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Praying for the lost before it’s too late

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Earl was an IMB Missionary in Central America before he retired, but he wasn’t always a Christian. In the 1970’s Earl liked to drink and get high with his buddies from school. When he got home late at night, reeking of weed and alcohol, he tried to tip-toe past his parents’ bedroom on the way down the hall to his own. But Earl’s parents were prayer warriors, and he often saw and heard them kneeling beside their bed, praying their son would give his life to Christ. 

Eventually, Earl did repent and was saved, partly because of his parents’ persistent, loving prayers. Remembering those nights years later, Earl posed a simple question, “Can you imagine what it’s like to come stumbling home after a night of partying only to see your parents on their knees, praying for your soul?” It’s a powerful question. 

Intercessory prayer for lost family members and friends makes a difference when nothing else will. Prayer reaches hearts even when minds have closed. Prayer goes where it has never been invited. Prayer travels at the speed of thought and instantly crosses international boundaries without a government-issued passport. Prayer defies all restrictions, and no law or objection passed against it can stop it. 

As an evangelistic pastor, Charles H. Spurgeon felt a passion and sensed an urgency for the salvation of the lost in his city. As a result, he once said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” 

The need for intercessory prayer is obvious. Today, we live in the age of the “nones” when approximately 30% of Americans tell pollsters that they are atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious preferences. That’s a 10-point surge from a decade ago, while during the same period the number of self-proclaimed Christians dropped 12 points.

There are more atheists and fewer Christians in America today, so what are Christians doing to reverse the trends? Not enough. Thom Rainer has reviewed the data and identified multiple reasons for our dwindling evangelistic focus. He concluded, “By almost any metric, the churches in our nation are much less evangelistic today than they were in the recent past.” The dramatic decline in evangelistic passion and effectiveness in American Christianity is a spiritual problem that demands a spiritual remedy. It’s time to pray. Dick Eastman, who recently retired from leading a global evangelistic ministry, said, “In no other way can the believer become as fully involved with God‘s work, especially the work of world evangelism, as in intercessory prayer.” All of us can be immediately more evangelistic by praying for the lost. Here are two biblical, practical, and reproducible ways to join the battle. 

The straight-line prayer (Romans 10:1)

Most people know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In the matter of evangelistic prayer, there is no reason to complicate the subject. In other words, we should simply pray that the lost be saved. The direct approach is the correct approach. That’s the tactic Paul practiced in his own prayer life when he testified, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). Notice that Paul simply prayed his friends and fellow Israelites would be saved. The prayer is simple and specific – save them.

George Muëller, the praying evangelist of Bristol, England, famously prayed daily by name for the salvation of five individuals beginning in November 1844 until his death on March 9, 1898 – 54 years later. Three of the people were saved within the first 13 years of his daily prayer. The last two were saved after Muëller’s death. It took half a century, but God saved George Muëller’s friends. His simple prayer was that they be saved. 

If we want to see more lost people saved, our uncomplicated, direct prayer for their salvation can make an eternal difference. Why not make a list of those you know who need to receive God’s gift of eternal life? Every day pray for them to be saved. It is as simple and as straight forward as that. This is a matter of praying an uncomplicated prayer – “Lord, save them.”

Pray for more evangelizers (Matthew 9:37-38)

Jesus was clear about prayer and evangelism. He instructed us to pray for more evangelists! Matthew tells it like this, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38). 

This is more than a story describing the compassion of Jesus. Instead, this brief narrative glimpses Jesus strategically considering how the 11 faithful Apostles could ultimately carry His message to the Roman Empire in a single generation and, eventually, how future generations would evangelize the world. His plan is staggeringly simple. Jesus advises us to pray for more dedicated messengers to carry the good news from person to person and nation to nation. In other words, Jesus trusted the future of His movement to the power of prayer and the certainty that praying people would emerge in every generation, passionately calling upon God to send more workers into the harvest. Obviously, God delights in answering that prayer.

In the early 20th century, W. Frank Graham, Billy Graham’s father, operated a large dairy farm near Charlotte, North Carolina. In May 1934, a group of Christian businessmen met for prayer under a grove of shade trees at the edge of a pasture on the Graham farm. One of the men in the group, a paper salesman named Vernon Patterson, prayed that God would raise up someone from their area who would “take the gospel to the ends of the Earth.” It was an ambitious prayer. At that moment, 15-year-old Billy Graham was in the barn, feeding mules. No one suspected that the farm boy would be the answer to that prayer.

One answer to the question of how we take the gospel to the world never changes.  Pray for God to raise up people who will share the gospel! Prayer and evangelism always go together. 

There are other ways to pray for increased evangelistic effectiveness, but the two ways mentioned above are essential. Always pray the lost get saved, and constantly pray for God to raise up more witnesses. When we pray like this, more people come to Christ. Prayer and evangelism are inseparable.

    About the Author

  • Kie Bowman

    Kie Bowman is senior pastor emeritus of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas and the SBC National Director of Prayer.

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