Do you ever wonder whether we’ve gotten prayer and evangelism backwards? When thinking about how we share the Gospel, do we prioritize prayer? Or are we all too quick to focus on our own evangelistic efforts?
Take a look at the Twelve Apostles. When a dispute broke out in Acts 6 about caring for widows in the church, the young church leaders needed an administrative solution. Yet despite urgent complaints from their congregants, the Apostles refused to neglect their first priority. In Acts 6:4, the Twelve stated, “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Notice which comes first in this sentence: prayer. Before well-meant but hasty solutions, before quick answers and new programs, the Apostles prayed. I have to confess that all too often I put prayer in the last place, in the leftover time. Rarely is it my first response.
There are many reasons why we may lose the priority of prayer. One reason is that prayer is difficult. As Randy Newman says in his new book, Unlikely Converts, “Talking to an invisible God about things we can rarely measure sets us up for diminished enthusiasm.” In other words, continuing to pray for someone to meet Christ, but seeing little outward indication of what’s going on in their hearts, can be discouraging. If we don’t see outward results soon, we get distracted, forgetting to pray because we’re not seeing positive feedback from the person we’ve been praying for. There is a reason the Apostle Paul compares prayer to wrestling. It takes exertion and focus, and often there’s no quick and easy way to “win” the match.
But I think there’s an even larger reason we lose the priority of prayer in evangelism: we don’t really believe that the task of leading people to Christ is impossible in our own strength. We think that if we can just be persuasive enough, persistent enough, intelligent enough, we can convince people to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.
But the Bible is clear. Without God’s work in evangelism, we can do nothing. It is God who gives sight to spiritually blind eyes. It is God who must perform a heart transplant, exchanging a hard stoney heart for a responsive heart of flesh. It is God who moves by the Spirit, breathing into dry bones and bringing them back to life.
Perhaps if persuading someone’s mind or intellect was all it took for them to receive Christ, we could win the battle on our own. But Scripture makes it clear that there is a much bigger issue going on. The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” There is a spiritual battle going on over the hearts and minds of anyone who hears the Gospel. This makes evangelism in our own strength impossible. We need the work of God. That’s why we need to pray.
This year, we are giving you a tool to help you with this priority of prayer in evangelism. We have developed a free, downloadable prayer card to help you pray for people in your life who need the Lord. We envision people praying daily, relentlessly for one year for five people close to them that they want to meet Jesus.
My friend Steve sent me this feedback after getting the prayer cards, “Nice idea… specific prayer requests get specific answers!”
He then told of a lady who had prayed for him for 23 years. She prayed for him from the day he was born that he would come to know Christ and then pursue ministry for Christ. Steve did indeed come to Christ and has spent years in Christian ministry. When this lady died, Steve had the opportunity to conduct her funeral. He spoke of her impact through prayer, “23 years of faithful daily prayer on my behalf!! Humbling.”
By all means, proclaim with your words that Jesus is Lord. And by all means, serve others for Jesus’ sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5). But do that while praying that God, who made light shine out of darkness, will shine in your friend’s heart so that he or she will see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)