Several years ago, while I was living in Vancouver , British Columbia , Canada , I read of an experience of a preacher/speaker that had been etched in my mind.
The preacher/speaker was invited to give a series of lectures at a well-known evangelical seminary. At the request of the seminary, the preacher/speaker sent manuscripts of each of the five messages he would deliver, including one titled, “Praying for the Lost.”
Several weeks later, the preacher received a letter from a member of the chapel lecture committee asking if he would substitute another message for the one on praying for the lost, which of course, he did. He did that because; it was the stated position of the seminary president that praying for the lost to be saved is unscriptural. By the way, that seminary was not the one I attended when God called me to abandon my civil engineering career and studies.
The prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 17 is often pointed to as evidence that we are not to pray for the lost. At one point in His prayer to His Father, the Lord Jesus said, "I prayed for them (that is, the disciples who had believed in Him). I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours" (John 17:9).
The problem with this position is that Jesus did not end His prayer at verse 9. He ended His prayer at verse 26. In other words, the whole context of Jesus’ prayer was not taken into account.
The question is: Can you as a believer in Jesus Christ pray for the salvation of the lost and have confidence that God will hear you? Are you wasting your time when you pray for the unsaved to be saved?
I submit to you that we can and should pray for the salvation of the lost and have the assurance that God will hear and respond to our prayers. We are not wasting time when we pray for the salvation of a lost person. Why do I say that? I say that because God Almighty did not leave the final decision as to whether or not we pray for the lost to a mere man, whether he be a seminary president of an evangelical seminary. God makes that decision Himself. Praying for the salvation of the lost is God's idea, not man's idea.
The Definition of Prayer
Prayer is a privileged spiritual communion which takes place in the context of relationship between the true and living God and the believer in Jesus Christ. It is inspired and directed by the Person of the Holy Spirit living in the believer. In this privileged communion, the believer not only expresses his dependence on God and his hunger and thirst to know God more intimately and be changed into the image of Christ, but also his adoration, praise and worship to God, thankfully acknowledging His goodness, humbly and honestly confessing his sins and failures to Him, listening attentively to His voice in His written Word and through the impression of His Spirit, and asking Him according to His promises in His Word to meet the needs in his own life and in the lives of fellow believers in the Church and others outside of the Church, as it is fit to bring glory and praise to His name and for the advancement of His kingdom.
Overview of Article
First, we will look at several principal truths about praying for the lost. Since praying for the lost is God’s idea, what has God revealed in His Word to teach us about how to pray effectively for them? In answering this question, second, we will seek to learn to pray for the lost from the Person of Christ, His commands and prayers. Third, we will continue our learning from Paul's inspired requests written to the First Century churches. Fourth and finally, we will present a list of petitions drawn from the Scriptures to assist us in praying for the lost. Through these, we will learn how to pray effectively for the salvation of the lost, some of whom are in our families, or are our friends, co-workers, or are far removed from our sphere of influence, yet through our prayers we can become the instrument of salvation to them.
I. Principal truths about praying for the lost
There are several important truths to know about praying for the salvation of the lost.In other words, we must know why we pray for the salvation of the lost and what it is.Having been trained as a civil engineer, I often what to know why I do things. So would you please now take note of six biblical reasons why we pray for the salvation of sinners. After these six reasons, I would describe what praying for the lost really is.
The first biblical reason why we pray for the salvation of the lost is this:
1. God loved the world of lost sinners and sent His Son to save them (John 3:16-18).
We pray for the salvation of the lost because God loved the world of lost sinners and sent His One and Only Son to sacrifice Himself on the cross to save them from their sins. God’s love for the people of this world is beyond belief and beyond description. Although, all of us like sheep have gone astray, and each of us has turned to his own way, yet God did not turn His back to us. In His great and indescribable love for us, He sent us a Savior, His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered and died on the cross for our sins. Through the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, God provided a way of salvation for the lost to be saved and brought into a new, living, loving, and lasting relationship with Himself.
The Bible says in John 3:16-18: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." (NIV)
Would you please notice the objects of God’s love. It is the world. The world here includes all mankind. All people living on the face of the earth.
Next, please notice the extent of God’s love. The extent of God's love is shown by the fact that He gave His One and Only or Begotten Son. God has no other Son like the Lord Jesus. It was an expression of His infinite love to give His unique Son for a race of rebel sinners.
Finally, notice also the purpose of God’s love. The purpose of His love is that whoever believes sincerely and wholeheartedly in His Son Jesus Christ should not perish but have eternal life. In other words, there is no need for anyone to perish. A way has been provided by which all might be saved.
F. W. Boreham says:
“When the church comes to understand the love with which God loved the world, she will be restless and ill at ease, until all the great empires have been captured, until every coral island has been won.”
God is not a harsh, cruel ruler anxious to pour out His anger on people. His heart is filled with tenderness toward man and He has gone to the utmost cost in order to save men. God could have sent His Son Jesus Christ to condemn the world. He would be justified in doing that. After all, we are sinners, rebels. But He did not do so. On the contrary, He sent Jesus Christ here to suffer, bleed and die in order that the world might be saved through Him. That is why we pray for the salvation of the lost.
Praying for the salvation of the lost is indeed consistent with God’s deep love for sinners and His desire to restore them into a loving relationship with Himself. My prayer is that believers everywhere, including myself, will come to understand the love with which God loved the world of lost sinners around us that we will give ourselves no rest in the matter of praying for the salvation of the lost.
The second biblical reason why we pray for the salvation of the lost is this:
We pray for the salvation of unbelievers because the Bible clearly teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of sinners. The Bible nowhere depicts God as being happy when lost sinners die. He is a God of mercy and grace, wanting to extend His mercy and grace to sinners who humbly turn to Him.
God’s longing for the lost is that they make a full one hundred and eighty degree turn from their sins and sinful ways to the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This longing of God is seen both in the Old and New Testament.
In Ezekiel 18:32, God says to the rebellious people of Israel: "I don't want you to die, says the Sovereign LORD. Turn back and live!" (NIV)
Again, God says in Ezekiel 33:11: "As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel ! Why should you die?" (NIV)
And again, the Holy Spirit says in 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent." (NIV)
God has promised to end the history of ungodly living with judgment. If there is a delay, it is not because God is unfaithful to His promise. It is because He is patient. He does not want any to perish. He purposely extends the time of grace so that people might have the opportunity to be saved.
Please remember that God waited one hundred and twenty years before He sent the flood in the day of Noah. Now, He has been waiting hundreds of years ever since 2 Peter 3:9 was written, thus giving more time for sinners to turn to their Savior Jesus Christ.
We pray for the salvation of the lost because God is not interested in the death of sinners. Rather, He is patiently giving them more time to turn away from their sinful ways to their Savior Jesus, who is ready to receive to Himself and forgive them of all their sins. How wonderful!
The third biblical reason why we pray for the lost is this:
3. Praying for the salvation of the lost is consistent with God’s desire (1 Timothy 2:4).
The Bible makes it very clear, in simple and plain language that God’s desire for lost sinners is to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. "For he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." (NIV)
God's desire is for the salvation of all men. Therefore to pray for all men is to promote the will of God in this regard. However, it should be clear that this verse does not teach universal salvation. What this verse is stressing is the desire of God to save people, no matter their color, country, culture and career in life.
Although God desires that all men should be saved, yet we know that not all men will be saved. One reason for that is that, God does not save men against their will. He does not populate heaven with rebellious subjects. Man, that is the sinner, must come to Jesus Christ who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Because God wants everyone to be saved, we are not wasting time when we pray for the salvation of the lost.
The fourth biblical reason why we pray for the lost is because:
We have every reason to be confident in praying for the salvation of the lost because the Lord Jesus Christ Himself declared that His mission on earth is to seek and save the lost. He gave Himself as a ransom for their souls.
The Lord Jesus Himself speaks of His personal mission in Luke 19:10: "And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost." (NIV)
This was Jesus’ answer to those who criticized Him for lodging with a sinner, Zaccheus, a chief tax collector.
Again, speaking of His mission, our Lord says in Matthew in Matthew 20:28: "For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many." (NIV)
Our Lord’s purpose of coming to earth in human flesh can be summed up in two words – serve and give.
It is amazing to think that the Lord of glory, whose name is above all names, humbled Himself to the manger and to the cross, all because of His love to save sinners. In our Lord’s humiliation at the cross, He gave His life a ransom for many. His death satisfied all God’s righteous demands against sin, mine and yours. His death on the cross was sufficient to put away all the sins of the world. But it is effective only for those who accept Him as Lord and Savior. Our right to pray for the lost is based, therefore, on the fact that Jesus Christ has already paid for their sin debt with His precious blood. When Christ poured out His blood on the cross, He paid the ransom for lost souls. Therefore, when God raised raised from the grave the third day, He stamped the bill "PAID IN FULL."
In 1 John 2:2, the Bible clearly shows that Jesus’ death on the cross is not only for us who now believe, but also for the whole world. Please take careful note of this: There will be times, as you pray for a lost person God has laid on your heart, when you will hear the devil’s icy voice saying to you, “You have no right to pray for him. He is my property. He belongs to me.”
You can point to the "proof of payment," the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and inform the devil that God has foreclosed on him and bought up all his property. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the main pillar upon which our prayer for the salvation of the lost rests.
The fifth biblical reason why we pray for the salvation of the lost is this:
We pray for the salvation of sinners because it is consistent with the mandate the Lord Jesus gave to His Church.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ, the Risen Lord and Head of the Church, authoritatively declares to His disciples: "I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (NIV)
Just before ascending to the Father's right hand, the Lord Jesus gave His disciples this mandate of reaching the lost in Acts 1:8:
"But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere--in Jerusalem , throughout Judea, in Samaria , and to the ends of the earth. (NIV)
Please, let me ask you: How many people were believers when the Lord Jesus gave this mandate? Just a few! Millions were unsaved then and millions are lost today. The Lord Jesus knew that well. He therefore wanted the unsaved to be reached with the life-changing message of His good news. Praying for the lost is a major part of the work of reaching the lost.
The sixth biblical reason motivating us to pray for the salvation of the lost is this:
6. Praying for the salvation of the lost is appropriate because of God’s own preparation of their hearts (Acts 8:26-40).
We pray for the salvation of the lost because God Almighty Himself is at work, preparing their hearts in advance to hear the good news of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross for their sins and His resurrection from the dead for entering a right relationship with God. This is clearly seen in the story of Philip the evangelist and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).
Before Philip ever saw the Ethiopian, before the Holy Spirit told Philip to join the man, God was already at work, preparing the man’s heart to hear about Jesus. And when he was ready, God sent Philip to share in the privileged work of leading the Ethiopian to salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Bible says in Acts 8:26-40: "As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza ." So he did, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia , a eunuch of great authority under the queen of Ethiopia . The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go over and walk along beside the carriage." Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah; so he asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The man replied, "How can I, when there is no one to instruct me?" And he begged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth." The eunuch asked Philip, "Was Isaiah talking about himself or someone else?" So Philip began with this same Scripture and then used many others to tell him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look! There's some water! Why can't I be baptized?" He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the city ofAzotus ! He preached the Good News there and in every city along the way until he came to Caesarea ." (NIV)
The same was true of Cornelius, the centurion at Caesarea . Only after Cornelius was prepared to hear the good news did God summon and sent Peter. Actually, Cornelius was ready to be saved before Peter was ready to tell him how (see Acts 10:1ff.).
Having given biblical reasons why we can and should pray for the salvation of the lost, let me now state what it is.
7. Praying for the salvation of the lost is an intensely spiritual battle (Acts 13:6-12).
This is what praying for the lost is. It is like going into an enemy territory and snatching those who are taken hostage or captive by enemy forces. Just as some American soldiers battle and risk their lives to snatch and save hostages kidnapped by the insurgents in Iraq , so also praying for the lost takes believers into the realm of spiritual warfare of snatching and saving the lost.
And just as no soldier will join an operation of rescuing a hostage unprepared and ill-equipped, so also we must not engage ourselves in this battle without putting on the full armor of God, which is the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (seeEphesians. 6:12-17).
Please listen carefully! The Bible makes it clear that the lost are under the control of Satan. They are spiritually bound by the devil. In other words, the condition of the sinner before God is that: the lost person is bound by the god of this world. Whether we evangelize through preaching or through praying, we must reckon with this fact.
That the lost person is spiritually bound by the devil is made clear in Ephesians 2:2. "You used to live just like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God." (NIV)
Of course, a lost person doesn't know he is bound by the devil. He thinks he is free (that’s part of his lostness), but the fact is his course of action is controlled by the prince of the power of the air, who is the devil.
In 1 John 5:19, the Bible speaks again on this subject, saying, “We know that we are children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
The Greek verb translated "is under" also means "lies." The verb conveys the picture of a mother cradling her baby in her arms and rocking the baby to sleep. This is a vivid picture of the lost – cradled in the arms of Satan, helplessly and hopelessly being lulled to sleep.
In answering the charge that He drives out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler or prince of demons, the Lord Jesus Himself shows that the lost are subjects of Satan. This is recorded in Luke 11:21-22. The Bible says: "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils." (NIV)
Two things are especially noteworthy in our Lord’s reply. First, the lost are described as the property of Satan, who stands guard over them lest they should escape. Second, before He can free the captives, Jesus must first deal with the captor, Satan, and disarm him. We know that Jesus conquered Satan. When Jesus died on the cross, He defeated Satan and all his thugs, and when He burst forth from the grave, He made a public spectacle of them (see Colossians 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:18).
A brand new believer in Jesus, shared this at our Men’s Bible Study, a week after coming to Christ, “I was once a subject of Satan, but now that I am in Christ, I am his target.”
Please I want you to understand that in praying for a lost person, we are not forcing the person’s will – we are praying for the freeing of his will from the bondage to Satan.
The Bible also makes it plain that unbelievers are spiritually blinded by the god of this world, that is, the devil. A second condition of the sinner is that: the lost person is spiritually blinded to the gospel by the god of this world.
This is succinctly stated in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. "If the Good News we preach is veiled from anyone, it is a sign that they are perishing. Satan, the god of this evil world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe, so they are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News that is shining upon them. They don't understand the message we preach about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God." (NIV)
The Holy Spirit also speaks of this blindness in 1 Corinthians 2:14. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (NIV)
What the Bible is saying here is that an unsaved person does not have the capacity to see himself as a lost sinner or to understand the message of the gospel without God's assistance and enlightenment. The unbeliever has been spiritually blinded by Satan. Therefore no amount of human power, logic or argument can penetrate the darkness of the unsaved mind.
Moreover, the devil doesn't want any good for the lost person. His one desire is to keep them bound and blind. He has no plans of releasing them from his claws. It follows therefore that praying for the lost, that is, seeking for them to be released from the stronghold of Satan, is an intensely spiritual warfare. But thanks be to God, we have the Holy Spirit on our side to lead us to victory in this warfare!
An event that occurred on Paul’s first missionary journey clearly illustrates this point. This event is recorded in Acts 13:6-12. The Bible says: "Afterward they preached from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, a man of considerable insight and understanding. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Saul and Barnabas said. He was trying to turn the governor away from the Christian faith. Then Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked the sorcerer in the eye and said, "You son of the Devil, full of every sort of trickery and villainy, enemy of all that is good, will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? And now the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be stricken awhile with blindness." Instantly mist and darkness fell upon him, and he began wandering around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him. When the governor saw what had happened, he believed and was astonished at what he learned about the Lord." (NIV)
Praying for the salvation of the lost is God's idea. It's His plan. But He has given us, who believe in Him and know Him, an incomparable privilege and responsibility to play a significant role in this plan. Please listen carefully! If you were to stand before God today, would you be able to tell Him that you have played your part well in His divine plan? Or would you be ashamed to look at Him, because while praying for the salvation of the lost is not a waste of time, you have wasted the many opportunities God has given you to pray for the lost, both those who are in your family and those who are your friends, neighbors, co-workers, school mates etc.?
Some have argued that Jesus never prayed for the lost, so it is a waste of time to pray for the lost. Scripture teaches us that, that argument is never true. In fact, Scripture shows that Jesus prayed for the lost. He also preached to the lost.More importantly, He put His very life on the line for the lost, that through His sacrifice they might be saved.
Our Lord's prayer life on earth was earnest and effective. He and the Father are One (John 10:30). Moreover, His words are God’s words (John 14:10).Therefore, we must listen to what He specifically commands us to pray the progress of His gospel, part of which involves salvation of sinners.
1. Praying that God’s kingdom will come (Matthew 6: 10a).
Teaching the "Disciple's Prayer," Our Lord says, "Your kingdom come"Matthew 6:10a (NIV). This literally says, "Let it come the kingdom of Thee."
What is the kingdom of God? Predominantly it refers to God's sovereign rule in human life and the affairs of history, and secondarily to the realm where that rule reigns. God's kingdom is simply His reign on earth and among men. The kingdom of God will be fully revealed throughout eternity.
Why is it so important to pray for God's kingdom to come?
Because the kingdom is advanced by: the conversion of the lost.
"The kingdom is the sphere of salvation entered by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ" (John MacArthur, Jr.: Alone with God).
The kingdom of God comes when the Spirit of God destroys the power and authority of the devil in the lives of those he is holding in bondage (Matthew 12:28).
To pray “Your kingdom come” is to ask that God’s saving, royal rule be extended as sinners bow in submission to His reign in their lives. To pray “Your kingdom come” is to pray for God's rule to advance as Christ takes His rightful place as Ruler over all. To pray “Your kingdom come” is to seek the advancement of God’s purposes in the lives of the lost as they are brought to a point of submitting and surrendering their hearts to Jesus’ rule. To pray “Your kingdom come” is to request that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be advanced everywhere, till the world shall be filled with His glory.
2. Asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
In Matthew 9:37-38, the Lord Jesus gave His disciples another command. "Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (NIV)
A major transition was about to take place in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had been doing all the teaching and preaching of the gospel and healing every disease. The time had come for Him to involve His disciples in the work of advancing the gospel of God. Before He would send them to teach, preach and heal, He commanded them to commit themselves to prayer, asking the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.
Deomai is the Greek word translated ‘ask’ in the NIV. It is an imperative. So it is a direct command of Christ, the Head of the Church to His Church. The word ‘ask,’ also means, beseech, beg, implore, or request, and refers to a particular need for which one prays. It conveys the idea that an inferior is asking or making a request of a superior. This is a significant point to note, because it reveals the superiority of Jesus Christ, not only of His person and position as the Head of the Church, but also of His perfect wisdom. He knows all things. We can therefore trust that Jesus will guide His Church with perfect wisdom. He can therefore be relied on to provide the Church with the most successful strategy for reaching and saving the lost.
Although our Lord’s command here is so clear, yet we often fail to follow it. The Lord is simply saying, "If you want to see the lost reached and saved, then, earnestly implore the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."
Sadly, our plans and programs have replaced earnest and beseeching prayer. When was the last time you attended a prayer meeting in your church where believers were fervently pleading and beseeching the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His harvest? Like the disciples, we are to commit ourselves to prayer as well as to be prepared to be sent into the Lord's harvest field.
3. Praying that the unsaved will believe in Jesus through the message of God’s believing people (John 17:20).
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. John 17:20 (NIV).
The Lord Jesus did not only pray for Himself and His first disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, but He also extended His High Priestly Prayer beyond His first disciples. Jesus prayed for all future believers who would be saved through the preaching of the gospel. In other words, He prayed for generations yet unborn. In fact, every lost person, who has now become a believer, reading this verse can say, Jesus prayed for me over 1900 years ago.
We value the prayers of Christian friends. How much more should we value this specific request of the Son of God Himself! To that single prayer, we who are Christians owe infinitely more real benefits than the world can ever bestow. And in the midst of our trials we should remember that the Son of God prayed for us before we were saved, and still continues to pray for us who believe at the throne of God in heaven (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).
Our Lord’s Prayer for unity among future believers in John 17:21, was made with the salvation of sinners in view. In other words, the purpose of praying for unity is world witness, that is, worldwide evangelization. He was praying that believers might be one in demonstrating the character of God and of Christ. This is what would cause the world to believe that God the Father sent His Divine Son. This is the unity which makes the world say, “I see Christ in those Christians as the Father was seen in Christ.”
4. Asking God the Father to forgive the sins of the lost (Luke 23:34).
With infinite love and mercy, the Lord Jesus cried from the cross,“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” Luke 23:34. (NIV).
In the heart of Jesus there was no resentment; no anger, no hidden desire for punishment upon men who were killing Him. Have you ever wondered about what would have happened on that day, if the Lord Jesus had not prayed for the forgiveness of those who had mocked and mistreated Him, ridiculed and renounced Him, condemned and crucified Him? Who knows what a mighty rushing of divine wrath was averted by this prayer!
Those the Lord Jesus prayed for while hanging on the cross were not believers. They were lost sinners. If the Lord Jesus Himself prayed to the Father to forgive the sins of the lost, we too have every right to ask the Father to forgive the sins of lost souls. As Stephen was being wickedly stoned to death, the Bible says, Stephen fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (Acts 7:60). I have no doubt in my heart, that Stephen’s prayer paved the way for Saul’s salvation, who was there, giving approval to Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1).
When we pray for the forgiveness of the sins of the lost, it paves the way for God to act compassionately and graciously in their lives, bringing those who will respond to the Gospel message to salvation.
III. Paul’s Inspired Requests Written to the First Century Churches
Apostle Paul was a man of fervent and fruitful prayer. God used him to establish many churches in the first century. Paul devoted himself to prayer for these young churches. As he did, God revealed to him things that were and are still dear to His heart concerning the work of reaching the lost. Paul, in turn, through the work of the Holy Spirit, wrote to these churches, asking them to pray specifically for the advance of the Good News in reaching the lost. Paul saw no problem in praying for the unsaved. He earnestly prayed for his fellow countrymen to be saved (Romans 10:1).
Paul’s inspired requests can be divided into two broad categories, namely the message and the messengers. For this article, I will only discuss the former.
1. Praying that God may open a door for the message of the good news (Colossians. 4:2-3).
"Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains." Colossians 4:2-3 (NIV).
Paul was in prison in Rome . But it is beautiful to notice that his main concern was not requesting prayer for his release from prison, but rather that God would open a door to him for the preaching of the good news. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul, is calling God’s people to devotion to prayer for the work of reaching and saving the lost through the gospel.
Proskartereo is the Greek word translated devote. It means adhere to, persist in, busy oneself with, be busily engaged in. It speaks of a steadfast, single-minded fidelity to a certain course of action.Busily engaging ourselves in prayer is what we are being commanded here. A steadfast, single-minded loyalty to prayer is what is expected of believers. The command devote yourselves is a present imperative. So it could be translated, keep on devoting yourselves to prayer. The Church, that is, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, bought by the precious blood of Christ, born-again by the Spirit and brought into union and relationship with God, is being called upon to keep on devoting herself to the hard work of prayer for God to open a door for His gospel, not only in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, communities, but also in the nations.
Why is God commanding us to pray to open a door for the gospel? God is in control of our families, schools, communities and the nations. The Lord Jesus has been given universal authority (Matthew 28:18). He has absolute, complete and supreme authority not only in heaven, but also on earth. He has the power to open a door for His gospel even in places we consider difficult and impossible to enter. He is the One who opens a door and no one is able to shut (see Revelation 3:7-8).
Paul had personally seen God’s work of opening a door for His message on his missionary journeys.
Giving a report to the church at Antioch in Syria after their return from the first missionary journey, we are told: "On arriving there [ Antioch ], they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27).
Writing to the church at Corinth , Paul again disclosed God’s work of opening a door for His message: "I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me" (1 Corinthians 16:7b-9). Again, he testifies in the Spirit: "Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord has opened a door for me" (2 Corinthians 2:12).
God is sovereign over our families, schools, communities, and over thenations. He is and is more that able to open a door for His message anywhere.God’s people must take Him at His Word. He is true and trustworthy. If believers would earnestly ask God to open a door for the good news, we would see Him advance the cause of His kingdom in amazing ways in our generation, as lost souls are reached and saved.
While in Vancouver, Washington, I had the privilege of serving in a church called Crossroads Community Church. Among other things, God gave me the privilege of leading an all-church Saturday night prayer meeting. The meeting usually begun with worship. This was followed by a brief teaching on a principle of prayer. Then, we prayed, applying the specific principle of prayer and others we had learned.
I remembered after we learned and began to pray for God to open the door for His word, He gave us a wonderful testimony. Pat, a friend of mine, was part of the visitation team of the church. He and his teammate went to visit newcomers to the church on a Monday night, which was set aside for visitation. But they didn’t meet anyone at home that night. They were greatly disappointed and decided to go home. For some reason, Pat’s teammate remembered an old acquaintance, who was involved in drugs. His house was in the area, so he suggested visiting him. Pat went along with the plan. Soon they got to the house and knocked. The acquaintance of Pat's teammate came to door. He recognized him and let the two visitors in. When they got in, the acquaintance said to those inside, “Hey guys, listen up! These guys are here to tell you about God.” They were greeted with the smell of pot and the sight of needles. There were several people there smoking pot and injecting themselves with needles. Among these was a young woman who was seriously contemplating suicide. The drugs and needles, after all, weren’t satisfying her deepest longing. But the night before (on which she wanted to commit suicide), she said in her desperation, “God, if You are there, send someone to tell me about You.” So, as soon as she heard that the visitors were there to speak about God, she left her boyfriend, and went to them. There, in the midst of needles, cocaine and pot, she heard God's plan of salvation and accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and personal Savior.
Nobody else was saved that night. Pat and his friend left. His friend began to reflect on their experience for the night. After speaking for sometime, he expected Pat to join in, but there was no response from Pat. Finally, after several attempts to get Pat to speak, he went straight to Pat and shook him, saying, "Pat, for God’s sake, say something." Pat was stunned. He stood speechless. He was simply amazed that God would open a door for them to bring the saving message of Jesus Christ to people in such an unlikely and unexpected place, as well giving them the privilege of leading someone to a saving personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
2. Praying for clarity in the proclamation of the message of the good news (Colossians 4:4).
"Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." Colossians 4:4 (NIV)
Our God is a God of clarity. He is not a God of confusion. Therefore the good news must be spoken with all clarity. The message must be presented simply and clearly. Paul knew this very well. So he requested through the Holy Spirit that prayers be diligently and specifically offered for clarity in preaching and presenting the truths of the good news.
Phaneroo is the Greek word translated clearly in the New International Version. It also means to make known, reveal, show, make evident or plain.
You see, the message of the good news must be made distinctly clear, plain, and simple for all to understand. It must be presented in such a clear manner that it will be readily understood by the lost. This should be the desire of every Christian who seeks to make Christ known. Of course, this understanding is given by the Holy Spirit. But please note that presenting the gospel simply and clearly does not mean diluting the message. The truths of the good news must be clearly spelled out. We are sinners. We cannot save ourselves from our sins. The wages of sin is death, which in its ultimate sense means eternal separation from the Eternal loving God. But God, through Jesus’ death on the cross, has made a way to save us from eternal separation from Him. It is the only way by which sinners are brought back into a saving relationship with God. This saving relationship is a precious gift of God, obtained through God’s grace alone, by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the only way back to God. All roads do not lead to heaven. There is only one way, and that is, through the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully Man. He is sinless. He is perfect.
It is this Jesus who died for our sins according to the Scriptures. He was buried to put away our sins. He rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. His resurrection is a mighty proof that God is fully pleased with the once for all sacrifice of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. No other sacrifice for sin is needed. Jesus paid all of our sin debt. He perfectly finished the work of redemption. We have redemption through His precious blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. These truths must be clearly presented. They must not be compromised for the sake of tolerance or political correctness. And so, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to ask the church at Colossae to devote themselves to praying for clarity in the preaching of the good news.
To pray effectively for the salvation of the lost, we must ask God to help us share His gospel as clearly as we should.
3. Praying that words may be given to the true servants of God so as to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (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." Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV)
When God opens a door for His Word, then comes the desperate need for us to open wide our mouths that He may fill them with His words. His words alone, clearly, convincingly and boldly bring forth His truths to those who are to hear. Most often, when God opens a door right before us we fill our mouths with our own words, which lack the power and the demonstration of the Spirit to convict and transform lives. Only God’s words, empowered by the Spirit of God, can explain the mystery of His good news. This and this alone brings conviction to the heart of people, leading them to confession, conversion, and change.
Apostle Paul was effective in communicating the mystery of Christ primarily because he knew that only God's own words could explain the mystery of Christ.
Therefore he earnestly sought God to fill his mouth with His words.
"Paul’s desire to be given words to declare the mystery of the good news is similar to the longing of the psalmist who said "I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands" (Psalm 119:131).
We must also ask God to give us such a longing for His word.
Parresia is the Greek word translated fearlessly in the New International Version.
It also means courage, confidence, boldness, especially in the presence of persons of high rank. It also conveys the idea of frankness, plainness of speech that conceals nothing and passes over nothing. It means speaking without holding anything back even in the face of opposition.
You will notice that in this passage, that is, Ephesians 6:19-20, the word fearlessly or boldly occurs twice. This repetition is to emphasize an important point. Paul was in prison in Rome. Fear of men, especially of the powerful Roman soldiers serving in the palace of Caesar , fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, fear of failure, fear from threats and intimidation, were all a concern for Paul. Yet, in spite of his imprisoned situation, Paul would not want fear to rule in his heart. He knew he had been entrusted with the message of the good news. Moreover, the Lord Jesus Himself had assured him of his going to Rome to testify for Him there (see Acts 23:11). Therefore, now that he is in Rome in fulfillment of the word of the Lord to him, he must without fail declare the message of the good news. And he must do so boldly.
The New Testament shows that "boldness" actually depends on two factors. The first is being given the words of God to speak as Paul, through the Spirit is requesting here. Second, it depends on the filling of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:31, after the believers specifically asked God to enable them speak His word with great boldness (Acts 4:30), we are told, they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. It is therefore very clear that divine boldness is based on the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
When do we speak with confidence in the authority and anointing of the Holy Spirit? It is only when we are given God's word to speak. This is how it was with the prophets of old who spoke for God. Our Lord Jesus Himself spoke with great authority and confidence because He spoke the very words God the Father had given to Him.
To pray effectively for the salvation of the lost, we must ask God to give us His words to make known the truths of the good news, doing so in all boldness under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
I once traveled on a Greyhound bus from Vancouver , WA to Vancouver, BC . On the bus, God presented me with an opportunity to share the gospel with a woman. Actually, when I got on the bus, I saw that a believer with his Bible opened on his lap, was speaking with the woman. I quietly prayed and asked that if God wanted me to share Christ with the unbelieving woman, He would give me His words to pierce her heart. After about fifteen minutes of listening to their conversation, God gave me the green light. So I began to speak, stressing the fact that being good and doing good deeds can never bring us salvation or win God’s approval and acceptance. She trusted in herself as being good and relied on her good works. She therefore did not like what I said. Gently, yet firmly, I repeated the fact that we are not saved by good works or by being good. The only way to receive the gift of salvation is to wholeheartedly believe in the Good Work Jesus did on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
With tears coming down from her eyes, she stood from her seat, and with her forefinger pointed at me, she shouted at the top of her voice, “You, you, you are destroying the foundation of all I believe.”
It was not a time for me to join in her pity-party. It was time for me to praise God. Because His word, which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart, (Hebrews 4:12), shook the foundation of her false belief system.
4. Praying that the message of the gospel will not only be in words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
"Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction." 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (NIV)
This was not a specific prayer request to the church in Thessalonica. It was a revelation of God to Paul as he reflected on his ministry among the Thessalonian believers.
From the above verse, we observe that the gospel is to make its way to people in a fourfold manner.
It comes, first of all "with words" or literally "in word."
Words are basic to intelligent communication. Using words is only a part of the whole picture. But words of mere hollow rhetoric cannot be used by the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose in the lives of people. The preaching or presentation of the gospel must therefore contain other essential ingredients to bring about the accomplishment of God’s redemptive purpose in lives.
Therefore, Paul was led by the Spirit to state three other important ways in which the gospel must be proclaimed, namely, "with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
And so, the second manner in which the gospel is to be presented is "with power or in power." Dynamei is the word for power.
It speaks here of the inward power with which the speakers are filled as they give the message. This power might show itself in a variety of ways. This makes the speakers aware of God’s special involvement in the gospel and its presentation. The gospel message, spoken in power, works in peoples’ lives with supernatural energy; producing conviction of sin, repentance, and conversion.
The third manner in which we are to pray for the gospel to be presented is "with or in the Holy Spirit."
An important ingredient for the spoken word is the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Person of the Holy Spirit is certainly behind the power just named. Yet He is much greater and more versatile than just the subjective power He produces. He is part of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit supplies the sense of divine reality to the spoken message. Our Lord Jesus Himself said in John 6:63, "It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life."
The fourth ingredient of the spoken message is "deep conviction."
Growing out of the Holy Spirit’s special activity is the "deep or full conviction" with which the gospel is preached or presented.
The expression, "With deep or full conviction or in much assurance," simply means that believers who present the gospel possess perfect assurance as to the truth and effectiveness of their message. Believers who share the gospel are reminded deep down in their hearts that God’s word, spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, will not return to Him empty without accomplishing what God desires (Isaiah 55:10-11).
To pray effectively for the salvation of the lost, we must request that the gospel message will come to them, not only in words, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.
5. Praying that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified in the hearts of those who hear it (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV)
The Holy Spirit is revealing here that it is not enough for us to give out the word, but we must also pray unceasingly for the word to impact lives. The command "pray for us" is a present imperative. It could therefore be translated as, "keep on praying for us."
Please listen! The Spirit is not speaking here of an occasional prayer. He is commanding believers to rely on Him to pray continuously for the gospel of God to perform its life changing work on those who heard it. Most of us pray a few times for the lost to be saved and then quit because we see no response or change in the person's life. The Holy Spirit is saying, "don't quit, depend on Me and keep on praying."
George Muller had names on his prayer list, some for whom he had prayed for over 60 years. He believed that God would answer his prayers and that he would see them in heaven. Individuals on his prayer list came to Christ one after another over the course of the years in which he resolutely remembered them in prayer everyday of his life, wherever he was and however busy he was. One man was converted after 18 months; another after 5 years; another after 11 years. Of the two for whom he prayed for over 60 years, one became a Christian just before his death and the other a few years later.
Trecho is the Greek word translated "spread rapidly" in the New International Version.
It also means run swiftly, proceed quickly and without hindrance. This is a graphic picture of the gospel sprinting from place to place in spite of obstacles (see Psalm 147:15). The gospel made a great impact on the lost in Thessalonica during Paul’s second missionary journey.
Paul was led by the Spirit to write specifically to remind the believers at Thessalonica of the life-changing effect of the gospel in his first letter to them. "In spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
The powerful influence of the gospel was such that some of the Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Therefore, through the Spirit, Paul commanded the believers in Thessalonica to pray fervently and continuously that the message of the Lord would spread rapidly and be praised, honored, and magnified (Greek: doxazo) just as it did with them.
The Thessalonians were once lost sinners. But now, they had seen the power of the gospel at work in their own lives. Therefore, they were commanded in the Holy Spirit to pray that it would have the same marvelous spiritual life-changing effect on others elsewhere. They were to pray for the message to triumph in the lives of others who had not yet believed.
If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you have certainly experienced the life-changing power of the gospel. As you remember how the message of the gospel impacted your own life, so you are to call out to God with this specific request: "May Your life-changing message run its course and be honored in the hearts of the lost in my family, neighborhood, school, workplace, etc., it as it did in my life to bring me to salvation in Jesus Christ!"
To pray effectively for the salvation of the lost, means that we regularly ask that the message will spread and be honored in the hearts of those who heard it.
III. Petitions Drawn from the Rest of Scripture
God’s will is revealed in God’s Word. That is why it is necessary for us to go back to His Word again and again to discover His heart for the lost. This is the only sure way of offering up prayers that are consistent with God’s will and therefore effective in accomplishing His purposes in the lives of the lost.
God has a deep concern for the unsaved. He sent His Only Beloved and Blessed Son into the world to die for sinners. He also sent His Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin of not believing in Jesus Christ. His angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who truly repents and embraces with all his heart Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
The petitions below are derived from the Word of God. Our goal is to pray according to the will of God.
1. Pray that Jesus will reveal Himself to the lost (John 4:1-26).
2. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict the unbelievers of their sin (John 16:8-11).
3. Pray that God’s word will pierce their hearts (Acts 2:37-41).
8. Pray that God will remove anyone or anything that is standing in their way from coming to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 13:6-12).
11. Pray that they may be granted rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
12. Pray that unbelievers may come to understand and receive the love of God by believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18).
14. Pray that the unsaved may come to a clear understanding that they cannot be saved by their good works but by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (Ephesians 2:5, 8-9; Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:21-25).
15. Pray that unbelievers, who are held in bondage to idols, may turn to God from them to serve the living and true God, revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9).
17. Pray that those among the lost who are appointed to eternal life may believe in Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 13:48).
18. Pray that the unbelievers will forsake their ways and thoughts and turn to God who is willing to have mercy on them and freely pardon them for Christ’s sake (Isaiah 55:7).
19. Pray that the lost will come to understand and believe that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather, that they turn away from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
21. Pray that their eyes may be opened so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18).
22. Pray that they may not continue to show contempt for the riches of God’s kindness and patience, but realize that God’s kindness is to lead them toward repentance (Romans 2:4).
23. Pray that when they hear the good news they will accept it, not as the word of men, but as is actually is, the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
25. Pray for them to confess with their mouths, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead and be saved (Romans 10:9-10).
God's gospel will certainly advance. God's kingdom will come. The lost will be saved. In Revelation 5:9-10, we are given the picture of the end. The Lord Jesus has triumphed at last.
There, the Bible says, "And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
This is what God reveals of the progress of the good news. But the question is. "Are we going to play our privileged part in its advance through believing and effective prayer for lost sinners?"
I want to. And my prayer for you is that by reviewing and praying through these requests, you will also play a significant role in the progress of the gospel of our God in our generation. I have the assurance that as we pray according to the will of God, He will do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us. Therefore, like Paul, we can also through the Holy Spirit burst into jubilant praise:
"To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Ephesians 3:21).
God’s promise to us is: "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" James 5:16b (NIV). When I pray for the lost based on these Scriptures, one of the things God does in my heart is to build confidence in His ability to save the lost, no matter how long it takes for Him to do that. Why? I am praying according to His will.
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him” (1John 5:14-15).
By the grace of God and the help of the Spirit of God, I have been praying for the salvation of the lost for the lost in my family, in my hometown, in my country of origin, as well as on each of the continents on a daily basis. Never has it crossed my mind that it is a waste of time. Eternity will reveal the fruit of these prayers.
If you are a believer in the Person of the Lord Jesus, God’s purpose for you is that you may freshly reminded of two important spiritual principles: first, that praying for the unsaved is a privileged partnership with God in the work of bringing His gift of salvation to sinners and second, that praying for the lost is a spiritual warfare, not just a mere program of the church.
And if you are not a believer in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, God’s purpose for you is to make it plain to you that you are lost. You are separated from His love and care.
Not only that, you are under the control of Satan, who has come only to steal and to kill and to destroy. Your life is what he is seeking to destroy. But there is hope for you. There is help for you. God loves you. God wants to set you free from the control of Satan. God's Son, the Lord Jesus Christ has overcome Satan and broke the power of sin. Jesus is therefore able to free you from the power of Satan and sin. You can experience this freedom even as you read this article.
Simply confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ died for your sins, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.
Sincerely call on the name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
Simply come to Jesus Christ, just as you are, and He will cleanse you and make you a new creation in Christ.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Revelations 22:21).