The weekly prayer meeting provides a wonderful opportunity to gather together to sing to the Lord, hear a short exhortation from his word, and intercede for one another in prayer. But why should we bother going to a prayer meeting? Given our busy schedules, a weekly prayer meeting may seem like a major inconvenience. Is it really worth the hassle? Yes, it is worth it. Here are five reasons why.
Prayer is how we communicate with our Father in heaven. God speaks to us through word and sacrament, and we speak to him through prayer. This is what God has ordained. And he tells us plainly that his will for our lives is that we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17-18; Eph. 6:18). He has created us and redeemed us for fellowship with himself. Just as any relationship requires good communication between the parties involved, the same is true in regard to our relationship with our heavenly Father. He wants to hear our voice. He desires that we, as the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, “offer up our desires … in the name of Christ, by the help of his Spirit; with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies” (Q. 178).
The weekly prayer meeting provides us with the opportunity to do this. To be sure, we must pray daily as individuals and families and every Lord’s Day as a congregation. But if we truly believe that prayer is, as we confess in the Heidelberg Catechism, “the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us” (HC Q. 116), then why not devote one hour a week to come together as a congregation and pray?
As pilgrims on the way to the heavenly country, we continually feel the weight of living in this fallen age. We are persistently assaulted by our three great enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. Prayer is the way we ask God for help. The finished work of Christ has provided us with this blessed privilege: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
What is it that we want God to do? What are the things that we long to see him do in our congregation, in our families, and in our personal lives? Do we want to see him bring more new converts to our church? Do we earnestly desire to progress in our sanctification? What is it that we truly want? Are we praying fervently for these things?
John Calvin reminds us that “to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him’this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it has been pointed out to him” (Institutes III.20.1). It is foolish not to go to the Lord in prayer for our needs. He is the Giver. And he invites us to go to him as our Father and persistently ask, seek, and knock (Luke 11:1-13). The weekly prayer meeting is a way for us to persevere in prayer and ask God for help in time of need.
While prayer is not a means of grace in the same way as the preached word or the sacraments, we must be careful not to downplay the fact that God supplies our consciences with peace through prayer. That is why Paul says in Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). The subjective peace that the Lord is so often pleased to give the anxious saint is closely connected with prayer. Again, Calvin imparts wisdom to us:
Words fail to explain how necessary prayer is, and in how many ways the exercise of prayer is profitable. Surely, with good reason the Heavenly Father affirms that the only stronghold of safety is the presence both of his providence, through which he watches over and guards our affairs, and of his power, through which he sustains us, weak as we are and well-nigh overcome, and of his goodness, through which he receives us, miserably burdened with sins, unto grace; and in short, it is by prayer that we call him to reveal himself as wholly present to us. Hence comes an extraordinary peace and repose to our consciences. For having disclosed to the Lord the necessity that was pressing upon us, we even rest fully in the thought that not one of our ills is hid from him who, we are convinced, has both the will and the power to take best care of us. (Institutes III.20.2)
In prayer we sit in on our Father’s presence and call upon his providence, power, and goodness. We bring not only our adoration and confession but also the worries, difficulties, and pressures that afflict us in this life. We cast our anxieties upon him, knowing that he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). We are then able to rise from our knees, knowing that he has heard us and will accomplish his will. The prayer meeting affords us a weekly opportunity to enjoy the subjective peace that God promises to us.
The early Reformers recognized the value of a weekly prayer meeting. In Geneva, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the churches held a prayer meeting every Wednesday evening. We find similar practices among the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians. By holding a midweek prayer meeting, we are not doing anything new or strange. In fact, we are continuing a time-tested custom that has been in the Reformed tradition since the days of Calvin.
There is something unique about a congregational prayer meeting. It helps to knit us together as a body. Prayer requires humility and open honesty before the Lord. There is no room for pretense in prayer. When we join together to pray for one another, it moves us beyond superficial chitchat. It drives us to strive together for the sake of the gospel and the communion of saints (Rom. 1:8-10; 15:30-33; Eph. 1:15-19; 3:14-21; 5:18-20; Phil. 1:3-11; 4:6-7; Col. 1:9-10; 4:2-4; 1 Thess. 1:2-3; 5:17; 1 Tim. 2:1-3, 8; 2 Tim. 1:3; Phil. 4-6).
As we travel through this wilderness age, let us take advantage of the blessed privilege of prayer! Our Lord Jesus Christ secured this opportunity for us through his incarnation, active obedience, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension. Let us follow his example and seek to be people of prayer. May God grant more and more that our churches will be praying congregations filled with praying disciples.