder what we do to get so many out on Wednesday evening. My response is always the same in that we do nothing fancy, but our people simple believe in the power of prayer. I praise the Lord for your faithfulness! I praise the Lord for the ladies who have gathered one morning each week for the past twenty-three years for the purpose of prayer!
I began this message by referring to C.H. Spurgeon who called prayer meetings, "The powerhouse of the church." It's been said, one day some young students came to his church for the first time. The sanctuary, as always was full so Spurgeon asked them if they would like to see the heating apparatus of the church down in the basement. The students balked, but Spurgeon insisted. Together they preceded to the basement where Spurgeon kicked open the door and the students observed 700 souls on their knees asking God to bless the service upstairs with great power. "Gentlemen," said Spurgeon, "This is the heating apparatus of this church."
When asked about his success, Spurgeon said, "My people pray for me." How many pastors can say the same today?
Someone once said, "You can tell how popular a church is by who comes on Sunday morning. You can tell how popular the pastor or evangelist is by who comes on Sunday night. But you can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to the prayer meeting" (Author Unknown).
May God forgive us if we ever get to the place when we say, "It's only a prayer meeting." God holds His prayer meeting right here every Wednesday evening from 7:00-8:00 pm. Would you simply ask Him if He wants you to attend and then respond accordingly?