In Defense of the Prayer Meeting (Part 2): Its Essential Purpose
This series of posts is in defense of the prayer service. In the first post, I offered some important introductory remarks, and laid out the biblical warrant for the prayer service.
The second reason to maintain the prayer service is rooted in what the prayer service represents. Namely, the prayer service represents the body of Christ corporately devoting themselves to seeking the spiritual blessing of God upon them and their work.
Follow my logic here. (1) Christian ministry depends upon the gracious blessing of God. (2) Corporate prayer is a vital means appointed by Christ for seeking and obtaining his gracious blessing. Since the work of Christian ministry depends upon the blessing of God, and since corporate prayer is a vital means God has given us for seeing this blessing, the prayer meeting has an essential purpose for seeing the blessing of God upon Christian ministry.
(1) Christian ministry depends upon the gracious blessing of God.
The New Testament consistently teaches that our work as churches depends upon God’s gracious blessing through the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thess 5:23, Paul says that God is the one who sanctifies believers. Paul also repeatedly thanks God for the spiritual standing of saints. Rom 1:8, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. A similar theme can be found in Ephesians 1:15: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints (also see Phil 1:3-6; Col 1:3-8; 1 Thess 1:2-5; 2 Thess 1:3-4). That Paul gives thanks to God tells us that God is the one who made the spiritual condition of those saints possible.
That God is the one who does the work in saints is taught in other places, and in other ways. In Romans 15:18-19, Paul gives all the glory to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for what his preaching has accomplished for God’s glory: For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God. Similarly, when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to give a report of their missionary work, they gave all the glory to God: And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).
The success of Christian ministry depends upon the gracious blessing of God. We need God’s help, or the arm of flesh will fail.
(2) Corporate prayer is a vital means appointed by Christ for seeking and obtaining his gracious blessing.
Here I am arguing two somewhat distinct points. First, I am saying that corporate prayer is a means for seeking and obtaining God’s gracious blessing. Second, Christ himself has appointed prayer as this means.
In the previous post, I showed how often the early church gathered for prayer. Sometimes we know what they were praying for. One such example is found in Acts 13. The Antioch church was gathered for worship when the Holy Spirit revealed (perhaps through a prophet in that church) that they were to set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
Notice how Christian ministry is front and center in Acts 13: the work to which I have called them. It is at that moment that the church then dedicates itself to corporate prayer (seeming for more than one meeting, given that fasting was also involved) and sends them off to do that work. By their example, the early church teaches us the importance of corporate prayer in seeking God’s blessing in the work of the ministry.1
Even more telling is when Paul commands churches to pray for his gospel work. Colossians 4:3–4 says, … pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Again in Ephesians, Paul urges the saints to make corporate prayer for him (Eph 6:18-20). The prayers are for Paul so that he might fulfill his gospel ministry with clarity and boldness. Yet the plain implication is (in both Eph 6 and Col 4 above) that God must bless, not only the results of the ministry of the Word, but the basic execution of the ministry of the Word as well.
A similar plea is made in Romans 15. Paul’s urgency to the whole church there is palpable:
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. (Romans 15:30–33, ESV)
The appeal in Romans 15 is once again to the entire church. They are to pray together for Paul’s ministry. This is corporate prayer. Paul’s appeal is most serious; he urges them by our Lord Jesus and their spiritual love for him. Then he calls them to strive or work in prayer to God for his work for Christ. The safety he seeks from his Jewish assassins and the perils of travel is tied to his lifelong commitment to serving Christ in gospel preaching.
That Christ’s apostle himself commands these prayers teaches us that corporate prayer is Christ’s will for the churches. We may no longer be praying for Paul’s safety or his preaching, but such passages make plain that Christ wants us to pray for those who preach the gospel. Jesus Christ wants churches to gather for prayer for their own pastor and each other as they evangelize and discipline within their own congregations. He wants us to pray for the pastors who lead sister churches, for those who teach pastors, and for missionaries. Through such prayer, God graciously gives success to his servants.
Let me stress again that each of these passages I have selected–Acts 13; Col 4:3-4; Eph 6:18-20; and Rom 15:30-33–are places where prayer of the corporate church is either exemplified or commanded. Prayer for God’s blessing on Christian ministry can (and should!) certainly take place in the individual “prayer closets” of each believer in those churches. Yet the sense of these texts is that churches ought to give themselves to focused, unified, corporate prayer for these matters.
We’re not simply talking about the importance of prayer generally; we’re talking about the importance of corporate prayer.
All this is to say that corporate prayer is a vital means appointed by Christ for seeing his gracious blessing. If corporate prayer is so important to the work of the ministry, then the prayer meeting has an essential purpose in the life of the church for seeing God’s gracious and effectual blessing upon the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
Our work as churches does not depend upon us; it depends upon God. The work of the gospel being done by sister congregations depends upon God. The work of the gospel through worldwide missions depends not on us, but on God. Christ in his Word has called us to pray, and to pray together for this work. The prayer meeting is an important way for us to give ourselves to–indeed, to strive together in (Rom 15:30)—regular, organized corporate prayer for God’s gracious blessing upon the work of the ministry, as Christ has instructed us.
About Ryan Martin
Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).
- Epaphras planted the church in Colossae (Col 1:7). Eventually Paul needed Epaphras’s help elsewhere, so Paul moved Epaphras from Colossae and replaced him with Archippus (Col 4:17). How did Epaphras bring down the continued blessing of God upon the Colossian saints? By prayer. Col 4:12 says: Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. Epaphras’s prayers were admittedly not corporate prayer, but it shows the role of prayer in obtaining the spiritual graces of God upon the saints. [↩]