Blog Entries

Keep Up the Prayer Meeting Pt. 1

Geoff Chang March 4, 2024

The congregational prayer meeting was a key component of Spurgeon’s ministry. He believed that prayer meetings were “at the very secret source of power with God and with men.” Apart from earnest, consistent prayer, a congregation should have little hope that God would use and bless their ministry.

Spurgeon always gave thought and planning to the prayer meetings at the Tabernacle. He once said to his students, “Do not go walking into the prayer-meeting, as so many do, to say anything or nothing that may occur to you at the moment; but do your best to make the meeting interesting to all who are there.” How did Spurgeon make his prayer meetings interesting? We see four examples of how he did this in the 1882 The Sword and the Trowel. In this series, we will examine each of these examples and draw a few lessons for pastors as they seek to lead their church’s prayer-meetings.

Monday evening, September 25

The meeting opened by singing hymn,

“He’s gone — the Savior’s work on earth,
His task of love is o’er,”

to a tune which it was desired to introduce into the worship of the Sabbath. By singing the tune to both of the first two hymns the people caught the strain, and are now prepared to recognize it when the tune is used in the great congregation. Prayer was offered by Pastor C. H. Spurgeon, who presided. There was a large attendance, occupying both the area and the first gallery. Again we sang, and prayer was offered by our deacon, Mr. Allison, and by Mr. H. Driver, a student who has come to the College from Auckland, New Zealand. These prayers did not exceed five minutes, and followed without break.

The following request for prayer was then presented before the Lord by Mr. Harrald: — “ A lady, who has already lost several children by consumption, asks for special prayer for her daughter, who has been attacked by the same disease. Her mother begs for prayer both for her and for her only son, whom she has long since dedicated unconditionally to the Lord. The letter further says, — ‘I have no rest in my spirit till these two are brought in.’“ Upon this sentence the Pastor dilated, stating that our anxiety for others is frequently a prophecy of good to their souls. He hoped that many of us would become thus restless till our children are all saved.

After Mr. Harrald’s intercession we joined in song with the lines: —

“With joy we meditate the grace
Of our High Priest above;
His heart is made of tenderness,
His bowels melt with love.
Touch’d with a sympathy within,
He knows our feeble frame;
He knows what sore temptations mean,
For he has felt the same.
He, in the days of feeble flesh,
Pour’d out his cries and tears,
And in his measure feels afresh
What every member bears.”

The Pastor read the following notes: —

“A mother requests the prayers of the Lord’s people for a daughter once good and kind, but now addicted to drink.”

A wife says, “I write these few lines to ask you to pray for my dear husband. He was once a preacher, but his present sin is drink I cannot bear the thought that after he has preached to others he himself should become a castaway. Do make special prayer for us both.”

In calling upon Elder Cox to pray for these two cases, Mr. Spurgeon said — “It is a dreadful thing that so many hopeful spirits, bright spirits, loving spirits, who were beloved by all who knew them, should fall by little and little through the insidious habit of drunkenness. They never meant to take too much; but they were lured on by the appetite. This withering sin touches the character as with a hot iron, and all the beauty and the joy of life fade away. How can this plague be stayed? No one can bear the thought that those who have preached to others should themselves fall short of the kingdom, yet drink has slain its millions; I had almost said it has dragged down men who stood like angels in their brightness, and quenched them into degradation and misery till they were like to devils in wickedness and fury. Alas, alas, for the doings and the undoings wrought by drunkenness! All sins are deadly, but this is a sword with which men play till it cuts them to the heart. God he? us to blunt the edge of that sword! Meanwhile we plead for the wounded.” Mr. Cox prayed with much earnestness, and the great congregation was stirred with strong desire.

Mr. Wm. Olney, Jun., prayed for several persons in spiritual distress, whose cases were described by the Pastor. Elder Sedcole and Mr. Perry, one of our students, very touchingly related the way in which they were brought to Christ, and urged sinners to fly to Jesus. This was deeply interesting, and constituted the feature of this gathering. The brethren were called upon without notice, but spoke most touchingly, and we believe that their testimonies will be used of God to conversion. Hymn 499, commencing —

“Come, poor sinner, come and see,
All thy strength is found in Me,”

was sung, and then Mr. Dunn pleaded for some who desired to be healed of bodily sickness, and specially for one who was believed to be dying with cancer in the throat, who, if taken away, would leave a wife and ten children behind him. There was much fervor in the meeting at this point.

Pastor Levinsohn, himself of the seed of Israel, next prayed for his own nation, after we had sung that choice hymn —

“Wake, harp of Zion, wake again,
Upon thine ancient hill,
On Jordan’s long deserted plain,
By Kedron’s lowly rill.
The hymn shall yet in Zion swell
That sounds Messiah’s praise,
And thy loved name, Immanuel!
As once in ancient days.
For Israel yet shall own her King,
For her salvation waits,
And hill and dale shall sweetly sing
With praise in all her gates.
Hasten, O Lord, these promised days,
When Israel shall rejoice;
And Jew and Gentile join in praise,
With one united voice.”

Just before the close of the meeting a telegram arrived from Pastor C. Spurgeon, of Greenwich, who was on his way to attend the Christian Convention at Chicago. This was the message: —

“1 Thessalonians 5:25. 2 Corinthians 13:14.” — “Brethren, pray for us.” “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy G host, be with you all. Amen.”

Mr. William Olney, Sr., prayed both for Mr. Charles Spurgeon in his work in America, and for his brother Thomas in New Zealand. The Pastor pronounced the benediction, and as we left the Tabernacle we felt that we had been doing real business at the throne of grace, and that the “Sweet hour of prayer” had passed all too quickly.

What can we learn from this account?

Make efficient use of the time – Beware of long prayers or long sharing that monopolize the prayer-meeting. Spurgeon make efficient use of the time by having members send in their prayer requests by letter and by calling on trusted leaders in the church to lead in prayer. These prayers are earnest, biblical, and brief, allowing for more time to pray for more requests.

Pray for personal matters – Among the prayers requests are health matters, lost friends and relatives, and other kinds of personal griefs and afflictions. How often are the prayer requests at a prayer meeting simply over trivial things? Here, the heartfelt and vulnerable sharing of urgent prayer requests allows the congregation to more fully engage in prayer and to go before God earnestly for these things.

Pray for ministry opportunities – The sharing of the Pastors’ College students and prayers for Charles, Jr. and Thomas Spurgeon are a reminder of the evangelistic and missionary endeavors of the church. In addition to praying for personal matters, we want to look beyond ourselves and pray for the expansion of the work of the gospel through the church.

Congregational singing – Spurgeon also wove in congregational singing throughout the prayer time in response to the things being discussed and prayed. In other words, he mixed praise with prayer, adoration with supplication, hope amid sorrow. This helped create variety and freshness. Notice also that Spurgeon used the prayer-meeting to teach new tunes (“to a tune which it was desired to introduce into the worship of the Sabbath”), so that the congregation would be better prepared to sing it on Sundays.

Look for teaching opportunities – Without taking too much time, Spurgeon took advantage of brief teaching opportunities throughout the prayer meeting, at one point commenting on drunkenness and warning against its dangers. These spontaneous opportunities provided helpful pastoral teaching on any number of topics throughout the night. So rather than just moving quickly through prayer requests, look for teaching opportunities that present themselves for the edification of the Body.

One biographer writes, “Probably no pastor ever took more pains to make the prayer meeting a success than Mr. Spurgeon for he showed his interest in its prosperity by continually studying how to make the service more attractive.” May we learn from his pastoral example.