We talked this morning about prayer walking. We saw that prayer walking is just a way of praying not at home or at church but “on the hoof”. We know that prayer is vital if we are to break down the barriers which can stop people from hearing and responding to the gospel. Sometimes those barriers come from the people we are speaking to. Consciously or unconsciously, many people have built up barriers of resistance to anything we could say which would unsettle their comfortable lives, anything which would get them thinking about the important issues of life and eternity, anything which would remind them of their own mortality. And sometimes it is actually the devil who builds those walls to stop people who are lost from ever getting found! There can be genuine spiritual barriers which mean that our preaching and witnessing are ineffective.
2 Cor 4:3 Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
So where does prayer walking fit in to this.
We know that we do not have to be in a church building for God to answer our prayers.
We know that we do not need to be on our knees or have our eyes closed for God to answer our prayers.
The more we know about other people and can empathise with their needs the easier we find it to pray meaningfully for them. So if we are praying for other people who we don’t know, why not go to their streets and their neighbourhood and pray for them there!
In prayer walking we will be doing a number of things.
1. Praising and worshipping God
2. Praying for the homes you pass
3. Listening to God as you walk
The closest thing to prayer walking we find in the New Testament is the way that Jesus sent out both the Twelve (Matt 10:5-15) and the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1-12) to heal, to minister deliverance and to preach the gospel. These passages tell us at least two things which are very important to prayer walking. I spoke this morning on Luke 10:5-6
“When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.”
This command, to “give peace to a household” may seem strange to us. Jesus was teaching that the words His disciples spoke would convey the blessings of God’s peace on those who received them, or equally bring God’s judgement to the people who rejected them. This points us to another vital aspect of prayer walking.
4. Blessing the homes you pass
Jesus has delegated HIS authority to his disciples and to his church. So Christians have the power to pronounce God’s blessing – to declare how God will bless. And when we do this, it will not just be empty words, nor even an optimistic prayer. Those words will be authoritative and declarative. Because we speak on behalf the Lord Jesus Christ, representing God, the blessings we command WILL happen.
And now there is a fifth aspect of prayer walking which I only touched on this morning – prayer walking as
5. Proclaiming Christ’s victory – claiming the ground
Beyond expressing our faith and obedience, praising God and praying for people, listening to God and declaring God’s blessings, prayer walking is also an activity of what some people call “spiritual warfare”. The experience of church history and of churches in many parts of the world today suggests that some places can be particularly influenced by evil spirits as a result of activities there in the past or present. In prayer walking we are praising God and declaring Jesus’s victory over all the powers of evil. But we are also seeking the Spirit’s guidance in discerning whether evil powers have any claim over any particular places or people. And if there are any evil spirits present, part of prayer walking is to rebuke those evil spirits. This is one way we fulfil Jesus’s commission to His church, not only to proclaim the gospel but also to bring healing and deliverance. As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. (Matthew 10:7-8)
Driving out demons was a central activity in the Ministry of Jesus – one third of all His miracles were miracles of deliverance. The same pattern is there in the book of Acts and that ministry of deliverance continued through the first three centuries of the Church.
In the second century AD the church Father, Tertullian, maintained that any Christian who did not know how to exorcise deserved to be put do death! Throughout the world even today, particularly in Africa, India, South America and the Far East, Christian missionaries coming into contact with peoples who worship idols and false gods frequently find themselves involved in deliverance ministry and in “power encounters” with the demons behind those false gods.
Over the last 20 years or so Christians have been realising that demons are not only found in the Third World. There are spiritual battles to be fought in USA and Europe and even in England! And there has been an explosion of books on the subject of “Spiritual Warfare” “Territorial Spirits” and “Spiritual Mapping”. Let me be frank. The majority of those books are not worth reading. Many are positively confusing – I do not think Frank Peretti’s books are at all helpful. Some books are just wrong. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let me point you to at least two authors who have vital insights for us as we consider prayer walking.
Peter Wagner is Professor of Church Growth Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical theological college in USA. For 20 years he has been the world expert in the field of Church growth. Anybody thinking about church growth and evangelism has to take Peter Wagner seriously. And he has written and edited a number of books with titles like Territorial Spirits, Breaking Strongholds in Your City, Wrestling with Dark Angels and Engaging the Enemy.
Then there is another good book written by John Dawson: Taking our Cities for God.
These are listed on the Prayer Walking Guide leaflet if you want to read more about what I am saying tonight.
These writers not only quote the experiences of churches and missionaries but also look from scripture at the theme of Spiritual Warfare – approaches to prayer and evangelism which take seriously the fact that mission is a spiritual battle between good and evil, light and darkness. Behind the scenes of our efforts to spread the gospel, there is a spiritual war on!
Ephesians 6:11 Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
I deliberately repeat myself when I say that the experience of church history and of churches in many parts of the world today suggests that some places can be particularly influenced by evil spirits as a result of activities there in the past or present. Spiritual warfare is concerned with driving out any evil powers which may, in some sense, have a claim on a particular area, so that the people there will be able to respond to the gospel with their eyes opened rather than blinded.
There has been some controversy over the years about whether it is meaningful to suggest that the powers of darkness actually can “claim” a particular place or group of people as their own. The experience of missionaries supports this view. And in my judgement, the Bible does support the idea of such “territorial spirits”. The verses I’ll refer to are listed in the Prayer Walking Guide.
We know that Satan is `the prince of this world’ (Jn 12:31), `the God of this age (who) has blinded the minds of unbelievers’ (2 Cor 4:4).
The tenth plague of the deaths of the firstborn was in God’s words `judgement on all the gods of Egypt’ (Exod 12:12). Behind all human idols are demonic powers.
In Daniel 10:12-13 the angel who was sent to Daniel says this:
12 “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain
understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I
was detained there with the king of Persia.
This opposition of `the prince of Persia’ to God’s angel implies an evil spirit controlling an area. In the same way, there may well have been demons behind the earthly kings of Babylon and Tyre (Isa 14:12-14, Ezek 28:12-16). #
In the book of Revelation, Pergamum was the place `where Satan’s throne is’ (Rev 2:13).
It is particularly significant that we read that the demons in Legion seemed to fear being sent out of `their’ region (Mark 5:1-20). The Bible says relatively little about demons, but what it does say is consistent with the idea that demons can at least sometimes be associated with particular places.
And not only with places, but also with groups of people. The Old Testament teaches that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the children (Lev 26:39, Jer 32:18) even to the fourth generation ( Exod 20:5, 34:7, Num 14:18). This may sometimes happen by demons gaining a hold on particular families. There is strong evidence from cultures which practise ancestor worship that demons can pass from parents to children or grandparents to grandchildren, what could be called “generational spirits”. And then Christians around the world in every place where the peoples around practise magic or voodoo know very well where that curses and spells have real power.
Books on Spiritual Warfare stress the importance of identifying WHETHER, repeat, WHETHER, there are evil powers at work in a particular area. An important aspect of prayer walking for us will be listening to God to tell us if there are spiritual battles to be fought on Clements Park. God gives spiritual gifts of prophecy, discernment, knowledge and wisdom to His church. The Holy Spirit at work in every Christian allows all of us to hear God’s voice and be led by Him. We listen for specific guidance about the approach we should take to evangelism, and for discernment about the presence of evil in particular places.
Some books give a name to this process of identifying any unseen spiritual powers at work in an area – they call it “spiritual mapping.” Peter Wagner defines SPIRITUAL MAPPING as `an attempt to see the world around us as it really is, not as it appears to be’. This involves research into historical and spiritual factors which could be influencing an area, as well as using all the spiritual gifts especially prophecy and discernment to discover the nature of the enemy.
The ways that demons might come to have some kind of “claim” on a particular area or group of people are the same as the ways that demons gain hold of a particular individual’s life. Most obvious would be in a place where different forms of the occult have been practised over the centuries.
MAGIC – Attempts to manipulate the spirit world, to gain power over enemies (black magic) or to help friends (white magic). Telepathy, ESP, automatic writing, charms, fetishes, levitation, “out of the body experiences” and astral projection, magic healing and witchcraft, all forms are evil! In these days we also have the many faces of the “New Age” movement as well as people dabbling in ancient Celtic religions and traditional British mysticism, not to mention White Witchcraft / Wicca / “The Craft”.
A person may fall under the control of magic by hereditary involvement (the actions of an ancestor) by occult experiments, by occult transference from one person to another (e.g. spells or curses, blood pacts) or by explicit Satan worship. Places used for magic in the past or the locations of of occult books/objects can be affected in the present.
FORTUNE TELLING – Varieties include palmistry, tarot cards, crystal gazing, psychometry, astrology and horoscopes, reading tea leaves etc, dowsing.
SPIRITISM or SPIRITUALISM – Attempting to communicate with spirits of the dead for various purposes. Approaches include mediums, seances, trances, ouija boards, and table turning. Spiritualist “churches” and spiritual healers. We should include many of the psychic or paranormal events which people experience without seeking them, e.g. ghosts and poltergeists.
The Bible condemns all occult practices very clearly because of the dangers of contact with demons. But I am convinced that practices of magic, fortune telling and spiritualism in the past can have an impact on people living in places in the present. I know this is the case because on a number of occasions in a number of places we have seen this happen! Only last year Lin and I were invited to a brand new flat on Clements Park where the owners were terrified by an “evil presence” they felt to be there with them. They said that other neighbours had complained of similar problems. We prayed around the flat, but in the end the couple decided to move out rather than risk the continuing menace.
We don’t know what the land of Clements Park was used for in the distant past. We do know it has been a psychiatric hospital for many years. It probably is not a coincidence that the place where I have come into closest contact with the most dramatic form of “haunting”, poltergeists throwing furniture around the room, was in a new house built on land near Borehamwood which had formerly been a psychiatric hospital.
The gospel is spiritual warfare. Evangelism is spiritual warfare. In Acts 26:18 Paul tells us that the mission God gave him was to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
So our prayer walking will be an exercise in Spiritual Warfare and Spiritual Mapping.
For this purpose Christ was revealed – to destroy all the works of the evil one! 1 John 3:8
Jesus said to his disciples, not once but twice, first in Matt 16:19
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
And in case they had missed the point, Jesus repeated exactly the same words two chapters later: Matt 18: 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Christ has entrusted to His church the authority AND the responsibility to drive out demons wherever they may be found. We are not to become preoccupied with the demonic.
Luke 10:17 ¶ The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
We are not to become preoccupied with the demonic. But we are to engage is the spiritual battles which are as real and as significant as any human battles!
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:4
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We have the weapons of prayer and praise and holiness and truth and love and faith and unity and sacrifice and all the armour of God – and God calls us to use these weapons in rebuking the powers of evil and bringing people out of darkness into light.
We thought this morning about the ancient church custom of “beating the bounds” of the parish every years. A procession around the boundary led by the priest with the people praising God and offering prayers at different points. The people would also literally “beat the bounds” with branches. This was not merely to mark the perimeter of the parish. They believed that doing so would drive demons out of the parish so they would no longer trouble the people. I am convinced that their seemingly strange practices do show us important and neglected truths!
We also thought about Joshua and the battle of Jericho. That was a battle which the Israelites did not even need to fight, because God gave them the victory and God brought the walls of Jericho down! It is tempting to think that the Israelites did nothing at all. But in fact they marched. They shouted. They blew their rams horn trumpets. They carried the ark of the covenant. And when they seventh day came – they shouted! God gave the victory but the Israelites were not passive there. They were obedient. Even when they did not understand what God was commanding them to do, they trusted and they obeyed.
Just as faith and obedience brought down the walls of Jericho, so faith and obedience will bring down the barriers which stop the people of Brentwood from hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith and obedience, expressed in prayer.
You may not be convinced yet about Spiritual Warfare and Spiritual Mapping. You may not even be persuaded about the advantages of prayer walking over other approaches to prayer for Clements Park. So I invite you approach prayer walking around Clements Park as the Israelites did marching around Jericho. It is an act of faith and obedience. We don’t need to understand completely in order to trust and obey! But if we trust and obey, if we pray and pray and keep on praying, I am convinced we will see the walls come tumbling down!