Praying on a Country Road

With apologies to James Taylor, a country road isn’t just for walking and thinking. It’s also the perfect place to pray.

That’s why when my wife and I travel to Mississippi to see our daughter and her family I take my walking boots and as soon as I have a chance to get away from the manic energy of five-year-old Lydia and three-year-old Brynn, I head for the road.

An easy place to pray

I make my way north on a state highway near their home before turning east on a county road. It intersects with a smaller avenue that takes me to an adjoining small community. From there, I walk south along a second state highway for a couple of miles before taking a westerly road that leads me back to my daughter’s house—a loop of about 6 miles. The picture at top was taken about half way through.

The route takes me past fields filled with hay bales, thick stands of oak trees just starting to turn color, houses set so far back that you wonder if anyone knows they’re there, long stretches of road without a car anywhere in sight and a few dogs that bark more out of boredom than threat. There’s a stillness and timelessness to the place that feels more like the rural south I remember from my childhood than the busy roads and sprawling suburbs that mark the town where I now live.

Prayer is easy here. Life slows down as the miles ease by and quietness fills my heart like rain falling on dry ground. I know God is everywhere present and as far as he’s concerned, one place is as near as another. Still, for me, walking through landscape like this has a way of making him seem closer than usual.

The experience is partly explained by distance. This place is 500 miles away from my church and all its demands. I love my congregation but times away from them are important for keeping my own soul healthy. My granddaughters have demands, too; but they don’t count. That’s why my wife and I made the long trip here in the first place. Taking them to get strawberry doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles, teaching them to throw a frisbee, playing a made-up game called “Ga-Ga, Woo-Hoo” (don’t ask me to explain) and reading them books about everything from a princess named Hyacinth to a gremlin named Ginny—these things aren’t demands at all but the joy of grandparents everywhere.

Prayer refreshes your soul

But whatever the reason for God showing up on my walk, I take it as a gift. Leading a church through COVID has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve known in over forty years of ministry, and I’m grateful for every little experience that refreshes my soul.

In her book, “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron explains the special feeling you get walking on a country road as a gift that flows out of the experience of delight:

“the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.”

While I love Cameron’s book, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For a believer, long walks on country roads aren’t just a personal experience–however intense and lovely that experience may be. They go deeper and bring you into a delight in the nearness of God. The Bible describes that experience as prayer.

People who teach about prayer often divide it into categories. One such scheme is based on the acrostic “ACTS”—the four letters stand for “adoration,” “confession,” “thanksgiving” and “supplication.” The idea is that to pray well is to cycle through each of the four stages.

Another way of understanding prayer is to break it into specific actions. I did just that a while back in previous blog post, “Six Steps to Improving Your Prayer Life Right Away.”

There are times when those kinds of approaches are helpful, but they can often feel artificial. A more authentic way is to learn to rest in God’s presence and listen to the whisper of his voice. And for that, nothing is better than long walks on country roads.

The promise of God’s Word

As I walk, a couple of Bible passages come to mind. One is Psalm 130:5-6:

“I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my trust. My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”

The Bible makes clear that waiting on God is vital to faith. He acts when and how he chooses. To think that we can pressure him to conform to our agenda or timetable is as foolish as it is useless. Walking as I pray is a perfect way to re-orient myself to this central spiritual truth. Maybe that’s why the Lord led the children of Israel into the promised land by foot. If they had travelled by car, they might have gotten there faster but their faith wouldn’t have been strong enough to accomplish anything once they arrived. Time is essential for building spiritual maturity.

Another Bible verse is Hebrews 11:8:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

OK, I admit the last part of this verse has special application for my long, meandering prayer walks because, as my wife can tell you, I often get so lost in the moment that I have no idea where I am. She wouldn’t be surprised if on one of my walks in Mississippi I called late one evening asking her to come pick me up in Arkansas.

Pastoral ministry is built around prayer, and I love every kind. The corporate prayers of my church in worship. Prayers of dedication over young parents and their babies. The prayers of unbelievers when they invite Jesus into their lives as Savior and Lord. The prayers of people in crisis as they entrust themselves to God. The prayers of young people seeking direction for their lives. The list is as long as it is fulfilling.

But those times of prayer when the Lord shows up less in public ways and more in the deep, inner stirrings of the soul may be most life-giving.

At least, that’s how it seems to me on long walks on a country road.

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