Charles H. Spurgeon’s Only a Prayer Meeting was written to address the growing tendency in the late nineteenth century to regard corporate church prayer meetings as something elitist and optional. Spurgeon would have none of it. Every church should meet for prayer. Without prayer, churches die.
“The advantages of a well conducted prayer-meeting,” wrote John Angel James, “are great and numerous.” In a day when the midweek meeting is known for its suppers and small-group Bible studies, we ought perhaps to reflect a little on the necessity for the prayer meeting in the life of the New Testament church.
The New Testament church was conceived at a prayer meeting. What were believers doing before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost? Having been expressly told to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4, 8), the disciples (men and women, not only the Twelve) met together in an upper room and “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14).
Two things are worth highlighting. Notice that they prayed “with one accord” (Greek homothumadon; cf. Acts 15:25). There was a tangible unity and agreement about their praying. They also “devoted” themselves to prayer. The Greek word (proskartereō) suggests business and persistence. Paul echoes the idea by using the same Greek word in two of his letters, exhorting the Romans to “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12), and the Colossians “to continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col. 4:2).
The New Testament church continued as it had begun. Thus, immediately after Pentecost, believers “devoted themselves to . . . the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Later, after Peter and John’s escape from prison, they joined their fellow disciples who immediately “lifted their voices together to God” (Acts 4:24), and before Peter and John resumed their preaching work, they again engaged in a season of prayer (Acts 4:31). Later still, when Peter was imprisoned again, the church responded with yet another prayer meeting (Acts 12:5,12). And there are many more examples throughout Acts (13:1; 6:4–6; 16:25; etc.). Prayer formed the lifeblood of the New Testament church. Prayer sustained the church from day to day and special occasions were bathed in prayer. It is difficult to think about the church of the New Testament without testifying to its prayerfulness.
We are bound to ask ourselves these questions: Are we reflecting the early church’s practice or are we not? And if not, why not? Of all the things that our churches are known by, is “given to prayer” one of them? Your church and mine need to meet for prayer.