How well do you know your neighbors?
Do you know their names? Can you name their joys? Do you know their sorrows, and what fills them with anxiety, or gives them a sense of peace?
Years ago, when we planted a church in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon, we were led in a series of "Prayer Walks" through the neighborhoods we were hoping to reach. And we were given a principle that sticks with me to this day: When you pray onsite you pray with insight.
As Wendy and I walked those streets, praying conversationally with our eyes open and as if Jesus was walking with us, we would pass a house with kids toys and pray with insight: "Lord, we pray for the children in this house... We pray for the parents..." And we would walk by a house with a old beater in the driveway and could pray, "Lord, provide for their needs. Answer their prayers. Give them financial wisdom. Keep that car running for them." When you pray onsite you pray with insight.
Here in Sarasota I sometimes do prayer drives, even taking side streets on my way to some place so that I can pray through the neighborhoods. I try not to look suspicious (ha!) but I pay attention to the needs I see, praying onsite with insight. When I notice a blue tarp on someone's roof it gives me a sense of what they would like me to pray for. When I see a $50,000 car in front of a $200,000 house, it gives me a sense of what to pray for. When I see a boat that hasn't been touched for 20 years, or a couple brand new Jet Skis out front, it gives me insight about who might live there, and what they have experienced or are experiencing.
Many of us have taken to walking our neighborhoods during this shut in. What an opportunity to pray with insight. Pay attention and pray with intention. Open your eyes with an open heart and you will see the needs: A lawn that's overgrown. A car that hasn't moved in a long time. A car that's never home. Five cars in one house. Kids toys. A wheelchair ramp. Christmas decorations in May. You may guess wrong about the situation (maybe they just like Christmas), but even if the details are wrong, it still gives you a sense about what to pray for.
This is true even for those of us who still report to work, or can't get out and walk the neighborhood. Pray for the people in front of you at the stoplight. Pray for the people you're scrolling through on social media. Pay attention to the people you see and you will see needs. When you pray onsite, you pray with insight.
The Lord calls us to be a people of prayer.
Today, this week, next week, next month... As you have opportunity, do good to all people. Start by praying for them. This is where your heart of compassion finds clarity. And this is where anything else you do tangibly is empowered by the hand of God.
That Sarasota might be filled with love joy and peace!
Pastor of Sarasota Community Church since 2009.