“All studies done on the subject confirm that people have but a cursory knowledge of the Bible – at best. Rare are those who are willing to follow the Apostle Paul’s directive to “study to show themselves approved unto God.” (2 Timothy 2:15) Most are content with getting their theology from sound bites and sermonettes which have little, if any, grounding in Scripture.” Justin Peters
If you’ve spent any amount of time in an evangelical Sunday School, listening to prayer requests, and then, either being led in prayer or sharing a rotating prayer baton within the group, you’ve heard this supplication to the Lord.
“We ask for traveling mercies for …”
And then whoever is traveling gets a mention before the Lord. Now, don’t read what I am NOT saying. There is absolutely nothing wrong, unbiblical, or errant in praying for the safety, traveling or not, of our loved ones and friends. Doing so is an expression of Christian love.
But “traveling mercies” prayers tend to slightly irk me on two fronts. First, they seem to exude a subtle undertone, the slightest hint, about God’s insufficiency for His children, as though somehow He might not have noticed the long-distance conveyance of His own children and that, not knowing, He might forget to watch over them. I mean, nowhere in the New Testament do we see an apostle asking for “traveling mercy” prayers. Paul, who it seems accrued the most first-century apostolic frequent-flier (well, frequent-evangelist) miles, never implored his epistle recipients to pray for him in this manner, and never do we see him – or any other New Testament writer – doing so for anyone else.
“If you are only born once, you will die twice. But if you are born twice, you will only die once.” Steven J. Lawson
While it is laudable to pray for the safety of others, let’s face it. We have a greater assurance from Jesus’ prayer to the Father (John 17) of our eternal security in Him than any prayer we could offer. The sad, though potential, loss of loved ones and friends aside, it’s a much surer thing to pray as the Lord did, that they be “kept” in the will of the Father. Certainly, there is no safer place to be. A plane crash or a long-distance traffic accident isn’t such a big deal, then, when believers are focused on things above, not below. (Colossians 3:2) Seemingly bad temporal things do happen to “good” people, but they never do so outside the will, or watchful eye, of God. For the believer, like Paul said of himself, “to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
The other thing about the traveling mercies prayers is that … well, frankly … they just defy common sense. While praying for the safety of those engaged in long distance portage is commendable, the fact is, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, nearly 70% of all accidents occur within 10 miles of home.
Perhaps, instead of praying for long-distance business, personal, and vacation “traveling mercies,” we ought instead be praying for geographically-targeted, home-centered “commuting mercies.” “Dear Lord, Keep my wife safe backing out of the driveway and going to the grocery store” would technically be a more appropriate and conditionally-astute petition perhaps. Still, as contrary to worldly reality and temporal logic as praying for “traveling mercies” might be, doing so represents a genuine plea recognizing that God alone can ultimately ensure safety.
But there’s another phrase that is rampant in the vernacular of evangelical intercessions, and it exudes a bolder sense of exhorting God to act, not in granting providential, temporal safety from the perils of the world, but beseeching Him for protection within the realm of the supernatural. That, of course, is … (insert drum roll here) … invoking the hedge of protection prayer.
(You should now be hearing throbbing, bass-rich echoes emphatically fading in the ears of your mind following the crescendo of power such a prayer implies. LOL.)
It is the issue of praying “hedges of protection” or “hedges of thorns” to which Justin Peters and Jim Osman next focus in their spiritual warfare series. Originally broadcast on the Justin Peters Program by Worldview Weekend, the series provides a Scripture-centered teaching on the very popular topic.
It seems almost laughable that such a notion as praying “hedges of protection” has entered the prayer vernacular of the evangelical church. While it sounds Biblical, the fact this almost ubiquitous form of intercession includes a word used in the Bible – “hedge” – does not validate its effective, or Scripturally-prescribed, use in our prayers.
“Praying a hedge of thorns [or a hedge of protection] has no more biblical warrant than praying a circle of tomato plants.” Jim Osman
Praying a “hedge” around someone may seem a noble endeavor upon which to engage. The intent is to petition the Lord to protect the target from all things satanic, to seek providential protection for them from the wiles of the evil one. This ethereal shrubbery is some sort of spiritual, divinely empowered landscaping, a sort of protective, transcendent gardening from the Lord. The hedge resulting from the prayer, though, is only temporary in presumed effectiveness, since one has to keep praying the hedge prayer again and again. No, you don’t pray for the hedge to be watered, fertilized, and tended. You just pray for a new hedge at such time a new prayer may be warranted. God’s Word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35), but spirit-realm hedges you ask Him to construct apparently do.
If this doesn’t sound superficially ludicrous to you – and especially if it doesn’t strike you as blatantly unbiblical – perhaps you ought indulge in a bit more (John 8:31) “abide in my word” time, because it should. The desire to pray for someone’s protection is, just like praying for their safety in travel, justifiable and commendable. But the notion that praying boxwoods, junipers, or thorns actually provides some sort of spiritual buffer zone through which the devil cannot penetrate is farcical.
“Common sense goes a long way in dispelling a lot of these myths, aside from the theology.” Justin Peters
Peters and Osman pause in their discussion to consider the entertaining, and perhaps justifiable, mockery of this all-too-common prayer phrase by the comedian Tim Hawkins.
Laughable though it is, the practice of praying hedges prevails as an intercessory maneuver by many who see it as accomplishing something within the framework of spiritual warfare. In his book, Truth Or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare, Osman says, “this is the practice of erecting a ‘spiritual hedge’ around persons, places, or things in order to prohibit satanic influence or attack. Once a ‘hedge of thorns’ is prayed around someone, Satan and his demons can’t get through.”
“Why can’t we just pray a hedge of protection (hedge of thorns) around everything and prevent Satan from influencing anything at all? Better yet, why not just pray a hedge of thorns around Satan himself and all his demons? Rather than building a hedge around everything and everyone to keep the devil out, why not pray a hedge around him to keep him in?” Jim Osman
As Osman explains to Peters in the broadcast (the complete audio is below) and also in his book, his first exposure to praying hedges came from Bill Gothard in one of his Basic Youth Conflicts Seminars. What Gothard provided were two key Scriptural proof texts that purportedly supported the believer’s employment of the practice. From Hosea 2:6 and Job 1:10, an entire doctrine of praying hedges of protection, or hedges of thorns, is presumably, Biblically established.
(Rick Warren cites the same verses for his “pastoral” instruction on how to pray hedges. Tony Evans also gives sample hedge prayers in his recent book.)
But, as Osman and Peters explore, is this actually what those Scriptures teach?
“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns, And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.” Hosea 2:6, NASB
Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.” Job 1:10, NASB
Osman explains from his clear exegesis how neither of these Scriptural citations, when taken in their full context, remotely prescribe praying for a hedge around anyone. In the case of Hosea, the cited hedge is not a protective blessing but rather a divine judgment from God on His people for their adulterous ways, for pursuing other gods before Him. In the case of Job, the mention of a hedge is merely linguistic imagery that described God’s protection and pointed to His absolute sovereignty over all things, including the righteous Job.
“But you can see how Scripture is twisted,” says Osman, “in just those two references, in trying to build this doctrine of praying a hedge of thorns.”
“You’ve got a phrase ‘hedge’ around somebody in Job. You have ‘hedge’ and ‘thorns’ mentioned in Hosea. And these two are jerked out of their context … and, all of a sudden, an entire doctrine about praying a hedge of thorns around somebody to protect them from the influence of Satan is built … just from the mention of certain words. It’s an abuse of Scripture.” Jim Osman
While anyone would consider it “goofy,” Osman says, if he stood in his pulpit and prayed a “circle of tomato plants,” it’s no less ridiculous that praying a hedge of thorns is acceptable. Christians have become far too complacent about what is Biblical, and what isn’t. So, the hedge of thorns, or hedge of protection, has become commonplace, and ignorance of the Bible on the part of many has allowed it to subtly condition them to it as though it were Biblically legitimate.
The proper exegesis of Hosea and Job reflects a couple of other important points with regards to praying hedges. In neither case is the “hedge” mentioned within the context of spiritual warfare. And, in neither case, is the hedge a result of the prayer of God’s people.
“There is nothing at all wrong with praying for God to protect our friends and families,” says Peters. “There’s nothing wrong with praying for God to protect them, but we’ve got to recognize that God is sovereign. We cannot take Job as a proof text for praying a hedge of protection around somebody because that’s not what the book of Job is talking about.”
Osman reinforces the legitimacy of believers praying for the protection of others. “It’s Biblical to pray that God would protect people, to keep them and bless them, and keep them from His enemies and from deception, that God would open their eyes to the truth, that He would grant people repentance and faith, and come to a knowledge of the truth. We can pray that they would be delivered from darkness, that they would have their minds changed, that God would affect their will, that God will save them and deliver them – all those things are things that we can pray.”
“But when you say, ‘I’m gonna pray a hedge of thorns around them’ or ‘I’m going to pray a hedge of protection around them,” you are uttering a phrase that is utterly nonsensical,” says Osman. He returns to the presumed, and frequent, question about engaging in the maneuver, “Well, what harm does it cause?” He correctly responds by saying, “The real question is, does it do any good? Should I even be doing this?”
“If this is not a weapon that has been given to us by the Lord for the sake of fighting the truth battle, then what are we doing with it? This is a man-made weapon. There is no warrant for it in Scripture,” he says. The practice of praying in such a way is simply not Biblical. “We have no example that the apostles or Jesus ever did this.”
Fundamentally, the problem with praying hedges of protection is not merely that doing so reflects Biblical ignorance, it is that it further reflects the woeful but widespread lack of belief in Scripture’s sufficiency. “To ask, what harm is there if I do this, the assumption is, then, that Scripture’s not enough,” says Osman. “We go outside of Scripture because the hidden assumption is that Scripture is not enough.”
And, of course, Scripture itself warns us against doing that very thing.
“I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written” 1 Corinthians 4:6
Our prayers should be guided by Scripture. They must be Biblically-informed. To do otherwise is to declare before God our disdain for the methods of spiritual warfare which He has ordained, to instead pursue the endeavor in our own strength, with our own carnal methods. “Praying a hedge of thorns is neither meaningful, nor biblical,” writes Osman. “It is stringing together a few words that happen to be mentioned in various Bible passages and using it as a prayer weapon. Satan does not fear such prayers!”
“We don’t want to be guilty of engaging in bad warfare, because bad warfare is worse than no warfare at all.” Jim Osman
Listen below to Justin Peters & Jim Osman from The Justin Peters Program.
Spiritual Warfare Part Four: Hedges of Protection
See More From This Series With Justin Peters and Jim Osman:
For Jim Osman’s book, please go to TruthorTerritory.com
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]