How to Pray for the Lost
by Derek Gentle
Salvation is a work of God within us; it is not simply a deal God makes with us and we of our own accord readily accept. It involves the imparting of that which we do not naturally seek. Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die -- or to submit to the Lordship of Christ. We can remember how, before Christ, we ran from God. Hence, as God appointed to save the lost by the telling of the gospel, He has also chosen to save through the instrumentality of the prayers of his people. Salvation is an inside job and we are dependent upon God to do an internal heart-changing work in those for whom we are burdened.
We already see the first reason why we should pray for the lost: People are sinners by nature. Salvation requires an overthrow of what we naturally are. Ephesians 2:3 recalls how that, "We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others"
The situation of the unregenerate person is serious in another way -- Satan is at work within them. This sounds terribly old-fashioned to the modern mind, but Scripture teaches this repeatedly. For example, Ephesians 2:2: "You once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" That word, "works" -- "works in the sons of disobedience" -- is the word where we get "energizes." The sinister influence of the evil one is internal and dynamic. It has an influential and powerful effect upon the person. Other passages teach the same basic premise and add other nuances of insight:
The Bible teaches that the devil has ensnared the lost. Paul tells us what kind of attitude we should demonstrate in dealing with opponents of the Christian message: "In humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will" (1st Timothy 2:25-26). Notice the entrapment: God has to grant repentance because they are so spiritually disabled that they cannot do it on their own. And notice why this is: they are ensnared and taken captive. We know about substance abuse addictions and sexual addictions and gambling addictions; this is an addiction of self enthronement, a God-rejection addiction.
The devil has deceived the lost. "The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1st John 5:19). The word for lies pictures a mother holding a baby in her arms. And the this verses pictures the unbeliever, in the arms of Satan, lulled to sleep, and unaware of their dangerous plight.
The lost have been blinded. "But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded" (2nd Corinthians 4:3-4). One of the problems of being lost is that one cannot see the obvious, they simply do not get it. It is not that it is too deep to fathom; it is not a matter of intelligence. It is a spiritual seeing problem. Ever notice how sometimes you can talk to a person and while otherwise they are very friendly and intelligent, when the conversation turns to Christ suddenly they sound like they don't have any common sense?
So we are burdened for someone. What are some things we can pray for them?
We can pray for God to send conviction, that is that they will sense the urgency of their need. At Pentecost, Peter's sermon was interrupted by his listeners, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) Conviction is when God call us to call to account and show us our fault.
We can ask God to send enlightenment. Paul was commissioned by God to go to the gentiles, "To open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:18).
We can pray that God would call and draw, attracting them to Christ. While we, in our natural condition, are turned off by God, He has a way of engineering circumstances that cause us to be drawn to Him. "He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2nd Thessalonians 2:14). Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44)
We can ask God to destroy mental strongholds, to remove the barriers between them and Christ. Being a lost person is hard work. God gives witness to Himself in powerful ways. And the person who doesn't want to turn to Christ has to defend himself against the guilt and feelings of foolishness for rejecting Him. So they build defensive walls to keep those feelings out -- and to keep God from "meddling" in their lives. Some of these wall are made of intellectual rationalizations, some of the memories of bad experiences at church or with people who professed to be Christians. Some walls are made with the bricks of procrastination. But all the walls are a hardened bunker to keep God away. Prayer, however, can penetrate these walls: "The weapons with which we fight are not human weapons, but are mighty for God in overthrowing strong fortresses. For we overthrow arrogant `reckonings,' and every stronghold that towers high in defiance of the knowledge of God, and we carry off every thought as if into slavery -- into subjection to Christ" (2nd Corinthians 10:4-5, Weymouth).