In today’s context of the global pandemic, churches are being forced to evaluate how to go about corporate worship in a safe, wise, and efficient manner as they navigate through the constant barrage of changing narratives and statistics related to COVID-19. There’s not any handbook on how to minister in a pandemic and seemingly every minister, church member, and political pundit has an opinion on what is best. Many churches are opting to cut programs or modify their corporate worship practices, and some are even canceling all activities for the remainder of the year.
However, this may actually be of great benefit for the Reformed and evangelical church at large. Churches are being forced to realize that perhaps many of their activities and things they hold to be essential to fulfill their core mission are actually, at best, optional. Many churches will never look the same as some activities will not be brought back after the pandemic is over. Hopefully, with a trimming of the fat of church activities comes a renewed emphasis on the meat of a regular means-of-grace ministry that is focused on Word, sacrament, and prayer. It is on this last, and often neglected means, that I want to briefly explore.
Corporate prayer has fallen on hard times over the years. Studied prayers during corporate worship and midweek prayer meetings are seen as archaic. Many churches have opted for small groups instead of prayer meetings and some prefer having less organized gatherings at the church in favor of allowing fellowship and prayer to happen organically. Neither of these things are inherently bad, but at the very least they have been overemphasized much to the detriment of the spiritual life of the local church. Many look around at the cultural landscape today and wonder where the church’s power has gone. They ask how we can have such solid Reformed and expositional preaching, sound doctrine, and greater access to biblical truth than ever before, yet the churches strength and witness seem to be waning. How can we return to the days of power and revival that we read about? I would argue that the missing ingredient is the midweek prayer meeting.
In the midweek prayer meeting we are laying claim to the promise that Christ is with us in power. In Matthew 18:19–20, Jesus tells his disciples that “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” The word for agree in the Greek is the word symphōnéō, which means “in one accord” or “to be in harmony together,” and it is where we get our word “symphony.” The midweek prayer meeting is where the church gathers together, praying in concert over the needs of the church with the promise of Christ’s blessing.
One would be hard-pressed to find any major revival in history that was not connected to a prayer meeting. A cursory reading of the birth of the New Testament church in Acts would confirm this truth. The church was gathered in prayer in the upper room, praying in “one accord” just before the Holy Spirit descended upon them in power (Acts 1:14). There’s no wonder that the early church was marked by a devotion to prayer (Acts 2:42), as they had experienced first-hand the power of God present in corporate prayer. It would be difficult to find a major moment or decision from the early church that wasn’t first accompanied by a season of prayer.
Yet, for many churches, the idea of having a midweek prayer meeting is relegated to a relic of past ages that isn’t relevant or effective in today’s church life. My fear is that those churches that have historically had a prayer meeting will choose to not reconvene when the pandemic subsides. We need to rediscover the work of prayer in our ministries. Every aspect of church life needs to be covered in prayer. To gather in one accord and to pray by name for lost souls, for the ministry of the Word, for the sick and poor, and for our leaders is to inject life into our church.
Many of us know firsthand the impact of receiving a card in the mail from the church letting us know that the church has been praying for us. It warms the heart and motivates service. I dare say that many of us would not be here without prayers offered up on our behalf during a prayer meeting. We must return to the old paths and rouse ourselves to take hold of God for the sake of church (Isa. 64:7). Thomas Brooks once stated that “private prayer is that privy key of heaven that unlocks all the treasures of glory to the soul.” How much truer for the church militant gathered together in symphony? Come, let us recover this ancient practice and see if God will not pour out His blessing upon us.