In Bible college our textbook for our Evangelism class was Lewis Sperry Chafer’s “True Evangelism: Winning Souls by Prayer.” He writes, “The personal element in true soul-winning work is more a service of pleading for souls than a service of pleading with souls. It is talking with God about men from a clean heart and in the power of the Spirit, rather than talking to men about God….the divine order is to talk to God about men, until the door is definitely open to talk to men about God” (Lewis Sperry Chafer. True Evangelism. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993, 69-71). Chafer touches on an aspect of witnessing we do not hear much about today. In light of his statement we need to answer some questions about praying people into heaven.
I. Is it Biblical to Pray for the Lost?
There are some significant examples in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the Epistles who prayed for the unsaved. We can start with Christ who prayed for the lost on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Similarly, Stephen prayed for the lost just before his death: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). In Romans 9:1-3 and 10:1, you feel Paul’s burden for the lost and hear his prayer for their salvation. I think we are in pretty good company when we pray for the lost. Who prayed for your salvation? For whose salvation are you praying at this time?
II. When do we Pray for the Lost? (Prayer should precede witnessing)
This pattern is found in the Gospels.
In Luke 10:1-3, Jesus instructed his 70 advance men to “pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.” Then Jesus added, “Go your way: behold I send you forth as lambs among wolves.” Jesus followed a similar pattern when He sent out His 12 apostles in Matthew 9:37-10:6. We are not saying you cannot pray for the lost after you witness. But prayer, when possible should precede the witness as all these examples show. There are some specifics ways to prayer prior to witnessing which we shall see in our last point.
This pattern is found in the Book of Acts.
In Acts 1 and 2, the 120 believers prayed ten days, Peter preached ten minutes and 3000 were saved. Today the church prays for ten minutes, preaches for ten days, and three get saved (G. Michael Cocoris. Evangelism: A Biblical Approach. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984, 108). In Acts 4:29, the persecuted believers pray for boldness to witness. The reason they are being persecuted is because of their bold witnessing. They don’t pray for God to remove the persecuters but for more boldness which will result in more persecution. Their prayer is answered in 4:31: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
The pattern is also found in the Epistles.
In Ephesians 6:18-19, Paul requests that the believers at Ephesus pray that he might “open his mouth boldly [Gk. parrasia] to make known the mystery of the gospel.” Paul was probably the most bold witness Christ ever had and he needed prayer for boldness. Where does that leave the rest of us? We know this prayer was answered. Luke records that in Paul’s first Roman imprisonment in Acts 28:30-31 Paul was “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence [Gk. parrasias or boldness].”
III. How Should We Pray for the Lost?
Here are some specific ways to pray for the lost before you witnessed to them. I am indebted to G. Michael Cocoris’ book Evangelism: A Biblical Approach for these thoughts.
A. We should pray for peaceful circumstances to witness.
This is what Paul prayed for in 1Timothy 2:2-4: “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” We can practically pray for the right conditions that nothing would distract the unsaved from the gospel.
I once lived in a community where a prominent church split which made witnessing to the lost very difficult. They would throw in your face the fact that if Christianity looks like a bunch of Christians fighting all the time, they did not need that.
Mark Dever makes this point in his Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Mark five is A Bibilical Understanding of Evangelism. Dever writes: “Our lives, individually and as church congregations, should give credibility to the Gospel we proclaim….We as a church bear a corprate responsibility to present to the world what it means to be a Christian…. ‘A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:34-35).’ That’s talking about your life. Your life can be lived in such a way that it brings glory to God as others who see it begin to believe the Gospel. And remember, this involves more than just your individual life; it involves how believers live together as well. Live a life of committed love to the other members of your local church, as a fundamental part of your own sanctification and of your evangelistic ministry. (Mark Dever. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton: Crossway Books. 2004, 130).
B. We should pray for laborers.
Jesus made this prayer request at least twice (Luke 10:1-3; Matthew 9:37). We could pray for God to add to the church believers who have the gift of evangelism (Ephesians 4:11). I know believers who could lead someone to Christ in their sleep. For most of us, however, this is not the case. So, probably the best way to pray for God to raise up laborers would be to pray that all believers would be better witnesses as Jesus said would be the case in Acts 1:8.
C. We should pray for opportunities to witness.
In Colossians 4:2-3, Paul requested the Colossians to pray for him “that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ.” Perhaps Paul wanted to witness to a particular prisoner or guard in his hired house where he was paying rent to be imprisoned. Is there someone you have been wanting to witness to? Ask God to make that opportunity possible.
D. We should pray for boldness to witness.
Again Paul made this request of the Ephesians in 6:18-19. It is possible for God to swing open a door to witness in answer to our last prayer and then because of the fear of man we would not share the gospel. We need both opportunities and boldness.
E. We should pray for the lost once the gospel is shared.
We should pray that the Holy Spirit would supernaturally open their Satanically blinded eyes (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). The lost are in a spell of indifference. The Holy Spirit must take “the sword of the Spirit” and convict the unconcerned sinner of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). We can not in our own strength reverse total depravity. We need the Holy Spirit to draw sinners to Himself. God has ordained that we be part of that process by praying for the unsaved and witnessing the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to every person who believes.
Henry Blackaby tells an encouraging experience from George Mueller praying for the lost. George Mueller’s name will forever be associated with effective prayer. Through fervent prayer, Mueller established an orphanage in Bristol, England in the 1800s. Mueller saw that ministry grow to include the care of two thousand orphans in five orphanages. Mueller traveled over 200,000 miles to share the gospel in forty-two countries. In all of this, he never once asked for money; he based his enormous ministry solely on prayer. Mueller also faithfully prayed for people’s salvation. At one point in his life he observed:
In November, 1844, I began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. I prayed every day without a single intermission, whether sick or in health, on land or at sea, and whatever the pressure of my engagements might be. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five was converted. I thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second was converted. I thanked God for the second, and prayed on for other three. Day by day I continued to pray for them, and six years passed before the third was converted. I thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two. These two remained unconverted . . . . The man (Mueller referring to himself) to whom God in the riches of his grace has given tens of thousands of answers to prayer in the self-same hour or day in which they were offered has been praying day by day for nearly thirty-six years for the conversion of these individuals, and yet they remain unconverted. But I hope in God, I pray on, and look yet for the answer. They are not converted yet, but they will be.
It was not until after Mueller’s death that the last man accepted Christ as his Savior, but each one did. Such was Mueller’s trust in God and tenacity in prayer” (Henry and Richard Blackaby. Spiritual Leadership. 152-153). It is always to soon to stop praying for the lost.