East Indian evangelist K. P. Yohannan says he will never forget one of his first prayer meetings in an American church. He had come to the United States eager to meet some of its spiritual giants and leaders. One man in particular held his interest, a preacher known even in India for his powerful sermons and uncompromising commitment to the truth. More than three thousand people attended services on the Sunday Yohannan visited his church. The choirs were outstanding and the preaching was everything he'd hoped it would be. But he was especially taken by an announcement the pastor made about the special emphasis at the midweek prayer meeting. He said there were some things lying heavy on his heart—would the people come and pray about them? Then he announced the name of a certain chapel on the church campus. Excited, Yohannan determined he would attend.
When he arrived at the chapel later that week, he brought with him some definite assumptions about prayer meetings. The most basic was that they are essential, of primary importance. Where he came from in India, and in many other parts of the world where Christians are persecuted and harassed for their faith, the prayer meeting is the centerpiece of the church's life. Everyone comes, the meetings often last long into the night, and it is not unusual for believers to arise daily before sunup to pray together for the work of the church.
Fearing a huge crowd, he came early to get a seat. But when he arrived he was surprised to discover a chapel with a capacity for only five hundred—that was empty! Surely he heard the pastor wrong and had come to the wrong place. He was worried, so he went outside to double-check the name of the chapel. Then a few people came into the room at 7:30, but there was no leader, no songs or worship, just chitchat about news, weather, and sports. Forty-five minutes later an elderly man, the leader, but not the pastor, walked into the chapel to offer a few devotional thoughts from the Bible and give a brief prayer. The meeting was over, and as the seven attendees filed out of the chapel, K. P. Yohannan sat in stunned silence, his mind filled with questions: Was this it? Weren't they going to stay and wait upon God? Where was the worship? The tears? The cries for guidance and direction? Where was the list of the sick, and the poor, and those in need? What about that burden that the pastor said was heavy on his heart? Weren't we going to intercede for a miracle? And where was the pastor?1
That meeting became a paradigm for his experience of prayer meetings in the American church. In all his travels here, he saw the same pattern repeated over and over again in hundreds of midweek prayer meetings. Almost anything happens but prayer. There are announcements, singing, homilies, and a few prayers offered, but usually only by the leader—and that's in the churches that actually have prayer meetings in their schedules. Many more make no pretense even to have a church prayer meeting. There seems to be time for everything else—to study, to fellowship, to preach, but not to pray. Church leaders who think nothing of spending two or three days to plan programs or of spending thousands of dollars to hire consultants to help them do it, blanch at the thought of spending even one night to wait on the Lord to show them what to do.
How can this be?
If it is true that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12), then we must pray, mustn't we? Can there be any other way to reach a lost world? Do we really think our plans and programs can bring down dark strongholds of spiritual evil in the heavenly realms?