Why is it that so few people come to prayer meetings? Why are prayer meetings mostly lifeless? And why do some of those who attend seem half-asleep?
Rather than the Devil being behind the lethargic atmosphere one finds at most prayer meetings, the main cause is that prayer meetings are naturally perfect for sending people to sleep. The idea of somebody sitting down, relaxed, with their eyes closed, listening to somebody gently talking, isn’t much different than a child laying in bed being read to before they go to sleep.
Closing one’s eyes is not the answer
Although almost everyone does it, closing one’s eyes is rarely effective in aiding concentration during prayer – unless there are many visual distractions. I know of no one who has blocked their ears while praying alone to God in a noisy area, and yet almost everyone will close their eyes to pray even if it is too dark to see anything. And if closing our eyes aids concentration so much, why are children expected to keep their eyes open when they are taught in school?
The main reason someone would sit with their eyes closed is because they have a desire to rest or sleep. Closing our eyes when praying is mostly fruitless because, even though we shut off all of our external senses, we cannot stop thoughts entering into our minds. On many occasions people will find themselves daydreaming, thinking of all sorts of things other than what is being prayed about, oblivious to anything that was said past the first couple of sentences. When we close our eyes and our bodies relax it is natural to find ourselves drifting off. At least if we keep our eyes open it prevents the feeling of drowsiness.
Concentration is a state of mind that doesn’t require the shutting DOWN of the senses (e.g. closing our eyes and blocking our ears), but the shutting OUT of the senses, which is achieved by focusing our attention upon a single goal.
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” – Acts 7 v 59-60
Even while Stephen was being stoned to death he kneeled down and prayed for the forgiveness of those who were stoning him. Surely, nothing can be more distracting than being stoned, even with one’s eyes closed, and yet Stephen still managed to concentrate on his prayer rather than what was going on around him.
How should we pray?
God gave no commandment on what position to take while praying. Not once does the Bible mention anyone closing their eyes when they pray. The only times the Bible mentions people’s eyes when praying reveals that they were open, and looking up to heaven. Jesus himself looked up to heaven when he prayed:
“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:” – John 17 v 1
In Psalm 5, king David reveals that he looked towards heaven when he prayed:
“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” – Psalm 5 v 3
The following is part of the parable of the publican and the Pharisee:
“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” – Luke 18 v 13
We don’t read that the Pharisee looked up to heaven, but we do read that the publican specifically would not look up to heaven. The fact that the parable mentions this seems to indicate that it was standard practice to look up to heaven while praying, and because he felt such guilt he wouldn’t even do that.
In the Old Testament we see evidence of prayer to God being made from a kneeling position, indicating humility, and looking up to heaven with hands lifted up:
“And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.” – 1 Kings 8 v 54
“And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God,” – Ezra 9 v 5
“And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” – Isaiah 1 v 15
According to the Bible, standard actions of people praying are looking towards heaven, kneeling, and spreading out hands towards heaven.
The order of service
Nowhere in the New Testament is the holding of a regular prayer meeting made a requirement, or even mentioned. The only time we read of Christians meeting specifically for prayer was when they sought God over a particular thing that was greatly troubling them, such as Peter’s imprisonment, or any specific situation of great importance where God’s direction was required. The reason for this was that there was no need for a meeting dedicated only to prayer.
The prayer meeting is the most boring meeting according to the majority of Christians, and church leaders always face a struggle to get people to come along. To make it less unpopular, church leaders often add a bit of life to the meeting by including a Bible study, singing a hymn or two, and/or watching a short video. Even having more interesting additions doesn’t take away from the fact that prayer meetings are usually gloomy and sombre affairs.
We refer to meetings held by Christians on Sunday as a service. A service is a ceremony that is set out in a predetermined order, and Christian services did not exist in the days of the early church.
Referring to the way in which a meeting should be conducted, the apostle Paul says to the Christians at Corinth, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” – 1 Corinthians 14 v 40
It is possible that some Christians may see the request for things to be done in order as a requirement for a service, where everything must be performed in a predetermined way; however, this is certainly not the context of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 14.
“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” – 1 Corinthians 14 v 26
Here, Paul’s description of the Christian meetings at Corinth indicates that everybody present seemed determined to say something at the meeting. He points out that they should not all try to make a contribution for the sake of it, but certainly doesn’t say that it is wrong for anyone to make a contribution. He also says, regarding edification, that whether or not one contributes is unimportant, it is whether people benefit from such contributions.
“Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” – 1 Corinthians 14 v 29 – 33
The order that Paul was talking of was not to have a set order of service that should be adhered to, but that people should not cause a scene of confusion by doing multiple things at once. The order is that things should be done one at a time, not that they should be done in a predetermined way. The fact that anyone having a revelation is expected to proclaim their revelation and interrupt the meeting backs up the idea that predetermined order is not a requirement at Church meetings.
Not once in the New Testament are Christians told to hold a meeting regarding a specific subject. If Christians who meet together would allow all members of the church to contribute as they felt led by the Holy Spirit then the service would probably attract more people. Even prayer would not be a chore, as people would not feel compelled to pray but could pray as they felt led.