Chris mentioned this in his sermon yesterday, so I thought I would explain a little bit further.
Back in November, I attended the National Youth Workers’ Convention and heard author and pastor Mark Batterson speak on the subject of prayer walking. A few years back, Batterson had famously made a long solo prayer walk around Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., stopping to pray at places where he felt moved. Sure enough, many of those locations became key strategic centers for his church– a future coffee shop, a future sanctuary, etc. Truth be told, prayer walking had seemed like magical thinking to me for the longest time, but the way Batterson talked about it, it made sense. He explained that by praying in a circle, we were asking God to make us His agents of change within that space, and so for a few months, I wondered whether I should take a long walk myself.
Saturday night, when we got back from the Planet Wisdom youth conference, I felt a little dead (and not like “dead to my sins” dead– just dead). It had been a long week, and though I had found the conference helpful and insightful as always, it hadn’t really been that life-changing for me. It was great seeing many of our youth grow and learn, but normally I find myself getting a little something from these conferences too (inspiration, motivation, ideas, etc.), and that just didn’t happen this year. I left the conference pretty much exactly how I had arrived there: tired, a little irritable, and preoccupied with logistics for the next youth trip.
During the drive back, whenever there was a lull in our conversation, I found myself thinking about the long prayer walk, and a nagging little thought bubbled up: “Maybe it’s time to go ahead and do this.” Immediately, I started coming up with excuses. It’s in the 40s outside. There was an extra sweatshirt in my trunk. My hands will get cold. There were about a dozen pairs of gloves in my office from an earlier project. I’m too out of shape for it right now. All the more reason to do it! It seemed that there was no excuse; it was time to set out on a long prayer walk.
As soon as all the youth were safely in their parents’ cars, I bundled up and headed down MacDill. As I walked down MacDill, I noticed quite a few businesses that I had never really paid attention to before; could some of these be potential ministry partners? There was still a lot of traffic from the pre-Gasparilla festivities, so I had to turn on Bay to Bay, but this gave me a chance to stop at Starbucks. We hold regular small group gatherings at that Starbucks, so I stopped for a bit and prayed by our usual table before grabbing a mocha and hitting the road again. Our youth group is going to do something significant at that Starbucks during Lent– not quite sure what though.
I turned and walked down Himes, and a few houses caught my attention, so I said prayers for the inhabitants. I turned on El Prado and walked to Manhattan, noticing some small businesses and apartments along the way that were prayed for. Heading up Manhattan, I noticed a few homes for sale and made a mental note to walk by there again sometime soon and see if the new residents have a church home yet. Possibly my longest stop was in front of Coleman Middle School before I headed up to Neptune and took Henderson over to Dale Mabry. It was around this time that I thought to text some other ministers and ask for their prayers as well.
I paused for a while at Himes and Kennedy and stared across the street at the Envy Club. The Envy Club has caught my eye ever since our youth group did a series on the seven deadly sins (envy being one of the seven), and it’s only been within the past few months that I’ve looked more closely at the sign and realized it’s a strip club. I prayed for something redemptive to happen there and for God to send some sort of agent of change to that intersection, but I don’t know what that’s going to look like.
I took Kennedy all the way to Howard, stopping to talk to a few restaurant patrons and hostesses as I passed. I prayed for safety in these areas during Gasparilla. Between the overconsumption of alcohol and the increased crime during big events, that area of town will need prayers this weekend. Also, I was reminded of something as I walked through what is arguably the center of South Tampa party culture: it’s not enough for us to design programs and worship services to try and appeal to the people who frequent the South Howard entertainment district; we need to be over there ourselves. The Apostles didn’t just wait around a church building for people to come to them; they went out and acted as a light to places where people were confused or suffering, and whether it’s through prayers or physical presence or both, we need to do the same. Walking all the way down Howard, I stopped to pray briefly at a large outdoor fountain (“Whoa, this would be the perfect place for a youth small group.”) before intersecting Bayshore Blvd.
By now, it was approaching 10pm, and cleaning crews were out picking up after the parade. I made sure to thank each person I saw and pray for everyone’s safety this upcoming weekend. I also glanced out at the pirate ship illuminated only by the moon. I realize that I’ve been saying again and again how I’m praying for people’s safety during Gasparilla, but in that moment, I was also grateful for the revelry that comes with this time of year, and I found myself hoping that there would be some moments of true joy during the upcoming celebration. I’ll more than likely go out and be a part of it myself, and I prayed for wisdom in how to approach people there.
I crossed over Bayshore and back onto Bay to Bay, before heading back up MacDill to the church. Save for some activity at Datz, the street was significantly emptier than when I had started the walk. As I drew closer to the church, I started thinking about all the ways in which we already minister to this community and all the new avenues that God might open up in 2014. There are a lot of great opportunities on the horizon for us, and my prayer is that we’ll receive wisdom and strength in pursuing them this year.
I’ve had a few days to think about this walk now, and I know that I’ll need to retrace my steps quite a few times in the coming years (hopefully expanding the circle too!). The goal of this whole thing was simply this: to be made aware of the needs in our most immediate community and to pray for new ways to minister to these needs. It took me four hours and nearly 11 miles (and my Chuck Taylors are pretty much done for), but I’ve got a lot of ideas now and a lot of hope for our neighborhood. I’d encourage you to take a prayer walk like this yourself sometime, and if you’d like some company for it, don’t hesitate to call!
Grace and Peace,
For the full prayer route, click the image below: