Parents sometimes discipline a child by removing some of their favorite things and putting the child in “time out.” We as a nation, a denomination and family have all been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways it may be that God is using the pandemic to remove some of our favorite things and give us a time out in order to focus our attention on what he sees as priority. We do not know the full mind of the divine, but what we do know is all of us have had to make adjustments. We also know that if God is using this to correct his church, it is for our good.
One of the adjustments is how we reach people with the gospel. Mass meetings, door-to-door and the casual witness encounter with person “x” has been greatly reduced. The church in the book of Acts repeatedly made adjustments but continued in their outreach to the lost. One of the key areas of outreach was in the home (Acts 10:24-48; 16:25-24; 2 Timothy 1:3-7).
Do those who live under your roof know the Lord Jesus? This is our immediate “field.” Our neighbors are next. How may reach them in an era of fear and social distancing? One way is to prayer earnestly for their salvation. Much of the following is from a brochure called “Praying for the Lost” published by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and is available at sbtexas.com/resources. This will encourage you to pray for lost people everywhere.
A missionary of another era has been widely quoted as praying “God, break my heart with the things that break yours.” One of the those things breaking God’s heart is revealed in Matthew 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Another translation says, “You would not.”
Some of the saddest words in Scripture (“you would not”) tell us that God wants people to welcome Jesus into their lives as Messiah and Lord. Jerusalem did not welcome him as Messiah. Those apart from him are characterized in the Gospels as “lost.” Luke 15 clearly describes a God who is seeking the lost. Jesus said so himself in Luke 19:10. In John 17:3, Jesus described eternal life as “knowing” Jesus. It is a relationship that trusts Jesus for salvation (faith) and follows him in obedience (evidence of knowing Jesus).
Who are the lost? These are described in the Bible as unbelieving (John 3:18, Luke 15), living in spiritual darkness (John 1:5), blind to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3). The Scriptures teach us that lost-ness is not because of behavior but because of condition. It is the result of a condition of the soul apart from God. That is what the Bible calls sin. A person is capable of a wide spectrum of sinful behavior coming from the inner condition of the heart (Matthew 15:16-20).
One is not lost by behavior nor is one saved by behavior. The gospel is that in God’s perfect timing he sent his son to be born of a virgin, live a sinless life and be crucified for our sin(s). The root sin is unbelief. It is unbelief (a refusal to recognize one’s need of a Savior and turn to Jesus) that crucified Jesus. He was buried and rose again on the third day, thus vindicating his claim to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4).
We can influence our family and friends to Jesus through prayer and witness. Prayer accentuates the activity of God. We would obviously pray for them to be saved, but we can also engage in the spiritual warfare for their souls by praying the process God uses to bring them to calling on the name of the Lord. God teaches us to pray for the lost to be saved.
Let’s break that down.
- In Romans 10:1 and 1 Timothy 2:1-4 we are taught that Paul prayed for the salvation of lost people and instructed Timothy to do the same.
- Pray for conviction of sin. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement to come (John 16:8-11).
- Romans 10:8-17, the apostle outlines how people come to Christ. He begins with an affirmation, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” After that, he outlines how people come to Christ by reversing the order. We must pray the process.
- Pray God will send someone to your lost friends/family to share the gospel with them. Do not be surprised if that “someone” is you.
- Pray your lost friends/family will hear not only with the natural hear, but hear deep in their inner being with the spiritual ear.
- Pray God will grant them faith and they will believe in their hearts Jesus died on the cross for their sins and God raised him from the dead.
- Pray they will then call upon the name of Jesus for salvation.
- Pray they will confess Jesus as Lord.
- List those for whom you will intercede and if possible share the gospel.
You may want to pray daily, alone, in a small group or develop what has been called a “Prayer Triplet.” This has been used extensively in preparation for evangelistic meetings. It is simple: three people each list three lost people for whom they are praying. One day per week, these three get together and they pray for the three lost people each of them has listed.
As a pastor, you may want to create a section in your church prayer room to list the names of lost people for whom the church is praying. When they come to Christ and are baptized, remove them from that wall and place them on an answered prayer wall or some other section designed for that purpose.
One way to begin this process is to have a locked box (similar to an offering receptacle) for the people to place the names of lost friends for whom to pray. These can be prayed over in corporate worship as a group and then the names transferred to the prayer room. When one of them comes to faith in Jesus and makes that public, celebrate answered prayer. It is a faith builder for others.
In the situation of someone who has “made a profession of faith but strayed away,” or as some would call a “prodigal,” do not assume their salvation. Pray for them as if they are lost. The same Holy Spirit will convict both and he knows.
Remember—fruit follows faithfulness. And God determines the fruit. Be faithful.