If I might venture to say one word about the prayer meeting it would be this: I do not believe any brother should take part unless he has some definite petition to present. I have been in prayer meetings where I have felt as if brothers began without knowing a single thing they were going to ask for, and discoursed about every subject that happened to come into their minds. This may be profitable religious exercise, but it is certainly not prayer.
- C. A. Coates, The Believer Established, p. 58
You know, I tend to come off a little negatively sometimes. OK, most of the time. But today I have some very positive things to say.
Yesterday was Wednesday, which means it was Prayer Meeting last night at the assembly where we fellowship. I'm frequently reluctant to attend Prayer Meeting, since it often feels more like a waste of time than anything else. Nevertheless, I've been endeavouring to be "good" in my attendance for the last month or so. I've been out the last two weeks with some minor health problems, but yesterday we were all hale and hearty.
Let's review that last point a minute: I've skipped two Sunday evening meetings in the last month, both for rather spurious reasons. Wednesday nights has seen good attendance, except for the last two weeks.
Well, yesterday I was thinking about going to the meeting. I was planning on attending, but I almost refused to go when we got a guilt-trip email about Prayer Meeting yesterday: that sort of thing just makes me want not to go. Why not? Think Pavlov: if I get a guilt-trip email and then I go, the would-be guilt-trippers might get the idea they succeeded. But I prayed about it, and suddenly had the thought that even though there has been little to make me want to attend for the last few months, I could certainly go as an act of sacrificial worship. Does that sound corny? It does to me, but I sincerely felt that I could lay a Wednesday night on the altar, so to speak, and go "as unto the Lord".
So we went.
In case you've never been to a Prayer Meeting in an assembly like the one where we fellowship, let me give you a brief sketch. Prayer Meeting lasts about 1 1/2 hour. It's typically opened with a hymn, then the person who handles correspondence on behalf of the assembly reads whatever letters have come in the last week. Those letters are from other assemblies, missionaries, traveling preachers, etc. They're frequently thank-you notes for money we sent them, or sometimes updates about what they're doing, etc. Frequently there are letters or emails containing prayer requests. Those are all read. Then anyone with an announcement or prayer request not in the letters will give those out verbally. After all that, everyone quiets down and people take turns standing and praying. That's the first hour. Then there's a half-hour Bible Reading.
Well, last night there was the typical spate of letters, then we got into the prayer part. It was great! Rather than the typical muttering out everything that comes to mind and throwing in an "O Lord" every sentence or two, people prayed like they meant it. They prayed for what they were concerned with rather than presenting an omnibus to the Lord; and they prayed with obvious care and compassion. There was prayer for all the sick and needy people in the letters (which is very right and good), but there was prayer for our attitudes with one another, our obvious lack of love for one another, etc. There was meaningful prayer. The prayers were shorter, but they were obviously more earnest, honest, and heartfelt. And all but a few stood and prayed.
The Bible Reading afterwards was good too. Rather than the typical long silences punctuated by either pointing out the obvious or inventing some sort of mystical interpretations; there was real insight. Lots of people chimed in, and everyone seemed to have something to say.
In other words, it was a meeting that made me want to go back next week.