For many years, January has been a prayer focus for my family and the churches I have been part of. Basically this means we have intentionally created more space in our lives to spend with God and listen to His voice. This year, Centerpointe Church, and I specifically focused on praying for people in our lives who do not have a relationship with Jesus. We wrote down the names of people who are in our lives and prayed for them every day. On average, people wrote ten names down, some many more. My list started with around ten and has expanded as I met new people and as I felt directed by God.
This challenge came from a lunch conversation with a friend of mine, Steve Pike. He made the statement, "If someone is in your life, they deserved to be prayed for" and then told stories about how God is beginning to open doors of "coincidence" conversations with people on his prayer list. There was a seed planted in my heart that day and I could not shake that lunch appointment from my mind.
I didn't notice it at first, but that seed took root and began to grow. Steve was already scheduled to lead a board retreat for us in early January, so I rearranged the Friday meeting to make it an all-church prayer meeting, asking Steve to share the same stories and lead us in prayer. He then spoke on Sunday morning to our congregation - same thought but adding more stories.
Something has changed, and I have learned some valuable lessons. Before I share them, I first have to make a confession, which might seem odd coming from someone who has served in occupational ministry for over thirty years. My confession - I am not an evangelist by gifting. My primary gifts are leadership, pastoring, and teaching. Evangelism doesn't even rate in the secondary gifting scale. Yes, I desire for people to come to Christ, and I invite people to know Jesus in messages, but on a non-public level, I struggle; however, I'm starting to see things from a new perspective, and it all begins with prayer.
The first lesson is this: my passion grows in the area of my prayer focus.
What I have noticed is that as I pray repeatedly for specific people, the Holy Spirit begins to reveal things about their lives and gives a deeper sense of understanding and insight. Furthermore, prayer makes me more interested. One person I am praying for had an article written about them two years earlier. In the past, I would not have thought about reading it, but prayer has given me a holy curiosity, so I read the article and I learned something about the person and their family, which I used to start a conversation.
I have also noticed that in prayer, the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to nudge me toward simple action, such as sending a text message, an email, making a phone call, or walking across the lawn. Since I am partnering with the Holy Spirit, He goes before me to prepare the way, and my obedience always seems to be "at just the right time" in the other person’s life. It’s amazing how that works.
One lesson that has particularly made a difference is the understanding of my responsibility in the area of evangelism. Studies show that there are almost six hundred thousand people in Fairfax County who are considered “unclaimed;” in other words, they have no religious affiliation. For a pastor of about three hundred people, that number seems overwhelming and the mission too unreachable. Praying for my community is great, but it has little effect on how I live. However, Fairfax County is smaller than I think. If our three hundred people have ten to fifteen people we each know, our collective prayers can make a real impact. Just think - our church is now praying for three thousand to forty-five hundred people, by name, every day. Just think of the miracles that can happen and the spiritual conversations we will have.
The most moving part of January was during a Friday evening prayer meeting when we gathered in a circle at the front of our auditorium and mentioned out loud the names we had written. As I listened to each person present names to God, I thought of other people who have prayed for these same people for years – grandparents, parents, and friends. But, I also realized that some people who we prayed for might not have any connection to other believers and it is quite possible that their names were brought before God for the first time. I could see God listening and smiling every time he heard a new person being mentioned in Heaven.
I believe God is going to do amazing things at Centerpointe Church in 2017, and I believe it is because we are intentionally praying for, and reaching out to, people who have yet to experience God’s forgiveness and grace.
There is one more thing the Lord reminded me of in a more profound way – I am not alone. I want you to hear this. Say it out loud. I want you to understand it in such a way that it echoes throughout your heart and soul, because many times in our lives we have times of thinking we are out there by ourselves. We often feel like we are alone, especially when it comes to our faith. We go to work thinking that we are the only ones who are Jesus followers. Students go to school thinking everyone hates them because of their faith. They sit in class as teachers openly mock their faith and call people of faith intolerant. Furthermore, when it comes to sharing our faith, the sense of inadequacy can be overwhelming. However, in our mission to invite people to follow Jesus, we are not alone.
Matthew 28:19–20 says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (NIV).
Jesus promised us he would send the Holy Spirit to empower us, teach us, and go before us to prepare people’s hearts. It is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict people of sin and show them their need for a savior. It is He who awakens a person’s soul. I am simply an obedient partner in soul winning.
John 16:7–9 “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (NIV).
This is the great secret of witnessing – knowing that The Holy Spirit has gone before me. When I am praying for lost people, I am not left to my own resources or prayer skills. Even when I don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays through me. When this happens, I am assured that I am praying in harmony with God’s own will, because He absolutely loves the same people I love.
Although January 2017 is in the rear view mirror, my prayer is that we do not lose passion concerning lost people. If we are passionately following Jesus, we will not be able to stop inviting others to join us.