A number of issues flow on from the insights I proposed in my last blog. The first one taps the joy dimension of Christian experience, having to do with corporate prayer. I’ll tackle others in coming weeks.
God’s people coming together to pray has been a subject close to my heart for some years now. The church prayer meeting. A meeting notoriously under-attended - which is not surprising, because until very recently, and going as far back as I can remember, it was deadly dull. How many times have I dozed off during the church prayer meeting?
Of old, the prayer meeting may have opened with a hymn, but apart from that it was all about intercession, asking God for things. Intercession is fine, with lots of Biblical precedent. But when we turn to the Psalms, or to significant portions of Isaiah, we get a quite different impression of coming together for prayer. It’s much more about praising God, giving thanks, listening, yes listening for his whisper, joyfully seeking his presence. Wow, that’s different! What saint of God wouldn’t want to do that?
By and large, prayer meetings are still announced as being “for” something. “All welcome to the pre-service prayer meeting, where we will pray for the service.” But the idea that it can at least begin by simply sitting together in God’s presence, opening our hearts to him, sharing our experiences of him, being inspired by what he has been saying to our fellow saints, is slowly, slowly gaining ground. Many churches will use the ACTS acronym (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I don’t much like this acronym, but at least it focuses most of our attention on God, before we come to what we want to ask of him.
And, yes, intercession still definitely features. But it occurs much more naturally, overflowing from hearts freshly Spirit-filled. God prompts from his heart to our hearts the people and issues he wants us to pray for. Prayer lists still have their place, often informing us of prayer needs we may be unaware of, but let’s be Spirit-led, not list-led.
The fact that I regularly faded out during the old prayer meeting regime undoubtedly reflected a lack of awareness and compassion for the issues and people listed for prayer. And the great majority of saints announced by their absence a similar lack. I’m so much more motivated by the joyful, vibrant approach beginning to make its mark. But so far as I can see, that mark has just barely touched a few leaders, and has yet to change the church’s culture of prayer in a perceptible way. When leaders catch the fire, there’s a chance the rest of the church will be set ablaze.
By the way – don’t thank people for coming to the church prayer meeting. That’s the old regime. It’s like thanking a bride for coming to her own wedding! That’s the vibrant, joyful perspective!