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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The Great Commission demands that we share the Gospel with family and friends, but rarely do people turn to Christ as quickly as we would like. Have you ever prayed for somebody so long that you wondered if God was still listening? Are you now praying for someone, but your faith is wavering because God seemingly does not care about your loved one?
It is easy to give up when we have prayed for others for many years. Our prayers are passionate and focused at the beginning, but they often become repetitious and wandering as the years go by. We speak the right language -- we are "just trusting God to save our loved ones in His time" -- but these words are more religious jargon than heartfelt belief. Truth be known, we come dangerously close to giving up on the God who gave us the Great Commission.
That response is not entirely surprising. When we long for someone we love to follow Jesus, that love motivates us to pray. We unashamedly intercede because nothing else matters like the salvation of a family member or friend. Surely no one who really loves others would stop praying for them until they get saved.
It is also that love, though, that makes us impatient with God. We know that God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). If He loves our family members more than we do (as we know He does), then why does He not save them now? Why is He not listening to our prayers? Our love for others makes any delay seem that much longer.
The problem is even deeper, however. Perhaps -- and this possibility should arrest us -- we sometimes "give up" praying because we convince ourselves that our loved ones are not really lost. The longer we pray for others without a response, the easier it is for false teaching to creep in. "After all," we think, "our loved ones are good people. Maybe they really know God in their own way." The urgency of prayer wanes if our theology of lostness no longer demands God's intervention.
In addition, many of our churches so seldom see non-believers come to Christ that we have come to expect little response to our praying. Others have prayed, but their loved ones have not followed Christ either. Some have even prayed for years to no avail. The names of non-believers on our church's prayer list -- if they are there at all -- have been there so long that we skip over them when we pray.
Gone are the days when church members groaned through the night on behalf of those who do not yet know Jesus. The stories of gut-wrenching, pew-grabbing intercessory prayer have become church history highlights rather than present-tense pursuits of the people of God. When doing the Great Commission is more about programs than about prayer, we should not be surprised that the few who do pray give up easily.
What is the answer? One by one, person-by-person, believer-by-believer, we must intentionally decide to keep praying. God is still the God who came to earth to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). We still need others praying for us to be effective witnesses (Ephesians 6:18-20, Colossians 4:2-4) even as we intercede for non-believers (Romans 9:1-3, 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-4). God's plan simply has not changed.
I became a follower of Christ in the summer of 1974. My pastor quickly taught me to pray for my immediate family, who were not believers. I understood little about prayer, but I knew that I wanted my loved ones to experience the joy that God gave me. "God, save them!" was the childlike cry of my heart.
I wish I could say that my zeal for that intercession has always remained strong. If I am honest, I must admit that my enthusiasm has decreased at times. Never has my theology changed, however, and I remain convinced by Scripture that anyone without explicit faith in Jesus is destined for damnation. As I have traveled in my role as dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Billy Graham School, I have asked Christians around the world to join me in praying for my family.
Just a few months ago, God graciously responded to those prayers. My father, at age 71, responded in repentance and faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My wife and I had the great privilege of watching as my younger brother baptized our father into God's church.
For 36 years, we had been praying. For 36 years, God had been silently hearing. In His right time, He overwhelmed my father with His love. The point is this: God is still the Great Commission God who hears the prayers of His people. Do not give up on Him.
Chuck Lawless is dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.