“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (Acts 1:14)
After the ascension, the Apostles of our Lord met together with their wives, with Mary, and with the other brethren, continuing “with one accord in prayer and supplication.” Then, at the appointed time and according to the promise of God, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the infant church on the Day of Pentecost.
This passage is often referred to as an example of and basis for what is called “prayer meetings,” meetings particularly for the purpose of praying, especially with reference to revival. Generally, these are not public worship services, but meetings of the “spiritually elite,” usually men, in which one man after another leads the others in “prayer.” In some cases all join in audibly, making it a time of senseless confusion. The hope is that many men praying together can twist the arm of the omnipotent God and get him to send revival.
Is that what took place in the early church? Not likely. Acts 1:14 speaks of the church meeting in public worship. They “continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women.” The women also prayed and made supplication, but certainly not audibly (1 Cor. 14:34-35).
I am occasionally asked, “Why don’t you have prayer meetings in your church?” My answer is, “We have prayer meetings at least three times every week. All our worship services are prayer meetings.”
Our men meet in my office before every service for Scripture reading and prayer. The public reading of Holy Scripture and prayer are also a central part of all our worship services. I encourage the men who read and lead us in prayer to read a brief passage, with little or no comment. Then he leads the rest of us in prayer. But we do not have the kind of prayer meetings that are common in most conservative churches, because I see no value in them. In fact, I see them as detriments, rather than helps.
Most of what goes on in the religious world is nothing but the practice of sentimentalism, designed and intended to make people feel religious and spiritual. People who call, asking to be put on our “prayer list,” are shocked when I tell them we don’t have a prayer list. I don’t want to be put on anyone’s prayer list. I want you to remember me before the throne of grace as God enables you to pray. Churches advertise “prayer lines,” as though we could get in contact with God by a dial-up connection. Such tom-foolery is as absurd and perverse as anything I can imagine. I would rather have a dial-up wife than have a dial-up god! Others start “prayer chains”. There is no more power in a prayer chain than there is in one of those chain letters you ladies get from superstitious friends. We often get letters with an “urgent prayer request.” But we are not going to get God Almighty to do what we want him to do by trying to twist his arm! And multitudes engage in “group prayers,” or what is called “prayer meetings.” Groups can’t twist God’s arm any better than an individual can.
Anything commonly practiced and promoted by the whole religious world ought to be marked with a skull and cross bones. It is nothing but poison to your soul.
I said that those things called “prayer meetings” are real detriments rather than helps, because they tend to much evil. Those who join in the group are looked upon (and, if the truth be told, usually look upon themselves) as the spiritual elite of the church, considering others less spiritual. And such meetings are looked upon as forerunners to revival. After all, all the histories of revival tell us that before revival came, men (and usually women) had great prayer meetings in which they worked themselves up into a frenzy, calling it God’s work.
Frankly, I am not impressed by most of what has been called revival in church history. That which is commonly called revival appears to me to be more demonic than heavenly. Most would call the events recorded in 1 Kings 18:26, 28, and 29 revival, if they were to occur today, and the word Jesus were used instead of Baal. But true revival came in verse 39. When God works his wonders in the midst of his people, he does not cause a fleshly, charismatic show of emotional frenzy. Rather, he causes sinners to be awed before him in worship, bowing before the throne of his sovereign majesty (read Isaiah 6, Joel 2 and Acts 2). Whatever revival is, it is not a spasmodic fit of religion, with only temporary results. Rather, it is Christ seizing the hearts of men and women by his omnipotent grace.
I do not want to discourage prayer. Let us pray more, not less! But we ought to take this matter of prayer, speaking to God, seriously (Eccles. 5:2). I am desperately afraid of being pretentious before God! Too often when I speak to God my words are too many and my thought too few.
Rather than getting people worked up in “prayer meetings” I offer this suggestion to pastors and churches. — Let us, like the church in Acts 1:14, continue “with one accord in prayer and supplication,” worshipping God. As we meet together in God’s house, with his people, in our Savior’s name, let our hearts be focused on worshipping our God, pouring out our hearts to him in prayer and supplications, as we preach and hear the blessed gospel of his free, saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by the preaching of the gospel that Christ is honored, his people are edified, and sinners are converted. It is by this means, not religious excitement, that God is pleased to pour out upon his church his Spirit and his grace.