When I was growing up, my family went to church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening for prayer meeting. When the modern church prayer meeting began, it was truly a service of prayer. Looking back on my prayer meetings, prayer had begun playing a somewhat minor role. There were a couple of prayers, but singing and Bible study classes (which took up most of the time) were also included.
The first prayer meeting in the New Testament was recorded in Acts 4. Peter and John had been tossed into a Jerusalem jail the day before for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. They spent the night there, and when morning came, the rulers summoned Peter and John to question them. Peter articulated a vigorous defense to the point of astonishing his accusers. After conferring among themselves, the powers that be couldn’t figure out what to do with Peter and John. They ended up ordering Peter and John to stop preaching. Peter and John rejected the order, but they were released anyway.
Peter and John returned to a group of believers in Jerusalem and told them what had happened. “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” (Acts 4:24, NIV) It appears they then prayed in unison the prayer that we find in Acts 4:24-30. So this first prayer meeting seems to have been spontaneous, based on what was going on around the Christian community in Jerusalem.
This prayer was one for Peter and John to overcome threats and speak with boldness. Before deflecting the need to have a prayer meeting for this kind of prayer because we don’t live under the same constraints and persecution that early believers faced, let’s remember that there are Christians around the world who do live under the same conditions. We need a prayer meeting to proclaim this prayer for them.