This article was written by Rev. Arie denHartog and published in the September 15, 1982 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Church prayer meetings are not commonly held in our Protestant Reformed Churches, in fact they are not very common as far as we know in any of the Reformed Churches. They have long been a tradition in Presbyterian Churches as well as a number of other churches. There are those who claim that they were regularly held in the church from the time of the apostles. We have had the opportunity to experience such meetings during our labors as missionaries in the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore. These prayer meetings were already an institution in what was then the Gospel Literature and Tract Society (G.L.T.S.) when we came to Singapore. We found these prayer meetings to be a great source of blessing both to the church as a whole and to ourselves personally. It is our purpose in this article to tell you something about these meetings. We want also to consider some of the biblical bases for holding such meetings. Finally, we want to relate some of what we can see to be the great blessings these meetings afford the church. It is our conviction that we as Protestant Reformed Churches can learn from these meetings and that we could well consider holding similar meetings in our own midst.
Let me begin by describing what is meant by a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting is a regular weekly meeting of the church which is especially for the purpose of corporate prayer of the church. It is held in the recognition of the urgent need for the church always to continue in prayer unto the Lord. The meetings which we have experienced usually consist of the following. They are opened with prayer and singing. This is followed by an exhortation from the word of God on the subject of prayer: the need and the urgency of prayer, the requirements of proper prayer, the proper subject of prayer, the biblical principles of prayer, and such like subjects. In the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore (E.R.C.S.) this exhortation is usually given by an elder of the church who also serves as the chairman of the prayer meeting. This is followed by the announcement of the current concerns and needs of the church for which the church is exhorted to pray. The church is especially exhorted to pray for the ministry of the gospel, for the worship services, and for the work of the special offices in the church. After this, opportunity is given to the members of the church to make prayer requests. This will include expressions of thanksgiving and praise to God for blessings received, requests for prayer for the grace of God to bear the burdens of life, to endure hardships and persecutions and trials, and to stand steadfast in the face of temptations and discouragements. If there are any sick in the church this is made known at the prayer meeting. If a member of the church has not been in church for some time this is made the subject of prayer. If there are newcomers to the worship services who have been attending the worship services for several weeks they are prayed for. Often, also, requests are made for prayer for a member of the church who in the providence of God has come in contact with a friend or colleague to whom they are speaking about the Lord. Often prayers are offered to God for our beloved Protestant Reformed Churches in the U.S.A. Sometimes also a member of the church will stand up to make a personal confession of faith or a short exhortation to encourage others in the church in a certain area of Christian living.
After the period of prayer requests the whole church enters into a time of prayer. In the E.R.C.S. this is done while everyone is on bended knee before the chairs. The chairman will open with prayer after which various members of the church will lead in prayer. There are also sometimes periods of silent prayer. Leading in prayer is done spontaneously and again usually by the leaders of the church.
Perhaps for many of us Protestant Reformed people this type of meeting would seem quite strange. Many of us have never experienced such a meeting. Lest you get the wrong impression let me assure you that these meetings are not characterized by the evils and excesses which we find in many modern-day church meetings. They are not characterized by a lot of disorderly shoutings of hallelujahs and amens and all sorts of emotional outbursts. Neither are these meetings the forums for all sorts of silly stories and all sorts of unbiblical prayer requests. The meetings are always subdued, reverent, and orderly. They always include biblical instruction on prayer. The church is constantly admonished against improper and unscriptural prayer and exhorted to pray reverently and sincerely. At these meetings the church as a whole earnestly and sincerely seeks to worship the Lord in prayer, to praise him and to give him thanks, and to make supplication of him for his mercy and grace.
Is there biblical warrant for holding such meetings? We believe there is. In the first place, of course, the word of God exhorts us everywhere on the great urgency of prayer. Paul calls the church to pray without ceasing. In Romans 12:12 the apostle exhorts the church to continue instant in prayer. In several places the apostle exhorts the church to pray for the ministry of the gospel (see Ephesians 6:19 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2). In Ephesians 6:18 the church is exhorted: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." In 1 Timothy 2:1 we read: "I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men." James exhorts us: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). There are many elements in all of these passages of the word of God that we could call attention to, but space prohibits. Surely the word of God emphasizes the urgency of prayer. It emphasizes that we must pray continually and with perseverance. It emphasizes that we must pray for the church and for the ministry of the gospel. It emphasizes that we must pray for one another and for all men. Many more passages of scripture could be enumerated.
Our Heidelberg Catechism teaches us that prayer is the chief part of thankfulness to God and that God gives his grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desire continually ask them of him and are thankful. These are tremendous statements. They are the clear teaching of the word of God.
Indeed we ought always to be asking ourselves, are we being faithful in prayer? Are we continuing in prayer with all perseverance? When we pray do we pray earnestly and sincerely and not just generally, formally, and coldly? Do we pray constantly for the needs of the church of Jesus Christ and for the ministry of the gospel? Do we pray earnestly and with fervent love for our fellow saints? How often would we avoid strife and bitterness and anger in the church if we spent more time praying for one another? Do we know the great needs and concerns of our fellow saints or do we care only about ourselves? When we pray do we pray only for our own needs or also for the needs of one another?
According to the word of God there are various ways in which we ought to pray. We should pray privately in our inner closet. We ought to pray together with our families. We ought also to pray corporately as a church. One of the ways in which we do this is at our worship services, especially in the congregational prayer. Are there also other times when the church should be praying together as one body of Christ?
The Bible places great emphasis on corporate prayer in the church. The many exhortations to pray that are found in Paul's epistles are made to the church as a whole and certainly imply corporate prayer. We have a number of beautiful examples of the apostolic church in corporate prayer. We read of the apostolic church in Acts that "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Notice that prayer was something that the apostolic church continued in steadfastly and that they did this along with continuing in the apostles' doctrine. This was a time of great need in the church and there was therefore urgency for prayer. But is it not true that we today live in a time of great need for the church? We find another beautiful example of such corporate prayer of the church in Acts 12:5. "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." This was a time of great crisis in the church when James had been killed and Peter had been put into prison. And what did the church do? They prayed together without ceasing.
One of the beautiful names which we find in the word of God to describe the temple, and so also the church, is the name "House of Prayer." This indicates that one of the chief purposes of the church is to worship God in prayer. How often do we go up unto the house of the Lord with the definite purpose of worshiping the Lord in prayer? This indeed is the purpose of the prayer meeting.
The prayer meeting is a great blessing to the church. This is true of course because God is pleased to bless his church upon the prayer of his saints. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Prayer is not a futile exercise or mere outward religious ritual that is of no profit or purpose. The Lord delights in his people when they worship him in prayer. God is pleased to glorify his own name in the midst of his church when that church is gathered in his house for prayer. God hears and answers the prayers of his people when they pray for his church, for the ministry of the gospel, and for one another.
Through the prayer meeting the members of the church are exhorted continually to pray for the church. The specific needs and concerns of the church are set before the people of God to arouse their earnest concern for the church. The people of the church are made aware of what is going on in the various aspects of the life of the church and are exhorted to be concerned about all that is going on and to pray. Through the means of prayer God's people learn to humble themselves before God, to worship him and give him thanks, and to make earnest supplication of him. In the prayer meetings the saints of God exhort and encourage one another in the difficulties of the Christian life. The Bible admonishes us to bear one another's burdens. Surely we do this especially when we pray one for another. Through corporate prayer the church is united together in the blessed bond of the love of God and one another in the communion of the saints. Through the prayer meeting the church learns of the real and specific needs of their fellow saints and learns to be concerned for one another and sincerely pray for one another. Through the prayer meetings personal fellowship with one another is promoted and greatly blessed of God. What a great encouragement it is to hear the church as a whole praying for one's needs and concerns! The prayer meetings do much to encourage personal piety and godliness among the members.
The Lord in his grace has used our churches to teach the saints of God here many things. We can also learn from them. I believe that the prayer meetings in the E.R.C.S. ought to be an example unto us.