Praying for the Unsaved

Like most everyone I have unsaved people in my family. Their salvation is a burden to me. I pray that they find the Lord. I am concerned that one day death may catch them unaware, their time for repentance past. It is a haunting thought. It is that same fear that has me hoping that the Lord will tarry for His return, lest He come and they are not ready. I want to see them saved, to become disciples and to enjoy eternity with the Lord. It is not just to avoid Hell but to enjoy the fullness of life that comes in Christ.

            All this is quite clear as regards their salvation. What about other aspects of their lives? Is it right to ask God to bless them?

            It would seem obvious that I should ask God to bless them, to heal them when they are sick, to help them when problems come their way. But am I asking God to do something He will not do? In speaking to Jeremiah regarding the people who refused to repent of their sin, He said, "Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to Me in the time of their distress" (Jeremiah 11:14). Why would God say that?

            The danger of God blessing the unsaved is that they are more likely to congratulate themselves on their prowess rather than acknowledging His goodness. In doing so, they push God further away. That is the point of the parable Jesus told when He said, "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). The good things really are bad things because they fail to bring a person to the Lord.

            Maybe what we should pray is that God will let the consequences of a rebellious life settle fully upon the individual. Our friends at Alcoholics Anonymous say that a person will not change until he hits bottom. How many testimonies have we heard of people who say that it wasn’t until they had no other hope but the Lord that they reached out to Him? Perhaps, the ultimate kindness to an individual would be for us to pray that God would withhold every other blessing until they come humbly before Him in repentance.

           This goes against our nature. If we are talking about our children, we are speaking of those we have loved and cared for and protected as best we could. Now we pray that they are not protected? It seems unnatural.

            Recall the man in Corinth who was committing incest with his step-mother. Paul didn’t say to approach him in a seeker-sensitive way nor did he suggest they counsel him. Or reason with him or even have him over for dinner or share in a home Bible study. Not even to pray he would be so blessed that he would turn to God in gratitude. No, Paul said to turn him over to Satan! (See 1 Corinthians 5:5). If he is going to live like the devil, let the devil have him. Can we imagine taking that action with our rebellious loved ones? It seems harsh and cruel. But in 2 Corinthians we discover that this harsh and cruel action resulted in the man’s repentance and his restoration to Christ and the church.

            If I haven’t lost some of you by now there will be those who think I have it all wrong. I would answer that we are too often more affected by our culture than we are living by a biblical standard. The culture tells us that we are to love them into the Kingdom although such a concept is not presented anywhere in Scripture. If that works by all means do it. It might for someone who has never had any exposure to the Gospel. For those who have and yet have turned away, that love is seen as indulgence, as tacit approval of a lifestyle of mutiny to the Master.

           Please don’t misunderstand me. Cruelty is not needed. We do not have to make ourselves the sword of the Lord to mete out His divine retribution. On the contrary, gentleness should be the hallmark of our dealings with others. It doesn’t mean that if my child needs my financial assistance I say, “Not until you become a Christian.” Our duties to our family remain, regardless of what the state of their salvation is.

            It does mean that we confront them about their sin, that we refuse to accept it as the way things are nowadays, that we don’t excuse them because they are going through some sort of stage. And we don’t ask God to bless them with the things that will get in the way of them seeing the true state of their soul. I suspect that a lot of our unsaved relatives remain that way because we have let them dictate to us how they are to be handled instead of our obedience to God’s standard. To keep silent about sin is easier. It’s because Jesus refused to be silent about sin that He was crucified. As His followers God’s way is the way of the cross, not the easy way.

            I pray for my unsaved relatives to find the Lord. I ask God to reach them in any way that will glorify Him with their repentance. If they can be won in a gentle way, I prefer it. But if God has to let them suffer to see His face, then I must thank God for His wisdom. Suffering is not the sickness – sin is.