16-1-3 Prayer Meetings
They “continued” in the doctrine, [example of] prayer and fellowship
of the apostles (Acts 2:42,46; 8:13). The same word is used of how we
must “continue” in prayer (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2), i.e. follow the
example of the early ecclesia in prayerfulness. The disciples had “continued”
in prayer after the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14), and now their converts
continued in prayer too. Note in passing that we continue in the pattern
of those who convert us. Thus to start with, Simon “continued with Philip”
(Acts 8:13). This means that who we are affects the spiritual
quality of others. So important was prayer in the early community that
the seven deacons had to make arrangements for the practical running of
the ecclesia so that they could give themselves more time for prayer (Acts
6:4); prayerfulness was more important than petty administration. Husbands
and wives abstained from sex for short periods so as to more powerfully
pray individually (1 Cor. 7:5). Communal prayer was a source of their
fellowship, their “one accord”: “They continued steadfastly in the apostles'
doctrine and fellowship in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts
2:42 NKJ). And they were “instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). They
got on their knees straight away. In Acts 12:5 they called a prayer meeting
about Peter’s imprisonment. 1 Tim. 5:5 shows that the sign of a true widow
was that she continued in prayers night and day. She was supported materially
so that she could keep up this work of praying for others (abused into
the Catholic system of paying for prayers to be said). There was a specific
group of “widows” in the early ecclesias, as in Acts 7. Their duty was
to pray for others; so important was prayer seen. 1 Pet. 3:7 gives an
unexpected reason for appealing for husbands and wives to get along with
each other: that your prayers be not hindered. So important was prayer
in the thinking of Peter. Comparing ourselves with the first century community,
it seems to me that we simply don’t give prayer the place of importance
which they did. 1 Tim 2:1 reflects their balance: “I exhort therefore,
that, first of all [the Greek implies ‘most importantly’ rather
than just being first in a list], supplications, prayers, intercessions,
and giving of thanks, be made for all men”. The scant information which
we are given about Lydia and Cornelius before their conversions includes
the fact that they were given to prayer; indeed, the implication is that
they came to the Gospel as a result of their prayerfulness and the witness
of the prayer meetings (Acts 10:31; 16:13,16).
The prayerfulness of the first century prayer meeting movement should
shock us into improvement. We can be shy to ask each other to pray, embarrassed
to immediately suggest we pray as we sit there together discussing a problem
or another brother’s misfortune. We have much room for improvement here.
But there are some good examples within our own ranks. I telephoned
a sister recently. Her young daughter answered. I asked, ‘Can I speak
to mummy please?’. ‘Well, err, could you call back?’ she replied. ‘Well,
is mummy at home? I can hold…’, I went on. ‘Well, you see mummy can’t
come to the telephone because she’s praying. She always does after lunch’.
Like a picture worth ten thousand words, so was this to me, as an exhortation
to regular and unashamed prayer, in the midst of life’s myriad distractions.
And it’s worth enquiring what the early church prayed for at
their prayer meetings. It wasn’t just for physical deliverance and for
the Gospel to prosper. An analysis of Paul’s prayers reveal that they
were overwhelmingly for the spiritual development of the new converts.
He must have been surrounded by so many more ‘material’ things to pray
for, such as safe keeping, help for the persecuted and those who had lost
their homes and families due to persecution, better economic conditions
etc. Paul was one of those people who saw to the essence of things very
quickly; and the ultimate essence is that people grow spiritually in whatever
situation they are in. And he also perceived that personal spiritual growth
is what will be the most powerful witness which will spread the Gospel
yet further. Thus he prays for his converts to have unity (Rom. 15:5),
overflowing hope (Rom. 15:13), abounding love and moral purity (1 Thess.
3:12,13), hearts encouraged (2 Thess. 2:16,17), continual peace (2 Thess.
3:12), perseverance (2 Thess. 3:16).