Never in my most grandiose imagination would I have thought that going for prayer walk would lead to me almost being arrested. Yet that’s exactly what happened.
The start of a new year brings out various traditions in congregations across the world. Some congregations start off the year with a time of prayer and fasting, some chose a new sermon series to kick things off, others introduce new ministries, and the new congregation that we had just joined decided that a twenty-four-hour prayer chain was exactly the prescription that we needed.
My wife and I had married seven months prior and were still settling into the routine of marriage. We found ourselves renting a townhome that was only four units down from the one that I rented while we were still dating. It felt familiar, yet new. It was the perfect place for us to settle into and call home.
Along with the newness of marriage, I the pastor of a small church, elected to merge our congregation with another. Although I knew the pastor and his congregation well, there was still so much to learn. Settling into my new role as a bilingual and worship pastor, I knew that I had to set an example for the other congregants. With that in mind, I selected the time slot of 12:00AM to 1:00AM. I reasoned that I could go to bed earlier, pray for an hour, then go back to sleep, and still be functional in the morning.
Much to my surprise, tiredness and sleepiness were much more challenging to fight off than I had anticipated. After a few days of dozing off, while conversating with Jesus, I determined that I needed to switch things up a bit. Having the brilliant mind that God has graced me with, I came up with the idea of going on a prayer walk to help me combat my sleepiness.
My idea worked like a charm. I really enjoyed my walks, beneath the starry sky, as I prayed for our church, our congregants & families, and for the entire city. However, a couple of nights into this new practice, things got a bit out of hand.
I had just finished my hour of prayer and I was a block away from home when the unexpected happened. As I turned the corner, I heard the sound of a vehicle behind me, followed by the sight of red and blue flashing lights. When I turned around to see what was happening, a bright spotlight flashed into my eyes, blinding me for a second. I placed my hands over my eyes, like a visor, to try to make sense of everything. However, all I could see was the shadow of two men stepping out of the vehicle asking me to place my hands where they could be seen.
One of the officers asked me for my name and what I was doing out walking at that hour of the night. Being the smart-alecky Christian man that I was, at the time, I answered by saying, “My name is John and I was out praying for revival in this city.” The officer gave me a glare that let me know that he wasn’t buying my story. “Where do you live?”, he asked with an authoritative voice. “I live at 707 Hellenic,” I told him. “Do you have an ID on you?”, he stammered. “It’s in my back pocket,” I told him. “Do you have any weapons on you?”, he asked. “No,” I told him, “I was only out on prayer walk. That’s all.” He looked at me in a way that told me that he didn’t trust me. “Reach back and pull it out slowly,” he commanded. I reached back and did exactly as told. However, as I handed it to him, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t changed the address on my license. My license still read, “715 Hellenic,” the place where I lived prior to marrying my wife. One quick glance over my ID must have set off an atomic alarm in the officer. He quickly shouted, “I’m going to need you to place your hands on the vehicle and I’m going to pat you down.” I didn’t think twice about obeying him. I did exactly as I was told. As he started the pat down, I did my best to explain to the officer that I had recently moved and hadn’t updated my ID. He responded by grunting and continuing what he had started.
The officer seemed puzzled that he didn’t find anything on me. As he handed me back my ID the other officer, who had been standing to the side, walked up to us and said, “they caught the suspect, he was at 715.” At that point, the officer who had been holding me hostage told me, “OK, you are free to go.” Then looking at me with concern he said, “You fit the description of a suspect that we were looking for and his address is 715 Hellenic. However, it looks like they caught him. I’d advise you to take your prayer inside next time if that was in fact what you were doing.”
Needless to say, I came up with another prayer routine to finish out our season of prayer. The following is what I learned from that situation.
Prayer isn’t always easy.
I still struggle to maintain attention during prayer time. I’ve always admired those people who can pray for hours at a time without skipping a beat. I’m simply not one of those people. My prayer life can best be described as a squirrel with ADHD. Nevertheless, I love to pray. To combat my inability to stay put, I have implemented the practice of breath prayers and journaling. In recent years I’ve added some ancient prayer practices such as contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, and the prayer of examen to my mix. More than anything, I do my best to keep my practice of prayer as diverse as my dinner menu. Truth is, as much as I love brussel sprouts, I simply grow tired of eating them every day. With that in mind, I change things up from time to time. Having a variety of prayer practices in my prayer life helps keep me communicating with God. In addition, I still enjoy prayer walks. However, I only do them during the hours of daylight now, and I’m sure that you understand the reason as to why.
Not everyone will appreciate your prayer practices.
Not long after this incident, I had a lady come up to me and church and ask me, “Who taught you how to pray?…. You’re doing it wrong.” Sadly, she hasn’t been the last person to question my prayer life. And honestly, perhaps my prayer life can be a bit confusing to many. I grew up in a Spanish Pentecostal congregation, I was mentored under a Baptist pastor, I spent my early twenties worshiping in Black congregations, and I love liturgy. Guess what? My prayer is going to look different. I may not be expressive enough for some circles, I may be too loud for others, and I may be a bit to contemplative for both of the other groups. But when all is said and done, my prayers are said to communicate with God and not with man. In the end, I know that He is pleased and that’s Ok with me.