This morning as I contemplated celebrating the freedom’s of our country, my mind drifted invariably to our men and women deployed overseas at this very moment, enduring the harsh weather and living conditions and life threatening reality of combat. I considered the many times we are (rightly) called to pray for our soldiers and to intercede with the Almighty on their behalf. We have pleaded with God for their watch-care, for their success, for their safe return to their families. We have asked for wisdom in their commanding officers from the first rank of leadership all the way up to the commander in chief – as well we should.
I contemplated moving on this week from the topic of praying for the lost, to something reflecting the holiday when it occurred to me that we are locked in a battle for the freedom of the souls of men held captive to the tyranny of their own sin and the lies of the devil. Battling for men’s souls is a topic worthy of continuing on a day devoted to celebrating freedom.
As we began previously to consider praying for the unsaved we talked about the need not only to do so but to fan into flame our desire to do so by seeking God in prayer, that He might give us a passion for souls; that He might enable us to see people has He sees them, to love people as He loves them.
As last week we touched the need for our hearts to be fanned into flame, this week I want to turn to the requirements for Praying for the lost as touching the actual prayer.
Trust God for the impossible (Mark 10:27)
It is is no secret that the very first ingredient required for praying for anything is faith. Faith is the key that unlocks access to answered prayer. After all, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb 11:6)
James informs us very succinctly in the first chapter of his letter (James 1:6-8) that to pray without faith means our prayers will not be answered. If you pray in a frame of mind that says, “God this is what I want, but I either don’t believe you’re listening or that you will do anything about it,” we must not think at all that we will get an answer to that prayer!
Sometimes it seems impossible for someone to be saved. There are some people that you may have worked with, prayed for and witnessed to who continue to spurn Christ and who drive you to the point of despair. But notice please the truth of Mark 10:27. (read)
Understand please that in their day, as in our own sometimes the common belief was that those who had wealth had the blessing of God. They believed that those who had comfort were comfortable because God loved them more deeply. They believed that those who had their wants satisfied demonstrated by their very life that God had blessed them. But Jesus declares this isn’t true. (How very much does this revelation reveal the lie of the health and wealth “gospel” which is nothing but a doctrine of hell itself!)
Jesus doesn’t tell the rich young ruler that he already had the blessing of God because he was rich, nor did he tell him that God would bless him with wealth if he would follow. But what did he tell him? He told him to sell everything he had and become poor – giving the proceeds to the less fortunate – that he might have treasure in heaven then he should follow Christ.
So the disciples have just found out that the very people they thought had the seal of God’s favor on them (the rich) had a harder time getting into heaven than a camel would going through the eye of a needle. The awed disciples stared at Jesus and wondered, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)
Jesus’ response is to the point. “Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” ” (Mark 10:27)
Salvation for anyone is impossible. Salvation for the wealthy, the kind and the gentle are as impossible as salvation for the poor, miserable and wretched. Salvation is as impossible for the murderer of millions as for your relative or friend who you long to see come to salvation in Jesus Christ.
It is impossible for the efforts of man to save themselves, and for that matter it is impossible for us to put forth enough effort and skill to save someone else. But we must recognize that salvation does not come from us at all, it comes from God, and he has made a way. With people it is impossible but all things are possible with God. Even the salvation of that one person who has so far resisted grace. Even that one person who for whatever reason understands that Jesus saves souls but struggles to believe that he could save theirs. God is the God of the impossible. We must trust Him with faith to save. We must trust Him with Faith in whatever we ask for.
Every time we come to our Father to seek Him we must believe that he is a rewarder of those who seek Him and we must believe His word. And then we must know that there is not one specific way to pray for anyone, but we must pray with all types of prayers.
Pray for the lost with all types of prayers (1 Tim 2:1ff)
I am always suspicious (as you should be too) of someone who claims to have found the right way to pray for something. First, because it has the potential to sound as if centuries of Christians have somehow missed the mark and I of all people have discovered the secret that forces God to comply. NOTHING could be further from the truth.
To this end, as we contemplate what the Bible might show us about praying for the lost I can simply say that any prayer you offer for lost souls is a satisfactory prayer, and yet there are principles in scripture which should shape all of our prayers.
For example, we know men that praying for a 52 inch plasma TV is almost assuredly not going to be answered in the affirmative. This is for multiple reasons, but most significant perhaps is James 4:1ff which warns us that we do not get something because we don’t ask, but when we do ask (for that 52 inch plasma) we’re only asking to satisfy our lusts. To paraphrase John Piper: God is not glorified when we are seeking to be satisfied with the next big thing, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him!
Please turn to a section from 1 Timothy 2:1ff which I preached on last year. In that text Paul orders, “First of all then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men….This is good and acceptable in the sight of God who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The heart and core of Paul’s first of all command to Timothy is to pray not only that nothing will hinder our capacity to walk in godliness and dignity but even that is flavored by the prayer for the salvation of souls.
While the focus on listing the four words for prayer is to be representative of all prayer, there is still something to be gained in considering how these four in particular flavor our prayers.
Entreaties” or “Requests” (NIV) efers to prayer that arises from a sense of need. This is, in a sense, the most natural sense of prayer – we see a need and we ask God to meet that need. In terms of praying for the salvation of the lost, it can mean as little as presenting a basic need for salvation or as specific as asking God in particular to deal with a definite road-block to someone’s faith. Whatever the case “Entreaties” are simply seeing a need in someone’s life and praying about it.
Prayers” refers to prayers in General. It’s root concept includes a unique element of worship because praying for the Lost is not about their comfort but about God’s glory. We must never forget that salvation of sinners causes glory for Him. Praying with worship means that we are acknowledging the role of God in salvation. He is the one who calls. He is the one who gives faith. He is the one who saw our sin and yet loved us. He is the one who sent His son. He is the one who saves. He is the one worthy of all glory and praise and honor. Worship the Lord your God as you seek him for the salvation of the lost around you.
Petitions” involves intercessory prayer in which we in a sense unite with the ones we’re praying for. The word comes from the idea of meeting with someone. The idea being that you and God are going to meet in order to discuss someone. Intercessions also means that you are standing in the gap between God and someone else. Consider for just a moment that an unbeliever is not about to turn towards God and seek for mercy, and yet that unsaved person is standing under the wrath of God which is postponed only by grace and mercy. For every sinner deserves instant death, but it is the gift of God, even to the unsaved to delay that penalty. When we intercede for the Lost we are jumping into the gap between a God who is righteously angry at their sin, and a sinner who desperately needs Jesus. Like Moses standing in the gap and pleading for the Lord not to destroy Israel but to come with them to the promised land – intercession is hard and demanding and yet it is entirely necessary.
“Thanksgiving”describes not only an attitude of gratitude for the gospel but for the role we get to play in bringing the gospel to people.1 Every parent has fought the battle of trying to train their children to say “Thank you” when they receive something – no matter how trivial or great. Note please that thanksgivings are plural, we have much to thank God for as we pray for the salvation of Souls. We can thank Him for a chance to pray, for the grace to care, for the Love from Him flowing through us to those around us. We can thank Him for our own salvation and plead with gratitude that He hears our prayers.
First of all then, let us with Entreaties and Prayers, Petitions and Thanksgiving come to our Father in Heaven who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Let us with FAITH and with EVERY KIND of PRAYER seek His sovereign, mighty hand for the salvation of the lost.
Thus far we have looked at the need first to fan our own hearts into flame for the dying lost who are right next to us, and we have also calmed our hearts with the reassurance that God hears the prayers of His saints when they come with childlike faith; and with passion pray any sort of prayer for the Lost. But there are, principles in scripture which can further direct our prayers. Next week therefore, as God permits we will end this mini-series with a look at Seven Specific prayers to pray for the Lost.
1MacArthur, J. (1995). Alone with God. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.