Some years ago, I was falling apart physically. I needed to improve my health, but I also knew God had been nudging me to spend more time with him. So I got up just a little bit earlier the next day to walk. And while I walked, I would take care of my prayer lists.
There was a lot of my-ness in those early prayers: my marriage, my kids, my teaching job. That changed when I saw a young man entrust his blanketed little girl to the daycare worker outside Toddler Towers in our town of eight hundred in the Sierra Valley.
Before six in the morning I heard that little girl say, “Bye, Daddy. I love you.”
I knew right then that God had me out on the streets of my town not for my prayers but more for the needs of the people in my community.
I began opening my eyes and praying for the business owners along Main Street, the commuters headed to Reno, and the folks still sleeping in their homes. Soon I realized I didn’t have enough time to pray and began to add more minutes until I was walking a good hour or more each day—also praying for the schoolteachers and staff, the city and county employees, church pastors, and hospital and emergency services workers.
Prayerwalking gives us personal direction.
There’s a biblical rationale for prayerwalking. Matthew 9:9 tells us that as Jesus was walking along, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth and said to him, “Follow me and be my disciple.” What if Jesus hadn’t been walking along? What if Jesus had stayed home? Would he have called the future gospel writer as his disciple?
The early morning after I learned a student’s father had committed suicide, I was out walking and praying about what to do for that young man and how to support other students who might need help themselves. As I walked, I ran into two sisters and expressed my concern about what to do. One said, “Call Anne and Ann. They’ll know what to do.” Those two women were social workers in our county who worked with youth. I called them, and they set up a room in the high school where students could get help. My prayerwalking that morning allowed for that encounter that gave me personal direction.
Prayerwalking helps us see people’s needs.
In John 5:1–15 we learn that Jesus returned to Jerusalem for a pilgrimage feast, saw a
man lying by the pool of Bethesda, and healed him. What if Jesus hadn’t walked to Jerusalem for the feast? What if Jesus had stayed home? What if the man had never been healed?
Last summer I went prayerwalking in my little town with my visiting sister-in-law Lisa. The next morning, she asked if I had pruning shears she could
borrow. “I’d like to trim up the roses in that rose garden,” she said. As we had walked, she had noticed that the roses in a garden at the Catholic Church were in dire need of pruning. After I made a phone call to get permission, I collected a bunch of supplies,
and we both spent a full morning working on the project—filling many yard and garden bags. As we prayerwalk, we’ll see needs that people have—needs that we might be able to meet ourselves.
Prayerwalking gives us insights about what is not working systemically in our community.
In Mathew 12:1–8 we find that when Jesus and his disciples were walking on the Sabbath, his disciples started gleaning grain. When the Pharisees criticized them, the experience provided a teaching moment for Jesus about legalism and graceless living. Our prayerwalking will allow us to see issues such as poverty and racism—helping to direct our prayers.
As I’ve prayerwalked, I’ve seen racist graffiti (I reported that), heard couples arguing, and even watched what I’m guessing was a drug deal going down in the early morning hours. Being on the streets, as opposed to a treadmill, has given me insight into serious issues that exist even in my rural area. The practice of walking and praying means I’m stepping out of my comfort bubble to see the realities and pray accordingly.
Prayerwalking is preparation for the harvest.
In Matthew 9:35–37 Jesus teaches that prayer is important so as to prepare a faith harvest. Prayer warriors are the advance team before others come to faith. It has been reported widely that concentrated prayer efforts preceded all the major revival movements. Praying on-site with insight, as author Steve Hawthorne writes, helps us pray fervently for our communities.
Prayerwalking helps us identify with Jesus.
When Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, he wept over the city (Luke 19:41). As we prayerwalk, we can identify with our Lord as our hearts become more compassionate for the lost.
Because I began to understand that wherever I was, there was a need for prayer, my mindset shifted from a self-focused perspective to an outward one, and my fears and depression vanished. I also experienced physical healing and significant weight loss. Additionally, the depression that had clouded most of my adult life up until that time disappeared as did anxiety.
During this crazy season there’s no reason we can’t go for a good walk, which will promote a healthy lifestyle, develop our strength and resistance, and help counter the Covid food craziness. In fact, walking as an exercise is making a comeback, and as we embrace it, we can multi-task our miles by praying for our neighborhoods. Here are some suggestions to carry it off well:
- Keep it simple. You don’t need fancy clothes—just a good pair of shoes and clothes that address weather needs.
- Stretch. Don’t stretch before you walk; wait until afterwards (suggested stretching exercises are in PrayerWalk). If you stretch when your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are cold, you could hurt yourself.
- Schedule your walk. Put your prayerwalking times on your calendar, and see them as appointments for your health.
- Leave the buds. Music or podcasts can distract you from noticing the prayer needs as well as oncoming traffic.
- Pray for what you see: schools, homes, commuters, the social and justice issues in your community, and more.
As you prayerwalk your community, you will develop a praying-without-ceasing perspective, and God will hear and answer your prayers.
About the Author:
Janet Holm McHenry is the author of 24 books, including the bestselling PrayerWalk: Becoming a Woman of Prayer, Strength and Discipline (WaterBrook). Her prayerwalking practices have been featured in Health magazine, Woman’s Day, First for Women and others. She loves to speak about how God transformed her life as she has partnered with God in prayer and invites you to connect with her through social media, her group called The Walking Club, or her website: https://www.janetmchenry.com.