Praying for the people we encounter every day follows Jesus' example
By J. Matthew Hildebrand
What a world we live in. So small that we daily intersect with people and are afforded a glimpse into their lives. What we choose to do with these encounters bears witness to the God we serve.
“What I do is live. How I pray is breathe,” writes Thomas Merton in his article “Day of a Stranger.” As a Christian, prayer is the lifeblood of my relationships, work, play and ministry. Sometimes my life does not afford time for prayer in solitude, so I integrate prayer into my daily routines.
The word “prayer” brings attention to the reliance we have on God to live. The term “walking” highlights that we are not static but rather moving. Combining these two endeavors creates a spiritual discipline.
Prayer walking encourages people to pray as they meander through their neighborhoods on an evening stroll, as they walk down the corridors at work, as they pace the hallways in the hospital, as they run along the road or as they race down the terminal to make their impending flight. Prayer walking is essential to the Christian life and integral to our daily existence.
A book I read encouraged me to combine the practice of “beholding” whenever I go on prayer walks. In the book, Right Here Right Now: Everyday Mission For Everyday People, Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford define beholding as: “sincere and undivided attention that encapsulates the object of attention into the mind and complete consideration of the viewer.” In other words, being attentive to the people and environment around me.
I appreciate the emphasis that Hirsch and Ford give toward Jesus being our primary example. They model prayer walking after the pattern set forth by Jesus, as articulated in Mark 10:21a (KJV): “Then Jesus beholding him loved him” (emphasis mine).
Driving and praying
I recently made a two-day trip from my home in Fresno, Calif., to San Jose that helped me to better understand prayer. The original purpose of the excursion was to purchase a vehicle; yet it seems God had other plans in mind.
Not wanting to go it alone, I invited a good friend along for the journey. We planned to stop off on a Saturday night to meet with the vendor in Santa Cruz. Barring any unforeseen problems from the vehicle inspection, the following morning I would walk away the proud owner of a “new” car.
My buddy for the trip was eager to talk about our Christian faith and pray together during our long drive from Fresno to San Jose, as well as during our stay overnight in the Silicon Valley. We prayed together and separately, out loud and silently. We prayed for God’s peace to come to the land. We prayed on behalf of many people, that they might come to know God. We prayed passionately for God’s kingdom to come, and we prayed for God’s good purposes to unveil themselves soon! We were constantly praying.
When we arrived late Saturday night in the 10th largest city in the U.S., San Jose was alive with the sound of music. The Sharks had just defeated the Phoenix Coyotes (formerly Winnipeg Jets) 1-0 during the NHL preseason at home. Naturally there were many people in their hockey jerseys roaming the streets.
The hustle and bustle from the hockey game contrasted starkly with the hopelessness that we encountered in the streets. We passed by many people sleeping on the concrete sidewalk or begging for money. Similar to Fresno, San Jose has its social justice concerns, some of which include poverty, drug addictions, unemployment and the like.
The next morning I awoke at sunrise and went for my customary short distance run, this time through the San Jose downtown district. I ran past the Cathedral Basilica St Josephs and along the Guadalupe River Trail. Being a hockey fan myself, I made sure to include the HP Pavilion on my route. There was no noise this early in the morning, save for a few street workers and a couple other runners who politely acknowledged my presence as I ran by.
Along the trail at the underside of the freeways and interchange ramps, I came across many homeless people who were trying to stay warm in their makeshift homes built from cardboard and newspapers. The more I ran, the more sick I felt that the previous night I was enjoying my stay in luxury at the four-star Fairmont Hotel while others were wandering the streets looking for a morsel to eat or a safe place to lay their heads.
The trip did not prove to be very beneficial as far as vehicle purchases go. The seller, Danny (not his real name), was not willing to negotiate his purchase price despite the fact that his vehicle had some glaring mechanical issues (oil leaking from the engine), the least of which was a nonfunctioning radio antenna.
He shared with me about his recent job loss and his need for cash. The vehicle Danny drove had many complications that could easily be fixed with the sale of his recently deceased sister’s SUV that I was looking to acquire. As a result, I did not end up buying Danny’s vehicle. I was out the money for a night’s accommodations, the vehicle inspection, smog test, not to mention the food and gas it cost for the trip for two.
The weekend’s intersections left me asking many questions. Do I practice prayerfully beholding others in my daily affairs? Did I seek to behold Danny’s struggles, despite the fact that he was an eccentric individual? Did I pray for the “unseen” homeless people who did not have food, as I enjoyed calamari and listened to live music at the Gordon Biersch Restaurant Saturday night? Did I pray for my travel companion, his family and his life amidst all that was a busy weekend?
Yes, perhaps I did some of those things. As we walked the streets Saturday night my friend and I prayed. We prayed for the downtown community and the man who yelled curses at the corner of San Fernando and South 3rd Street. We prayed for the buskers, the musicians, the waiters and waitresses working late shifts. But certainly I was not as faithful as I might have been to assume in and through Christ a posture of beholding others in prayer.
Heavenly Father, please help us to behold those around us, just like Jesus did. Please encourage us to faithfully pray for the people we meet, the places we go and above all, the coming of your kingdom. Even so, Lord Jesus, come!
J. Matthew Hildebrand anticipates graduating this spring with a Masters in Divinity from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He served in various ministry capacities at Bethany MB Church in Fresno while completing his graduate studies. Some of the inspiration for this article came from a seminary class taught by Professor Cory Seibel, Urban Ministry: Into the Neighborhood. Hildebrand has moved back home to Winnipeg, Man., where he eagerly looks to engage in ministry and spread a passion for Jesus.