There are myriads of collections of C. H. Spurgeon’s addresses. Recently, I read through one of those collections, a collection of forty addresses at prayer meetings gathered together into a volume entitled ‘Only a Prayer Meeting!’ The title is taken from the first address in which Spurgeon lambastes those who sometimes ‘wickedly’ refer to prayer meetings as ‘only a prayer-meeting’. However, he is not guilty of viewing prayer meetings through rose-tinted glasses. In another address he highlights some problems and some remedies for prayer meetings. He is acutely aware of the dangers and difficulties of a prayer meeting, and yet deeply desires that the church remain committed to them.
Here are four of the problems Spurgeon identifies:
Excessively Long Prayers
I assume that Spurgeon is speaking with tongue-in-cheek when he mentions that some brothers would ‘fix’ themselves against a pew before praying for 20/30 minutes. He then jibes, after they have prayed, they ‘conclude by asking forgiveness for [their] shortcomings, – a petition which was hardly sanctioned by those who has undergone the penance of endeavouring to join in his long-winded discourse.’ (pg. 23)
Nothing kills a prayer meeting better than an excessively long prayer, Spurgeon recognised that and for those of us who have been at any type of prayer meeting we have likely experienced it.
Spurgeon offers three examples which are most likely outdated by now, but we all know the kinds of things he is speaking about: praying for people on a bed of sickness; entering the presence of God; speaking of bowing or standing whenever we are sitting; and so on.
Very many other perversions of Scripture, uncouth similes, and ridiculous metaphors, will recall themselves to the reader; we have neither time nor patience to recapitulate them; they are a sort of spiritual slang, the offspring of unholy ignorance, unmanly imitation, or graceless hypocrisy; they are at once a dishonour to those who constantly repeat them, and an intolerable nuisance to those whose ears are jaded with them. (pg. 24-25)
We could hardly sum it up better.
Mistaking Preaching for Prayer
Again allow Spurgeon to speak for himself:
The friends who were reputed to be ‘gifted’ indulged themselves in public prayer with a review of their own experience, a recapitulation of their creed, an occasional running commentary upon a chapter or Psalm, or even a criticism upon the Pastor and his sermons. It was too often quite forgotten that the brother was addressing the Divine Majesty, before whose wisdom a display of our knowledge is impertinence, and before whose glory an attempt at swelling words and pompous periods is little short of profanity; the harangue was evidently intended for men rather than God, and on some occasions did not contain a single petition from beginning to end. (pg. 25)
No more needs to be said.
Spurgeon’s tradition, and my own, was filled with Christian men who objected to forms of prayer – cold, heartless, repetitive liturgy is an anathema to them. However, these same men each time they pray use the same words, phrases, addresses and conclusions in each of their prayers. In fact, Spurgeon admits, ‘We have known some brethren’s prayers by heart, so that we could calculate within a few seconds when they would conclude.’ (pg. 26)
The issue is that these four problems are very often the excuses offered by those who stay away from the prayer meeting. And while Spurgeon tackles these problems sharply, and with a degree of humour, he is not content to just complain. Therefore, he proposes some remedies.
Here are four of the remedies that Spurgeon offers:
Set an Example
In setting the example Spurgeon lays the responsibility on the Pastor. Very often it is easy for the pastor to get fed-up, discouraged and cynical about a limping prayer meeting. But, Spurgeon will not allow a Pastor to just complain about it – they must then work to remedy the situation.
Among the suggestions and exhortations offered are the following: speak of the prayer meeting with warmth, joy and eagerness; pray with passion and vigour; be seldom absent from the prayer meeting; make the meeting interesting; give a warm-hearted ten-minute address. Doing these things, Spurgeon suggests, will ‘foster a lover for the prayer-meeting’ (pg. 27).
Labour for Brevity
Strive to make prayers short. Whether you lead the meeting or pray in the meeting you should exemplify, encourage and commend brief prayers. For those attending the prayer meeting Spurgeon instructs that each individual pray for one petition on their heart, drive that petition home and then end your prayer. He writes:
Let as many as possible take part…the change of voice will prevent weariness, and the variety of subjects will excite attention…As a general rule, meetings in which no prayer exceeds ten minutes, and the most are under five, will exhibit the most fervour and life. (pg. 27-28)
Persuade Audible Prayers
This is perhaps the best way to prevent the problems noted above. This may be difficult, but the more people that can be convinced to pray audibly the more a prayer meeting will bounce from one individual to another, from one petition to another, from one voice to another. It may even mean that you have to ‘plant’ prayers, asking particular people to pray for particular requests. However, the result of persuading audible prayers is that, ‘Every man, feeling that he is to take part in the meeting at some time or other, will become at once interested, and from interest may advance to love.’ (pg. 29)
Seek Specific Requests
One way in which we may be able to foster a spirit of brief, audible prayers may be by way of prayer requests. Encourage your congregation to submit requests and then disseminate these requests among those gathered at your prayer meeting. Ask a variety of individuals to pray for some one request at some point in the meeting.
None of this is groundbreaking – but it is simple and when used to good effect could possibly transform the atmosphere in your prayer meetings. In Philippians 1:4 Paul states that he makes his prayers for the Philippians with joy. Listening to Spurgeon on prayer meetings and implementing some of these practical tips may mean we make our prayers in our prayer meetings with joy.