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Prayer Walking: prayer on the move or efficacious prayer?

(John Wilson is the guest blogger presenting practical questions for his, and our, ministry applications.   What are your convictions?  What has been your experience?)

I am looking for insight and theological opinion about Prayer Walking.  I know this has been practiced in a number of WT ministry areas, but I am not aware of any discussion of the theological merits or otherwise of prayer walking. Most people seem to do it without questioning.

Looking at what has been written and said about Prayer Walking indicates there is quite a wide spectrum of thought.

At one end, is the idea that this is simply a form or posture of prayer—kinetic rather than stationary or immobile—no different than the prayerful attitude of Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God) doing his chores in the Carmelite monastery.

At the other end—apparently going back to Graham Kendrick and Steve Hawthorne in their book Prayer Walking (1993)—there is the view that this activity is an efficacious act contingent upon corporate participation in a specific location.

Of course, there is another range of opinions which goes from an uncritical view that simply sees it as a way to engage people in committed prayer for a neighborhood or city, to outright condemnation on all sorts of grounds: theological (it is unbiblical); missiological (it is animistic); or fanatical (it doesn’t fit with our fundamental position).

In some ways, I have considered this practice innocuous; however, because it has come up as a possibility in our local community of churches, where Gloria and I live, I have begun to think about it more critically.

Help me with your experience and thoughts:

  • Why do prayer walking?
  • What ideas or presuppositions lie behind it?
  • What benefits are there to prayer walking compared to just praying at home or in a prayer meeting?

John Wilson

5 Responses

  1. “Prayer Walking” is to be distinguished from “walking while praying.”

    I enjoy hiking and praying and listening to sermons, but Prayer Walking is counted by some as a method of waging strategic-level spiritual warfare whereby we free territories and regions from dark powers.

    While merely walking and praying is to be commended, I hope WT sees the dangers of indulging uncritically in some practices advocated by some spiritual warfare advocates.

    Below is a statement I just sent to one friend who asked about this subject:

    Territorial spirits?

    It is reasonable to believe that certain angels, as well as certain demons, have been given specialized tasks and possibly even areas or special tasks assigned to them. The Prophet Daniel, in chapter 10, may be speaking of a situation where spiritual powers battle over certain geographical areas (Daniel 10:13,14,20).
    Also, Isaiah 34:14 speaks of God leaving Edom desolate and as a place of habitation only for various animals, and also demons (“night creatures” or even “demons” probably being a better rendering). So it is possible that certain geographical areas might be associated with demons, and possibly certain individual demons. It is even possible that some of the names of local gods and goddesses derive from the personalities of these local demons.

    However, I do not think there is sufficient Biblical data to form a biblical doctrine of territorial spirits. Such things are speculation at best. The Daniel reference to “The Prince” in Daniel 10, presumably a spirit being, could also be referring to a human personage such as Cambyses, one of Cyrus’ princes, who was actively prohibiting the building of the temple, the topic for which Daniel was praying. Also, it is hard to swallow that an angel sent from heaven could be blocked for 21 days by a territorial spirit. Why would an angel even need go from heaven through Babylon to get to Jerusalam, as if the path from heaven to Jerusalem necessarily went through Persia? Unclear texts make wobbly doctrinal supports.

    Despite the lack of clear biblical evidences for territorial spirits, some spiritual warfare advocates have attempted to “map” the territories of different spiritual beings. Some have set out on “prayer walks” to bind the regional demons through prayer so that the Gospel, at last, can penetrate these unreached areas.

    This is folly. Save the money and pray from home, your soles need not circumnavigate an area for your prayers to be received in heaven.

    Finally, we need to ask this question: is God any less powerful in one geographical location than another? Is His control less in one region as compared to another due to the strength of the false worship located in a particular place? Not at all. Though, the K__ Tribe where I labor may fear the spirit Saip, and there may, indeed, be spiritual realities behind these fears, my methodology does not change in the least. The Gospel is what is needed.

  2. Thank you, Trevor, for putting succintly and clearly this perspective on “prayer walking”.

    It seems to me that western Christians can just as easily fall into animistic practices as much as the Baka of Cameroon, the Wayana of Surinam, or the Dayak of Kalimantan. It is a universal tendency, to take within our grasp some means of control over what properly lies only in the hand of our sovereign God.

    That is why I asked about the ideas or presuppositions behind prayer walking?”

    It may not be voiced, but there is often an unspoken assumption that by praying in a certain form our prayer will be more efficacious.

    When we move into some kinetic activity, it may help us keep focused and enable us to feel that we are actively participating; but we must beware of allowing any idea that our actions help bring about the results we desire.

    The idea of having power over territorial spirits is related to this.

    Regardless of how we read Daniel, we must recognize that prayer is really not about what we do; but about acknowledging that God is sovereign and that prayer our desires are brought into subjection to his.

  3. (This comment and recommended actions were received from a worker known to the blog moderators. The writer prefers to remain anonymous.)

    Prayer, above all else, is a relationship. It is communion with God whether individually or corporately. It is also part of the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church (see Eph 5:31-32). That relationship is also corporate and private. We will only know fully the complete scope of prayer after we leave this life. Yes, it would be good in a way to theologize prayer walking but we are treading on private ground (prayer is unique for each person) as well as communal ground (prayer is unique for each local body of Christ in all the myriads of world cultures). If we do theologize to fight against heresies, we must only incorporate biblical principles whereby the outcome is universal in nature (e.g.: Mat 6:5—do not pray to be seen of men; Mat 6:7—do not babble and speak many words like the heathen; James 1:6—ask without doubting; 1 John 5:14-15—ask according to His will, etc. ) Sometimes, misrepresentation of truth, like binding of spirits, happens because we do not teach biblical principles that are clearly stated in the Bible. Nevertheless we do well to reflect upon the verse in Jer. 31:34 that states: “ No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest….”
    Is prayer walking more efficacious than other forms of prayers? Yes, it is more effective for those who thrive in community, who receive encouragement from serving and worshiping corporately, and who are strengthened in their faith through serving with others who are like-minded. No, it is less effective for those feeling that they have moved across the boundary of praying “in their closets” to praying in the limelight, for those plagued by feelings that produce “lack of faith”, and for those pushed because of peer pressure to participate unwillingly.
    Often we prohibit something good because it can be abused. A good example of this is the curtailment of spiritual gifts because some groups mandate all members to practice the gift of speaking in tongues. Prayer walks that emphasize binding Satan, name it and claim it, efficaciousness of a ritual, etc. often destroy activities that may further the kingdom of God.
    Here are a few actions we can derive from the above thoughts.
    • Do not prohibit activities (and encourage others not to prohibit activities) that glorify God, but have been abused in the past. Rather help them to carry through with the activities in such a way that God is glorified.
    • Each group of people participating in prayer walks would benefit if they have a set of Biblical principles that not only keep them from heresy, but also allow them to pray humbly in cultural, natural, corporate, and intimate ways.
    • Allow God’s Spirit to lead and guide people involved in prayer walks and do not put regulations and rules on such activities except for clear biblical principles.

  4. Dudes,
    Great discussion! Yes, all good things seem to get overblown a bit. Walking while praying (kinetic) is really helpful for me. As our last anonymous participant pointed out, paryer is part of our relationship with God and will be different from person to person.
    However, the theological implications are important and should be bibilically based.
    Praying “onsite with insight” can be a really good thing, likely better than a significant number of short-term trip ideas floating around. But, agreeing with Trevor (as usual), this does not make our prayers more efficacious. Such an idea is strongly animistic!
    Part of this discussion is the purpose of prayer: Is it for God and about God? Is it for us and about God? Is it to try to control things that we don’t think God is properly controlling?
    Since He is the focus, let us not detract from Him into methodological efficaciousness. He is bigger than our requests!

  5. As I see it, biblical prayer in Jesus’ name does not depend on location — whether the Christian offering it is in a Temple or in the belly of a fish; whether cooped up in a dungeon or traveling beyond the speed of sound on an SST.
    But it’s true that group prayer — which prayer walking usually is — receives Jesus’ encouragement: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” — Mt 18:19-20.
    Granted, those praying in agreement could be in any place and in any physical attitude. So when I prayer-walked with Brazilian believers, what advantages did I expect?
    Not a repetition of Jericho — that was an object lesson specifically ordered by God and never repeated by him in the whole of Joshua’s campaign. Paul did not tell the Roman believers to pray seven times around Rome and watch the empire crumble. When he told the Corinthian church that “we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world” (2Co 10:3-4), the context indicates that he is not talking about attacking, for instance, some “territorial demons out there,” but wrong, rebellious, contentious attitudes among Christians “who think that we live by the standards of this world” (v. 2) In other words, it is strongholds in the people praying that mainly need tearing down.
    But I consider prayer walking a form of reconnaissance of a neighborhood, somewhat like that which God ordered Moses to do: “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites” (Nu 13:1) So Moses told the men: “See what the land is like and and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified?…” (13:18-19). Paul did a reconnaissance something like this in Athens. A man who “prayed without ceasing,” he walked about the city. “While Paul was waiting for [Silas and Timothy] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). When he was given opportunity to speak, he was enabled by his walk to focus on their particular reality and also form a bridge of identification to aid in communicating the gospel: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Now, what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
    So I believe that prayer walking a neighborhood that the Lord has laid on our hearts can motivate and focus our praying for the people that live there, as well as allowing us to find points of identification with them for friendship evangelism.
    As I see it, these are some practical, not magical, advantages of prayer walking.

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