Ayrian J. Yasar
The battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman has been ongoing since man’s Fall. There are those who follow the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2), and those who “call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). What does it look like for the church to call upon the name of the Lord? At one time, Wednesday night prayer meetings were common. How is the church praying today? In particular, what is the practice of the OPC in relation to midweek prayer meetings and incorporating prayer in the life of the church?
Pastor William Watson of Holy Trinity Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, explained that they do have a traditional midweek prayer meeting in the homes of members. “We meet together for a time of Scripture reading with a brief instruction/comment time, and then we seek the Lord in prayer for forty-five minutes to an hour,” he said. Faith OPC in Lincoln, Nebraska, pastored by LeRoy Miller, spends around forty-five minutes in Bible study followed by forty-five minutes or more in prayer. Both Holy Trinity and Faith OPC emphasize prayer as a large and central feature of their Wednesday evening meetings.
More common, however, is a time of prayer that follows or accompanies some kind of study. Hank Belfield, pastor of Providence Presbyterian in Chilhowie, Virginia, hosts a Wednesday night small-group Bible study that is followed by a prayer meeting in his home. An elder in the same congregation hosts another Tuesday night study followed by prayer and fellowship. Immanuel OPC in Andover, Minnesota, pastored by James Hoekstra, has been practicing a weekly men’s prayer meeting for the last four years.
Other churches take prayer requests during the morning congregational prayer time or have an extended prayer time during the evening service. Trinity Presbyterian in Newberg, Oregon, takes requests from adults and children before the congregational prayer time in the morning. Pastor John Mahaffy believes this teaches the covenant children about prayer. Providence in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, pastored by Christopher Post, also takes requests for prayer, but during their evening service. New Life in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, has a similar practice during evening worship, “and then the worshipers, in the priesthood of all believers, pray for those matters while an elder or pastor oversees and concludes the prayer,” said pastor Paul Browne.
In order to encourage the saints in prayer, churches make use of means like bulletins, websites, the prayer calendar in New Horizons, and church email lists.
Providence OPC creates a specific bulletin page of prayer requests that includes both their own church family and the larger church body. “We include a foreign missionary of the month and two entries from the ‘Home Missions Today’ sheet. Each week we also include a family from our congregation, a sister congregation from our presbytery, and another denomination with whom we have fraternal relations,” explained Post.
New Life periodically passes out prayer cards that members fill out with the names of unsaved family or friends. A few of these cards are then distributed regularly during the Sunday evening service for prayer. Sometimes the fellowship meal is followed by a brief time of evangelistic prayer.
Yet, at the churches surveyed for this article, attendance at midweek meetings and evening services with extended prayer time is just a fraction of the church community. What is it that makes gathering for prayer such a challenge?
Distance from the church building, family busyness, and work demands all seem to be factors. Because of this, a sensitivity to time management is important. “We are very careful to not go over an hour in our men’s prayer meeting since Saturday is a ‘catch-all day’ for the men,” Hoekstra said. “Also, we try to stress family and private worship and using those times for prayer as well.” In the church’s membership class, Hoekstra goes over the Shorter Catechism questions on the Lord’s Prayer to encourage using it as an outline for family and personal worship.
This year, COVID-19 restrictions affected church prayer meetings like they affected just about every other part of church life. Many churches switched to Zoom instead of in-person, which had some unexpected benefits. More people were able to attend Trinity’s Bible study and prayer time via Zoom than in person before COVID. And it increased sympathy: “The virus has underlined for us the importance of meeting the needs of those whose health, age, and distance had made attendance challenging before the virus impacted our lives,” Mahaffy said.
“I imagine we will continue Zoom as an option even after we are able to do small groups for Bible study,” Hoekstra said. More men attended the men’s virtual prayer meeting via Zoom, and more women participated and stayed with the women’s study via Slack: “We had trouble previously getting ladies to commit to regular meetings for a study. This format is new and seems to be going well.”
Despite the challenges, praying together is important. Mahaffy reminds us that prayer is part of experiencing fellowship with God as his people, and it “not only meets our needs, more importantly, it glorifies God.” We are “changed through prayer,” Browne said, “as we enjoy fellowship with the Lord and align our wills with his.”
While the trajectory of prayer is vertical, from the saints to God, the impact is also horizontal. “Prayer … cultivates a concern for others and facilitates getting to know one another’s burdens better. It draws us closer to God as we cry out to him together,” Belfield said. For those who get into the habit of meeting together midweek, Watson says, “it quickly becomes a joy and not a burden … Prayer tends to enhance the bonds of love and fellowship.” Locating the midweek meeting in someone’s home, which many OP churches do, helps with “fellowship on a personal level,” Belfield said.
“Corporate prayer has been a characteristic of the New Testament church from the earliest days,” Watson pointed out. “As Reformed believers, we understand that the Lord hears our prayers, he desires us to pray, and he answers prayer in accordance with his good and perfect will.” While essential, prayer is clothed in humble garb. As Post said, “It’s not flashy, it can often be overlooked, but it is so needed.” Indeed, the spiritual strength of a congregation is connected to prayer, Browne says. “I would fear for our congregation’s life and spiritual vigor if we ceased these various opportunities for corporate prayer.”
God uses prayer to sustain and strengthen his church, and one of the many examples of this is Immanuel. Hoekstra says, “The Lord has graciously helped us through some difficult struggles in our early years, I think, partially through the prayer of God’s people. Now we are enjoying a beautiful season of unity and harmony, love, and a willingness to serve … I do believe prayer has played a part in helping us through the bad seasons and preparing us for this season of blessing.”
While the format for many OP prayer meetings may have shifted in the last few decades from a time mostly devoted to prayer to a prayer time following studies, OP members are still gathering to pray. Through prayer they are being blessed—growing spiritually, having prayer answered, and fellowshiping with God and each other As Post states so well, “Prayer is the breath of the church—we can’t stop praying, just as we can’t stop breathing!”
The author is a member of New Life OPC in Williamsport, Penn.
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