By: Beth Doohan
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (1 Peter 3:9)
“Then Jesus used this story to teach His followers that they should always pray and never lose hope.” (Luke 18:1)
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I once had a conversation with a friend about her son and daughter-in-law. She expressed her disappointment that they were not following the Lord and how she witnessed the effects of foolish behaviors in their lives regarding finances, married life and parenting. As the conversation continued, she said something that struck me—that she just can’t imagine with these behaviors that their marriage will last. This simple statement weighed on my heart as one of hopelessness for her loved ones. We all have relationships with people who do not know our Lord or who knew Him but chose their way instead of God’s. It can be extremely painful to watch their lives unfold in brokenness from sin and a life apart from Christ.
Can I encourage you to begin by praying for them as the Lord leads you? Who has He specifically put on your heart lately? As believers, God calls us to intercede on behalf of unbelievers who need Him and His help. In Romans 10:1, the Apostle Paul demonstrates his heart of prayer for unbelievers in Israel. “The longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved.” When my friend shared her feelings of hopelessness for her son and daughter-in-law, I was challenged to think of my own loved ones and relationships with people not following the Lord. Was my heart in a hopeless state for them? Or was I bringing them before the Lord in faith that He could come and completely change their lives by drawing their hearts to repentance and surrender to His lordship through Jesus?
Upon reflection after the heart-to-heart with my friend, the Lord brought a passage of Scripture to mind. “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Our Heavenly Father knows each person who is not following Him and sees how their life will unfold without Him. But God also sees the beautiful hope for them should they choose to follow Him. He knows their past and present; dreams and desires; hurts and needs. God sees where they are headed and is drawing all men to Himself (John 12:32). As Christians, He asks us to pray in faith and hopefulness for God to be at work in unbelievers’ lives. Our prayers are spiritual intercession for them to come to Jesus and accept His love and forgiveness.
As we intercede for those not following God, we are saying, “Lord, I know so-and-so’s heart is far from you, but I ask that You would be at work in their life. Speak to their heart, Lord, that they might come to know You. Use me as an instrument of Your Holy Spirit in their life by giving me influence with them and the right words to say in our conversations. I know You long for them to come to You even more than I do, Lord, and in faith and hope I pray that they would have their eyes opened to their need for You. May they come to surrender their heart fully to You, Jesus, and receive Your forgiveness of sin and unfailing love.”
This is just an example prayer for an unbeliever, but you see that the perspective is fixed on Jesus and asking HIM to be at work in their life. As we pray, we can in faith know that God is at work and hears our petitions. In this way, we can “Set [our] hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2). God is fully able to work in our loved ones’ lives as we intercede for them in prayer, and as we and others minister to them with our words and deeds (1 Corinthians 3:6). He is working in ways we cannot see! God is all-knowing and is in the details. This part of His character is called omniscience.
I once heard God’s omniscience compared to an artist who sees the entire canvas.* He knows the next steps to create His masterpiece and how the paint that has already been laid will come together. He also knows how the devil and sin try to mar or tear His work, but He will ultimately reign the victor and deliver a completely beautiful canvas for His glory. As humans, we are stuck in one section of the painting. We see the brushstrokes that we form and those directly around us and may wonder sometimes what God can be thinking. What is His plan and purpose amidst all these strokes? Can He truly redeem and restore this brokenness to something beautiful, we may wonder?
A few years ago, my husband and I began regularly praying for our family members on Sundays. Some of them are believers and some are not. We have influence with many of them, but with others we do not. Corey and I felt it was important to pray specifically for each of them once a week. As I reflect on these prayers, I find that my state of hopefulness for believing and unbelieving relatives alike has been strengthened. In faith, I know that God is and will continue to be at work in their lives. Even if we do not see fruit at this time, we stand believing that He is at work behind the scenes as we intercede for them. This gives my heart confidence and hope as I fix my eyes on our loving, omniscient Lord and put my trust in Him. Ephesians 3:20-21 proclaims, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to Him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Commit today to pray for those you know who are still in sin and brokenness and who have not yet surrendered their lives to the loving lordship of Jesus Christ. Do not lose hope (Luke 18:1; 1 Peter 3:9). Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray according to God’s will for them as our Heavenly Father works on the canvas of their heart. Each brushstroke can play a part by God’s design! Ask God to use you and be a willing vessel of Christ’s love and truth in their lives. The Lord will answer and will be at work through your deeds and prayers. He is willing, and He is more than able!
TIME TO REFLECT
1) Select two Scripture passages from this week’s devotional (above). What do they teach us about God’s character?
2) Write the names of five people you will pray for regularly this month who do not yet know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Consider the “entire canvas” metaphor about God’s omniscience. Then pray in faith as the Lord leads you!
*Want to hear inspiring testimonies of people who came to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior through varying “brushstrokes”? We recommend the G.P.S.: God. People. Stories. podcast by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that highlights specific stories of how “God works in people’s lives in amazing ways every day.” May it encourage you as you pray for those God puts on your heart!
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(This devotion contains excerpts from The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by Beth Doohan and Jenni Walker.)