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Seeking the Peace of the City: Can Prayer Reduce Crime?
God's Testimony to Us
The prophet, Jeremiah, tells his people to seek the peace of the city in Chapter 29 vs 7. Last winter a small group of us did that by prayer-walking a 16 square block area adjacent to Bartlett Park in South St. Petersburg, Florida, a neighborhood known for its high crime rate. We blessed the land and prophetically proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to the neighborhood in the expectation that God's presence would increase over the area, the crime rate would go down and we would have a testimony we could take to the city’s pastors and civic leaders...evidence that God will partner with us in blessing the city and its people if only we will come together repent and cover the city with prayer. We are pleased to say that God answered our prayers and gave us our testimony. During an 11 week period of Saturday prayer-walks, the average number of reported crime incidents in the neighborhood we covered in prayer dropped 46% What Follows is the rest of the story.
God’s Promise to Us
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chron 7:14)
If you take God literally at his Word He WILL fulfill his promise and heal our land, BUT...His promise is conditional. Only if we will keep our hearts turned to Him and (1) humble ourselves by acknowledging Him as our God (2) lay our prayer petitions before him (3) seek His face or friendship and (4) turn from our wicked ways of thinking and doing...ways that are self centered rather than God centered...ways that are influenced more by our culture than by the Word of God. THEN (and ONLY then) will He listen to us, forgive our sins and heal our land.
How it all Started
I believe God's promise. He WILL bless our land and cities if we pray. That is why, together with one or two others, I’ve been prayer-walking the streets of Tampa Bay’s cities for nearly 10 years. But never before have I asked God for proof that our prayers were making a difference. Last Fall I did... But before that, I made two commitments which turned out to be preparation for what happened later.
First, we committed to discipling the city.
In Mathew 28:19 Jesus says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations..." Most people I've talked to about this passage focus on discipling people individually, one at a time. I have no doubt Jesus approves of the "each one teach one" approach to discipleship. But, thanks to Ed Silvoso of Harvest Evangelism (his book "Transformation" and others), I have recently dared to believe Jesus meant we (me included) are also to literally disciple nations! He wouldn't have told us to do it if it wasn't possible, right? I mean, look at what happened with His disciples... Jesus told them to start with Jerusalem (a city), then go to Samaria (a region) and then to the outermost parts of the world (the nations). And that is exactly what they did!
What does it mean to disciple a city? For me it means to show the city (the civic and spiritual leaders of the city and its people) that the city can have a relationship with God just like a person can. God established cities for a purpose...so that His kingdom can be manifested there and the people can enjoy the blessings of His Kingdom.
Second, we committed to "marrying the land" of the city. In Isaiah 62:1,4,5 it says,
- For Zion's sake i will not be silent, and for Jerusalem's (or for my city's) sake I will not rest, until its righteousness goes out as brightness, and her salvation as a burning lamp. (Isa 62:1)
- No more will you be called Forsaken; nor will your land any more be called Desolate; but you will be called My Delight is in her, and your land, Married; for Jehovah delights in you, and your land is married. (Isa 62:4)
- For as a young man marries a virgin, so will your sons marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you. (Isa 62:5)
If we are committed to the peace and prosperity of the city in which we live, even as married couples are committed to the health and well being of each other, God will honor that commitment and bless our prayers on its behalf. For in Jeremiah 29:7 the Lord says, "...seek the peace of the city...and pray to Jehovah for it, for in its peace you shall have peace."
A retired policeman and Pastor points the way
Something a Pastor friend of mine said to me last year gave me the idea of seeking God's testimony that He will keep His promise in 2 Chron 7:14. Pastor Jay Brubaker is a retired policeman for the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, and as such, he knows all the city's "hot spots" for crime. One day we were talking about the city's crime problem when Jay mentioned how the local newspaper published the police crime statistics for every neighborhood in the city every Sunday. I began to wonder, "What if we identified the place with the highest crime rate in the city and prayer-walked it every week until we could show the crime rate was decreasing? If we could show that the crime rate goes down in an area after it is covered in prayer we would have a testimony we could take to the city's leaders...proof that God will help reduce the city's crime problem if we ask Him to do so. I asked Pastor Jay to show me on a map the places where most of the crime in the city was taking place. He showed me a half dozen places...all neighborhoods in South St Petersburg with names like Child's Park and Bartlett Park. I was familiar with some of them; others I didn't know about.
We finally decided to walk an old, historic neighborhood close to the heart of the city bordering Bartlett park, an area known for drug deals, prostitution and gang activity. Our prayer-walks started on January 18 and continued every Saturday morning through April 11, 2009. During this time we were able to pray with a number of people, leading some of them to Christ.
At that hour in the morning our walks were free of any unpleasant encounters. One incident stands out in my mind, though... There were 3 of us on this particular walk, Denise, My wife, Alecia, and I. As Alecia, and I were praying with a young man to receive Jesus on the sidewalk, two men approached to where they were standing in an intersection about 50 feet away. One pulled out his gun, smiled, and waived it in our direction. He didn't point it at us really...it was more like he showed it to us to see what we would do. We just continued with our prayer while Denise approached the men to tell them about Jesus. The gun disappeared and both men turned and walked away. Our new friend received Christ and there was no trouble.
Each week during our walks in Old Southeast, we tracked the crime statistics published in the St Petersburg Times. The chart in this article shows a 4 week moving average of the crime rate in the area we walked compared to the crime rate in the rest of the neighborhood. We are pleased to say that God answered our prayers and gave us our testimony. During our 11 week period of Saturday prayer-walks, the average number of reported crime incidents in the neighborhood we covered dropped 46%!
46% is significant. And it is not out of line with what is happening in other parts of the country. Other cities that have documented reductions in crime as a result of prayer are Newark, NJ, Orlando, FL and Salinas, CA You can read about Newark at the following link:
Newark, NJ: www.prayfornewark.org
Our newspapers bear witness every day that our neighborhoods are being held hostage by evil. But the good news is that, in Christ, we can reclaim possession of our neighborhoods. God sees the violence and the sorrow. He is a loving God and He is concerned. He desperately wants us to possess the land He has given us in our neighborhoods and our cities. He has offered to help and He is waiting for us to act.
"...How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, God of your fathers, has given you?" (Joshua 18:3)
Let's do it; Let's reclaim our neighborhoods and our cities. We have the evidence. God will help us. Amen.
Note: My thanks and deep gratitude to those who prayer-walked with us so faithfully: Johnie, Debra, Denise, Jill and Alecia...and to those who regularly covered us in prayer: Marcia, :Pastor Kara'lynne, Dick and Dorothy. You are both blessed and a blessing for the Lord said, "Blessed are the peacemakers! For they shall be called the sons of God." (Mathew 5:9)
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