The Wednesday night prayer service was once known as the Hour of Power but it has become the Hour of Sour. Scores of churches are committed to the Wednesday night prayer service because they have always had one, but most churches are experiencing a midweek service that lacks power and attendance. The old adage of, “Prayer changes things, and prayer changes people” is biblically true, but churches are abandoning their prayer service because no one attends. If the least attended and the most cancelled service is the prayer meeting, what does that convey about the state of the church? Could this be the reason why most churches have no spiritual depth? There is a definite correlation between the two. The Wednesday night prayer service is in danger of becoming extinct with many church doors closed on Wednesday night.
According to internet sources, attendance figures for the Wednesday night service were not even available. Ministry leaders need to be conscious of not allowing attendance to determine the validity of the service. To have a crowd on Wednesday night is not the point; we need to pray regardless of the size of the crowd. Even though we desire to develop the prayer service and we want our people to participate, we must be careful to keep our emphasis in the right place. The primary purpose and objective of the prayer service is to focus upon our dependence in Jesus Christ and cultivate a heart for prayer among His people.
According to the Scriptures, conducting a prayer service on Wednesday night was not instituted by God. A prayer meeting can be held on any day and at any time of the week. For example, Charles Haddon Spurgeon had Monday night prayer meetings at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church in London, England. The revivals in New York City began with the noon-hour prayer meetings that were held during the weekdays. Spurgeon reported that the Monday night prayer meetings at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, had the entire floor sections filled to capacity with overflow crowds in the balcony. According to Spurgeon, “It (the Monday night prayer meeting) accounted for the success of the ministry.”
The power of a praying church is undisputable, so why are we seeing such a decline in the effectiveness of the Wednesday night prayer meeting? God’s people ought to be a praying people, drawing nigh unto God in prayer. God’s church ought to be a “house of prayer” where we fight our battles on our knees. When you find a praying church, you have found a powerful church. When you find praying individuals, you have found powerful men and women of God. What the church needs today is more prayer warriors like Elijah; by whose praying the clouds kept or released their rain.
I. The History of our Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting
The Wednesday Night Prayer Service had fallen on hard times at the Medora Community Bible Church. In 1991, nearly 60 people were attending the Sunday morning service, but only six to ten people would participate in the midweek service. Sadly, the church board decided to close Wednesday night service completely and focus on building our Sunday morning services. After a year without a midweek service, individuals within the church began to ask for the prayer meeting to return.
After expressing their desire to gather together for prayer and hearing their commitment to attend, we reinstated our midweek prayer service. Like most fundamental churches, our service consisted of basically announcements, hymns, prayer requests, message, and then we scattered out in groups of two to five people to pray. At this time, the church was growing through conversion and people would often visit on Wednesday night, but hardly anyone stayed. We seemed to be in the same phase as before, listless and lethargic. For the next eight years, the Wednesday night service was by far the least attended service. Many churches in our city had already closed their doors on their midweek service, and we felt that same despair.
By May of 2000, the Sunday morning attendance was averaging around 380, but less than 10 percent were attending the Wednesday night service. I sought the Lord’s counsel in my prayer time. I prayed, “Lord, the people need to mature; we need prayer time. Why won’t the people take part? How can I help this congregation understand the importance of individual and corporate prayer?” The principal thought the Lord laid upon my heart was this: change the manner in which the people pray. This idea began a major focus and thrust in renovating the Wednesday night service. Along with a college course entitled, “The Local Church: Building and Growing in the 21st Century”, we began to implement changes that not only renovated our service, but restored the purpose, power, and fire to our prayer service.
II. The Biblical Purpose for Prayer Meetings
The Scriptural purpose of a prayer meeting is evident in its name; it is a time set aside for the congregation to pray sincerely to God. Churches typically give only lip service to praying, because a majority of the time is not spent in prayer. If there is one Scriptural requirement for a prayer meeting it would be that the people pray. The prayer service upholds all of the activities and plans of the local church through intercessory prayer; this is corporately done in the prayer meeting. The prayer service should be the spiritual catalyst for the church and all of its ministries.
The Bible is clear in stating the importance of prayer. Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
The Apostle Paul explained in Romans 8:26 that, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” This verse teaches us how the Holy Spirit helps in our prayer life. He helps us pray when we do not know what to pray, and the Holy Spirit provides guidance for us to the Father. In Ephesians 6:18 we read, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” The New Testament teaching continues in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
According to Scripture, corporate prayer is important. In his book Basic Theology Charles C. Ryrie commented that, “Prayer was practiced both individually and corporately according to Acts 4:24-31; 6:4; 10:9; 13:3; and I Timothy 2:1-8.”
The pattern for praying was modeled by the saints of the early church in Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 4:31 states further, “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” We also read in Acts 6:6 another example of corporate prayer, “Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” There are at least another dozen verses on praying recorded in the book of Acts alone.
One of the key ingredients of an excellent local church is prayer. In Acts 12 we see an example of a praying church. The church in Jerusalem demonstrated the many aspects of how a church should pray. First of all, in Acts chapter 12 we observe the frequency of prayer, “Peter, therefore, was kept in prison; but prayer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him” and they continued praying for him late into the evening. The early church continually prayed and so should we (I Thessalonians 5:17). In the New Testament, the Apostle James explained the fervency of prayer, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” Two of the major components of prayer in the first century church were frequency and fervency.
Secondly, when we examine further the church at Jerusalem, we see that they practiced corporate prayer, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” The book of Romans also encourages us, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation, continuing diligently in prayer.” From these Scriptures we see that many in the early church were uniting together in prayer.
Thirdly, let us examine whom they addressed in their prayer. They did not pray unto angels, Mary, other saints, or Mother Earth; they prayed to God. Many people today are confused and simply ignorant of the One they are addressing in prayer. How can prayer possibly be successful when people do not know to whom they are praying? Jesus demonstrated the correct way to address our prayers in John 17:1, “These words spoke Jesus and lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father.’” Jesus also taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray after this manner, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Our prayers are to be addressed unto our heavenly Father.
George Barna on his website noted, “The research suggests that large numbers of people who have no type of personal relationship with Jesus Christ or who possess an unorthodox view of God nevertheless pray to God on a regular basis. The emphasis upon prayer during the past five years has influenced many people. However, many people pray without any sense of assurance that there is a living and powerful God who hears their prayers, or that they are praying to a God who has offered forgiveness for their sins. For many Americans, prayer is like snacking-we don’t really think about it, but we do it out of habit and without much passion.”
Fourthly, the prayers offered up by the church at Antioch were specific. According to the passage in Acts 12, they were interceding for Peter. They were not praying rote prayers or praying for general blessings, they were bringing before the Lord a specific need. A great deal of prayer time today is just wasted babble. Many individuals often pray monotonously with little thought or purpose to their requests. These types of prayers end up being nothing more than vain repetitions. Others attempt to communicate with God by reading prayers. This type of prayer is not heart-felt or Holy Spirit guided; in essence they are simply reciting mere words without thought and passion.
Finally, in Acts 12:17 we read how answered prayer creates excitement. The recently released Peter, “. . . beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.” These saints had prayed corporately, frequently, and specifically for Peter’s release and God answered their prayer! There is nothing that generates excitement and deepens faith more than witnessing the direct intervention of God in answered prayer.
Throughout the Bible we see abundant examples of the Lord responding to prayer. The Lord grants wisdom to those who pray, as in the case of Daniel, “And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people, Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD, my God, . . . . . .” and the Lord answered, “I am come to show thee; for thou art greatly beloved.”
Sometimes prayers are answered immediately and sometimes they are delayed, “He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out; he hath made my chain heavy. Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.” The Lord also answers in times of trial, “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God; and he did hear my voice out of his temple and my cry did enter into his ears.” The Lord often times answers our prayers, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” according to Ephesians 3:20.
Conversely, God does not answer every prayer. He is not a genie that rescues distressed individuals from the consequences of their sin. According to Proverbs 1:24-29, the Lord has a definite response to these types of prayers, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded, But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me, For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.” An additional verse gives credence to the fact that the Lord will not always hear prayer, “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
Another reason prayer is not answered is because we pray with the wrong motives. In James 4:2-3 we read, “Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.“ The scribes and Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus in Matthew 23:14 because “for a pretense” they made long prayers. Jesus said they would therefore receive a greater damnation. Some prayers can even bring judgment, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.”
The Father is willing to hear and answer prayer and Jesus encouraged us come before Him with our requests, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.“ It is also important that when we pray, we come before Him with a clean heart and pure hands, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. But verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who hath not turned away my prayer or His mercy from me.” However, I John 5:14-15 offers the believer the following encouragement, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”
Many of the great heroes of the Word demonstrated the importance of prayer in their lives: Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, with Jesus being the supreme example. The Scriptural command is clear, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” God’s Word says be anxious for nothing; do not worry, fret, or get nervous. Everything is to be handled by prayer and supplication, bringing our needs and the needs of others to the Lord in prayer. In Ephesians 6:18 we are instructed, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” The church today has a biblical purpose and mandate from the Scriptures to pray. Yet in our churches people do not pray. The question that comes is this, “Why are we neglecting this spiritual command?”
When people complain about not seeing God at work in their lives, some of the questions to ask are, “How is your prayer life? Do you ever make it to Prayer Meeting?” Many do not see God actively working because they are not in communication with Him. God has clearly instructed His church to pray. Why then is the prayer service the least attended and most neglected service in the church?
III. The Cultural Tendencies Regarding Prayer Meetings
Nationwide, the prayer service has come under attack more than any other service. The most commonly prescribed cure for the ailing prayer service is to just cancel it. With plummeting attendance and powerless services, many churches have responded to their dilemma in one of two ways.
First of all, some ministries try to protect the old fashioned prayer meeting, and dare anyone to change it. Steeped in tradition and a mindset of, “We’ve always done it this way” can eventually suffocate and stagnate the service until it eventually dies. On the other hand, others quickly jump for new and alternate plans, which may include substituting the prayer service with an entirely new program. The premise for Wednesday night becomes, “Something is better than nothing.” I personally do not have deep-seated convictions against offering different ministry programs on Wednesday night, but I strongly believe the church should gather for prayer.
IV. The Reasons Why Many Prayer Meetings Do Not Succeed
One of the primary reasons prayer meetings do not succeed is that those in charge of the service do not consider the working person’s time and energy. Individuals who make the effort to attend after a long day of work find that the service starts late and therefore ends even later. It is important that the prayer meeting start on time so people do not sense they are sitting around, wasting time, waiting for the service to start. If you want your prayer meeting to succeed, start it on time and end it within the hour. Some of the Wednesday night crowd will drive a long distance to come to church, even skipping supper to get there, so we need to be sure we are ready to begin when they arrive. The length of the service is not the measuring stick for a successful service. The prayer meeting that languishes drives people away.
Another major reason why many prayer meetings do not succeed is related to publicly taking prayer requests. The time wasted in taking prayer requests delays and sometimes drowns the service. Sharing a prayer “request” can sometimes become gossip disguised as concern for a particular individual or situation. The information shared at the prayer service is then repeated to others. Instead of sharing through prayer in the needs and hurts of others, the service resembles a coffeehouse where individuals “request” prayer for someone’s great aunts’ sister in California who has an ailing pet. Instead of a prayer filled service many churches have a yakking service about needless things. More time is spent in taking requests than in actual prayer.
Churches that provide a prayer list for their midweek service often make the mistake of allowing the list to become the focus of the service. Bombarding people with a long list of depressing prayer requests can leave those in attendance feeling depressed and overwhelmed with needs; there needs to be a balance. Focusing on the prayer requests can also foster a “me” centeredness to the service instead of focusing our attention upon God and His power to answer prayer.
Some conservative churches have prayer services where the preacher prays for all the requests. During his long, lengthy prayers it is easy for people to wander in their concentration, losing track of the significance of what is taking place. Individuals in these types of services often feel left out of the whole prayer process, or they may sense that only the pastor has the correct spiritual language to effectively pray. Shouldn’t the purpose of the prayer meeting be for each individual to pray, bringing their heart and requests before an almighty Father?
Another reason people are discouraged from attending the prayer service is that they simply do not know how to pray. This is often the case with a new Christian. He desires to communicate with his heavenly Father but feels inadequate in addressing his Lord. Not only do people not know how to pray, they also do not know what they should pray for; should I pray for the Lord to bless me, or give me everything I want?
About Dr. C. Wayne Johnson
Wayne Johnson is the product of an alcoholic home. His father stayed intoxicated most of the day and night, and it was the change that took place in his drunken father that brought Wayne to salvation. His father was visited by a local pastor each month during his teen years, and although he was very indifferent to this preacher, one afternoon his response changed. Wayne watched from the house as his father knelt down in their front yard beside the persistent pastor and asked Jesus Christ into his life. Wayne did not realize what an impact that afternoon would have in his life. His father completely stopped drinking; he was a changed man. It was shortly after his father’s conversion that he knelt before the same Lord, repented of his sins, and by faith received Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.
The Johnson family began to attend a small Baptist church and the changes that took place in their home were a work of the Lord. The next two years were a wonderful time of growth spiritually and together as a family. Sadly, the physical consequences of his father’s lifestyle took his life two short years after his salvation. In the years that followed, Wayne worked hard and he became obsessed with “having it all” materially while his spiritual life deteriorated. During the Christmas break of his sophomore year in college, the Lord brought Wayne to the place where all the material things he had amassed were meaningless. The Lord wanted his heart and life; he had to be willing to give God everything. At that time, Wayne surrendered completely to the Lord’s will for his life.
After completing his undergraduate studies in pastoral ministries, the Lord brought Wayne to Hutchinson, Kansas, where he became the interim pastor of Medora Community Bible Church when he was twenty-three years old. The Medora Church, located in a town of seventy people, was a struggling country church with an average attendance of forty-eight people. From the early days of ministry, Wayne was committed to equip the people at Medora to make an impact for God and fulfill the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, salvation came to many lives and homes were changed for the glory of God. Medora had an active missions program that included the planting and financing of international churches, along with the in-house training of their own men for local church planting.
After seventeen years of ministry at Medora, Wayne transitioned into a more direct role in missions. He served as the Missions Pastor of Medora for four years before accepting an expanded role in missions work throughout the world. He is now serving alongside Dr. Christian Wei and Dr. Eddie Wang in providing pastoral leadership, training, and church planting. His continued prayer for his ministries is that they would always be biblical in all of their practices, and that they would continue to focus on the souls of men and the spiritual growth of all believers.
The Lord allowed Wayne to witness the devastation of alcohol in a home with very little spiritual instruction. The plan of God for his life was being carefully orchestrated to bring him to the point of salvation and surrender. His purpose in life and ministry continues to be fulfilling the Great Commission through the local church.
Educational Background: Doctor of Ministry, Pensacola Theological Seminary (2008); Master of Divinity, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (2001); Master of Arts in Religion, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1996); B.S. in Pastoral Ministries, Liberty University (1989); Nelson County High School, Lovingston, Virginia (1985).
Family Background: Married to Lorri (1989). Children include a son, C.J. (1992), and three daughters, Courtney (1994), Audrey (1995), and Jacquie (1997).
Employment: Missions Pastor of Christian Bible Church (Saipan) and Vice-President of Eucon International College (current); Missions Pastor of Medora Community Bible Church (December 2008-2012); Senior Pastor of Medora Community Bible Church, (September, 1991 – July, 2008); Bible Teacher, Central Christian Schools in Hutchinson, Kansas (1990-1996); Admissions Counselor, Liberty University (1989-1990); Assistant Soul-winning Pastor, Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Virginia (1987-1989).