Quite often after I have given one of my talks, a few people in attendance will push through the crowd so they can talk to me one-on-one. My time at a recent conference was no exception. At this event I had a mother approach me with a concerned look in her eyes and a hint of frustration in her voice. She said, “I agree with everything you just said, but I have an unsaved son and he will not listen to me. I’ve given him good arguments for Christianity, but he refuses to believe. Where do I go from here?”
I understand her frustration. I have people in my own life who refuse to accept the offer of salvation through Christ despite all of my attempts to provide arguments and evidence. It is situations like these that can lead to two devastating responses. First, there is a tendency to blame yourself for not being persuasive enough. The thinking goes, “If only I were as gifted as William Lane Craig or Greg Koukl, they would come to believe.” But this just isn’t true. Even the most brilliant apologists have unsaved family and friends in their lives. This should give us pause.
Now please do not misunderstand me. As Christian ambassadors, we need be as persuasive as we can. However, arguments and evidence do not ultimately save. God does. Of course, God uses arguments and evidence to lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ. This happens all the time.
Second, there is a tendency to want to give up on the person. After all, you have spent hours pouring truth into their life without any positive result.
We need to push back against both of these reactions. I have found a better response: prayer. This mother raised a good question, where do we turn when our apologetics doesn’t seem to work? My answer was simple. We need to turn to the Living God in prayer. That’s right, we need to put aside the apologetics books, get down on our knees, and pray. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good at this. It is much easier for me to argue with the lost than to pray for the lost. I’m prone to devote my time to refuting the unbeliever’s arguments rather than raising them up in prayer.
So, how should we be praying for those who disagree with our fundamental convictions? I’d like to offer you five practical ways that we can pray for our unsaved family and friends.
First, pray that God draws them to Himself. Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Salvation is the work of God, not man. No one can come unless the Holy Spirit first draws him or her. Theologians debate how this drawing takes place, but they do not debate that this drawing takes place. Therefore, we need to pray that God initiates regeneration in the life of the unbeliever by drawing them to Himself.
Second, pray that they would seek to know God. Speaking to the Areopagus, Paul exhorts these unbelievers to “seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him” (Acts 17:27). Jesus promised that those who seek will find Him (Matt. 7:7). God promises that He is not far from anyone—including the lost. So pray that God would use people and circumstances to cause the lost to seek Him out.
Third, pray that God would send someone to reach them. Jesus explicitly tells us to pray for laborers. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:37–38). It may be that your words get brushed off because they are heard too frequently; therefore, pray God brings a fresh voice to speak into that hard heart. Your prayers can mobilize the feet of fresh witnesses to reach your loved one.
Fourth, pray that Satan would be prevented from blinding them to the truth. There is a real spiritual battle going on. Paul warns, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). Therefore, pray that the evil one would be barred from blinding the minds of unbelievers so that they can come to understand and accept the truth.
Fifth, pray that they will believe in Christ as their Savior. Paul says, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1). Jesus has extended a bona fide offer of salvation to whomever would believe. Jesus states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). So pray that your unsaved loved ones would hear the word and believe.
Prayer for the lost should not be our last resort when all else fails. Rather, it should be our go-to option whenever we have a need. Sadly, most Christians fail to utilize this powerful resource that God has given us.