“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.” So wrote Charles Spurgeon in his famous address, “Only a Prayer Meeting.”[Only a Prayer-meeting (Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2000), 9.]
By “the prayer meeting” Spurgeon meant a formal meeting of members of a Christian congregation at stated times for the purpose of engaging in united prayer. Such meetings are the focus of this article; hence I use “corporate prayer” below as referring to these meetings in distinction from formal worship services.
Prayer meetings in America have fallen on hard times. Less than ten percent of members now meet for prayer in churches that once had vibrant, Spirit-led meetings. In many churches, prayer meetings have become cold and boring. Other churches have never developed the tradition of meeting regularly for corporate prayer.
Lewis Thompson rightly wrote, “If it is true that the active piety of a church rises no higher than it manifests itself in the prayer-meeting, so that here, as on a barometer, all changes in spiritual life are faithfully recorded, then certainly too much attention cannot be given by both pastor and people to the conducting of the prayer-meeting.” [Lewis O. Thompson, The Prayer-Meeting and Its Improvement (Chicago: W. G. Holmes, 1878), 16.]
It is time to reassess the importance of prayer meetings, for the church that does not earnestly pray together cannot hope to experience reformation and revival. Have we forgotten that the Reformation era churches often held daily services for preaching and prayer? Is it surprising that the Reformed faith has experienced more revival in Korea than nearly anywhere else in the world in the last half-century when Christians there gather 365 mornings a year for prayer (at 5 a.m. in the summer and 6 a.m. in the winter)? Let us take a closer look at prayer meetings, specifically at their scriptural warrant, history, purposes, and implementation in regular congregational meetings. May God convict us that we have lost our first love concerning prayer and enlighten us to remember from where we have fallen, how we should repent, and how we may return to doing the first works (Rev. 2:4–5).
The Family at Church
Joel R. Beeke