Pentagrams, ankhs and bloodied, swollen faces were painted on the walls and ceiling of the old drainage system where we were walking. Our flashlight beams barely dispelled the darkness as we inched our way through the maze of tunnels, pipes and caves that crisscrossed the abandoned mining zone. What was once a bustle of mining activity was now a home for satanic worship. For several hours, we tromped carefully through the meandering ruins, praying in hushed voices one moment, calling out powerful praise the next. It was nearly impossible not to stay focused-in these desperate surroundings, our automatic reflex was to pray desperate prayers. Everything we saw was motivation to call out to the Lord Jesus.
Earlier that afternoon, my friend and I had decided to prayerwalk-walking through an area while interceding for that place-one of the neighborhoods near our homes. But we had bumped into a police officer and talked with him about the most problematic and dangerous places in town. He directed us to these old mining district ruins in Colorado Springs that were an obvious hangout for dark powers, so we changed our prayerwalk venue. We were glad we had come-there was little doubt that no one had prayed for this area in years, if ever.
Not long after our prayerwalk, the city forced the owners to clean it up. As the grotesque images were removed from the walls, so was one of the dominant negative spiritual strongholds in our city. It was no longer dark and foreboding, no longer an invitation for violent activity, so the violent activity there stopped.
This is why I love the adventure of prayerwalking. The churches in Colorado Springs have been doing it for years now, and every time we go, something good happens that improves our community. Steady streams of miracles seem to accompany prayerwalking, and it's not difficult to figure out why.
Moving, Feeling and Seeing: It Works Better
Praying while walking makes prayer purposeful, informed and stimulated for a variety of reasons, the first of which is physical. Walking keeps our bodies moving and helps us to stay alert-it's difficult to fall asleep praying when you're crossing a busy intersection downtown. In fact, I usually walk around or pace even during my daily personal prayer time. I love to sit and quietly pray to God or kneel to worship Him, but more often than not, I find that my prayers are more intentional and focused if I keep my body moving. It simply keeps my mind from wandering.
In addition, there is a great difference between praying for a community from your prayer closet and praying for a community while walking through it. Both are valuable, but prayerwalking lets you see the sights, hear the sounds and smell the smells of the community, giving you constant ideas about how to pray for people. When you're seeing and feeling the places and the people you're praying for, you are more apt to pray specifically and fervently.
I have been on prayerwalks in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Though I have prayed for the people who live in those places for years, something special happened to my faith when I was actually there. Seeing the pagan sacrifices, watching the blood flow and witnessing parents drag their children to these horrible ceremonies made me keenly aware of the spiritual climate around me. And it made a difference in how I prayed.
This same insight is true of my own neighborhood. I often go to a local park or school yard where I sit on the curb and pray for the playing children. Seeing them reminds me to pray for their moms and dads, teachers and administrators, brothers and sisters. Most of all, I pray that God's perfect plan for their lives will be accomplished. Seeing them also reminds me that they really live and breathe-there they are right in front of me-and that each one has an eternal destiny. That knowledge motivates me to pray more specifically and passionately.
Deuteronomy 11:22-25 describes what we want for our cities:
If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow-to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him-then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours . . . No man will be able to stand against you. The LORD your God, as he promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go (emphasis added).
We use this Scripture as a type, or representation, of what God longs to do today. God promised the Israelites that He would drive out wicked influences and strongholds. For today, this is His promise-if we obey His Word and physically walk over the land, we can dispossess nations. That means we can beat back the forces that create darkness in people's hearts. If we are faithful to the Lord and willing to call on His name for our land, we will be victorious in hindering negative spiritual activity-the type of activity that promotes alcoholism, sexual sin, resentfulness, bitterness and rebellion. We are the Church, and God has granted us the power and opportunity to change the world for Him.
Prayerwalking is a vital tool we can use to change the world. It is a tool I use to make the light of God brighter in my community. It is a way of making certain that everyone in my city has someone standing in the gap for them and interceding on their behalf.
Engaging Prayer: Communion and Confrontation
When we pray, we do two things: (1) commune with God and (2) confront demonic schemes. Communion is the most important thing we do, so about 95 percent of my prayer time is focused on Christ and His Word. Fellowship with the Holy Spirit is my greatest joy. It establishes the purpose of my life. Sharing in His purpose is the reason we all exist. However, for us to enjoy full freedom in our communion with God, we also must know how to confront demonic schemes. Because Christ is so powerful, it usually only takes five percent or less of my prayer time, but it is vitally important in successfully advancing His Kingdom.
I call genuine spiritual communion and confrontation "engaging prayer." In order to pray effectively, we must both successfully engage the Spirit of God, and challenge and defeat demonic powers. We must commune and confront.
Communing with God is not reciting Christian phrases and saying nice things to God hoping that He hears us. Genuine communion requires His Spirit and our spirit to touch, intermingle, fellowship and become one. Real communion is not our intellect speaking to His and vice versa. It's heart to heart-His Spirit and our spirit becoming one. When this happens, God's dreams and visions flood into our spirit, and we are able to pray prayers with faith because they are actually directed by the Holy Spirit. At this point, no power can stop our prayers from being answered. When we commune with God, He prepares us for war.
Confrontation is not just rebuking, binding, preventing or shouting at demonic forces and demanding that they leave. It is our spirit praying from the position of Christ Himself and actually representing Him in engaging demonic powers and neutralizing them. It is both intelligent-understanding our position in Christ-and spiritual-discerning unseen realities. Engaging prayer is confrontational and powerful; it always produces tangible results.
Energizing Your Prayer Life
Because genuine prayer requires engaging the Holy Spirit for communion and the powers of darkness for confrontation, it is important that we stay alert. Too often when we pray we are distracted with thoughts about pressing issues, projects or problems. But as millions of intercessors have found, walking, pacing, rocking, kneeling, bowing, lifting hands and other physical movements help us express our prayers.
In my regular times of prayer at church or at home, I enjoy praying over maps of the city, the names of people who attend our church, other pastors and churches in the city, government officials and family members. But if I do all of this in one room, my to-do list and the pressure of time often distract me from the work of prayer. When distractions consume me, I'll often leave the room and go on a prayerwalk. While walking and praying through the city, the sights and activities of the community give me fresh prayer ideas and make it possible to focus on His plan once again.
Another problem in prayer is boredom. If you grew up in a church like the one I grew up in, you may have disheartening mental images of prayer. Sitting in a circle holding hands with people for extended periods of time can put me to sleep faster than the most potent sleep-aid medicine. Although some people can sit still and focus at length on one or two specific prayer items, I was not graced with this ability.
If I am praying in a room, I like to pace. If I'm sitting in a chair, I usually gently rock back and forth. If I have privacy and the Lord seems to be speaking to me, I often lie down on the floor and listen. But even then, if I want to spend time with Him for an extended period, getting outside and praying over the community keeps my mind on the purpose of my prayers: knowing Him and blessing people.
Connecting with People
A few summers ago, my friend Mark Marble and I rented a room in downtown Colorado Springs to fast and pray for a few days. From our room, we could easily walk through the downtown area, pray discreetly and then return to the hotel to rest and talk. (By the way, fasting and praying with a friend or two is a wonderful way to connect!)
On one of the evenings, we stayed out well after midnight praying through the streets. At about 1:30 A.M., we walked over a bridge and heard the cracking of skateboards and voices underneath. We stopped, peered over the edge and saw a group of teenagers playing around. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity for fun, we decided to scare them a little bit. I leaned over the top of the bridge and yelled down at them in a deep strong voice, "Hey you boys! What do you think you're doing down there?"
They jumped and fearfully looked up at the silhouettes of two men leaning over the bridge. After a moment of thick silence, one of them timidly called out, "Pastor Ted, is that you?"
Boy, did I feel dumb! I looked around and tried to think of a reasonable explanation of why I was downtown in the middle of the night. Unable to come up with an excuse, I yelled back, "Uh, yes, it's me. Who are you?"
After hearing his name and learning that he and his family attended our church, Mark and I went down below to talk with the group of young men who had slipped out of their homes to skateboard under the bridge on a warm summer's night.
Coincidence? I don't think so. That night this young man and his family became special to me. Over the following weeks, we created a personal bond as we had some great laughs at church telling our story. Then a tragedy struck the family when the boy's mother died. I was asked to help conduct the funeral, and because of the encounter under the bridge, this family was not just one more family from the community, nor was I just the pastor asked to participate in the funeral. Because of prayerwalking, I was linked to this family in a special way that helped all of us deal with the mother's death.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matt. 6:5-6). Here, Jesus is concerned about those who pray in order to be seen praying. But prayerwalking is the opposite of praying publicly for vanity's sake. When you're prayerwalking, you are the only one who should know that you are praying. If you go with a friend, make it look like the two of you are just conversing as you walk. This way you can take turns leading each other in prayer. (I like to go with friends so we can pray for a while, talk for a while, pray for a while and talk for a while. This can be fun, spiritually effective, discreet and good for you spiritually and physically.) But whether you go with friends or alone, remember to be quiet and discreet.
Many of you reading this probably have prayerwalked before. Some of you may have never tried it or even heard of it. Either way, I want this book to encourage you and to help you understand the "why" and "how" of intercessory prayer. Prayer is simple, fun and, most importantly, imperative to increasing God's Kingdom on the earth. And it's always good for us to learn how to pray more effectively. Once you've read this book, you'll know how to pray with insight and courage like never before.
Questions to Ponder
Have you ever prayed while walking or keeping your body moving? What effects, if any, did this have on your prayer time?
How do the sights and activities of a community help prayerwalkers better focus on their prayers?
Why should prayerwalking be a quiet, discreet act?