Paul Levy and I have, but the differences of our talk may be worth considering.
Like many evangelicals who seem to need to show their piety (despite our Lord’s warning about praying that others can see us at prayer), Levy provides a number of reasons for the week night “gathering” that seem to have less to do with prayer itself than with the fellowship that such meetings might encourage. For instance:
4. There is something that unites us together when we pray together – People ask sometimes what is encouraging you in Christian ministry? For me the big one is to hear someone pray for the first time. I am a Westminster Confession believing, card carrying Presbyterian and yet to hear someone pray for the first time makes me want to dance a jig of delight. As in marriage, those congregations who pray together stay together. You cannot hate your brother while praying with him and for him.
Is the point of prayer to encourage other believers or inspire a dance, or is it to offer up to God our desires “for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies” (SC 98)? If it is the latter, then Levy is closer to the mark when he writes:
6. Prayer is a means of grace – Hebrews 4:14-16 ”14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Prayer is us speaking with God, but, as we pray, we receive mercy and find grace. It is my experience that at prayer gatherings when the people of God together call on the name of God we are often more conscious of his blessing. As we draw near to him he draws near to us.
But is prayer more effective, more gracious, when people gather for it and it’s done corporately? If people stay home and pray, even at the same time, is the effect the same? With God maybe, but not for those for whom prayer becomes a means of bonding or becoming more personally acquainted. Fellowship is a valuable thing. But doesn’t it happen more over a meal than when either listing prayer requests of extemporaneously praying for them. In fact, sometimes prayer meetings can hurt fellowship when you find that saints (see what I did there?) request prayer for ephemeral matters or lack eloquence when praying publicly (myself included). In other words, prayer meetings can be very uncomfortable because of the performance component inherent in them. But Levy, like so many pietists, only sees the spiritual (up) side.
On the other hand, prayer meetings may be a very good marker of Christian devotion, as they reveal Christians who participate in the life of a congregation and are willing to make that a priority. Instead of being culture warriors, they are church members.
At the same time, if we limit serious church assemblies to the Lord’s Day and the regular administration of the means of grace, Christians may actually have time to serve on school boards or attend public events and show that they are active members of the earthly kingdom where they live while they await and pray for the coming of the kingdom of glory.