By Brandon Lemons
We are currently in the “40 Days of Prayer,” during which we pray daily for at least five people around us, that they will become followers of Jesus.
I like to think of prayer as “fuel for outreach.” If you are like me when thinking about outreach, you probably imagine serving people and telling people about Jesus. These are undeniably important. But at the end of the day, if people are going to turn to Jesus, it requires God working in their heart. This is where prayer comes in.
Colossians 4:2-6 often comes to mind when I think about praying for others to know Christ. Paul writes: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
In this passage, Paul connects prayer (UP) with evangelism (OUT). Note that Paul is specifically requesting prayer for an “open door” for the Gospel. Even though he was in prison when making this request (“I am in chains”), his request for an “open door” was not primarily about his release from prison; Paul frequently experienced very fruitful ministry while imprisoned (see Acts 16:25-34 and Philippians 1:12-13). Instead, Paul sought prayer that God would provide opportunities for fruitful evangelism. Most importantly, he knew that if God didn’t open people’s hearts to the Gospel, there wouldn’t be any spiritual fruit. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6 reflect this need for God to work: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”
This is why prayer is so important in reaching people with the Gospel. No matter how eloquent our Gospel presentation, no matter how dramatic our testimony of life change, no matter how passionate our plea for people to submit to Christ, no matter how kindly we treat those around us, our evangelism will be fruitless if God isn’t softening people’s hearts to the Gospel. Why? Because people are naturally “dead in [their] transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Dead people can do nothing to help themselves, and there’s no human way to bring a dead person back to life. But in prayer, we seek God’s power to bring them to new life in Christ (John 3:5-8; Titus 3:4ff).
After asking for prayer, Paul shifts his focus and says the Colossian Christians should also be active in evangelistic ministry, just as he is. They are called to live with intentionality in their relationships with non-Christians, seeking to make the most of every opportunity to point them to Christ. This is our calling. As we rub shoulders with people in our sphere of influence, we ought to be praying for them by name so that, among other things, they will come to experience true life through faith in Christ.
Here are some great things to be praying for the non-believers in your midst during the 40 Days of Prayer and beyond.
Pray that God will open their eyes to the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:6).
Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict them “of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
Pray that God will show them the truth (John 14:6) and love (Rom. 5:8) of Jesus.
Pray that God will cause spiritual growth in their life (1 Cor. 3:6).
Pray that you will be wise in your interactions with them, making the most of every opportunity (Col. 4:5-6).
Pray that you will share the Gospel fearlessly (Eph. 6:19-20) and clearly (Col. 4:4).
It is incredibly exciting to experience God’s work through our prayers and our ministry!