Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Problem With Wednesday "Prayer Meeting"

Churches used to call the Wednesday evening service “Prayer Meeting.” The church I attended when I was young didn’t have a “Prayer Meeting.” So, when I asked my mother about other churches who listed “Prayer Meeting” on their church sign, I got an image in my head that is very different from what I see in our church. In our church, we sing a song, and then we go over the prayer list. Someone prays a short prayer and then someone gets up and lectures for the remaining time.

As a child, I pictured people gathering in a room and spending an hour or more doing nothing but praying. I couldn’t grasp how anyone would willingly spend an hour or more doing nothing but praying. What a shock it was when I attended my first “Prayer Meeting.” And yet, I wonder why churches don’t spend more time in prayer at a “Prayer Meeting.”

But I see things wrong with both the idea I had as a child and the way we handle prayer meetings now. If all you do is have everyone pray the prayer they’ve memorized to pray during worship services, it might take an hour, but it misses the concept that prayer is to be a conversation with God. And while having another opportunity for someone to teach a lesson may be a good thing, teaching a lesson is not prayer.

Consider the “prayer list.” People surely don’t intend for it to be this way, but more time explaining the nature of the illness a friend has, or what is being done to treat it than the amount of time spent praying for the person. We always have the President and other leaders mentioned on the list, but when was the last time we spent a significant amount of time praying for them?

Both in Wednesday Evening Prayer Meetings and Sunday school prayer lists, we have the problem that after we’ve spent a significant amount of time listening to people talk about their problems or the problems their friends are having, we cut the actual prayer short because we know that we need to leave time for the person who is going to bring the lesson. In Sunday school, it makes sense to cut out prayer time in favor of the lesson, but it is much too rare for us to have a time of corporate prayer that isn’t rushed. Perhaps my childhood concept isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Imagine, a group of people gathering, not to listen to someone lecture, or to gossip about their friend’s illnesses, but to spend an hour in conversation with God. Having a conversation with God isn’t about us telling God what we think we need, but rather it involves finding what he is telling us in his word and responding in prayer. It isn’t about adding “if it is your will” to the end of our prayer. Rather, we should be digging into his word, so that we know that what we are asking is in his will. Having a conversation with God isn’t about general blanket statements that cover whatever requests might be on the list, but is much more specific in what we are asking him to do. I see nothing wrong with a church gathering for a third preaching service, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a true “Prayer Meeting” where the whole church gathered before the throne of God?