Why bother coming to the prayer meeting? In the pecking order of many congregations, it is somewhere below the much-lamented evening service. In the priorities of too many Christians, it seems to have little value. It’s the one we can afford to miss. It’s the one to which we don’t, or maybe wouldn’t, take our children–too boring! It’s the one which will give way amidst the pressures of life.

In fact, the congregational prayer meeting has much the same place in the life of the church as private prayer can have in the life of the Christian. . . not very much.

So why should you, as a Christian, be at your church’s prayer meeting? Why should this be one of those events, like all the services of the Lord’s day, around which you plan the rest of your week? Why should this be one of those fixed appointment which only a genuine providential hindrance should keep you from attending? What, quite apart from whatever oaths and promises you have made as a church member, should put you in your place there as a child of God?

Let me offer you a few suggestions. My intention is not to ‘guilt you’ into attendance. As with worship on the Lord’s day, I would have every Christian ask not, ‘Why do I have to?’ but, ‘What could stop me!?’

First, the corporate prayer meeting–the gathered church bowed at the mercy seat–provides some of our most direct congregational dealing with heaven. Alongside the prayers of the Lord’s day services, it is here than men speak with God, not just on their own behalf, but as the mouthpiece of the whole body of Christ in a particular place, for that church and for other saints. Do you know what happens when every voice sounds the ‘Amen!’ at the end of a particular prayer? It is the whole membership throwing its weight behind the praying brethren, one after another. We do not believe God hears us because of our many words, nor because of our many voices in sequence or in unison, but there is a holy gravity in which God delights when a united people express together their single appetite for the glory of his name in their midst and in the earth. There we enter together into the holiest place by the blood of Christ, there we exercise our privileges as blood-bought children of God, and there we crowd into our Father’s presence to make our wants and burdens known. If you want a little taste of heaven, get to the prayer meeting and cast in your lot with God’s people.

Second, the prayer meeting is often one of the distinct places where we keep up with the spiritual family business of God’s people. This may be particularly true in a smaller church. This is not because it is a hotbed of gossip, or because everyone always relates the latest list of ailments (in the UK we are often warned against this tendency, against the church which prays for Aunt Sally’s big toe–one asks why is her toe so afflicted as to have become the focal point of the corporate intercession?). But, as the various joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, burdens, and blessings of the church are made known to one another and before heaven, we enter into the life of the body, we share one another’s burdens and we enter into one another’s blessings.

I have known too many people who have consistently absented themselves from the prayer meetings who have subsequently complained that they are out on a limb, kept on the fringe, and not quite sure what is going on. Of course, there are absences for good and proper reasons, and those we try to make up. But whether deliberate or careless, consistent non-attendance at the prayer meeting is rarely an indication of particular closeness to the whole body, and typically leaves us increasingly out of the loop and drifting ever further toward the fringes of church life.

To be continued

– Jeremy Walker