Praying Effectively for the Lost


The lost will not and indeed cannot be saved unless someone prays for them. This is a shocking statement that sounds unbelievable until we view the Biblical portrayal of the lost as being: children of the devil (John 8:44), under the authority of Satan (Acts 26:18), a strong man’s house (Mark 3:27), prisoners of war (Isaiah 14:17) and blinded to the gospel (II Corinthians 4:3-4).

All of these are daunting reasons why we must pray for the lost if they are to have any hope of salvation. But let’s focus just on spiritual blindness for a moment. II Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” This passage clearly teaches that Satan has blinded the minds of the lost specifically to keep them from understanding the gospel.

Lewis Sperry Chafer says, “The blinding or veiling of the mind, mentioned in II Corinthians 4:3-4, causes a universal incapacity to comprehend the way of salvation, and is imposed upon unregenerate man by the arch enemy of God in his attempts to hinder the purpose of God in redemption. It is a condition of mind against which man can have no power” (Chafer 57).

One of the greatest preachers of all time was Charles H. Spurgeon. Listen as he shares the testimony of his conversion: “I confess that I had been tutored in piety, put into my cradle by prayerful hands, and lulled to sleep by songs about Jesus. I had heard the Gospel continually. Yet, when the Word of the Lord came to me with power, it was as new as if I had lived among the unvisited tribes of Central Africa and had never heard the tidings of the cleansing foundation filled with blood, drawn from the Savior’s veins.
When for the first time I received the Gospel and my soul was saved, I thought that I had never really heard it before. I began to think that the preachers to whom I had listened had not truly preached it. But, on looking back, I am inclined to believe that I had heard the Gospel fully preached many hundreds of times before. This was the difference: I then heard it as though I did not hear it. When I did hear it, the message may not have been any clearer in itself than it had been at former times, but the power of the Holy Spirit was present to open my ears and to guide the message to my heart.

Then I thought I had never heard the truth preached before. Now I am persuaded that the light shone often on my eyes, but I was blind; therefore, I thought that the light had never come there. The light was shining all the while, but there was no power to receive it. The eyeball of the soul was not sensitive to the divine beams” (Spurgeon 26-28).
Spurgeon’s testimony is a powerful illustration of how ineffective the gospel is to a mind that is blinded to it. Sharing the gospel with those for whom no one has prayed is like encouraging a blind man to view a beautiful sunset with you. It is a hopeless case, for he is blind. He cannot see!

And unless the Holy Spirit removes the demonic blinders and opens his mind and heart to the gospel, he cannot be saved because the things of God are “foolishness to him” (I Corinthians 2:14). The Greek word for foolishness is “moria” from which moron is derived. Webster’s defines moron as “the highest classification of mental deficiency, above imbecile and idiot.” So, a lost person sees the gospel as moronic and stupid, but it is the “strong man” in his life that causes this negative attitude toward the gospel.
To try to share the gospel with someone in this condition (which includes every lost person for whom no one is praying) may even do more harm than good. Jessie Penn-Lewis says, “Until we recognize the strong man ‘fully armed’ at the back of all darkness of thought, and blindness to the Gospel, we shall not do much towards bringing men out of the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. And until we know how to take heed to the Lord’s warning and first bind the strong man, the attempts we make to ‘spoil his goods’ will only enrage him, and enable him to strengthen his armour, and guard his palace in peace” (Penn-Lewis 42-3).

Once we understand the importance of praying for souls to be saved, we must learn how to do it. In the January, 1979 issue of Fullness Magazine, Manley Beasley wrote an article entitled “Praying for the Lost.” This is his opening statement: “Praying for the lost is an area about which much is said but little is known or understood.” It is like trying to open a locked safe without knowing the combination; no matter how valuable are the contents, we eventually get frustrated and quit.

But eternal souls for whom Christ died are much too valuable for us to quit. Therefore, we must learn how to pray effectively for them. As a matter of fact, it may be your prayer that keeps someone out of hell. The well-known revivalist Charles G. Finney said, “In the case of an impenitent friend, the very condition on which he is to be saved from hell may be the fervency and importunity of your prayer for that individual” (Finney 54).

Jesus did only what He saw the Father do (John 5:19). Likewise, we should do only what we see our Lord doing, and what is He doing – “He ever liveth to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25). We make a grave mistake by labeling some Christians as intercessors. This tends to imply that the rest of us are relieved of the responsibility – NOT SO!!! All of us are to do what we see our Lord doing – praying for others.
So, let’s learn how to pray effectively for the lost and join our Lord in doing the main thing.

One of the most powerful means of praying effectively involves presenting strong reasons to God why our prayers must be answered. He even commands us to do this in Isaiah 41:21, “Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons…”
The strongest reasons are always Biblically-based, and there are many such reasons concerning prayer for the lost. I like the way F.J. Huegel expressed it, “If we find a way to harness our puny plea for help to the great purposes of God in the proclamation of the Gospel and the furtherance of Christ’s Kingdom, then we begin to pray with the spirit and vigor of a Paul or a David Brainard or a George Muller or a Praying Hyde, and we must be heard and great things will be wrought” (Huegel 80).

One of the foremost reasons for praying for the lost is our love for them. Prayer has been described as “love on its knees.” Certainly, it was God’s love for mankind that brought Jesus to the cross; it was love for his five brothers that compelled the rich man in hell to pray for them “lest they also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28); and love will lead us to the place of intercession.

The historic Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago has been mightily used of God to rescue hundreds of souls tottering on the precipice of hell. And it is no surprise to me that the eighteen foot neon sign “PACIFIC GARDEN MISSION” included the reminder MOTHER’S PRAYERS HAVE FOLLOWED YOU. Only eternity will reveal the incredible number of souls that have been saved through the tears and prayers of a mother’s love! Indeed, love is our greatest asset in the saving of souls.

Faith is another Biblical basis for praying for the lost. Jesus said, “All things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). All things certainly include the salvation of souls. If you can believe God for someone’s salvation, you shall have it.
Four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus and, seeing their faith, He said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). Though they brought him to be healed, he also received forgiveness of his sins. This is a wonderful display of the power of faith. Indeed, faith is the coin of the kingdom.

One of my favorite reasons for praying for the lost is the mighty power the Bible ascribes to prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” according to James 5:16. We can’t even begin to understand how incredibly powerful prayer really is, for it exerts the most potent influence of any kind in all the universe.

“Prayer is work of such a sublime order that it lies beyond the imagination of men. For when the Christian prays, his capacity to achieve and his power to do good are multiplied a thousand, yea, a hundred thousand fold. This is no exaggeration, the reason being that when man prays, God works” (Huegel 10).

When the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan during World War II, some 92,000 people were killed. But when Assyria besieged Jerusalem causing King Hezekiah to cry out to God on behalf of his people, He sent an angel that slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Hezekiah’s prayer was twice as explosive as the atomic bomb!! If prayer is strong enough to destroy armies, how much more certain is its power to save souls!

If we had no Biblical basis for praying for the lost other than the fact that God expects us to, this would be enough. God was “stunned” when He could not find a single intercessor for Israel (Isaiah 59:16). This tells me that He was expecting to find some.

Listen to Andrew Murray’s comments on God’s seeking for intercessors: “He often had to wonder and complain that there was no intercessor, no one to stir himself up to take hold of His strength. And He still waits and wonders in our day, that there are not more intercessors, that all His children do not give themselves to this highest and holiest work, that many of them who do so, do not engage in it more intensely and perseveringly. He wonders to find ministers of his gospel complaining that their duties do not allow them to find time for this, which He counts their first, their highest, their most delightful, their alone effective work” (Murray 114).

God has placed praying for others the number one priority in our lives. Hear the cry of God’s heart, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men…who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4).

The Greek word for first is “proton” and is defined in Strong’s dictionary as being first or foremost in time, place, order, or importance. Since God desires for all men to be saved and since no one can get saved without prayer, is it any wonder that prayer tops the list of things God would have us to do?

Also among the powerful incentives for us to pray for the lost are Biblical examples. The greatest example of all is the Lord Jesus Himself. The prophecy in Isaiah 53 says that Christ “made intercession for the transgressors.” This prophecy was literally fulfilled when on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus should be our constant pattern in praying for others because He is still doing it!! He is our Savior and Lord, King of Kings enthroned in heaven and yet He continues to pray for others even now. Hebrews 7:25 blows my mind, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

The Apostle Paul is another good example to follow. “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” is his compassionate confession in Roman 10:1. In Born For Battle, R. Arthur Mathews describes my prayer as the “end of the divine search for a man to stand in the gap and to intercede for a people doomed to destruction by their own sin and headstrong rejection of God’s authority in their natural life” (Mathews 104). The only question for us is, “Will we follow their example?”

Although there are many other strong Biblical bases we could cite for this type of intercessory prayer, I want to mention just one more – God has made it our responsibility!!

Being members of God’s “holy priesthood” (I Peter 2:5) makes us responsible for others because priests represent earth to heaven. Our primary task is to stand between mankind and God pleading their case to Him. This is exactly what Aaron did when he took a censor and stood between the living and the dead to halt the plague of death caused by Israel’s sin (Number 16).

Since all of us who are saved are priests, all of us have the responsibility to intercede for the lost, and if we don’t, they will spend forever in a lake of fire. Let S.D. Gordon’s poignant plea speak to our hearts: “I cannot resist the conviction – I greatly dislike to say this, I would much rather not if I regarded either my own feelings or yours. But I cannot resist the conviction that there are people in that lower, lost world who are there because someone failed to put his life in touch with God, and pray” (Gordon 194-95).

My prayer is that you will allow these powerful Biblical reasons to inspire you to pray for the lost as never before.

Written By Lee E. Thomas


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