The essence of prayer walks is meeting God in unlikely places.
While reading Mark Batterson’s book “Draw the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge,” I was struck with a verse he quoted from the book of Genesis. In it, Jacob proclaims:
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
As I thought about the significance of prayer walks that my church is embarking on, and the call to take our faith and prayers into the ordinary places of life, this phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had to explore more, so I found the passage in Genesis 28:10-22, read it, and opened up my commentaries to learn more.
Jacob was on a journey, and slept along a solitary road for the night. While sleeping, he dreams.
This dream is the somewhat famous story Jacob’s ladder—the story angels go up and down. Well, that’s how the afro-spiritual describes it anyways. More than angels, they were really messenger-priests, and more than a ladder, it was likely steep steps or a ramp—something similar to other ancient near east temples. Like this one from an Ur civilization:
The general idea during this time was that the gods were located in the heavens and humans must build large structures to reach them. Thus, these kinds of temples were common, and priests walking up and down these stairs, communicating with the gods were a part of common religious expression.
It’s in this context that Jacob dreams—and just like our everyday life seems to infiltrate our dreams, Jacob envisions stairs that reach the heavens.
Maybe Jacob’s subconscious was longing to be with God.
Yet something different was happening in this dream. While the messengers of god walked up and down the stairs, they are not recorded saying anything. Instead, God speaks directly to Jacob.
Jacob didn’t have to walk up the stairs to meet God. Jacob didn’t have to receive a message relayed from a messenger-priest. God spoke directly to Jacob.
The stairs and messengers walking up and down serve more as a backdrop to highlight the unique interaction between God and Jacob. As if God is saying to Jacob: I will meet you directly.
And the story continues:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
Jacob proceeds to set this place apart as sacred. He declares that this is the gate to heaven!
As a Christian living in the New Testament, I read this and realize that Jacob has missed the point. The place wasn’t sacred. It was a random spot; a non-religious spot. It was just one location along a much longer journey.
God didn’t show up at that unique spot, and Jacob just happened to be there to observe it. The spot wasn’t unique; Jacob was.
God sought Jacob out. God spoke to Jacob. God met Jacob.
“Sacred” literally means to be “set apart.” And this location wasn’t set apart, Jacob was.
Jacob was sacred to God.
Paul later declares something similar in the New Testament:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are a sacred place. And just like Jacob, God is willing to show up in the most unlikely of all places.
You don’t need to find a stairway to heaven, because God is willing to meet us right where we are at.
As you walk and pray, know that you don’t need a messenger, or priest, or angels to be with God. God wants to meet you directly. And when God does, everywhere you walk will become sacred.