I was sitting in a small group lesson a few years ago, when the missionary who was leading it made what I felt like was an unusual request. She asked the students: “Can anyone name a verse in the Bible which tells us that we are supposed to pray for lost people?” No one responded, so after a few seconds I chimed in: “Well, Romans 10:1 says, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.'” With a note of resignation she said, “Ok, that is true …”. It turned out, she wanted to make the point that the Bible tells us that we should be praying for OURSELVES as witnesses, not for the lost to be saved. And it is true that in many cases, the Bible does tell us to pray for boldness, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and for open doors to share. But Romans 10:1 also clearly demonstrates that we are indeed to pray for the lost. Paul did. He said here: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
I believe that one of our shortcomings as Christians is in this area of praying for the lost — and that our failure to pray this way is also a symptom of some other shortcomings in our lives as well. Let’s look at what this verse has to show us tonight about praying for the lost:
I. Prayer for the lost begins in the heart: “my heart’s desire …”
A. First of all, it begins in GOD’S heart. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son …”. God loves the world. God loves people. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20 “He loved ME, and gave Himself for ME.” God loves not only “the world” as a whole, but the individuals in it.
— God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son
— When Jesus came, He said that the whole purpose of His mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost.”
The salvation of the lost begins in the heart of God.
Now, we need to remember that God’s purpose for us here on earth is to become conformed to the image of Christ. (If the Lord wills, we are going to look at that in-depth starting next January.) We are to become like Him. One of the ways we are to become like Him is in our love for the lost. The closer you get to God, the more you will be like Him, and the more your love for the lost will grow.
In fact, this is a pretty good test of our Christlikeness. You may SAY that you are really close to God, and maybe you are attending church a lot, or practicing some spiritual disciplines, etc. But if you REALLY get close to God, you cannot help but catch His heart for the lost. So if you really love lost people, there is a good possibility that you are truly a lot like Jesus. But if you don’t love lost people, then you are not very much like Him, because that is what He is all about. So it begins with us spending time with God, becoming more like Him, and catching from Him His heart for the lost.
B. Second, it begins with our heart: “my heart’s desire …”
If we really do get God’s heart for lost people, then we are going to show it by the way we pray. We pray about what we really care about. Which is convicting to most of us, because we pray about our finances, and whether so-and-so likes us, or our retirement fund, or whether we are going to get that award, or our various aches & pains, or whatever. Our prayers show what we care about. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” That is of course true, but I think we could also accurately say “Where your PRAYERS are, there will your heart be also.” You are going to pray about what you really care about.
One time I had done something thoughtless which made Cheryl mad (if you can envision that!) Attempting to justify myself (which, by the way, is almost always a lost cause, men!) I said to her: “I didn’t do it on purpose; I just didn’t think.” With appropriate wifely conviction, she responded: “That’s exactly the point. You didn’t think, because you didn’t really care!” (Wives always know how to strip down your excuses!)
But that applies here as well. The bottom line is, we are not praying for the lost because we do not really care. What we really need, more than anything else; more than an evangelism course; more than a class on praying for the lost; is a revival in our hearts that would cause us to CARE for lost people. If we really cared for them, we would pray for them. If we really cared for them, we would look for, and find, opportunities to share the gospel with them. So our first prayer should perhaps not be for the lost, but for ourselves, that God would draw us close to Him, and that we would grow a heart like His for the lost.
But it starts with the heart’s desire: “My HEART’S DESIRE and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
II. The heart for the lost will then manifest itself in prayer: “… and my PRAYER to God for them …”
The heart that Paul had for his lost brothers resulted in prayer. We have seen before that Paul was either the biggest liar you have ever read about, or his life was spent in continual prayer. In virtually every letter he wrote in the New Testament, he said things like “I am constantly praying for you” or “I never cease to pray for you” or “I continually make mention of you in my prayers.”
I believe when he commanded us to “pray without ceasing” that he meant us to take it more literally than many of us have ever believed!
Paul must have been constantly praying — and ONE of the many requests he prayed for was the salvation of the lost. He said, “my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
Paul says he prayed: “For their salvation.” He knew that the most important thing he could pray for these Jewish brothers of his was for their salvation.
If you think about it, there were a lot of things he could have prayed about for them:
— they were under the oppression of the Roman Empire, and had been for a number of years. Many of the Jews chafed under Roman rule, and surely many of them were praying to be released from it. But Paul did not pray for their political freedom.
— there were many poor people in Israel too. In fact, later in the New Testament we discover that Paul took offerings from some of the new churches back to their poor brethren in Israel. But Paul did not say here that his prayer was for the material well-being of his brethren.
— there were a lot of sicknesses in Israel in those days. They had many diseases which are commonplace and easy to cure these days, but they were pervasive and harmful in their time. Lepers and others abounded in the land. But Paul did not say that his prayer was for their physical healing.
Instead he wrote: “My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their SALVATION!
Political freedom would be good; monetary blessing would be nice; physical health is great — but he knew that THE single most important thing he could pray for them was “for their salvation.”
Jesus recognized this same thing, in His encounter with the paralyzed man in Mark 9. Here was this man lying in front of Him, totally unable to move — and yet what was the first thing Jesus said to him? “My son, your sins are forgiven you.” Most people, looking at that man, would think that the biggest need he had was to be healed, but Jesus knew there was a greater need: for his sins to be forgiven. The most important need that man had was not physical, but spiritual.
That’s true for everyone we meet. No matter their outward condition — rich or poor — the greatest need of every person is spiritual. I remember when groups from our church in Louisiana went on mission trips to Mexico they would often come back and some of them would report: “Oh, you wouldn’t believe how poor they were; we take so much for granted. It was awful; they had dirt floors, and only one ragged pair of clothes” etc. and they would go on and on about their material poverty — and those things were true. But we tried to remind them that the biggest problem those people had was NOT that they don’t have the money to live the American Dream; they biggest problem they have is that they are LOST and need Jesus as their Savior! Not matter how much or how little a person has in material possessions, the time they spend in this life is only a speck compared to eternity. The greatest need anyone has is not to become a “middle-class American”, but to make sure they know Jesus as their Savior!
We need to pick up this same sense of priority from Paul. The people we know and come in contact with, whose needs we see — we need to make sure that we understand that their greatest need is salvation — and that needs to be reflected in our prayers.
Too often our Baptist prayer meetings become a litany of people’s physical illnesses — and there’s nothing wrong with praying for people physically. But we must recognize that by far the most important thing we can pray for is NOT somebody’s physical health, but their spiritual salvation — and that needs to be reflected in the way that we pray.
I will say that I have actually been pleasantly surprised how many of the prayer requests we get in here at PRBC are for salvation — more than at the average church I have pastored. But of course we can always do even better. We need to make sure that, as Paul wrote “our prayer is for their SALVATION.”
This should bring each of us to ask ourselves a couple of questions:
— How much of your prayer time each week is for the salvation of the lost? If the average church member only prays a few minutes each day, then there cannot be any great amount of time spent on praying for people to be saved — which answers a lot of the questions about why we don’t see many people saved in our churches. We’ve got to spend time each week praying for the salvation of people God has put on our hearts.
–Who are you praying for to be saved? If you don’t have anyone, then you need to ask yourself why not?
Is it because you don’t know anyone who is not saved? That is a pretty common answer. Many of us have read the statistics of how the average Christian in America begins to lose contact with non-Christian friends once they get saved. So many of us might say, “I just don’t have any lost people to pray for.”
If that’s so, then SOME of us may need to take some steps to purposefully put ourselves in position to meet and minister to lost people. Especially some of us who are kind of “isolated” in our faith. I know of one pastor who told his staff that they couldn’t work out in the church’s family life center, because they all spent most of their time around their church family. He told them to go get gym memberships on the community, specifically so that they could meet and minister to lost people. And some of us may need to take some steps like that, to intentionally get out and meet and get opportunities to share with people who don’t know Christ.
But I also think maybe some of us are being very short-sighted when we say that we don’t know any lost people to pray for. Do you really not know ANY lost people? Or is it more true that you know lost people; you just don’t care enough about them to pray for their salvation?
A person doesn’t have to be your best friend in order for you to pray for their salvation. It can be an acquaintance. My wife Cheryl thinks that the person who does her hair may be lost. And that’s actually one of the reasons she continues to go there. In conversations, she tries to bring up spiritual things, that might plant a seed of truth in his heart. (??And she is praying for his salvation as well??) Perhaps there is someone like that in your life too?
— or maybe you need to make a purposeful effort to get to know your neighbors, or people at work or school, so that you can pray for them, and witness to them. As some of you know, Cheryl & I live in a little 20-home addition off of Highway 70 east of Morganton. We walk a lot in the neighborhood, and we are purposefully trying to get to know our neighbors so that we can pray for them. I keep notes on my iPhone, whenever we meet someone in the yard, of their name, and any other information we learn about them, especially how we can be praying for them. There are still a number of people we don’t know, but we are starting to get all the “blanks” filled in, and we know how to pray for several of them as a result. Maybe one of your prayer requests tonight can be that God would help you to reach out and try to get to know people around you, in your neighborhood — or at work, or on your kids’ sports team, or wherever — so that you can pray by name for their salvation, as well as opportunities to share the gospel with them.
And we need to know that praying ALONE is not our whole responsibility towards the lost. It needs to be accompanied by our actions: ministering and witnessing. Remember, this verse came from the pen of a man who was not only praying for people to be saved, but who was spending his life on mission evangelizing people all over the Mediterranean world. Paul did not “merely” pray — he also very much “put feet to his prayers” and evangelized and went on mission. And we should do the same thing. Praying is not all that we should do — but it must begin with our prayers.
Our Midwestern Baptist Seminary put out a great quote yesterday on Twitter. It said: “More people are in the Kingdom thanks to godly grandmothers who prayed for their families daily than all the famous preachers combined.”
That’s what this verse is talking about. Let’s pray: for our children & grandchildren, our neighbors, our work associates, whoever God brings into our paths — and let’s make sure we are praying for the most important thing: for their salvation, just as this verse tells us: “Brethren, My heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
There are several ways we can respond to this scripture tonight:
1) Some of us need to begin to make a list of lost people that we are going to pray for on a regular basis from now on. Maybe you’ve never really purposefully included lost people in your prayers on a systematic, regular basis, and tonight God is calling you to do that. Others of us might say we are doing it some, but we need to add more people to pray regularly for.
2) Others of us need to get to “the heart of the problem” and talk to God about our own hearts. We aren’t praying because we don’t really CARE. Let’s ask God to convict us, and change us, and give us His heart for the people He has put in our path, so that we would love them enough to pray for them; minister to them; and witness to them.
3) And then, we can just spend some time even tonight praying for people on our hearts, that God would work in their lives, and begin to draw them to Himself for salvation.
Let’s pray together …