Great Moments Together In God’s Presence
By Tom Shaw
I am a spiritual child of the 1950’s, born-again in the north of Ireland and spiritually born into an atmosphere of vital, dynamic prayer meetings. No, it wasn’t a time of revival, when we expect prayer meetings to be highly charged spiritually. Such powerful prayer meetings were very much the order of the day in the fifties and sixties in Ulster, and perhaps in other parts of the British Isles. Memories of those prayer times still linger in my mind and often cause me to long for them again and ask, "Whatever happened to those prayer meetings?" Several features are worth recalling.
There was great power in prayer. Some prayers were offered with the thundering tones of a person who was deadly serious about the business of prayer. Others found their expression in gentler tones, but with no loss of power or sincerity. There was never any sense of competition. These were people who meant business at the Throne of Grace. Language was varied, from the well-phrased and grammatically-perfect sentences, to the blundering expressions of heartfelt desires in which grammar and articulation played little part. All had a burden for God to hear and answer. Very seldom was there a prayer which smacked of trying to impress men rather than God.
The subject matter in those prayer meetings was never trivial. Large issues were at stake and needed to be voiced to God. Petitions were offered for personal holiness. Concern for the lost figured largely, as souls would weep over the erring ones. So passionate were those prayers that one felt sinners could not fail to be moved to conviction and conversion. Prayer for Heaven-sent revival within the Church and nation was a recurring theme. Longings were often expressed to see the Church and nation gripped by the power of God and the face of society changed for the glory and honor of God’s name.
The atmosphere of those meetings had to be experienced. God was there in a very marked way and His presence was almost tangible. Earth and eternity were often united in the place of prayer. There were moments of high praise and worship, and now and again the prayers would be interspersed with the singing of an appropriate chorus or verse of a hymn or Psalm, and sometimes a Scripture reading. But in general the praying was of an intercessory nature. It was an atmosphere of earnestness and brokenness in which prayers were made to God. Tears would often flow from even the strongest men as they wept their hearts out before God. I can hardly ever remember feeling bored in those prayer times, the reason being that we went with the right attitude and desire to meet with God, and we were seldom disappointed. Our greatest disappointment was when the prayer meeting ended and we left that sacred spot.
The length of those seasons of prayer would probably shock this generation of Christians. Hour after hour they would intercede, sometimes through the entire night until the dawn would break and men would go straight from the meeting to their work. At other times meetings were shorter, but nonetheless blessed. There were few long pauses, few intermissions, as people would pray with real fervor one after another. Expressions like "Amen!"; "Praise the Lord!"; "Yes, Lord!" were often heard from the others gathered there as they gladly endorsed the prayer being prayed. There was nothing mute about these great moments together in God’s presence.
The posture adopted by most in those periods of prayer was normally kneeling, while some would sit and a few would prostrate themselves on the floor, and others would stand when they prayed publicly. Carpeted floors were not common in churches and halls in those days and often intercessors kneeled for hours on hard, wooden floors. Occasionally some might slip a thin, paperback hymnbook under their knees to ease the pressure. In some prayer rooms there was the luxury of a prayer mat to kneel on. Comfort was not the important thing; prayer was. And those prayers had one object in view, what they called "getting through to God." They would not leave until they felt they had prayed through and that Heaven had heard.
In those prayer meetings there was never any generation gap. I was a teenager then and I would find myself with others of my age, but also alongside those who had reached threescore years and more. What lessons we learned from those saints who were seasoned warriors in the place of prayer! Now many young people feel that because of the generation gap the prayer meetings are out of bounds for them.
"Whatever happened to the prayer meeting?" may be the wrong question. Perhaps we should be asking, "Whatever happened to us?" Now and again we come across prayer meetings like those, but they are few and far between. Many of our modern prayer meetings are lacking in real intercessory praying, brokenness and passion. God deliver us from prayer meetings that do not bring us to grips with the enemy of our souls, that involve no cost or sacrifice, no wounds or scars from the battle.
In considering the whole matter of past and present in relation to the prayer meeting we would do well to heed the familiar words of A. W. Tozer: "Prayer is not a playground, but a battleground." There are no celebrations on a battleground until the victory is won. Let a handful of burdened believers set themselves to pray as I have described earlier and all hell will erupt against such efforts, but all heaven will respond.
O watch and fight and pray;
The battle ne’er give o’er!
Renew it boldly every day;
And help divine implore.
Ne’er think the victory won,
Nor lay thine armour down;
The work of faith will not be done,
Till thou obtain thy crown.
Fight on my soul….
– George Heath
– Reprinted from First! (formerly Life Indeed), publication of The Faith Mission. Tom Shaw is president of The Faith Mission, headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland.