Praying For Non-Believers
Before looking at our hearts surely God would also look at our feet to see our efforts to reach out to others, for He will answer those efforts equally as our prayers of the lips.

Praying For Non-Believers

           The Pharisees and Sadducees were invariably present in every meeting that Lord Jesus conducted anywhere, but their coming was to criticize and not learn. Even today there are also a large number of people who do not want to surrender to the Lord accepting His as their Messiah but come to Him for salvation from some physical, financial or other problem. Should such people be first encouraged to come to faith before praying for their release from their problems?  

             Salvation through faith alone – On one occasion, as per His way, Lord Jesus was teaching the multitudes and a large number of Pharisees and teachers of the law had ‘come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem’ (Luke 5:17).  The basic purpose of these Jewish leaders was to test Him or to see Him perform a sign/miracle for them (Matthew 16:1). Their continuous presence with Lord Jesus’ followers, wherever He went, was always to somehow find fault in His teaching, which they could not, or check the violations of their man-made traditions. Lord Jesus identified the role of the Holy Spirit to ‘guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak’ (John 16:13-14).  Anyone who wants to follow Lord Jesus is repeatedly told by The Spirit of his sinful nature and the need for repentance and the Savior. Since He testifies to the truth and the Word of God is true, He reveals Lord Jesus as the Messiah. Also since He is a Teacher of all things and reminds us about Lord Jesus’ teachings, He alone can reveal fully the mysteries of the Scripture (John 14:26).

          The priests, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders who listened to Lord Jesus’ teachings may have missed the point at one time but many priests eventually ‘were obedient to the faith’ and became disciples (Acts 6:7). Our bringing someone along to the church or a prayer meeting is like taking a thirsty person to the well irrespective of the fact that he may drink water or not. As per Apostle Paul, ‘It is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing’ (Philippians 2:13-14). Anyone who wants to come to the church or about whom a desire has come in your heart is always a work of God and we have to just do our part.

          A young believer woman in Punjab called me sometime back about the difficult situation she was facing after having married a non-believer, for though her husband supported her but the others in the family would not accept and allow her Scripture reading. The only time that she could get to worship and pray was during and after bathing, under the pretext of changing her clothes and thus close her room.  But she continued to pray for the whole family and asked us also to pray for her. After sometime, her mother-in-law fell sick but the cause of her ailment could not be diagnosed and her condition kept on deteriorating. The husband then asked his mother to ask this lady, her daughter-in-law, to pray for her healing. Initially the old woman was reluctant but then agreed and the young daughter-in-law earnestly started praying for her complete recovery.  Since it was the Lord’s will for the whole family to surrender and accept Him as Savior, the old lady’s condition started getting better and in a few days completely recovered. It was then that the family started to ask about the God to whom she had prayed and on being told, they believed and were baptized.

           Mary of Magdala, a village on the shore of the sea of Galilee, is referred to as Mary Magdalene and the Risen Lord appeared first to her, ‘out of whom He had cast seven demons’ (Mark 16:9). She was one of the few women who stayed with the Lord and the disciples, even to the crucifixion, went to the tomb on Sunday morning with fragrant spices to anoint His body and she was the first to whom the Risen Lord appeared. She was the first Apostle, messenger, to carry the Gospel message to the disciples, but they did not believe her, till Lord Jesus appeared to all of them also. Nowhere in the Gospel is there any mention of her feeling rejected for her affliction by the demonic spirits but she faithfully continued to serve the Lord and help the other disciples. The testimony of a woman, according to Jewish Law of that time, was not accepted but that did not hinder the Lord from using her as His messenger nor did she stop. However, in 591 AD, Pope Gregory termed her as a prostitute on the ground that the seven demons cast out of her were the seven deadly sins and even today many subscribe to this view.

           Apostle Paul identified those who do not believe as the ones ‘whose minds the god of this age (devil) has blinded’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). This is about spiritual blindness ‘lest the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God should shine on them’. The cure for this is not with any man but with God alone and if someone wants to come to join us in worship, we must welcome such a one, for who knows that the Holy Spirit may have already touched him/her and our reluctance may hinder His work. We should rather make efforts to let such a person feel welcomed in the Church. In the Temple in Jerusalem, there was a ‘Court of the Gentiles’ where non-Jews could come to worship the LORD God and anyone could come there. In any case, faith itself is a gift of The Holy Spirit and our task is to facilitate the functioning of the kingdom of heaven in any way we can (1 Corinthians 12:9).

             Should we pray for persons who do not believe but seek relief from some ailment? Lord Jesus was teaching as per His practice, in someone’s house and a large group of Jewish leaders were there with the aim of critically watching everything that He did (Luke 5:17-26). Since the whole place was full, the friends of a paralyzed man brought him but could not enter and took him to the roof of the house through the staircase outside as per house design of that time. They opened up the roof tiles and lowered from on top, the sick man right in front of Lord Jesus. The Lord, first, ‘saw their faith’, the faith of the friends who brought him; second, He declared forgiveness of the sick man’s sins; third, He perceived the Jewish leaders thought about blasphemy and ; fourth, He revealed His power ‘on earth to forgive sins’ and finally, said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘arise, take up your bed, and go to your house’. Immediately the man got up before them, ‘took up what he had been lying on, and departed to his own house, glorifying God’.

           The friends of the sick man were sure of his getting healed and adopted a daring action to place the paralyzed man right in front of the Lord, without fear believing in His compassionate nature. If we try and visualize their state during the interim period, we can feel their desperation and creeping doubts for they wanted physical healing but Lord Jesus was keen on spiritual healing first through forgiveness of sins. The house owner would be worried about the cost of repairs while the Pharisees etc were keen to criticize the Lord for whatever he would do. In all this it was only the Lord who was completely in control for He knew what He would do.

          Lord Jesus identified those who could come to Him, ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him’ and we can never know whom God Himself has thus called to come to faith in His Son (John 6:44). Thus, we are in no position to decide who should or should not receive the blessings. Lord Jesus’ teaching is ‘love your enemies, do good to those who hate you’ and we are to rather bless all those who come into church for healing or any other blessing (Luke 6:27).

          Lord Jesus illustrated evangelism through the parable of sowing seed in a field (Luke 8:5-15). He said, ‘The seed is the word of God’ and the first group is those who hear but the devil takes it out if their hearts ‘lest they should believe and be saved’. The second are the ones who receive with joy but without deep understanding and ‘in the day of temptation fall away’. The third receive but ‘are choked with cares, riches and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity’. The fourth category grows in faith, for they ‘having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience’. Multitudes followed Lord Jesus and on two occasions after preaching, he provided food to 5,000 families (about 15,000 including children) and also 7,000 (around 20,000). But there was only Apostle John, who was given the responsibility for looking after Mary, Lord Jesus’ mother, ‘His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene’, when He was crucified (John 19:25-27).

          After Lord Jesus’ ascension into heaven the followers (about a hundred and twenty) ‘continued with one accord in prayer and supplication’ (Acts 1:14-15). The seed was sown by the Lord and on the Day of Pentecost when Apostle Peter preached after being filled with the Holy Spirit ‘those who received his word and were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them’ (Acts 2:41).

            Apostle Paul encouraged and defined our role as believers, saying, ‘the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered’ (Romans 8:26 & 34). The other member of the Holy Trinity, Lord Jesus is ‘at the right hand of God (a place of honor and power), who also makes intercession for us’. All believers are ‘being transformed into the same image (Lord Jesus) from glory to glory’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). The indwelling Holy Spirit does this in us and it becomes our duty to intercede for others that the Holy Spirit will touch them and bring them to faith. Some will come to the church with the aim of seeing a miracle, some to criticize, some to oppose and lead believers astray and some to learn and be saved. One such person who came, was presented with the Holy Bible and went and threw that in a sewage tank. However, His soul was touched by the Holy Spirit and he later accepted the Lord as His Savior. Lord Jesus, while turning the tables of the money-changers etc quoted Isaiah 56:7, and said, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’ (Matthew 21:13). The LORD God brings to ‘His holy mountain’, His house people from all over and they must be filled with joy though our prayers and answer from the Lord.

           Prophet Samuel was sent by the Lord to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul was rejected by Him (1 Samuel 16:7). The prophet looked at the physical stature of the sons of Jesse, but the LORD told him, ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ and finally the youngest one, David, was anointed. We are commanded  by Lord Jesus not to judge others but to bless all who seek the hand of the Lord to touch and bless them. While teaching about the one lost sheep, Lord Jesus said, ‘there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine just persons who need no repentance’ (Luke 15:7). Our words of encouragement to someone who comes to the house of God may lead him to repentance and we may be blessed for causing joy in heaven for that.

           What is the right way of witnessing to others? There cannot be any set rule about this and this must happen in as natural a manner as possible during the course of conversation. We get to hear about the sickness of a close relative or many other problems that people face in life. We can then relate to them the testimony of someone who was healed from such an affliction or we can offer prayers for that. We have been made righteous through forgiveness of sins and ‘the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much’ (James 5:16).Once we pray, expecting change in the situation of the other person, surely the Lord will intervene and this opens the door for sharing the Word of God with the person.

          Someone has rightly said, ‘People are like onions, as we get to know them we peel back their layers’. Witnessing is similar, for we try and understand a person’s beliefs and life issues, layer by layer. The first step in this is the entry point to get into deeper levels through verbal or non-verbal means. One must be very sensitive in this for there is a great chance of being misunderstood when we appear to be judgmental. The second step is  seeking opinion on specific issues concerning his condition or state, like reasons for people suffering or steering the talk to some specific event that may then lead to faith, forgiveness of sins and the like. True witnessing is to empathize with the person about his problem and then offer a solution through Scripture.

             The basic aim of every conversation is to move it forward into a direction that you want to go. Our offer of help or visit to the church must be unconditional without any obligation with the option to opt out at any stage. Also others must be informed about what to expect in the church or a prayer meeting while stressing upon no financial or any other obligation. If someone is reluctant to meet in a gathering, a one-on-one meeting could be arranged with a church elder or the pastor for a counseling session in an informal setting. Many churches organize breakfast or lunch meetings in a prominent place for anyone to come and join, where opportunity to witness is available for everyone by sharing personal life events.

            Repeatedly the Hebrew word ‘hesed’ meaning mercy or loving-kindness is used about God in the Scripture. All non-believers have certain core beliefs which must get changed in a subtle and gradual manner without aggressively intruding. Lord Jesus was followed by large crowds and so were the Apostles, for they showed genuine love and compassion for the afflicted, through words, touch and gestures. Unless the other person feels genuine love and concern in our talk with him, no amount of talking can help. A man who was full of leprosy cried out to Lord Jesus, ‘Lord, if You are willing, you can make me clean’ (Luke 5:12-13). A leper was considered ceremonially unclean and he was forced to live outside the town and touching a leper was forbidden. But Lord Jesus ‘put out His hand, and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed’, thus showing His love for the sick man to heal him completely. Apostle John experienced the true love of the Savior to say, ‘let us love one another for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love’ (1 John 4:7-8). True witnessing, like Lord Jesus, is reaching out to the other person in love to help without any ritual or ceremony and whoever does this, changes lives!

               Lord Jesus is the true sign of God’s love for mankind, rather whole of creation, and unless we display such love towards others, we cannot claim to be His true followers. We are not perfect but sinners cleansed of our sins and being perfected day by day by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When the love of the Lord starts being visible in our words and deeds, our life itself become our testimony to urge others to know the Son of God and surrender to Him as the Messiah.  

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