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Let’s Go for a Walk: How Jesus Did NOT Teach Us to Pray

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Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:1-4 ESV)

The disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Jesus’ response was to illustrate for them a prayer. Not designed primarily as a prayer to necessarily be repeated, but a framework by which we know how to pray (as the disciples asked), the Lord’s Prayer tells us exactly how we are to engage in prayer. As the Baptist Catechism teaches us (questions 105-114), there are six petitions (requests) in the Lord’s Prayer. Beginning with the ever-important beginning, “Our Father, who art in Heaven” – which teaches us that Biblical prayer is directed toward God the Father – not to Christ, but rather through Christ (and to no other god or departed saint) – the petitions are as follows…

1. Hallowed be thy name. This petition teaches us to begin prayer with an exultation of God. It also reminds us that we are praying in or for the Holy name of God and by his authority. Our prayers, in short, are acts of worship.

2. Thy Kingdom come. In this petition, we pray that God’s Kingdom comes to Earth. This is both in the fulfillment of the proclaimed Gospel and in the achievement of his will on Earth, which leads into the next petition.

3. Thy will be done on Earth like it is in Heaven. We must pray according to God’s will. Our desire must be to see God’s will done on Earth in the same precise and flawless manner that it is accomplished in Heaven. In this petition, how we ourselves play a part in the accomplishment of God’s will must also come to mind in meditation, bearing our own responsibility in the manner.

4. Give us this day our daily bread. This petition pleads that (1) God provide our necessities for living (hence, bread) and (2) that we pray for today’s needs and not be anxious for tomorrow.

5. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. In this petition, we plead for the forgiveness of Christ, and pray that God helps us forgive others as an acknowledgment of our own forgiveness and as a testimony of grace.

6. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. In this last petition, we acknowledge the spiritual warfare in which we are embattled. We acknowledge the reality of Satan (the word evil can be interpreted evil one) and we must pray that God remove us from temptation. We are also reminded herein of our responsibility to flee, rather than fight, temptation. In short, in this petition we are praying for our sanctification.

Some would no doubt argue that this is an over-simplification of prayer and that the Scripture here is surely not sufficient on the “ins and outs” of prayer. The countless books on prayer strategy would seem to substantiate this assumption. However, in this prayer we see every thing the believer needs to know about how our prayers should be offered to the Almighty, outside a few rebukes given in the Gospel for how prayer should not be done. This prayer of Christ stands alone as the New Testament’s boldest systematic teaching on prayer.

Could you imagine if the Text were written this way?

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, walk throughout the community to sense the felt needs of the communities. Carry a prayer journal to write down what you see and hear. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive to the needs in each house, business, and school. This way, you can pray informed from what the Holy Spirit will reveal to you on your walk.” (Luke 11:1-4 ESV)

Again, if you don’t believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, this is nit-picking. If you do believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, this scenario would be absurd. So, for your enjoyment, five reasons why Prayer Walking is more superstitious than Scriptural.

1. Prayer has no greater effect or power if done in a particular geographic area. Australian Aborigines were prayer walking long before Christians were. In the ‘Walk-About,’ they go on a journey to get close to their ancestral “song lines” and commune with the Spirits. Sadly, this is almost a precise example of the “Walks to Emmaus” that have become popular in evangelicalism.

2. Prayer walking, which is often done for the intended purpose of “hearing from God” is often done under the false impression that prayer is a two-way communication with God. Prayer is designed for us to make petitions of the Almighty. Scripture is designed for us to hear from the Almighty. Sadly, prayer walking has become a mobile version of Contemplative Prayer.

3. The primary need of people, homes, businesses and schools that you will walk by is the same for every address – lost people need Jesus. Until they know Christ, whether their yard needs to be mowed or graffiti is on the school grounds is of secondary importance until they have the Gospel preached to them, until they believe the Gospel and repent of their sins. Prayer walking asks God a question that he has already answered.

4. Prayer walking often gives Christians a feeling of accomplishment from being “spiritually busy,” and yet falling short of Biblical evangelism and a verbal proclamation of the Gospel. 

5. Prayer walking is often done in a way that violates the narrative preamble of the Lord’s Prayer:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8 ESV)

Have you seen the roving prayer-walking teams scouring your community in matching t-shirts (Christians love matching t-shirts, don’t we?) that say Prayer Walker? They’re out there. How is this not a violation of Matthew 6 – to not pray on the street in a way that will draw attention to yourself? In fact, many prayer walking teams wear the t-shirts explicitly for the purpose of drawing attention to themselves, in the chance that someone may approach them in conversation. And others without the t-shirt, still hope to begin a conversation with a stranger in the community that goes something like this:

“Hi. What’s your name? I’m just out praying for your neighborhood.”

The response could aptly be, “Hello, Hypocrite.”

That seems harsh, I know. However, we are prohibited from this type of exercise (and the See You at the Pole organizers might want to consider this, also). And yet, God told us to pray in private as an exercise between a person and God, with Christ as the intermediary. There’s no room for prayer to be done outside the body of Christ as a public exercise. Rather…

What this is not, is an encouragement to keep our faith to ourselves. Far be it! Rather, we should be busy in those communities with proclaiming the Gospel, acts of evangelism, preaching in the street, and handing out tracts or some other act of overt, verbal evangelism. And whether or not you know the community, one thing is certain – it is full of lost people that need to hear their sins can be forgiven. The Gospel preached to an upscale Beverly Hills zip code needs be told no differently than the Gospel preached in an inner city housing project. The problem is sin – the answer is Christ.

This is a hard teaching, no doubt. Primarily, it’s a hard teaching because almost all of us in evangelicalism have been forced into through peer pressure or perhaps even, good intentions. Although prayer walking is a very new phenomenon in American evangelicalism, it has become common fare for churches of almost every stripe. It’s hard to admit that something we’ve been doing for a decade or so is misguided. And on top of that, people have done it (many of them) with the best of intentions.

Pastors, elders, leaders, teachers, it’s time to lead our people in evangelism – to teach them how to proclaim the Gospel, preach the Word, engage the lost with an overt and direct message of the Cross. At the end of the day, the consequence and blessing will be far greater than wandering around our communities, praying in circles.

[Contributed by JD Hall]




Disclaimer: If anyone asks, “What’s wrong with praying and walking at the same time,” I’m going to pray that an angel loses its halo. Clearly, praying while walking is not the issue. Rather, the issue is whether we believe we should walk in order to pray, or that our prayers are more effective by being mobile.