“I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsman according to the flesh”—Romans 9:1-3
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [Israel] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”—Romans 10:1,2
We are well acquainted with Paul’s heart for believers—the church of Jesus Christ. But in these passages we see his tender burden for the unsaved, especially for Jews who continued with devotion to the law rather than trusting the finished work of Christ. No matter how much concern we have for an unsaved friend or child, it is doubtful that you or I have ever had a burden that was so heavy that we’d be willing go to hell in the place of that person! Imagine Paul’s heart.
We should note that these words were written by the same man who also taught the doctrine of election, that is, that salvation is ultimately in the hands of God, not the hands of men. In the very same chapter where Paul wrote that we were clay in the hands of the potter, and that God “has mercy on whomever he wills, and hardens whomever he wills” (9:18), he also spoke about his great burden for his Jewish brothers according to the flesh (see 9:1-3 above). The bottom line: the sovereign election of God does not nullify the fact that we should be contending for the souls of unbelievers.
We should be praying for the unsaved, pleading with God on their behalf. The unconverted are dead in trespasses and sins; they are blind to the Gospel, and they are deaf to the truth of God’s Word. Who can overcome their darkness and grant them the gift of salvation? Who can create a new nature within them and set them free from their own blindness and self-absorption? Only God can intervene and save them.
And who can rid us of our selfishness so that believers have a burden for their unsaved friends and relatives? Who can birth within us a passionate concern for the eternal destiny of the lost? Who, but the Spirit, can motivate us to pray earnestly that they might be saved?
The following prayer is not just for the unsaved, it’s also for us, that we might share Paul’s burden for the lost. We must confess our own complacency and invite God to grant us the passion to experience the joy of the Father’s forgiveness, and the warmth of the Father’s love. We must pray for ourselves before we pray for the lost.
Let us open our hearts now and invite the Spirit to give us Paul’s heart for others, and then contend for the souls of those who need the Savior.
Let Us Pray
Father forgive me for my selfish disregard for my friends and neighbors who are lost in their sins and trespasses. I pray that You might break my heart for the lost, and that I might give myself to earnest intercession for their salvation. And help me to present a loving witness to them as I have opportunity. Give me the passion of Paul for a world that has lost its way.
And now I pray for ______ that they might be drawn to Jesus Christ for salvation. I pray that You, O Lord, might cause them to see their sins, and that they might cry to You and be saved. Lord, make them discontent with their self-help solutions and their misguided quest for personal peace and significance. Show them the glories of Jesus, not just as Savior, but as Lord and King. Cause them to believe on Him and be saved.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.