Continuing with our series on snippets from John Leonard’s book, “Get Real”, we get another surprising jab to start which then leads to another helpful lesson in evangelism.
Christians always lie. We don’t mean to, but we do. You’ve done it too. A friend shares a problem with us, and we say, “I’ll pray for you.” But being the busy people that we are, we forget. The next time we see our friend and he reminds us of the important event that we said we would pray for—the one we forgot all about—we piously lie, “I’ve been praying about that.” And then we quickly pray quietly, “Lord, please forgive my lie and please help my friend.” Or we rationalize our lie with good theology: since the Lord knows what we ask before we even say a word, that should cover my prayers. It doesn’t help our guilt when our friend tells us, “I knew I could count on you to pray for me.” We should never wait to pray. People in trouble always appreciate prayer, even atheists. If people know I’m a pastor, they expect me to pray and always thank me for my prayers. You do not have to be a pastor for people to call on you for prayer; you just need to be known as a person who prays. What could be more important than praying for others? We are most like Jesus when we’re praying for others, because Jesus is always making intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). Traditional evangelism teaches that prayer is indispensable. And it’s true: evangelism without prayer is powerless. Therefore, you’re taught to pray before you witness and pray after you witness—and I couldn’t agree more! However, it is not only important to pray before and after you witness, but also to pray with non-Christians.
This, too, is a way of witnessing to them. We pray for our unconverted friends, we ask others to pray for them, but why don’t we ever pray with our unconverted friends? Prayer is calling on God to act, and we ought to use it during every opportunity we get in speaking with non-Christians. When you pray with a nonbeliever, you’re inviting God into the conversation. You’re no longer talking about God, but talking with God. What could be more powerful? Nonbelievers have a wrong view of prayer. They think that you have to be a special person, a priest or minister to pray; or they think that you have to use special words that sound as if they come from the King James Bible. Because you’re discipling non-Christians to Christ, teach them to pray—by praying with them and for them.
Praying with unbelievers may require some wisdom and sensitivity…
Show non-Christians that talking to God is as easy as talking to you. In fact, it is easier because God really listens. When you pray with nonbelievers, pray short prayers that use no special words and are what I call one-breath prayers. In other words, when you need to take a breath, stop praying. If you have a lot to say, take a deep breath. With simple words and short prayers, you’ll show others that praying is as easy and as natural as breathing.
You should also pray with your eyes open. Why do we close our eyes when we pray anyway? Where in the Bible does it say to close your eyes to pray? In fact, the Psalms use phrases like “I lift up my eyes” (Psalms 121:1; 123:1, et al.) as ways of describing prayer. I learned to pray with my eyes open while doing street evangelism. I noticed that when I asked people if I could pray for them, then I bowed my head to pray, they got uncomfortable because we were in public. They would turn away and step back from me. Here I was on a street corner with head bowed, praying, and just before I said “amen” they would turn around as if they’d been praying with me. I looked stupid and they felt stupid. (Besides, you need to keep your eyes open when you’re on the streets of the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia!)
What do you pray for when you pray for non-Christians? Whatever they ask you to pray for. My heavenly Father tells me to pray at any time and to ask whatever I want so I’ve been given carte blanche to pray for anyone, for anything, at any time. I always pray that God would bless the person I’m with, whether he’s a believer or not. When I ask God to bless an unbeliever, it’s code for, “Lord, reveal by your Spirit the moral bankruptcy of my friend. Show him his sin and save him from an eternal destiny separated from you in hell. Bring him to faith.” I mean all that when I say, “Lord, bless and help my friend.” Praying with another person is the best way to communicate that your heavenly Father cares more about him than he cares about himself, and that you care too.
It’s such a small thing for us to do, but it might mean the world to the one we’re speaking with. We are surrounded by people every day who are in desperate situations. They don’t know where to turn. They believe they can’t pray because they’re not good enough and God doesn’t listen to them, so why bother? They may not even know anyone they can ask to pray for them.
Questions for Thought or Discussion:
1. Have you ever asked an unbeliever you were praying for if you could pray with them? What do you think could make you uncomfortable about praying with an unbeliever? Do Leonard’s practical suggestions help?
2. What if you offered to pray with an unbelieving friend and they asked you to pray for something weird or something that was theologically wrong? How could you be prepared for that kind of thing in advance and how could you still pray in a way that was biblically sound but also didn’t offend or ignore your friend?