An Exegetical Neighborhood Walk
By Simon Carey Holt
The purpose of this exercise is to see your neighborhood in its detail and to respond to what you see both sensitively and critically. It’s not one you can rush. Before you go, take some time to think about how you define your neighborhood and how it’s physically laid out. Draw yourself a map, including your own home, the basic street patterns, and any landmarks, shops, commercial or community buildings, schools or parks. Be sure to include those boundary markers or natural borders that give your neighborhood definition. It’s a very personal thing; no one else can define it for you. The only criteria are that it includes where you live. Once you’ve got a rough idea in mind of what area to include, set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour of uninterrupted time, grab a notebook and pen and head out.Here’s a list of questions to help you as you go:
1. As you stand just outside your house or apartment by the front gate or on the sidewalk what do you see as you look in each direction? What do you hear or sense? What activity do you notice?
2. As you walk the neighborhood, what do you notice? Who do you see?
3. How would you characterize the people you see? What is their age, race, and gender? What might be their cultural background?
4. What might be the attitudes of those you walk by, where might they spend time, what might they do for fun, what might be the concerns they have, what might be their religious or spiritual tendencies?
5. If you feel led or have the opportunity, engage someone naturally and ask these questions.
6. For the people you pass, what might be some barriers or obstacles for these people to engage faith?
7. What public spaces are provided for children, teenagers, or adults? Are they being used? If so, in what ways?
8. If there is a local park, what do you notice about it? Does it feel like an inviting place? Who is there? How is it used?
9. Do you pass any churches or religious buildings? What does their design or appearance communicate to you? Are the heavily attended, places of life, or historical landmarks?
10. What kinds of commercial buildings are there? Walk around a supermarket or local store and identify who makes up the clientele?
11. If your neighborhood includes a shopping area, is there provision made for people to sit, relax, or relate?
12. Are there places in your neighborhood that you wouldn’t go? Why?
13. Where are the places of life, hope, beauty or community in this neighborhood?
14. What evidence of struggle, despair, neglect and alienation do you see?
15. What sense of connection do you feel to your neighborhood as you walk though it?
16. In what ways do you sense God’s presence where you live?An exercise from Simon Carey Holt, God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighborhood. Brunswick: Acorn Press, 2007, 103-104.Prayer walking or Prayer driving!
Perhaps the activities of prayer walking and prayer driving are new to you. Both activities can be defined as "praying on-site with insight." On-site praying is simply praying in the very places where you expect your prayers to be answered. It is a deliberate and planned time of focused prayer. Be prepared to join God in the way he is working around you to "open your eyes spiritually" to let you see his plans through His eyes.
Prayer driving will allow you to prayerfully cover a larger area of your community. So, if you prefer to drive rather than walk, prayer driving is the answer for you! Whichever activity you select, walking or driving (or even skating or biking!), your call to pray for your community will likely result in a new awareness and sensitivity to the people around you.
Prayer walking and prayer driving are simple activities that do not require you to approach your neighbors or co-workers or to even know their specific needs. In fact, prayer walkers and prayer drivers are those who are "on the scene without making one." Through God's inspiration, you will discern certain areas that need your concentrated prayer. You will see new potential in your friends, family members, neighbors, fellow church members, and co-workers.Through the intentional activity of your prayer walk or prayer drive, God's will and His work will be revealed around you.HOW DO I GET STARTED?
To prepare for your prayer walk or prayer drive, take these two easy steps:
WHERE SHOULD I PRAY?
- Choose one, two, or three friends to share this adventure with you. If that is not possible, don't let it stop you from enjoying your own time of praying for your community while walking or driving.
- Decide on a block of time that you will "hit the streets" – plan for at least a half hour.
Invite God to show you where He wants you to pray, and be willing to visit those places He reveals. Although you will want to allow for some flexibility in your walking or driving route, plan to stop in specific, predetermined areas to target your prayers. You may want to consider pausing at the following locations for a focused time of prayer:
WHAT ELSE DO I NEED TO KNOW?
- Shopping centers
- Any populated areas or strategic viewpoints!
HOW DO YOU PRAY? (here are some pointers)
- Be alert as you walk or drive. Remember: Safety first!
- Feel free to pray either silently or aloud. And, don't let moments of silence make you or your prayer partner(s) feel uncomfortable.
- Be aware of how the Holy Spirit may be leading. He may, for example, prompt you to speak to someone along the way. If he does, enjoy the opportunity to be his gentle voice of encouragement. You might be the only smile that person gets all day!
- Make this a family event! Talk about it in advance and plan a short, easy route for small children. Encourage your older children to pray while they ride their bike, roller blade, or skateboard around the neighborhood.
- If anyone asks what you are doing, be prepared to respond. “We are praying God’s blessing on this neighborhood. Is there any way we can pray for you ?”
- Be ready to share your experience with others. Not only will your own faith be strengthened, but you will also be a source of encouragement to others.
- Don't stop after just one walk or drive! Watch God continue his work around you as you make praying for your community a regular and consistent part of your life. The blessings will be yours!
- If you are homebound and are, therefore, unable to walk or drive the streets of your community, please, please accept the challenge to pray diligently for those for whom prayerwalking/prayerdriving is a new and difficult concept. Your intercession on their behalf will change their lives forever! May God bless you abundantly for your generosity of prayer.
As you pray for specific homes or work sites in view, you'll find that hope for those people begins to grow. You'll begin to see people as God might view them. You'll likely find yourself becoming more interested in the welfare of the people you are praying for. Watch for the ways God impresses upon you to display His love in practical acts of kindness
- Pray for discernment – Try to see the neighborhood through Christ's "lens" and discern what God is already doing there. Ask God to show you how you can pray with greater insight for the people, events, and places in the neighborhood.
- Pray for opportunities for the Gospel – Pray that the Good News be communicated clearly and powerfully to each person who has not yet taken the step of trusting Jesus Christ as his or her savior.
- Pray for blessing – Pray over every person, home, and business you encounter; for God's intervention in each life; and for God's will to be done in the neighborhood "as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).
- Pray with empathy - See and feel what residents live with every day; offer intercession for those things that express brokenness and grieve God's spirit, and give thanks to God for the blessings and gifts that exist in the neighborhood.
- Pray from Scripture - Prayers based directly on God's Word can be especially powerful. You may want to bring a Bible with key passages highlighted or copy verses onto note cards. Here are a few suggestions: Psalm 25:4-11, Jeremiah 29:11-14, Colossians 1:9:14, I Timothy 2:1-6, Ephesians 1:16-21
- Pray in God's power - Allow times of silence for the Spirit to speak to you or through you (Romans 8:26). Pray with trust and eager anticipation, while expecting God to answer your prayers!
AFTER YOUR TIME OF PRAYER
Take time as a group to compare notes and reflect on your observations. Discuss the following:
- What are some signs that show God is already at work in the neighborhood?
- What needs and concerns are evident?
- What do you see that might detract from people's quality of life?
- What challenges are people likely to face as they go about their daily lives?
- How might the neighborhood residents view you? Would you be perceived as allies, foreigners, friends, helpers, annoyances, or simply irrelevant?
- How is the Good News of salvation through Christ relevant here?
Close with a time of prayer for the neighborhood and for your witness and service there.