My son and his wife are church planters in the inner core of Portland, Ore. Little evangelical work exists in this part of the city, and the challenge of engaging a very secular culture is challenging on a level I am not sure this Okie understands. While lostness is lostness, whether in Oklahoma or Oregon, we still enjoy an atmosphere in Oklahoma where there is respect for Christianity and openness—much different in Oregon.
Truth be told, the difference between receptive soil for the Gospel and hard soil is prayer. Prayer removes barriers that our brilliant, winsome personalities, and abilities to contend for the faith cannot remove. Prayer turns us to God for the tearing down of strongholds of unbelief, releasing of those imprisoned by sin, and awakening of those dead in their trespasses and sin. Only the power of God, unleashed through the Gospel by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, enlightens people of their unbelief, empty righteousness, and the judgment that awaits those who refuse to turn to Christ.
So I am very thankful that my son understands these fundamental truths and has made prayer a foundation of his missionary work. Recently, he had a very interesting encounter. Each day, he prayer walks portions of his neighborhood. He begins each walk in a park that is the gateway to his district. This park is where the tram station is located and homeless people sleep there each night.
My son goes to a certain place in the park each morning to pray. He prays beside a tree twisted and full of knots, which he says reminds him of his condition before Christ redeemed and changed him. This tree also symbolizes, for him, the lost condition of his community.
A few days ago, he was talking to a homeless person in the park after he concluded praying. The homeless person said to him, “You are getting a reputation among us.” “What kind of reputation?” he asked. The homeless person responded, “Well, the homeless say you are the man who comes every day and stands by that tree and talks to himself!” LOL! My son explained that he wasn’t talking to himself but talking to God in prayer.
I have thought about this many times since he told me that story. Frankly, I wish people in our towns and neighborhoods would see us “talking to ourselves.” Missionaries have long known that prayer opens closed doors and closed hearts. They understand that, at the core of their work, there must be a robust and energized prayer life. Missionaries serving in the “hard” places in America and abroad are very aware that much of the battle for their mission fields is fought through prayer that can only be described as spiritual warfare.
As I look across our state and analyze the decline in the moral climate and the expansion of lostness, I am convinced that we had better find our way onto the battlefield of prayer for our towns and neighborhoods. We can be fooled into thinking that better preaching, bigger and better events, or a contemporary worship style will penetrate lostness. Listen, my friends, the enemy has taken territory and captured hearts. Our puny efforts, no matter how excellent or dramatic, will not tear down high fortresses erected by the enemy in people’s hearts—this happens only by fasting and prayer.
Too many of our churches just go through the motions. Even those churches that are sincere and long to see God do a great work often bemoan empty pews and unstirred baptisteries without ever taking the battle to their knees. Now is the time to stop bemoaning decline and go to war with our enemy in the realm described by Paul as the domain of darkness ruled by the prince of the power of the air.
Prayer walking and standing by a tree in the middle of the neighborhood to pray is not just for missionaries in Africa or Portland, Ore. Prayer walking is for believers in Oklahoma where our communities are filled with lostness. Strongholds of unbelief and walls of imagination against Christ are brought captive through a praying people. “Lord save the lost in our community” is better than no prayer at all, but paltry in the face of our arch enemy, the devil. Specific, intense, targeted, faith-infused prayer has powerful impact against the enemy of our souls. (James 5:16)
So “find a tree and talk to yourself!” OK, so you know what I mean. Talk to God and blanket your community in prayer, and then watch the walls of unbelief start falling.