The weekly prayer meeting at Bethel Church has recently moved from Sunday evening to Monday evenings at 6:00 PM (except during holiday weekends). This change was made to make it accessible to more members. The meeting is open to anyone, not just members. Contact me if you are interested in more details, or just drop in and join us. The following paragraphs describe the purpose and content of the meetings. I hope they will be useful to others who lead prayer meetings.
Prayer should be a vital part of any church ministry and of the daily life of every Christian. Yet, we often struggle to find time for prayer and to experience prayer in meaningful ways. The weekly prayer meeting at Bethel Church is intended to help us learn how to support one another in prayer, to express ourselves to God in purposeful and meaningful ways and to discern God’s voice speaking to us. A meeting devoted to prayer can be an important contributor to the vitality of church life and ministry and the prayer lives of the individuals who attend. God certainly hears our individual prayers, but Jesus also encouraged his disciples to gather together in his name (Matt. 18:20) and his first disciples certainly made a habit of doing so (Acts 1:14; 3:1; 12:5,12). Corporate prayer reinforces individual prayer like the burning coals of a fire keep one another lit when they would quickly die out if separated.
The evening prayer meeting has been devoted to providing a time and place for people to come together and pray for one another and for the needs and ministry of Bethel Church. It has also been a place where people can come and spend time in God’s presence apart from the business and distractions of daily life. Quiet music, devotional readings and instructional introduction to the various types of prayer and meditation practiced by the Church and encouraged by Scripture have been a regular part of the meetings. Sunday evening was a difficult time for many people who would like to attend, so the meeting has been moved to Monday evening at 6:00 PM. We hope this change will make it more convenient for more people to attend. While the effectiveness of prayer depends not on the numbers praying as far as God is concerned, the benefit of a prayer meeting to the people of a congregation increases with participation.
The format of the meeting is flexible. There is a default template that the prayer meeting generally follows, but those who lead the meeting should be sensitive to any special needs of the church or of individuals at particular times and adapt the content of the meeting accordingly. For example, if someone is in critical need of prayer for healing or other difficult situation, that should be made a priority in the prayer meeting. Those in attendance should be directly involved in praying for those who come to the meeting with such needs. It is also important that time be devoted during the meeting to prayer for those who specifically request prayer during this meeting on the prayer request cards that are handed in during the Sunday worship services. If there are no overriding concerns, the meeting usually follows the following pattern:
- Quiet time (5 10 minutes). At the beginning of the meeting time is reserved for silent prayer and reflection. This isn’t just filler for people who arrive early while waiting for those who come later (though it does serve that purpose). Many people find the experience of prayer more effective when they first take time to clear their minds of any distracting thoughts and center their minds in God’s presence. Music that is conducive to this exercise is usually played during this time.
- Devotional reading (5 10 minutes). This is usually given by the leader. It can be anything related to the practice or concerns of prayer. For example, it could be a reading from Scripture (especially the Psalms) that illustrates a certain form of prayer or prayer concern with some devotional comments made by the leader. Or, reading an especially encouraging or instructive passage from a book on prayer. Alternatively, the leader can introduce a method of prayer that will be practiced that evening (e.g., lectio divina, praying Scripture, listening prayer, healing prayer, etc.) and give some instruction on how it will be carried out. This part of the meeting should be as short as possible so as to give the most time for actual prayer.
- Prayer (30 40 minutes). This time is devoted to prayer by those present. Everyone is encouraged to participate silently or aloud. The leader should begin, praying in response to the devotional reading and leading the congregation into whatever form of prayer is being practiced. Time is always given during the evening for petition and intercession for needs expressed on the prayer request cards or during the meeting. If there isn’t enough time to cover all requests during the meeting, the leader and whoever else is able, should stay after the meeting and pray for those requests.
- Closing (1 2 minutes). The leader should give a closing prayer thanking God for his presence, accessibility and work in our lives, asking his blessing and guidance in the coming week.
- Afterward, the prayer leader and any others who are able, should stay and pray with those who have more personal needs for prayer.
Again, the prayer meeting is not programmed. There is no fixed order of service, but this format provides a template for what is usually done and gives people some idea of what to expect in the meeting. There are many good ideas for how this meeting may be used that don’t strictly follow this format. Special prayer meetings like this should be announced and described during the Sunday services and on the prayer chain or prayer meeting email lists so people have advance notice of them. Some examples are:
- A special meeting for healing prayer. This can be to pray for particular people who have been asked to come to the meeting for this purpose or it can be a general invitation for people who have such needs to come.
- A meeting devoted to practicing a particular form of prayer. See Richard Foster’s book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home for examples. The leader should use the devotional time for some introduction and instruction for people who are unfamiliar with the practice to get people started.
- Video or audio presentations on prayer like the Be Still and Know that I Am God film presentation.
- Prayer meetings can have a common theme for a period of time (e.g., one month) to give reinforcement to what is being learned and practiced during the meetings.
Prayer is as much (or more) about listening to God as talking to him. It often has more to do with how God changes us rather than how he changes things for us. The prayer meetings should evince this underlying philosophy in their content and manner of conduct. The meetings should encourage spiritual formation in those who attend through a deeper personal prayer life. Much of prayer is a simple discipline of making time to acknowledge and accommodate God’s presence in our lives. This transforms us into Christlike people who are better formed for the purpose of doing his will and work in the world and who are better able to recognize, accept and handle his answers to our prayers. These meetings, therefore, are ideally an expression of the fellowship we have with God and one another as growing disciples of Jesus Christ. We encourage one another to overcome obstacles to prayer that we all face and to find a deeper expression of it in our whole lives. Prayer is not about performance, eloquence in speech, or always getting the desired results or a feel good experience. It’s about keeping in touch with the God of the universe who loves us deeply and who wants to involve us just as deeply in his work in this world. The practice of prayer should grow into something that we long for and learn to do continually in various ways during the course of our life’s activity (1 Thess. 5:17).