Over the last year, I have heard and read different people deride the act of prayer walking. Since I have engaged in prayer walking, and encourage it at my church, and many of those critical of prayer walking would be in my ‘camp’ theologically, I felt like I needed to write something simple that would correct some misunderstandings.
So what is prayer walking? I think it’s important to define our terms because there are two basic definitions of prayer walking and they are worlds apart. The first understanding of prayer walking basically sees it tied to the spiritual fight against territorial spirits. In this view, prayerfully walking through an area is a means of ‘pushing back’ demonic forces that have taken up residence in a given area. C. Peter Wagner is one proponent of this view:
“Spying out the land is essential when warring for a city…Christians should walk or drive every major freeway, avenue, and road of their cities, praying and coming against demonic strongholds over every neighborhood… Even if you don’t see instant results, keep the trumpets blowing.. Always remember, God is not slack concerning His promise; the walls will come down!” (Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits, Ventura: Regal , p. 98).
This is the kind of prayer walking that is often criticized. And rightly so. This is not how I define prayer walking, and I can see how many would have problems with such a view. However, not everyone who engages in prayer walking would view it the way Wagner and other like him would.
Like many others, the kind of prayer walking I engage is much more about me praying for things passionately and accurately than about territorial demons. It has been said that prayer walking is “praying on sight with insight.” Can you pray at home for anything imaginable? Yes! But does your heart become as impassioned and your prayers as fervent when you can see those you’re praying for?
For many, that’s what prayer walking is all about. It is very much in line with what Jesus said to his disciples – “Lift up your eyes and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). Jesus could have simply said, ‘the fields are white for harvest.’ But he wanted his disciples to see those who would be part of the harvest. He wanted his disciples to feel – like He did – compassion for the people. This is the essence of ‘my’ prayer walking – uniting my heart and mind in prayer. Thus, as John Smed says,
[Prayer walking allows] you [to] see the mission field head on. You see the “whole man” in his community . . . . Prayer walking stirs your heart to see people, places and needs through God’s eye. It gives you ‘harvest eyes’ rather than ‘cloistered fear.’ (Redeemer Prayer Conference Handout, accessed online at www.redeemer.com/connect/prayer).
As I try to cultivate a love for my city, it’s possible to just make it a priority to pray for them. But for me (and others) it helps to actually walk or drive around the city and see who you’re praying for. Having some faces, or houses, or city buildings in mind, knowing first hand the conditions people live in or the evidences of spiritual need makes your heart break in prayer for your city.
Likewise, in praying for missions. Can you simply kneel in your study and pray for world missions? Yes! But for me, opening a book or a magazine or looking at a website, reading about actual missionaries, seeing the city and the people they are trying to reach – these things help create in me a stronger desire to pray. It causes my love for them and the lost to run deeper.
One of the most powerful prayer walking experiences for me came on my last mission trip to Niger. Walking down streets – seeing, smelling, and taking in the culture helped me to feel the urgent need for the gospel for the people. It helped me feel the depth of encouragement the missionaries needed to not become discouraged at the enormity of their task. Seeing many stop and bow in the streets, praying to a false god, drove home the blatant spurning of God and his Son, and grieved me and made me long to see him honored in that city. All of these things made my prayers more focused, more specific, and more passionate.
In the end, I believe that the kind of prayer walking that is simply focused on creating deeper affections for those things God would have us to pray for is not contrary to Scripture and even helpful to many a prayer life. But I also believe that prayer walking is not prescribed by Scripture. If one chooses not to prayer walk, that’s fine – it’s not an indicator of spiritual maturity. But there should also be an understanding among my Christian brothers and sisters that this kind of prayer walking is not harmful or un-Scriptural, and should not be so easily condemned.
I too find my heart aching for those who I see while prayer walking. Richard and I have both prayer walked and prayer drove in our city. Just seeing the environment a person may live gives insight about the spiritual condition of a person or family. It has truly opened our eyes to our community and lack of desire for God in many of the people around us. When we see someone who appears to be a Christian we pray that God would use them in their neighborhood as a witness for the Lord. Not only praying for the lost but also lifting up other warriors to do the will of the Father, to be imitators of Christ.
Recently I met a person who lived in one of the areas where we prayer walked. When it was revealed that they lived in the neighborhood where we had been it was like God reminding us that He does hear our prayers and uses them in ways we may never know. What a blessing it is to have the privilege to pray for others and grow to love them.
I agree and your article is a good read. I likewise agree that what C. Peter Wagner and his “apostles” are preaching is NOT scriptural nor is most of what they preach and endorse. Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. This is how people are saved as the Holy Spirit quickens the word to a lost person’s heart. The word delivered either through preaching, witnessing or writings.
Hence, we must preach, teach and witness to the truth for those to know the way, truth and light found in Jesus Christ alone. We cannot simply “claim” people for Christ in prayer and then go our way. The disciples never did this. The early church never did this. The faithful missionaries never did this. (Note I am NOT saying they did not greatly labor in prayer for the lost). Instead, they got their hands dirty, jumped into the trenches and many times were killed; not for their prayers but for what came out of their mouths. This being Christ crucified and the gospel and for the people to forsake their sin, vain idols and false religion.
But, persecution and angry words from irate persons upon hearing the gospel does not go well in our softened culture. Rather, it is much better to have an easier and less troublesome way to get people saved like praying for them at a safe distance and then rejoicing on how many people the Lord saved today. This though is not the scriptural pattern as we always see Jesus and the early church working directly with the people and preaching to them even when it caused a fire storm.
Prayer though is a vital component and without it we labor in vain. And as you note, walking around a community and seeing the faces and places can help in increasing the burden for the lost and to give better focus to one’s prayers and missionary labors.
I’ve only tried a focused prayer walk one time. It was around the church neighborhood before an outreach with the sunday school students, and as I walked up and down the streets that Saturday night my heart was broken for the people in those houses to know Jesus. The next day, the pastor told me that after the services a poor, hungry, lonely man came into the church. He lived just down the street, and felt compelled to come to the church that day. My pastor gave him some food and talked to him about the Lord. We never saw him before. This was a unique occurance, and I believe more than a coincidence that he felt drawn to the church the morning after my prayer walk. I don’t know if any demonic forces/territorial spirits were involved, though I did pray for the binding of the enemy who is working to prevent people from coming to know Jesus. I believe those things are beyond our knowing for sure, but we do know that God has chosen prayer as a vehicle for bringing blessing to people, and seeing the ones we pray for tends to create passionate prayer, which speaks to what James says _ “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Seeing helps us move from apathy to fervency. Jesus looked upon the multitude and felt compassion for them, as sheep without a shepherd. I’m sure the “looking” aided the feeling of compassion. Did this in turn lead to the fervency of his prayer as he broke the bread, thanking his Father, and leading to the multiplication of loaves and fish? I’m not sure, but I think I need to get back out there and walk and pray!
Great testimony, Bill! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing it.
I’m starting some academic work on prayerwalking (since there is little that discusses it in the field of religious studies), and I thought I might share my blog with you and your readers. I just began my research, but I will be working on it daily for the next ~2 years. Thanks for the great post on the differences between where you see prayerwalking and what you see C. Peter Wagner has to say on it.