The Tyranny of the Prayer List in a Meeting and Growing Beyond It!

I’m sure you’ve been to prayer meeting like this.

Everyone comes to the prayer meeting and spends the first 30-40 minutes taking about the prayer list. People then pray through the list, after a short reading from Scripture, trying not to miss any request out, with people often praying for 4 or 5 items in one long prayer.

The prayer list is prayed through, but has the heart of God been really touched? In general the answer is no, because (no matter how well-meaning the people are) the focus of the meeting is man, not God.  There may be modest answers to prayer, which, of course, we should praise God for, but this is seen as quite enough.

Most telling of all there is very little, if any, growth in the personal prayer lives of those that attend such a group and the group itself does not grow and change it simply stagnates and becomes more fixed in its ways as those attending grow older and the younger people look elsewhere.  Such a meeting will have the reputation for being an old persons prayer meeting and the younger people will either not go, or go and get frustrated!  Sadly many older people have no other experience in prayer so see no need to change, it is no wonder that prayer meetings are in such a sorry state in so many churches in this land!

The problem with a prayer list is this, it is true they can be a useful servant, but often one becomes a very bad and tyrannical master.  But so often in a meeting it becomes the master, not the servant.

The heart of prayer is relationship and communication with God.

Before you defend your prayer list I have one question.  Do you come to your spouse every day and talk through a shopping list with them, let them say very little or nothing, and talk about nothing else?  I can say with confidence that your answer will be NO!  Well, that is what you are doing to God.  If it not right to do so with your spouse, then it is not right for you personally, or for the church (which is the Bride of Christ) corporately!

I have just spent over 300 words presenting a problem. How a prayer list can take over a meeting and stifle growth, relationship with God, and touching his heart in prayer.

If that is the problem then what is the solution?

There are two ways to deal with a meeting that is a slave to a prayer list, either gradually or radically, but either way it will only work if there is strong leadership in the group.  One thing I have shared a few times on Twitter is that you cannot lead others to grow in prayer unless you have been there yourself, if all you know is praying lists, then that is how you will lead others!

So how can things be changed, here are a few pointers.

  1. The leadership has to change.  This means one of two things, either you need to change and grow in prayer so you can lead others in growth, or you need to step down and let someone else lead who can lead you deeper in prayer and grow you and the rest of the group.
  2. The focus of the group must change.  It must move away from the prayer list, and back onto God.
  3. The prayer list must either be out back in its place as a tool, or got rid of completely, it must no longer be allowed to be the master or you will never grow.
  4. Start seeking God’s Kingdom in prayer – not your own needs and wants.  If you seek the first then the second will follow, but it does not work the other way round!
  5. Use a Biblical prayer as an outline in your prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer, or all or part of outlines like those on Kingdom Revival Prayer (Here is an example: Friday, 22nd June 2012 – The Great Commission ).
  6. If going for radical change then you could rebrand the meeting, and change its time and place to make it more suitable for people today.  For example many daytime ladies prayer meeting were started in an era before nursery provision for 3-4 year olds, if they cannot get to that meeting then the time needs to be changed to make it more suitable for them!

Change will be hard at first, but it will be worth it.  You will find that the meeting starts to grow again, even if it has been stagnant for years.  Some may find it very uncomfortable, but they will either grow and adapt or they will go somewhere else to be comfortable!  I know which I would rather do.

Here’s to the adventure of prayer!

Do you have any experience of a list bound prayer meeting?  Or have you grown a meeting to seeking the face of God afresh? I’d love to hear your comments.

Thanks for reading and God Bless, Theresa.

6 responses to “The Tyranny of the Prayer List in a Meeting and Growing Beyond It!

  1. This post brings back memories of a distant and dismal past. “But the prayer meeting is the engine room of the church,” some said, trying to place guilt on those who knew it wasn’t and stopped attending. I remember the people I called ‘professional pray-ers who hogged the prayer list and the limelight and made me feel so inadequate. The introduction of small groups helped (although some merely replicated the central prayer meeting). Sometimes you have to move on, but for me the important thing and a significant turning point was being able to find time and a place where I could come before God alone. Thank you for this post.

    • Hi David, thanks for the comment.

      It would be fantastic if what I shared in this post was only in the ‘distant and dismal past’ as you say, but sadly there are prayer meetings today still in this position. The question is how do you become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, to just abandon a meeting doesn’t help. I love your description of ‘professional pray-ers’ I think we all know some of those and as you say they don’t encourage others to pray. Introducing prayer in different setting can help, but what is really needed so often is training on how to lead others in prayer.

      The most important thing you can take to corporate prayer is your own personal prayer life as you either take your prayerfulness and prayerlessness with you.

      God Bless, Theresa.

  2. Maybe it is due to culture, demographics, or stupidity, I don’t know, but I found myself bristling with indignation while reading this post. Aside from those who have such a structured, ecclesiastical form of going about a prayer service, I have no experience with a dictatorial list of needs.

    My congregation has a prayer list. It is updated every week and distributed before our midweek service. We don’t pray through the list at that time, but we do mention the most critical at the moment. But to suggest that because we do that we’re elevating man is utterly preposterous!

    As a body of believers we are to pray for each other, as made evident by passages such as Acts 12:5; Romans 15:30-31; Ephesians 6:18-19; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; and James 5:16. Whether or not our prayers are weak and ineffective due to our lack of faith or unconfessed sin is irrelevant to the use of a list.

    If the Holy Spirit is prohibited from movement because lists, schedules and orders of service are more important, then hearts need revival so the prayers on the list can be answered and replaced by praises. A list is just a reminder, nothing more. If it is, then it is an idol, so burn it. But that won’t change anything if the people aren’t seeking the glory of God.

    • Hi Anthony,

      I am sorry that it has taken so long to reply to your comment but my little boy has been in hospital over the weekend, and this is the first chance I have had to respond.

      I think your reasons for indignation are probably cultural and demographical. The prayer meetings I am refering to are actually not meetings with a ‘structured, ecclesiastical form’ but ones I have observed in churches including in charismatic evangelical churches. I did not say that lists should not be used at all, but that they ‘can be a useful servant, but often one becomes a very bad and tyrannical master’.

      From what you say of how you use a prayer list in your church it sounds as if one is used in a balanced way, but this is not always the case. If a prayer list is used well then it does not displace God in a meeting, but used badly it does. Why? Because the focus of the meeting becomes skewed so that it is man-focused, not God-focused. The focus of the meeting actually becomes people’s problems and needs, not God and his Kingdom.

      We are definitely to pray for each other, and for those who do not know Jesus as is evident in the scriptures that you cite, however our focus first should be to worship God, respond to that by submitting our lives to him and praying for his Kingdom to come and will to be done. If you look at The Lord’s Prayer the first half of the prayer is focused on God and his Kingdom, and the second half on our needs then ending again with the doxology bringing everything back to God, and this should be reflected in how we pray both individually and corporately. (I shall be looking at The Lord’s Prayer in greater detail in a future series of blog posts.)

      A prayer list used badly places our needs first and centres on that and so put prayer out of balance. Used correctly as you say, ‘A list is just a reminder, nothing more’, but used badly it can become ‘an idol’ and needs dealing with. I personally do not have a written prayer list, although I do have a virtual one in my head, and pray for people as I am led during the day and in my prayertimes and prayer meeting I lead.

      And as you say, we need to let the Spirit move and seek God’s glory.

      God Bless, your sister in Christ, Theresa.

  3. Perhaps it is culture and demographics Anthony. This post resonated with me because of things 30 years back in a small town church in the UK still clinging to its 300+ years of history. The meetings I recall were not places of light. They were so dark that one new pastor tried to change them to no avail. In fact he told me he dreaded the Wednesday night prayer meeting.

    Two individuals in particular would compete to leap to their feet and use all the items that had been listed. Fifteen minutes of one person ‘praying’ was not unusual. I can honestly say that the experience stunted my spiritual growth, until the pastor I referred to above stood his ground and introduced home groups. These alternated with the Wednesday central meeting, although I understand that some groups merely replicated the Wednesday meeting.

    Ours did not, and it became a place of learning, a place of fellowship, a place of encouragement. It became a place where we began to grow spiritually. I still have my own prayer lists, but I have learned to pray as the Spirit of God leads me. At the church we are now part of the pastor has a different and varied approach, but as a church we recognise that we are on a journey and we are willing to learn as we travel, hopefully as you say to the glory of God.

  4. Pingback: Prayer Lists | The Bountiful Reaper

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