To Walk and To Pray
There are certain expectations of piety regarding preachers in Protestant tradition. More than once I have shaken hands with a man who has looked at me in surprise. “Your hands are rough like someone who works for a living!” Usually followed by a nervous smile in the realization that somehow it has been implied that I don’t work for a living. I let it go and explain that I have a house, five children who drive and a small fleet of mostly old vehicles that I maintain. The common expectation of my life is one of sitting at a desk and reading (which I also do.) Modern technologies give me a freedom of space that my predecessors would not have.
The common joke of the “job requirement” of a pastor is to be available at all times in the office for folks who want to stop by, and be studying and writing sermons for Sunday at the same time, while praying for his congregation, while also visiting his shut-ins while also doing the work of evangelism in the community. Oh, and raising those five children to “fear” the Lord and…
I am not whining or complaining about my job. Each piece of the “job requirement” takes its own turn. Sometimes that causes disappointment from one constituency for a time. It can’t be helped.
The benefit of being a “Lutheran pastor” is that I can legitimately sit in a coffee shop or “tavern” and just hang out. There is a whole volume of Luther’s Works (American Edition) called Table Talk, where various contemporaries of Luther wrote down his “riffing” at lunch or “happy hour” about various subjects of theology, applied. Of course, everywhere he went he had an audience. My time away from the office is less notable.
I like to sit in a corner with my iPad and read, research, study, and organize. There is a joke in pastor circles that goes like this-- If you see an aging baby boomer drinking coffee in a corner and writing furiously-- then it’s probably a pastor doing research on millennials. Given the brood of millennials for whom I change the oil in their cars, I don’t need to do much research to know them.
Yet, I would state the obvious. In a university town most of the young people are not in church on Sunday because they are serving you Sunday brunch, or they worked the night before until 3:00am. The quality time I get with unchurched millennials is the quiet time after lunch and before the offices nearby let out. I sit in a corner and read and am just available with no agenda other than to listen and engage. It works (and I tip well, notoriously in the industry, the worst tippers are the Sunday after church crowd.) At the last Michigan District convention, a resolution was passed encouraging congregations to give their pastors some “walking around money.” This was to encourage congregations to let their pastor be in the community and be able to buy lunch for someone if needed-- because that is how you meet people in our culture. The classic, knock-on-the-door evangelism process taught to generations just does not work anymore. (Do you like folks knocking at the door, Amazon Prime excluded?)
My other happy recreation is what I call “urban hiking.” I park somewhere downtown and walk a circuit of some length (given the time I have available.) I especially like/hate going up the stairways of the various parking structures. At sunset, there is a beautiful view from the top deck (8 stories) of the Radisson garage looking west toward Heritage Hall at WMU. In the morning, the opposite view is similarly beautiful, of the sun rise over Kalamazoo from the porch of the same Heritage Hall.
I have begun to explore new neighborhoods. I especially enjoy walking the Vine street neighborhood because of its “student ghetto” vibe. The houses are old and most becoming more so—but there are a few urban pioneers fixing up old homes with good bones and making something new and special out of them. The air is occasionally perfumed in a modern sort of way. I enjoy the music and energy of a young place. The sterile lawns with no sidewalks of suburbia is ok but much less entertaining.
Without trying I found the habit of noticing concerns in my “new Vine Street neighbors” and organically thinking of brief prayers. I began this article by downplaying any natural piety I might have. As I wasn’t raised in a practicing Christian household and most of my youth was about a very secular Christmas and completely non-religious Easter. Religion and whatever personal piety I have learned isn’t natural but acquired. It took me a while to catch on to the need for faith as I exercised, but now I see things I didn’t before. It is always good to make eye contact, smile and share a brief pleasantry with people you walk by. I am a large person who can be intimidating. It’s interesting to see people respond to just a smile. In African American culture it is common to wish someone “Be blessed! Or Have a blessed Day!” It should be no surprise that in troubled neighborhoods releasing people from anxiety has an immediately positive effect.
There is a ministry idea I have discovered (by accident?) called Prayer Walking. I will put a more complete explanation separately in the newsletter. I would like you to try this. It shouldn’t be a burden. I think you will discover something new.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
There will be a flurry of “self-help” articles in the secular media as the New Year unfolds in January. Please enjoy all of that. Please add something to it—the opportunity to “pray without ceasing” in all of those new endeavors—at the “Y”, in your neighborhood, in work, at school, on the bus and where you eat and shop.
I like to tease that hiking in Grizzly Bear country is a far more aware and perceptive hike than you have ever had before (being in the middle of the food chain.) I propose that hiking (and living) in prayer may be just as cool (and slightly less dangerous.)
Merry Christmas, Blessed Epiphany
Prayer walking is the practice of praying on location, a type of intercessory prayer that involves walking to or near a particular place while praying. Some people believe that being close to a location allows them to “pray nearer to pray clearer.” Prayer walks are taken by individuals, groups, and even whole churches. They can be as short as a block or as long as many miles. The idea is to use the five senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—to increase the intercessor’s understanding of prayer needs. For example, if you walk through your neighborhood looking for things to pray about, you might come across a yard that is extremely untidy and rundown. This might prompt you to pray for the health, both physical and spiritual, of the residents inside. Some groups prayer-walk around schools, prompting prayer for the teachers and students inside, for their safety and peace, and for the schemes of the devil in their school to be thwarted. Some people feel they can concentrate and direct their prayers more effectively by walking near the people and places they are praying for. Prayer walking is a relatively new phenomenon, the origin of which is not clear. There is no biblical model for prayer walking, although since walking was the major mode of transportation in Bible times, clearly people must have walked and prayed at the same time. However, there is no direct command that prayer walking is something we should be doing. To believe that prayers offered in any setting, or while in any position, are more effective than those offered at another time or in another manner is not scriptural. In addition, while we may feel we need to be close to a location or situation to pray more clearly, our heavenly Father, who is everywhere at all times, knows exactly what needs are present and will respond to them in His own perfect will and timing. The fact that He allows us to be part of His plans through our prayers is for our benefit, not His. We are commanded to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and since walking is something we do daily, surely part of praying without ceasing is praying while walking. God hears all prayers offered by those who abide in Christ (John 15:7), regardless of time, place, or position. At the same time, there certainly is no command against prayer walking, and anything that prompts us to pray is worthy of consideration.