I can’t exactly prove it. However, I believe that July remains one of our most fruitful months for evangelism because of the increased prayers on our behalf during this time. If you read last month’s newsletter you know we are holding our annual witnessing campaigns in New York City, London, Paris and several other cities around the globe. True, Jews for Jesus campaigns are an all-out effort, but no amount of energy can explain the successes we experience at this time. We can’t change people’s hearts by our efforts any more than we can arrange to be in the right place at the right time to meet those whose hearts are receptive.
It is a great mystery how the Lord of the universe volunteers to intervene in people’s lives by linking His direct action with the specific prayers of His people, but this is what the Bible tells us. James 5:16 says, The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” This particular verse refers to healing, which is a priestly ministry of intercession, but James bases his confidence in prayer upon the historical account of Elijah’s prophetic ministry (verse 17).
True biblical evangelism joins the prophetic ministry with the priestly. The prophetic aspect is proclamation, whereby we make the gospel known to men and women. The priestly aspect is the work of intercessory prayer, enjoining the Holy Spirit to apply our good news proclamation to the hearts of men and women who need to hear. These are two sides of the same coin, and we err if we emphasize one aspect of ministry to the neglect of the other. In fact, we have sometimes made this mistake in Jews for Jesus.
The world’s result-oriented society sometimes affects our own thinking, even creeping into ministry. Proclamation is more easily measured and linked to results, and we tend to expend more time and energy on what can be seen. But we do this at our own peril.
Evangelism is like building a house. We can see the walls and roof of the house: that is proclamation. But what we don’t see is the foundation. Have you ever tried to build a house without the foundation? Prayer is the foundation of every effective evangelistic endeavor. Whereas prophetic ministry can be limited by lack of response, priestly ministry cannot be hindered and in fact it can help change the hearts of the unresponsive. I first heard the phrase from Moishe Rosen, “When you can’t talk to your friends about God you can always talk to God about your friends.”
Many of us expend a great deal of energy learning the “how-to’s” of sharing the gospel and answering objections, and this is good. But just imagine if we spent as much time praying for people as we do preparing to talk to them about the Lord. How much more pointed and poignant and powerful our conversations would be! I have never met a person who was argued into God’s kingdom, but I know plenty of people who were prayed there. Scoop and Dot Jackson prayed for my father and his family every day for seven years with no apparent effect. But after seven years my father and his entire immediate family came to Christ, all within two weeks!
The power of prayer breaks the chains of unbelief, unstops deaf ears, opens blind eyes and softens even the hardest hearts. So why is it sometimes more difficult to be faithful in praying for people’s salvation than in witnessing to them about the Lord? Perhaps part of the problem is our tendency to protect our hearts. Persistent and prevailing prayer flows from real care and concern for people, and in fact prayer cultivates a deep vulnerability, not only to the people for whom we pray, but to God and His desires for those people. When we allow ourselves to care like that we open ourselves to intense and often uncomfortable longings, and anguish. We also open ourselves up to the risks God may ask us to take in reaching those people in ways we may not have bargained for. We may have our methods of witnessing, and we must not neglect the practical aspects of proclamation. Even so, as we pray, God will humble us by showing us where we need to bring His Spirit into the process.
The more we pray, the more obvious it becomes that the most important exertion of any given day is the effort spent in prayer and the time interceding before the throne of grace. Truly caring for the lost certainly includes the mandate to proclaim the gospel, but it also requires us to pray passionately for the salvation of others. Paul expressed this passion in Romans 10:1: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”
Paul’s heart’s desire goes hand-in-glove with his prayer. When there is distance between our prayers and our heart’s desire, our prayers remain formulaic and pedestrian. But neither is praying for our heart’s desire meant to be selfish and self-centered begging. Real prayer occurs when we link our hearts to God and invite Him to govern our desires and guide our petitions. We do not necessarily lose those desires that are part of our personality, but we allow God to sanctify them. Such was Paul’s desire; his passion for the lost was so great that he was able to declare, “…I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3).
I wonder how Paul could carry such intense commitment and emotion concerning the lost. I don’t know if I could ever care to the extent that he did, but I know that God has put it in my heart and the hearts of our staff to care deeply. More and more I am convicted that as passionately as we believe and proclaim that the gospel is the answer for the world, so must we practice passionate intercessory prayer as part of our priestly ministry of evangelism. We must start where we are and ask the Lord to move us, to give us the ability to care and to pray ever more deeply for the salvation of souls.
I am always grateful for the many friends who write to thank us for the regular Prayer Prompters column in this newsletter, and for the campaign prayer guides. Beginning last September we also instituted a quarterly prayer guide, and you see one of this month’s inserts completes that cycle. Our staff knows that we are carried by your prayers. We are grateful and want to encourage you to continue to lift us up. We need you to care and pray. And we need to care and pray more ourselves.
Society teaches us to anesthetize ourselves from feeling much pain. It is easy to become too busy or too saturated by the quest for entertainment to pay attention to those in need. But when we commit to praying for the salvation of others we are breaking out of that mold the world wants to squeeze us into. We are making ourselves alive to God and what He-who-is-willing-that-none-should-perish is doing in this world. Yes, we risk the pain of caring, the sorrow that comes when so many reject the truth. But ultimately we will find our lives much more joyful because we are entering into a battle that belongs to the Lord, and we are participating in His victory. We are molding our desires to become all that He delights in…and we know that the Lord delights in the salvation of souls.