From the biblical letter of James we read, “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (Jas. 5:16). We know prayer can “accomplish much,” but the verse in James specifies that a prayer must be “effective” in order for it to “accomplish much.” So how is a prayer effective? Just to name a few, we must be in Christ in order to boldly approach God’s throne (Jn. 9:31; 14:13-14). We must ask according to the will of God (Mt. 6:9-10; 1 Jn. 5:14). We must abide in the words of our Savior (Jn. 15:7). We must have pure hearts and clean hands (Psm. 34:15; 66:18; Pro. 15:29; Jer. 11:14). We must pray for the Lord’s honor and not our own (Mt. 6:5; 23:14). We must have humble hearts (Psm. 10:17). We must ask in faith (Mt. 21:22; Mk. 11:24).
I believe most of us are aware of these theological components, but when it comes to our corporate prayer meetings there are many other practical components that are frequently overlooked that could make our prayers even more effective. While there is a greater degree of flexibility when it comes to our personal prayers, public prayers with others are a different breed. Certain guidelines must be kept in mind if we wish to maximize our time together, allow everybody to be edified in the evening and accomplish much in drawing from the power we have available to us.
Over the next few blogs, I would like to briefly state some things we should all consider as we approach the Lord’s throne in a corporate setting in an effort to make our time together most effective.
1. Show Up! It goes without saying that we need people in order to make a group prayer meeting effective. The more that come out to pray, the more prayer we can offer to the Lord. The more that come out to pray, the more others will be inspired to make the same bold commitment to corporate prayer as well. Yet it also goes without saying that coming out can oftentimes be a challenge. Usually by 5:00 on Wednesday nights, we’ve conceived every excuse under the sun to justify our absence. Any personal application there? Think of it this way. If corporate prayer is one of our most effective weapons for spiritual success, don’t you think Satan and your flesh will do everything within their power to keep you away? Don’t give in! Discipline yourself to attend. If your feelings are not right, attend and pray that the Lord changes your heart. Erroll Hulse once said, “It is customary to mark engagements in our diary. If meeting the King with our fellow believers is important it will surely be reserved in our diary. Invitations to dinner or to recreational events will have to be fitted in elsewhere. Jesus says that we have not because we fail to ask (James 4:2). Is the audience with our Monarch esteemed by you as a priority? Does your diary reflect that fact?” Show up! There is strength in numbers!
2. Come Prepared! Arguably, our prayer meeting is the most important gathering of the church. Yet because we meet at the same time each week it is possible to fall into a mindless routine that just goes through the motions. Because we meet late in the evenings it is possible to come with minds clouded and numbed from the day’s activities. As a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a prayer meeting is only as effective as its weakest member. Be prepared to make your contribution by being sure to have prepared yourself spiritually before you arrive. For example, ask God to remind you of the awesome privilege you have to come into His holy presence with your requests. Ask God to put specific prayer requests on your heart. Ask God for a delight in His name so that He may grant you the desires of your heart (Psm. 37:4). Ask God to give you a love for Him and others. As the great evangelist, D.L. Moody, said over a hundred years ago, “The members should come to the meeting in the spirit of prayer. It ought to be on their hearts from week to week.”
3. Be Genuine! Many do not attend the prayer meeting simply because they are embarrassed to pray in the presence of others. That’s not good! Others go in the opposite direction and attend for the purpose of attempting to impress others with their prayers. That’s even worse! I’m sure we’ve all witnessed those who all of a sudden change their accent (perhaps a little Scottish flair) or pray in “King James Version” or use big theological words that they barely understand themselves or employ many words all for the sake of appearance. God is not impressed! Our Lord condemned this spirit (Mt. 6:5, 7). God looks not at the outward appearance, but the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The heart that honors Him is the heart that seeks to gain His attention. All Christians can achieve this! Humble, childlike faith is esteemed in the ears of the Lord and should likewise be esteemed in the ears of His children who are present.
4. Pray Specifically! Effective prayer is specific prayer. Oftentimes we do not have because we do not ask (Jas. 4:2). For example, it’s easy to ask the Lord to bless our missionaries, but specifically how do we wish for them to be blessed? Is it God’s will to heal every sick person? Of course we pray for their relief, but what about their witness to the caregivers both in words and behavior, the sufficient grace to be upheld spiritually, the spiritual growth as a result of their trial and their understanding of God’s love and faithfulness despite the misery? Are you praying for people in particular? Use their names (see Romans 16)! Avoid the vague generalities and hone in on the particular circumstances with a creative, thoughtful and deliberate Spirit-led precision.
5. Don’t Pray About Everything! In large prayer meetings it’s customary to be broken down into a number of small groups. Commonly the leader assigned will then review the prayer agenda and/or take specific prayer requests from the people assembled. The needs are noted and internalized by those present, but then too often the first person to speak prays for everything before the next person even has an opportunity to open his or her mouth! Not only is domination like this in the prayer meeting selfish; it is also potentially frustrating for the others that are gathered. Effective groups will witness each person taking a topic or two until all the given topics have been covered. This not only guarantees the participation of everybody, but also enhances the mental and spiritual engagement of each participant to be sure that all the issues are prayed over before the group concludes their time together.
A lot to think about, but we are only getting started! We’ll continue this discussion in the blog posts to follow. By God’s grace, let’s follow these guidelines and make our prayers meetings as effective as possible!