PRAYER WALKS: ARE THEY SCRIPTURAL?
With the renewal of interest in the topics of intercession and spiritual warfare has come the practice of organised walks across the streets of cities and towns called Prayer Walks. Though this appeals to many Christians, several others are quite bothered because, to them, this practice does not sound Scriptural. As Prayer Walks are becoming increasingly popular, a Biblical analysis of this exercise has become necessary.
First and foremost, it must be pointed out that, according to Jesus, prayer must be essentially offered in secret. He condemned the intentional habit of certain religionists of His day who loved to pray "on the corners of the streets." He taught, "When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matt. 6:5,6). According to Jesus, the secret of prayer was praying in secret. Rarely do we read of Him praying in public. Rather, He withdrew to places of solitute for this holy exercise. Even for the sick, He never prayed in public. He simply healed them.
When Jesus commissioned the seventy disciples to be sent out to evangelise towns and villages, He told them, "Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops" (Matt. 10:27). In other words, praying should be in private, and that must be followed by preaching in public. This was the Lord's prescription even for hostile and non-receptive places (v. 28).
We do not come across any passage in the Acts of the Apostles which suggests Prayer Walks across cities. The spirit of Paul was deeply provoked within him when he saw the city of Athens full of idols. He did not immediately organise a prayer march against the spirit of idolatry. Instead, he "reasoned" with people daily in the marketplaces (Acts 17:16,17). When Peter was imprisoned, the believers did not march around the prison walls shouting praise and prayer. Rather they were praying in houses behind closed doors, and the Lord miraculously delivered him (Acts 12:5,12,17).
In The Heavenly Places
The seven-day march of Israelites around the walls of Jericho is the oft-quoted Biblical incident to support and promote Prayer Walks (Josh. 6). But this incident is not meant to directly teach us about spiritual warfare prayer in the New Testament era. Apostle Paul's teaching on this subject in his Epistle to the Ephesians is explicit and conclusive. According to him, the active sphere of evil powers is "in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). Christ is seated "in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion" (1:20,21). We, as believers in Him, are seated with Him at this level "in the heavenly places" (1:3). As such, the warfare is not at the horizontal plane. We fight the enemy from above him. This principle is best illustrated in the battle scene of God's people against Amalek. Moses, Aaron and Hur on the hilltop represent intercessors. Joshua and the people who confront Amalekites in the plains represent Gospel communicators (Exo. 17).
The Jericho incident was just a military strategy prescribed by God for capturing a city. It was not a shout of "praise"-it was just a shout! God was teaching the people of Israel "simple trust" and "implicit obedience" without questioning. The Israelites did not go to "bless" a city, but to "burn" a "cursed" city! The incident does not portray a Campaign of Salvation, but a Crusade of Destruction. In these days, when even most of the Christians don't understand what the Bible says, the non-Christians, when they come to know of such Prayer Walks, would only understand them as militant actions. Instead of attracting the non-Christians towards the Gospel, we would only antagonise them.
The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem also does not suggest prayer marches. "Hosannah" simply means "Save us, O Lord!" It was just a cry of anguish by the Jews to be delivered from the rule of Romans.
What about 1 Timothy 2:8 where Apostle Paul wrote, "I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without quarrelling"? This passage has nothing to support the modern Prayer Walks, because this speaks about the role of "men" versus that of "women" in the Church (vv. 9-12). The phrase "in every place" simply refers to whichever place the church was assembling (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). The subject of this passage is leadership and authority in the church, and not street praying. "Lifting up holy hands" is an expression of exercising authority. Moreover, if this passage is used to support Prayer Walks, women are out!
It is my conviction that we have not preached the Gospel enough. There is no substitute for sowing the seed. As important and as powerful prayer may be, it can never be a substitute for systematic and tireless preaching of the Gospel. The harvest is poor because we sow sparingly and not bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6). Prayer walks may be exciting, but it won't get the job done. Like the early adherents of Salvation Army, believers must boldly go out for open-air evangelism. The need is for Gospel processions, rather than prayer marches. Jesus has commanded us to go into all the world and PREACH! (Mk. 16:15). He said, "Whatever city you enter... PREACH!" (Matt. 10:7; Lk. 10:8,9). The seventy disciples were sent out to PREACH. As they were preaching, Jesus saw Satan falling down! (Lk. 10:18).
Individually and as groups, let us infiltrate into communities to share the Gospel. Let's "fill" cities with the doctrine of Christ (Acts 5:28). Let there be non-stop proclamation of the Gospel for months and years so that "all" who dwell in countries and continents may hear it (Acts 19:10). Let's go house to house on visitation evangelism (Acts 20:20). It's such saturation evangelism which will earn us the nickname, "those who turn the world upside down!" (Acts 17:6). Though tough, this is the only way. Anything else may be thrilling, but will not get the job done. It is easier to join a Prayer Walk than to open the mouth to share the Gospel with a non-Christian, or to go on house-to-house evangelism. We Christians are known for choosing easier options. Mere enthusiasm is enough for the former; but the latter cannot be done without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The promise that one will inherit whichever place he treads was a national promise given to the Old Testament Israel. It was geographical (Deut. 11:24; Gen. 13:14,15). In the Gospel dispensation it is not places, but people. It is not "whatever" place, but "whoever" believes (Josh. 1:3; Mk. 16:16). Even among people, not everyone we talk to will accept our message. There's no such promise in the Bible. Very few will choose the narrow gate against the broad way. We are not called to christianise the world, but just evangelise it. "India for Christ" is an empty shout; "Christ for India” is a meaningful slogan.
I would say that Prayer Walks are definitely unnecessary. It makes no difference whether prayer is offered in site or from inside the closet. "Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off?" (Jer. 23:23). What matters is how close our hearts are to God's and how much of His burden we really share for the perishing souls (Rom. 9:1-3). If the time and energy spent to organise Prayer Walks are invested in active Gospel preaching, the Great Commission will be fulfilled much sooner.
Certain preachers may quote instances of spiritual breakthrough in cities where Prayer Walks had been conducted. But in these days of widespread spiritual deception, it's safer not to indulge in practices which are not explicitly taught in the Scriptures. As far as Prayer Walks are concerned, certain basic Biblical principles concerning prayer are ignored, as pointed out in the above paragraphs. As such, this may be the Devil's trick (?) to sidetrack us from focussed evangelism. If we are not vigilant, we will lose the battle and go on confessing, "We failed to do what we ought to have done, but did what we ought not!"