As a young man who had recently come to Christ from a home where His Name was never honoured, I found the true meaning of church in a room filled with people who came from their busy lives to make time to pray. Yes, Sunday service (when I managed to escape my home to attend) was uplifting; the people were friendly; the sermons though sometimes far too intellectual for my young mind, were solid and meaty. But I found the prayer meeting a place where I saw God at work. The room was always packed, and the subjects of prayer ranged from the countless names of people we interceded for to the nations around the world.
When I came to Canada, I eagerly attended my first prayer meeting in the church near my university in Peterborough. To my surprise, I was one of two people who showed up, the other being a stalwart believer of 80 years. We got to know each other quite well, and we prayed for many people who submitted prayer items but never came. And we prayed for our church, our neighbours, and the nations of the world. In the three years we spent in prayer, three others joined us; the Sunday School grew for the first time in 20 years, and we saw our first baptism after 12 years of a dry tank. Before I left for Toronto, my friend grew ill and passed away. The prayer meeting folded and no one knew. After 6 years, I went back to visit only to find that the church had closed down, and the building sold.
As I read the Bible to fathom why believers were so lacking in corporate prayer, I could not find any reason in the Bible for consigning the prayer meeting to the garbage heap of unworkable ministries. Our Lord was never One to forget about prayer on His busy schedule (check out Mark 1:35). His public ministry concluded with a prayer meeting (John 17) and His arrest in Gethsemane took place when the soldiers burst into His place of prayer. Throughout my ministry, I’ve called people for prayer, reminded them by phone calls, emails and texts, gone out of the way to give them rides to church, moved prayer meeting to other times and other days, all in an effort to give us as God’s people the ability to respond to the call to pray together. Through all this, I have found myself balancing that fine line of encouraging people to pray, yet not making them feel guilty about not coming for prayer. Guilt is a terrible motivator for such a glorious call to prayer!
Here at New Life, I am encouraged by our band of 12 to 14 who show up faithfully to pray each week. Our time is sweetly spent and it serves as an oasis in the desert of the week. We have witnessed amazing answers to prayer, and enjoyed the sweet communion of the Spirit as we prayed together. Yet, I yearn to see more. Years ago, a mentor of mine once asked me as I began my first church ministry, “How many of your leaders and worship team come for prayer?” The question stung, because there were none. Then he quietly stated, “It will determine how your church grows.” I go back to the location where my church was in Peterborough to remind myself of what happened. It is now a sushi restaurant. And I daresay there are more people in it now than there were at prayer meeting in the time I was there.