Why do we have a prayer meeting? "We meet toegther to edify one another by an interchange of thoughts and feelings, to gather strength, and light, and courage by becoming acquainted with one another's hopes and aspirations; .and by our earnest, heartfelt prayers, offered up in faith, we receive.refreshment and vigor from the Source of our strength. These meetings should be most precious seasons and should be made interesting to all who have any relish for religious things." —Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 578.
Then, why do we meet together?
1. To edify one another by an interchange of thoughts and feelings.
2. To gather strength, and light, and courage.
3. To unite in earnest, heartfelt prayers.
In view of the above, it is evident that we have testimony meetings and prayer sessions in an endeavor to gather strength and light. There are a number of ways in which this can be brought about so that the prayer meeting will be a place where those who are really seeking for communion with God will be seen.
The prayer meeting should definitely be an informal service where the people are given an opportunity to express themselves. It should be the time when they bring their special requests before the Lord and talk about their heavy burdens. It should be a time when they are permitted to speak of what God has done for them, and tell of their own personal experiences in working for others or in overcoming temptations in their own lives.
Here are some suggestions for making the prayer meeting interesting, varied, and helpful:
The Song Service
1. Whenever possible have special music—solo, duet, or instrument. Perhaps those less talented can sing or otherwise contribute to the service, and thus not feel that they have been left out just because they have not been asked to participate in the eleven o'clock worship hour.
2. Give the people an opportunity to choose the songs they like. (One Wednesday evening a dear old sister asked me to sing her favorite song, "I've Found a Friend." I sang it for her, and it made her very happy. The next evening her daughter called and said that her mother had passed away very suddenly. I felt that God had used me in that informal meeting in a very special way. That sister would not have made such a request at a more formal service.)
3. Have a song leader if possible, and be sure that the song service is one that will help the people to relax and be happy.
Body of the Service
1. A devotional or inspirational talk should not exceed twenty minutes. Thus the people are allowed time for testimony and prayer.
2. Give a series of talks—for instance, "The Ten Commandments," "The Lord's Prayer," "The Twenty-third Psalm," "The Beatitudes." We had a series on the Ten Commandments, using Taylor G. Bunch's book. This series was very profitable and much appreciated.
3. Mark your Bible. Help the people mark the important doctrinal texts in their Bibles, grouping the texts into studies. We are just now doing this in our church. Many are coming to prayer meeting now who did not come before. They are extremely interested in this project and would not think of missing a meeting. This particular type of meeting serves several purposes:
a. We can review the major doctrines of our message.
b. It teaches our people how to use their Bibles and give studies to their husbands, friends, relatives, and neighbors, etc.
c. It prompts them to use a study as soon as they have it marked in their Bible. They are very thrilled with this simple procedure. One of the greatest things we can give to our people is the confidence that they can give Bible studies, that they can work for others. We must teach them how to do it. If a pastor can do that, he has accomplished a great deal for the people. For, as they work for others, their own spiritual experience will be strengthened.
5. Give a series of health talks. (While holding Sunday night meetings, I invited the people to attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting, where the health lecture was given. Many non-Adventists attended, and thus were able to receive our health message.)
6. The Sabbath school department might like to hold a series of meetings on teacher training, or the home missionary department might wish to hold a series on training light bearers. Use Outline Studies on the Testimonies. As soon as we have finished with our Bible-marking series of meetings, we plan to use the new Christian Home Library book, by Clifton
L. Taylor, and have a series of studies on the Testimonies. This should be profitable, and surely it is much needed.
Prayer Session and Testimony Meeting
1. Have a testimony meeting as often as possible. Give the people an opportunity to speak. They need to talk about what God has done for them personally, or in answer to their prayers. If a testimony gets too long, the pastor can tactfully say: "That's fine, brother [or sister], thank God for that. Amen." Usually, the speaker will sit down. The members should be instructed to make their testimonies brief so that all will have an opportunity to speak for their Lord. (If time permits, a number might be asked to recount how the Lord brought this message to them. It is good to give such experiences.)
2. Just before the time of prayer, the pastor can give a brief report on the sick of the church, their condition, etc. If they are hospitalized the members can be informed, and they in turn will send cards to them or visit them. Then all can be asked to express what they wish to pray about, what their special burdens are, etc.
The members should be taught that public prayer, even at the prayer meeting, should be short and to the point. "Christ impressed upon His disciples the idea that their prayers should be short, expressing just what they wanted, and no more. . . . One or two minutes is long enough for any ordinary prayer."—Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 581. (Of course there may be special occasions where an exception should be made.)
3. Have a number of persons pray.
4. Prayer bands are also good for large gatherings, especially if the service is in an auditorium where the groups can gather together with someone in charge. In this manner more can participate in the prayer service.
5. Have a prayer list. The names of loved ones, relatives, friends, and neighbors are added to this list from week to week, and presented to the Lord each Wednesday evening. A number of persons have been baptized in our church whose names were on our list. When they are brought into the church we like to show them their name, and then assure them that it is now on God's heavenly list.
The closing exercises should be short. We usually stand and sing "Into My Heart" or a similar chorus and are dismissed.
We are using the "buddy system" in our church for new members. When a new member comes into the church, an older member is assigned to him as his "buddy." The older member is responsible for him, checking on him each Sabbath to see that he is in church. He also invites him to prayer meeting and, if possible, sees that he has transportation. In this way we urge new members to attend the prayer meeting regularly. We find it helps the older members as well as the new members.
It might be that you could use a bit of strategy in increasing the attendance at prayer meeting and at the same time be doing a service for the members. Call a business meeting or board meeting an hour before prayer meeting; then invite all to stay for the service. In this way they will be making only one trip to the church during that week. If the prayer meeting is interesting, they will probably return.
Last summer we sponsored a potluck supper on the back lawn of the church. The members were invited to come and bring their family and friends. At seven-thirty the song service for the prayer meeting began and they were invited into the prayer meeting. We had a large attendance that night, and plan to follow a similar procedure a number of times this coming summer. In this way the whole family becomes acquainted with the prayer meeting.
Truly the prayer meeting is the pulse of the church. It can be the most spiritually edifying and satisfying of all our gatherings.