The day started out as a celebration of God’s grace. Hundreds of new followers of Jesus had flocked to our church to publicly affirm their faith through baptism, while their friends, families, and members of the community looked on.
A sixty-something woman walked over to me to be baptized. Next to her was a brawny, tough-looking man who appeared to be a few years older. He looked like a construction worker, his leathery skin deeply etched with lines. I bet he didn’t even need a hammer to pound in a nail—he could probably use his fist.
I turned to the woman. “So, you’re here to be baptized,” I said.
She was brimming with joy. “Oh, yes, I am,” she declared.
I smiled at her answer. “Have you received Jesus Christ as your forgiver and leader?” I asked, although the inquiry seemed merely a formality after I had seen Jesus so clearly reflected in her eyes.
She nodded with enthusiasm. “With all of my heart.”
I was just about to baptize her when I glanced at the man at her side. He had been listening intently to what was being said. “Are you her husband?” I asked.
He straightened up. “Well, yes, I am,” he said matter-of-factly.
That’s when the question popped into my mind. In all of the hundreds of baptisms I have performed, I had never done this before. I asked him in a sincere and concerned tone, “Have you given your life to Jesus?”
He looked surprised and offended. For the briefest of moments, he glared at me. Then his face screwed into a pained expression, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought he might hit me. But suddenly he burst into tears, weeping uncontrollably, his shoulders bobbing as he tried to catch his breath.
“No, I haven’t,” he managed to say between sobs. “But I want to right now.”
My knees almost buckled.
“Well, okay then,” I finally said. And with that, as thousands of people watched, he confessed that he was a sinner, he received forgiveness through Christ, and I had the privilege of baptizing him and his wife together.
He hardly looked like the same man moments later as he stood next to his wife as we all sang “Amazing Grace.” His smile was as broad and enthusiastic as hers.
Then at the end of the service, just after I stepped off the platform, another woman I didn’t know came bounding up and threw her arms around me. As she sobbed on my shoulder, all I could hear her say was, “Nine years, nine years, nine years …”
As you can imagine, I was a bit flustered. “Excuse me, but who are you?” I asked. “And what do you mean, ‘Nine years’?”
She looked up at me, her eyes red from tears. “That’s my sister-in-law you baptized up there, and that’s my brother who you led to Christ and baptized with her,” she explained. “I’ve been praying for that man for nine long years, and the whole time I’ve never seen one hint of spiritual interest. But look what God did today!”
Instantly, a thought popped into my mind: Here is a woman who is glad she didn’t stop praying in year eight.
Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation. This woman would tell you to never give up. Never cease praying. Never stop lifting up those you care about to the throne of grace.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand everything about prayer. I know that God lets each person decide whether or not to follow him, and we can’t impose our will on someone else, as much as we’d like to. But I’m just naïve enough to believe the Bible when it says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 TNIV) In fact, I like the quote popularly attributed to Mother Teresa: “When I pray, coincidences happen. When I stop, they don’t.”
When we pray for people who do not know the Lord, God works. God honors the faith of a person who is so burdened for the lost that he or she writes the names on a list and prays for them every day. This is not some sort of magic formula, however. You see, when you become burdened for people … and begin fervently praying for them, God not only works upon their hearts to open them to the gospel, but He works on your heart to go witness to them.
That people are not witnessing is evidence that they are not praying! For the most part, Christians have little burden for the lost. This is no surprise, since the only way to get a burden is to get in touch with the heart of God in prayer. If you want a burden for lost people, then make it personal and put it down on paper. Write the names of a few lost friends or family members on a list and pray over those names every day.
American Christians in particular have become accustomed to an easy brand of faith. We expect all the blessings of God to be hand-delivered to us without much effort on our part. We want people to be saved and complain if people are not walking the aisle, but we do very little witnessing. We want answers to our prayers, but pray very little. We certainly do not want to do anything that might be difficult or that might exact too high a price.
In another generation, praying for the lost was often referred to as “travailing in prayer.” “Travail” is a word most often used for the process of a woman giving birth. Applied to praying for the lost, it teaches us that souls will not be won to the Lord unless we are actively engaged in the labor of prayer. Praying for the lost is the front lines of the spiritual conflict that rages in this world.
Allow me to suggest three practical steps to help you become a praying, witnessing follower of Jesus. First, establish a prayer list of a few lost friends, family members, or acquaintances. I have never written out such a list and prayed over it without seeing people saved. There is something eternally significant about putting names to paper and committing yourself to prayer. God honors our praying when we get serious enough to ask Him every day to save our loved ones. It is best not to make a long list, at first. Begin with three, or maybe five, names. If you are a reader, make your list a bookmark that you keep in whatever book you may be currently reading. Pray over your list as you open your book and then again as you replace the bookmark when you are finished. Keep a list with your Bible and use part of your daily quiet time to pray for those on your list. Whenever and wherever you can, pray over that list, lifting to God their names and needs.
Second, when you pray, really pray. It does little good to have a list if you are not willing to travail in prayer. Christians often falter when it comes to praying. We talk much about prayer, but spend little time actually praying. Also pray that God will prepare your heart to witness. When we ask God to send someone to a lost friend as a witness, He most often sends us.
The third step is to speak. Having prayed, use your voice to invite those on your list to [learn about the Lord]. Share your testimony with them. Explain the gospel to them. Invite them to read the Bible with you. Talk to them about spiritual matters. Tell them you are praying for them. If at first they are cold and nonresponsive, do not give up. Keep praying and keep speaking Jesus to them. Listen to their needs and problems. Love them, and above all be patient as you persevere in prayer.
—Woody D. Wilson
It can take weeks, months, or even a lifetime to see the results of your prayers, but results are guaranteed! No matter how long it takes for Me to perform the miracle, it will be done, because I always answer the prayers of My children—sometimes immediately, sometimes further down the road, sometimes in the far future, or sometimes I answer in the spirit world.
So don’t ever stop praying for those you love, even if you aren’t seeing immediate results. Prayers bring results! Prayers weave the magical spell of My miracle-working power, and when it’s My time, the answer will be delivered.
—Jesus, speaking in prophecy
Oh, the lengths that I will go to save a lost soul! There is no sacrifice that is too much to make for even one of My lost children, no depths that are too deep for Me to stoop to in order to lift a weary and searching soul, no heart that is too far gone for Me to give My salvation to! How far are you willing to go for Me and for others?
—Jesus, speaking in prophecy
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