At Christ Community Church, we desire people to be saved. We want the gospel to advance. We long for the glory of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to be praised. And while we rejoice in the truth of God’s sovereignty in this matter, we also readily embrace the responsibility given us by God to seek the salvation of the lost. To this ordained end of His, the local church is His appointed means, and God’s not left us without means for the task.
As for the message, we have the Gospel. As to communicating, we have mouths and ears (Exodus 4.11), or other means of communication. As to growth in communicating the message, we have the sanctifying testimony of Scripture. As for help and encouragement, we have the Holy Spirit. As for still more help and encouragement, we have each other, the local church. As for motivation, we know the stakes. As for endurance in the task, we know the call and comforts of the Great Commission. As for passion, we know the love of the cross. And as for infusing it all with the power of God, we have prayer—but do we pray?
A Godly Desire Overflowing
More specifically, are we regularly asking God to save the lost and redeem His people for the glory of Christ? We aren’t without examples in Scripture of this godly desire overflowing in palpitating petitions to God:
Granted, it’s somewhat of a ‘type’ of what was to come, but Moses successfully intercedes between God and Israel after the golden calf incident. Israel is spared the wrath of God because of Moses’ prayer (Exodus 32.11-14).
Similarly, we hear OT echoes of this sort of praying in the cries—so often found in the Psalms and Prophets—that the Lord would redeem His people (Psalm 25.22; Psalm 28.9; Psalm 80.19; Psalm 106.47; Psalm 150.6; Isaiah 12.3-4; Isaiah 64.1ff; Habakkuk 3.2; etc).
Jesus, of course, commissions His disciples to ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’ (Mt 9.38) and, if you remember, I argued in a recent sermon that that prayer was not only that the Lord would reinvigorate the labors of lazy Christians, but that He would save sinners. For what is a converted person but a commissioned one? To pray for more laborers is to pray for the salvation of the lost.
Jesus, Himself, weeps over Jerusalem as He approaches the city to be crucified, there (Lk 19.41-44). I don’t suppose His lamentation over their lack of faith was, in any way, disconnected from His prayerful longing that they would, in fact, believe and be saved.
Again, on the cross, Jesus prays for those (we all) who crucified Him, that His Father would forgive them of this most evil thing (Luke 23.34).
As you move into Acts, the early church was marked by evangelistic or missions-minded prayer (Acts 4.24-31; Acts 13.3).
The apostle Paul calls the church at Colossae to pray for him in speaking the gospel with clarity (Colossians 4.2-4). He asks the church at Ephesus to pray for him in speaking the gospel with boldness (Ephesians 6.19). He exhorts Timothy to shepherd the flock in praying for all people according to the knowledge that God desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2.1ff). Then, there is Romans 10.1, where his own passion for Israel’s salvation is made plain, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”
Two Effects of Evangelistic Praying
The edifying effects of such praying are many, but let me focus on two for a moment:
First, simply, prayer brings God to bear on any given situation. In this case, the advance of the gospel amongst the lost surrounding you. It was the Puritan, George Swinnock, who rightly said that prayer is God’s ordained engine by which we may wield omnipotence on the earth. Omnipotence is good and needful, no? We can plant. We can water. We cannot give the growth. This growth demands omnipotent grace, meaning only God can give it. To speak of His timing in the matter is another issue. At present, we’re to hope in God, believing that He could unleash Almighty mercy upon every soul that has ever heard the gospel at any moment . . . and save them! The exhale of that true belief and hope is evangelistic prayer.
Second, this sort of praying makes us evangelistically ‘aware.’ It works in us an awareness that we cannot save a single soul. As Charles Spurgeon once intimated, we can no sooner raise the dead than save a person by our own inherent abilities and powers. God must do it.
It works in us an awareness of what matters most in the world. I don’t know about you, but my praying can often get stuck in the muck of what’s temporally important. However important that thing may be, it’s not as important as the eternal salvation of a soul (Mark 8.35-37). Pray for the circumstances of the day as they present themselves to you, but be careful that these things don’t press out prayers for the regeneration of hearts, as well as God’s powerful disposal of you in bringing that divine work to pass.
It works in us an awareness of others. We are so inwardly bent. I mean, so, so self-focused—and if the Holy Spirit makes use of the Gospel of Christ for any sanctifying thing in us, it must be to break that bend, to hammer us Godward and, so, outward towards others. And missions-minded prayer is an expression of this. It turns us towards the very greatest need of those amongst whom we live and move and have our being. It makes us mindful of the very greatest void in the hearts and lives of those who hope and trust in any and everything but Christ. As we pray for others concerning this most significant thing, we become servants of others in the most significant way. We labor for their joy in Christ.
It works in us an awareness of our gospel-involvement in the lives of others. In other words, such praying has a way of keeping gospel proclamation on the front-burner. If we’re praying for the salvation of Luke or Leslie Lost Person, we’re going to more readily recognize, even make, opportunities to share the gospel with them. And, in turn, this will tend to lend itself to praying, not just for the lost, but for ourselves and our ability to share the saving message of Christ as clearly, faithfully, and boldly as possible. God uses it to massage the gospel into our hearts until our lives are consumed with making it known—until we become a Great Commission people through and through.
Evangelistic Praying in Practice
As we begin a new year, I’ve considered how I might make evangelistic prayer a greater emphasis in my own heart and life. What I’ve come up with, I humbly offer to you, my beloved, not as a law, but as some ‘trellis’ upon which to hang this ‘vine.’
Think of concentric circles. Christ is the center and, from Him, we’re pressing out from our homes until we’ve covered the world with prayers for the advance of the gospel. Here’s how it works for me:
1. First thing in the morning, I’m praying for my own home. Somewhat like Job (Job 1.5), I’m praying for my children and asking God to save them. I’m praying for my wife, that the Lord would captivate her heart with the gospel and use her, mainly amongst our children and neighbors, to give off the aroma of Christ that saves.
2. Around lunch, I’m praying for my neighbors—which I love in a place like Newton because they’re from all over the world! Prayer for the folks in my cul-de-sac is prayer that impacts the globe! So I’m praying for their conversion. I’m asking God to regenerate them. I’m asking God to make us mindful of ways to love them, reach out to them, show hospitality to them and, ultimately, share the gospel with them.
3. At dinner, I’m going to be aiming to pray for the residents of Newton and Greater Boston more generally. ‘Sovereign Lord, let Your Gospel advance, here! Save Your people, here! Equip and mobilize Christ Community Church, and other healthy local churches to find Your sheep by the Word of Christ!,’ etc.
4. Before bed, I’m wanting to pray for some part of the world where the gospel is not present. Half of the world is unreached or unengaged with the gospel, friends. That numbers billions. As a resource for this, and all the ways that you can be praying for such corners of our world, let me suggest the newest edition of Operation World.
In this way, the hope for myself and for us all is that we’re regularly praying for the global advance of the gospel. We’re wielding omnipotence on earth, all whilst we’re being transformed into a missions-minded people right here in Newton, MA. May the Lord soon and steadfastly supply us with all the help we need in sharing Christ with the lost ‘that they may be saved.’ Amen.