Praying with Confidence for their Conversion
…by revelation there was made known to me the mystery. (Ephesians 3:3)
Pearl S. Buck, the great novelist, who won the Pulitzer prize in 1932 and the Nobel prize for literature in 1938, grew up on the mission field. In her memoirs, she took up the question, ‘Do we need missionaries to go to foreign countries?’ She had this to say, ‘Let us face ourselves clearly. Some of us believe in Christ as our fathers did; to some of us he is still the divine son of God, born of the virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But to many of us he has ceased to be that. Some of us do not know what he is, some of us care less. In the world of our life it does not matter perhaps what he is. If we are asked we will say, “I admire him of course. He was perhaps the best man who ever lived.” But that is all he is. To you who are young, the sons and daughters of this generation, who must carry on foreign missions after the older ones are gone, it is probable that Christ is no longer a cause…Let us face the fact that the old reasons for foreign missions are gone from the minds and hearts of many of us, certainly from those of us who are young.’
It appears that Pearl S. Buck did not get it. She did not understand the mystery and the revelation. Paul the Apostle is making a parenthetical statement in Ephesians 3:2-13, seeking to encourage the Ephesian Christians who are disturbed by his imprisonment. Paul wants them to understand why he has been imprisoned. He has been made a steward of God’s grace, and that gospel came to him by way of revelation, an unveiling (the Greek word is apocalupto from which we get apocalypse) or making clear the gospel once hidden from the Gentiles, but now revealed by the work of the Spirit (see Romans 16:25, 26). Paul speaks in Galatians 2:12ff of receiving this unveiling directly from God. He then refers in this verse to the mystery and in verse 4 to the mystery of Christ. He has two different, though related, things in mind. The mystery (something once hidden but now revealed) refers to the gospel of grace being hidden from the Gentiles for thousands of years, being revealed only to the Jews. He mentions this same mystery among the Gentiles in Colossians 1:27. But Paul also refers to the mystery of Christ, a term pregnant with meaning. Among other things, it asks the questions, ‘Why did Jesus become man?’ ‘Why must He be sinless?’ ‘Why did He die?’ ‘How can a man’s death take away my own sin?’ This mystery of Christ was made known to Paul (once and for all, an act directed by God specifically to Paul) and he was commissioned by God to proclaim it to the Gentiles (Acts 26:19, 20).
Can you see to what great lengths God goes to make known the mystery of Christ? God’s great desire is His glory in the salvation of His people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. He will save His people from their sins.
I bring this up because you undoubtedly have friends and family members for whom you have been praying for many years, pleading with God to save them, and nothing seems to be happening. May I suggest that you never, never despair, never give up, never doubt that God will save those whom He has placed on your heart. You may have been praying for many years for a wayward child or lost parent. Don’t give up. Believe God will save them.
How can I be so bold as to suggest their salvation? Do I have insight into the mysteries of redemption? Have I been made privy to a brief glance at the Lamb’s book of life? Of course not, but consider what Paul is saying about this mystery and revelation in light of the ministry of the Holy Spirit helping you to pray. In Romans 8:26, 27 Paul says, ‘And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.’ Isn’t it true that you pray regularly for certain people to be saved but for others you tend to drop off in your prayers for them? Why is it that God continues to place these people on your heart? Consider this. The Father has chosen a certain people, from eternity past, to be His children; and He sent the Lord Jesus Christ to die for them on Calvary’s cross. The Holy Spirit applies that redemption to these people in His time, working through secondary means which include the prayers of God’s people. In other words, when the time comes for the Father to apply the work of Christ’s redemption by the Spirit upon His elect, the Holy Spirit prompts people to pray for them. God is sovereign in salvation but He works through people, including our prayers. Douglas Kelly in his book, Why Pray? puts forth this position, citing southern Presbyterian preachers of the 19th century as teaching it.
So what are you to do in this matter of the salvation of your friends and family members? What is your role? You ought to do three things.
First, talk to God about people. Plead the promises of God. Sue (like a lawsuit, a formal appeal or request) God for their salvation. Remind Him of His great promises concerning the salvation of the nations, and you can begin at Genesis 12:1-3, Psalm 2:8, Psalm 67:4, 5, Psalm 96:3, Isaiah 52:10, II Peter 3:9.
Second you must clear the highway of holiness of your own sin. In Isaiah 57:14, 15 the prophet says, ‘Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstacle out of the way of My people. For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”‘ How do the root sins of pride, unbelief, and rebellion manifest themselves in this matter of reaching out to the lost in your life? Are you prideful in that you are afraid to speak to friends or family members about their souls? Are you afraid of how they may label you a fanatic, and you want to be accepted by them? Are you given to just plain unbelief, saying, ‘There is no way my friend, my brother will be saved. He is far too gone. He may even be a reprobate.’ Or how about rebellion? You know you need to move toward that neighbour who is frankly a nuisance and trouble maker, but you don’t like him. And so you maintain your guilty silence.
Finally, talk to people about God, and you don’t need necessarily to go through the front door. Check out Moses in Exodus 18, speaking to his pagan father-in-law Jethro, telling him of the mighty things Yahweh had done in the ten plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea. Jethro was so overwhelmed by it that he made sacrifices to Yahweh, referring to Him as the true and living God. For whom are you praying regularly, perhaps for many years, concerning their conversion? Don’t grow weary. Stay at it. Believe they will be saved. Sue God for their salvation.
Rev. Allen M. Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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