Musing on a Sunday Afternoon
The days are longer. The air is warmer (slightly). Soon, farm machinery will start to move across the fields. Soon after, the seed will go into the ground. Good weather should also make Christians think about how they will begin to plant the seed of God’s word.
And we will pray. We will pray for the gospel to prosper, pray for our neighbors, pray for opportunities to love, and care, and serve and share with our neighbors the life-changing message of the gospel.
Over the last decade, I have made the same statement to shocked faces. “Nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to pray for the salvation of lost people.”*
Nowhere. Not once. Not by Jesus, not by Paul. No one. Nowhere.
Class after seminary class, conference after conference audience, retreat after retreat, church after church congregation has looked back at me as if I was a heretic. But no one has ever disputed my point because there is no text.
There is one passage where Paul says he does pray for his countryman, the Jews (Romans 10:1). But that is not a command. And some have tried to stretch 1 Timothy 2:1-2 into a “See, the NT does tell us to pray for the salvation of the lost.” But it doesn’t work. The context makes it clear that the prayer we offer for “kings and all those in authority” is that the governmental authorities will not interfere with the free expression of the gospel.
Prayer for the salvation of the lost might be implied or it might be inferred from certain passages but there is no command.
Please, don’t think that I am against prayer walking neighborhoods or praying for the salvation of those who today have no interest in Christ. I am completely comfortable and do it often myself. So what’s my point?
- Christians pray for the salvation of lost people all the time.
- There is nothing wrong with praying for the salvation of lost people. (The apostle Paul did it!)
- Praying for the salvation of lost people often causes us to care deeply for the people we are praying for and to live more sacrificially and lovingly on their behalf.
Nevertheless, there is no biblical command to do it.
We should ask why that is.
My conclusion is that God has no need to command us to do something that we can easily do and will do because it requires no public risk. We do it. We will continue to do it. We might even feel very spiritual doing it. (That may be why we do it–the feeling of doing something “spiritual” rather than any actual, real, substantive care, and concern for people.)
We can pray for those outside the gospel without ever taking the risk of being rejected by those who need the gospel. Which means we really love ourselves more than the people for whom we are praying doesn’t it?
It’s interesting. When you really start to examine the Scripture on what it says about prayer in relationship to evangelism, you make a startling discovery.
Discovery One: There is no command to pray for the lost.
Discovery Two: There are numerous commands or requests for prayer for things like …
boldness to proclaim (Eph. 6:19-20)
opportunities to proclaim (Col. 4:3)
workers for the harvest (Luke 10:2)
Keep praying for the lost. But start opening your mouth.
* For the non-Christians reading this blog post: The term “lost” is shorthand among Christians for those who have not placed their faith in Christ. It is not a reference to “us” being better than “you”. We’re not, and we don’t believe that we are. I’d love to discuss the whole concept with you sometime. Just send me an e-mail and we can start the conversation. (Chosenfirstname.lastname@example.org)