Prioritising “Together Prayer”
Johnny Prime spoke to our Leaders’ Conference in 2018 about Prayer for Gospel Ministry. This article is his “how to” guide for holding a prayer meeting in your church which he promised during his conference address.
“…they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” Acts 4:24
Acts 4 encourages us to pursue the priority of regular “together prayer”, recognising the vital connection between the corporate prayers of God’s people and gospel advance.
It’s important to start by saying there is no one way to conduct a regular church prayer meeting. We are all shaped by our experience and background. However, it is unlikely that a congregation will see “together prayer” as a priority unless leaders lead the way.
Listen to what Charles Spurgeon has to say about it.
“Let the minister himself set a very high value upon this means of grace. Let him frequently speak of it as being dear to his own heart; and let him prove his words by throwing all his vigour into it, being absent as seldom as possible.”
A Pattern for Prayer
The prayer meeting in Acts 4 is descriptive, not prescriptive. However, it fits with a pattern seen in other Biblical prayers (e.g. the prayer of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:14-19). Acts 4 reflects a framework we followed in Enfield where I was privileged to serve as pastor.
The believers in Acts 4:
- Looked up to the Sovereign Lord
- Gained perspective from God's Word
- Thought through what God says; and
- Asked in the light of it.
Let’s take them one at a time.
1. Look up to the Sovereign Lord
Singing a hymn or song of praise is a great way of lifting our eyes to the One to whom we pray. It helps us to reflect on who God is and who we are, as His people in Christ. Singing a hymn might then be followed by a few folk thanking and praising God for who He is and what He has done and does. Alternatively, a Psalm or part of a Psalm could be read out loud together, followed by sentence prayers of praise and thanks.
2. Gain perspective from God’s Word
God speaks to us through His word; we respond in prayer. Prayer is always aided as we read a passage or verse together. Prayer is like plasticine; it is moulded by something. Freshness comes as we allow God’s word to set the agenda for our prayers.
At Enfield, many folk followed the same Bible reading scheme, so we tended to read one of the passages for that day. But if there is a particular issue facing the church, the leaders might turn to a passage that gives perspective needed to face that situation.
3. Think through what God says
It can help if there is a short talk (5 to 10 minutes) simply helping folk to think through how the verse or passage helps us to pray as the people of the Lord Jesus. This leads to:
4. Asking (begging) in the light of what has been read
It helps to divide a prayer time into sections. The first section should simply allow those gathered to respond in prayer to the passage or verse considered. This may well include confession of sin and asking God to help us live by faith in our Lord Jesus as set out in His word.
This could be followed by various sections of prayer for things such as,
- the outreach of the church;
- the community in which we live;
- the spiritual health of the congregation;
- personal witness;
- unconverted neighbours, colleagues, family and friends;
- the worldwide spread of the gospel;
- the persecuted church;
- the ministries/activities of the church
- the particular needs of the congregation (at Enfield we tended to keep health needs until the last section of the meeting, unless a situation was so urgent that it was at the front of everyone’s mind.)
Variety is essential. Keep it moving. Allowing the word of God to shape the themes of prayer keeps things fresh.
Spurgeon again: “A warm-hearted address of ten minutes, with a few lively words interposed between the prayers, will do much, with God’s blessing, to foster a love of the prayer meeting.”
It can help to have a prayer sheet with a list of items to pray for. It saves time and longwinded sharing of prayer topics. In Enfield we had a Grapevine Prayer Sheet that set out what was happening that week and news from mission partners and the like.
Below are responses to some of the pushback you might deal with when you seek to start a prayer meeting.
a. We don’t have a prayer meeting / there used to be a prayer meeting / we tried to start a prayer meeting/ people don’t/won’t come.
Be willing to start small. Fix a regular time with your fellow leaders and make a start. Pray about people’s hearts being moved to pray.
b. People won’t pray /aren’t used to praying / don’t know how to pray
I read of one pastor who suggested people come with prayers written out, which they then read. Prayer soon started to flow.
Help people to pray simple, short prayers perhaps suggesting in part of the meeting that they simply name an unconverted friend or family member: (Lord please save XX) and everyone say “Amen”.
Encourage people to say a vocal “Amen” to each other’s prayers. Use the Lord’s Prayer or some other prayers that everyone can say out loud together.
c. Everyone is too busy with life and all the other things we are doing
Better to stop something you are doing and put a prayer meeting in its place. If we don’t plan to pray together we are unlikely to pray together.
d. We pray in our small groups
Prayer in small groups is good. But prayer in small groups often focuses on the needs of individuals (not an unimportant thing or bad thing). The gathering of the whole church to pray enables prayer to be more focussed on the health and mission of the church and the advance of the gospel. Some churches opt for a fortnightly cycle of small groups and a whole church prayer meeting.
There is no prescribed way to hold a prayer meeting.
Some will pray in a large group for the whole of a meeting. Others will have some prayer all together and then suggest people turn into smaller groups for some of the sections. A lot will depend on those who attend.
The important thing? Let’s gather together to pray.