This is an Faith opinion column.
As we continue taking a look at how to organize our prayer life, please allow me to introduce at this point the concept of concentric circles. While this was originally a concept in reaching lost people in our circles, the same principle can be applied to any type of intercession. This is based on a book by the same title written by the late Dr. Oscar Thompson. He was a professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, my alma mater. Dr. Thompson says that each person lives in a network of relationships: self, immediate family, extended family, work associates/classmates, neighbors, acquaintances, and person X.
When most people think about doing evangelism, they think about going to person X. While there is a time and place for sharing the gospel with people we don’t know, Oscar Thomson taught that it is the people in our circles of relationships that we are primarily responsible for. He lays out five steps in reaching out to those with whom we already have a relationship: Survey the circle; intercede; love them by meeting their needs; sharing the gospel and then follow up.
Surveying the circles is no doubt the most difficult and time consuming. Begin by going through each circle and writing down the names of anyone in each circle that does not know the Lord. If this step is not done carefully and thoroughly, someone may be missed. One issue that will come up is that there are people in all of our circles that we do not know if they are saved or not. My advice over the years has been until you find out they are saved, assume they are not. If you find out later they are, then praise the Lord.
I bring up concentric circles here because in your surveying, you may run across extended family that are not saved for whom you make a page in your prayer journal. Of course, any other concerns you have for them can be recorded as well to pray about.
Please note that the second part of the process mentioned above is to intercede. Please allow me begin at this point our discussion on how to pray for the lost, whether it be a family member or anyone else in your circles.
As we begin this topic of interceding for the lost, some ground work needs to layed down first. First, God loves all people and wants all people to be saved. Here are few verses that teach this truth.
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and
to come to knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:3-4
Please note the word “all.” That means every single person. “Men” is a reference to mankind.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He
Is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to
repentance.” II Peter 3:9
There were those in that day who were questioning the fact of the day of the Lord because it had not happened yet. Peter reassured them in the next verse the day would indeed come, but the Lord was being patient because he didn’t want anyone to perish, but to come to repentance or salvation. The word “perish” literally means to destroy, but it also used metaphorically numerous times in the New Testament to mean the loss of eternal life or to be delivered up to eternal misery. Peter made it very clear that the Lord does not desire that for any single person.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever
believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his
Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
To show how much he loved the world, God went to great lengths to demonstrate that love by giving his one and only Son. “Perish” is the same word in the original language that Peter used in the verse above, and the meaning is the same. It is worth pointing out that “whoever “ means that anyone can be saved and have eternal life. And why did God send to Son? To condemn the world? No! God sent Him to save the world.
A second truth that we need to lay down is that Jesus died for all people. This point was briefly alluded to above, but this truth cannot be emphasized enough.
“And He Himself (Christ) is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only
but also for the whole world.” (I John 2:2)
“Propitiation” is only used here and I John 4:10. In both cases it refers to Christ’s atoning blood that appeases God’s wrath toward sin. John tells his readers that his atoning death wasn’t just for them, but for the whole world. In other words, Jesus’ death wasn’t just for the Christians or the elect, but for the whole world-every man, woman, boy, and girl. It is no wonder the word gospel means “good news.”
If God loves all people and wants all people to be saved, and if Jesus was willing to leave heaven and humble himself to death on a cross like a common criminal, and if his death paid the penalty of sin for all people, why do we need to intercede for the lost, those without Christ? Simply put, each individual must decide if will accept Jesus as Lord and Savior or not accept him.
As we think about how to intercede for the lost, we must answer the question, “What keeps people from being saved or coming to Jesus?” We will answer that question in the next installment of this series.
Chip Warren is the past president of the Albertville Ministerial Fellowship.