Prayer meetings are supposed to be times when believers can join together to pray for God’s will to be done in the many areas of life—national, local, family, personal—with the promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, Jesus will be present via the Holy Spirit. In his Revival Lectures, Charles Finney cautions believers in his day to be sure they enter into these meeting in the right spirit, and that they not turn them into self-centered endeavors. He comments, rather forcefully,

PrayerA man who knows he is not in a spiritual frame of mind has no business to conduct a prayer-meeting—he will kill it. There are two reasons. First, he will have no spiritual discernment.

A person who is spiritual can see the movements of Providence, and can feel the Spirit of God, and understand what He is leading them to pray for. . . . He will not overthrow all the feeling in a meeting by introducing things that are incongruous or ill-timed. He has spiritual discernment to understand the leadings of the Spirit, and His workings on those who pray; and to follow on as the Spirit leads. . . .

And then, if the leader is not spiritual, he will very likely be dull and dry in his remarks, and in all his exercises. He will give out a long hymn in a dreamy manner, and then read a long passage of Scripture, in a tone so cold that he will spread a wintry pall over the meeting, and it will be dull, as long as his cold heart is placed in front of the whole thing. . . .

Injury is also done when Christians spend all the time in praying for themselves. They should have done this in their own homes. When they come to a prayer-meeting, they should be prepared to offer effectual intercessions for others. . . .

Neglect of secret prayer is yet another hindrance: Christians who do not pray in secret cannot unite with power in a prayer-meeting, and cannot have the spirit of prayer.

For Finney, prayer was not just an exercise or a discipline to be carried out as a form; rather, it was an expectation that God is present, He is listening, and the heart of the one who prays may determine whether that prayer is answered. The Christian life is not external rules, but a relationship with the One who created all things, sustains all things, and loves that which He has created.