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.