Sunday, January 10, 2010

How did Jesus tell us (believers) to pray for the lost?

There was a time where I would have been confused by this question. There was a time when that question would have even puzzled me. I mean the simple answer is: "Pray for them?" (said with a bit of reservation and questioning). Aren't we supposed to pray for lost people? I know God does the work of salvation but doesn't He respond to our requests when we ask him for the salvation of friends and families? Sometimes that takes a long time, but our prayers work that way...don't they?

Let me start by saying that praying for lost people is fine, and I even think that we should. But I struggle to think of anywhere in Scripture where any person prayed for the salvation of anyone else. Now I won't make an argument from silence, but let's see what the Bible does say. Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Matt 9.37-38) Wow. That's solid. Shocking. Simple. Clearcut. So what are we to do? This isn't complicated. The answer is this: pray to God and ask Him to send out workers. Ask Him to send out believers who will share the Gospel. Now Jesus doesn't say "Do not pray for lost people" but don't miss the importance in what He does say. I think there are two major things we should take away from these two verses. First, success in witnessing means doing it God way. So if we really want to see lost people getting saved, why are we not praying the way Jesus told us to? If we really want to see lost people around us turning to Christ, ask God to send people to them that will faithfully and fully share the story of what Jesus has done. Then we will be praying the way Jesus told us to, and I believe we will see God responding by actually sending workers out. In fact, we might find that we are the ones who are sent out.

Second, I think we need to understand just what is on the line. We find within this passage a principle that Paul understood as foundational to his own personal boldness and success in witnessing. (Success in witnessing = sharing the Gospel, not someone getting saved. That's God's work not ours) Here is the principle: Our success in witnessing is directly supported by the prayers of other Christians. And this hits home when we feel the burden of praying for others. When we fail - yes fail - to pray for our Christian brothers, sisters, family, and friends to specifically be filled we the Spirit and for God to give them boldness to share, even to send them out into the harvest field (the world), how can they possibly have success. If we fail to pray, they must fail to share. See, I live at this place where I want to share with lost people. I desperately want to have those conversations with close friends who do not know Jesus. And I feel like if I can just man-up, or just will myself hard enough then I'll be able to share with them. Now I do think that witnessing is a discipline that I have never found to be easy. Actually I think it's always hard and will always be hard. I constantly find myself speaking rapidly in these spiritual conversations because I'm nervous and unsettled. Witnessing is hard. But just because it's hard doesn't mean we have to push even harder. We just need to do it right. And doing it right means starting from the right place. And where is the right place - in prayer. I already wrote that Paul understood this. Look at Ephesians 6.19-20 - "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should." This is such a phenomenal passage and has been life changing for me. I love where it falls in Scripture, right after "The Armor of God" because it's like a hidden jewel that has gotten lost underneath a high profile passage of Scripture. People miss it because they just think it's the closing of this section and Paul is just saying goodbye. But Paul shows us something critical. As we put on our armor, let's not forget about the others who are in battle with us. Paul begs the Ephesians in these two verses to pray for him. And what does he specifically ask them to pray for? "That words may be given me" Paul understood that he needed to be given the words. He needed God to grant them to him. If that happened, then and only then, could he "fearlessly make known the gospel." And verse 20 is awesome. Paul knew he should do this. But he also recognized that it wasn't something he was capable of. He needed God to do this. Now Paul had God. He was a believer and clearly had a relationship. He was indwelt by the Holy Spirit as believer are. But here is something different. This seems to me to be a daily kind of work. Every day, Paul needed a direct touch from God to succeed. to dominate. If he was going to share the Gospel with boldness, as he should, then Paul had to be given the words. And this happened as Christians prayed for him. Things are not different for us.


We are failing our Christian brothers and sisters if we are not praying for God to send them out and to give them the words to say and to grant them boldness to share.

One more passage and I'm done. Acts 4.29-31 - "'Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." The principle is at work again. Peter and John had just been released from arrest for preaching the Gospel. They returned to their community of believers and prayed. And the interesting thing thing is that in their whole prayer they never once pray for safety. They do not pray that the ones who arrested them would be taken away. They ask for two things. First, they ask God to enable them to speak His word with boldness, and second, they ask for God to do miraculous signs and wonders. They pray for each other. And then I love the last verse. God grants their request. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." Oh yea, and God moved so much among them that the actual building where they were praying was shaken!

So to answer our question, "How did Jesus tell us to pray for the lost?" We are to pray for the workers. Pray for God to send believes with His word and with His boldness. Prayer is the foundation of effective witnessing. We have no hope of effective witnessing without it. And we fail each other when we don't pray.

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