Topical Scripture: Luke 15
It’s not always easy to help someone in need.
Years ago, when I was pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Jeff Byrd and I were returning to the office after lunch. An old Chevy Impala was broken down on the side of the road; a short, grey-haired lady, her cane in the back seat, was trying to get it started.
We stopped to help—I pulled off the air cleaner and held the choke open while Jeff cranked the engine, and finally we got the car started again. She thanked us sweetly, and we stood watching in pride as she drove off, turned left, then drove into the parking lot of Pinkie’s Liquor Store. She got out her cane and shuffled in. We had helped her get to the liquor store.
It’s sometimes hard to help people in need, isn’t it? Nowhere is this more true than with evangelism. We know that people need Jesus, and that we are responsible for sharing him with them. But it’s not always easy.
And so we have the Seed Initiative—a strategy which will help us engage in relationships with lost people, invite them to events specifically designed to help them with their faith, and connect them with care ministries.
Where do we begin? What is our first step in helping people we know, know Jesus? Is there something every one of us can do, whatever our ability, training, or experience? Let’s see.
Why we pray for our lost friends
Jesus and his disciples are at the Last Supper. Later this night Peter will deny him and all the others will forsake him. And they don’t even realize their spiritual danger.
So Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” He repeats this very personal family name twice, showing the urgency of the moment.
Now we see the real nature of the upcoming conflict. This is not a battle with the Jews, or the Romans, but with the enemy himself. Satan means “adversary,” the sworn, mortal enemy of all that is of God.
And he is not just attacking Jesus, but Peter and the other disciples as well. “You” is in the Greek plural—he’s coming after all of you.
A friend of mine in Atlanta sometimes prays, “Paint the dragon red.” In other words, show me when the enemy is at work here, and what to do about it. This is just what Jesus is doing for Peter.
Note that the leader of the apostles, the first preacher of the Christian church, the author of two books of Holy Scripture, did not know that he was under spiritual attack. How much less do we. And how much less do the lost people we know.
C. S. Lewis was right: Satan has two main strategies—to convince us he has more power than he has, or to get us to ignore him; either way, he can do as he likes. Today he gets us to ignore him. His attacks are like carbon monoxide poisoning—silent, but deadly. That’s what’s happening to Peter here.
“Asked” in the Greek means “to beg earnestly.” Satan knows that our souls are eternal, and the most important priority. But with Christians, he must ask for permission to attack us, as he did with Job.
Unfortunately, this is not true with our lost friends; they are already on his side, whether they know it or not.
I once heard a story about a Christian and his lost friend, walking down the street together. They see the devil walking towards them, and the lost man hides behind the Christian. “Save me,” he pleads. The Christian says, “It’s me he’s after—he’s already got you.”
To sift you as wheat: Wheat is made into bread when it is crushed. This is what the enemy wants to do to us.
He is a liar and a murderer (John 8.44). Every time you see a cross, you see what Satan wants to do to us. In fact, Peter himself died on a cross, upside down. Satan is no comic book figure in red tights, but a malicious, wicked murderer.
And our lost friends already belong to him, as it were. They are headed for eternity with him, in his presence and power, subject to his tortures and hatred.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail: The “I” here is emphatic in the Greek syntax: “Satan has prayed for your destruction, but I have prayed for your protection.”
“You” here is in the Greek singular–Jesus has prayed specifically for Peter. He knows that when Peter returns to him, he will be strategic in helping the other disciples return to him as well. And he was–the leader of the early church, their first preacher, the first to evangelize the Gentiles, the writer of two books of Holy Scripture. He did indeed “strengthen his brothers.”
So Jesus prays that his “faith”–his trust in Jesus as his Savior–may not fail. Jesus knows that the attack is spiritual in nature, so he prays for a spiritual result. And Peter’s faith did not fail. Peter’s courage failed him, but he did not reject Christ as his Savior. Eventually he came back to him.
So here we find Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, his last night before his crucifixion, taking time to pray specifically for Peter and his coming assault by the enemy. If he had time to pray, don’t we?
So, how do we?
How to pray for our lost friends
First, pray passionately. There is truly a spiritual war going on for the souls of the people we know and love. And praying is our best weapon in the battle.
The devil is a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).
This battle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6.12).
So, we must fight this battle with the right weapons–a spiritual battle with spiritual weapons. We cannot save souls with buildings, budgets, programs or pulpits. None of them are enough.
This is why Jesus prayed for Peter. If he needed to pray, don’t we?
Pray specifically. There was a pastor known for his sermons on love. However, when some neighborhood children wrote their initials in the concrete of his new sidewalk, he ran out of his house and chased them away. His wife accosted him when he returned: “How can you preach so much on love and do that?” He said with a wink, “I do love people in the abstract–just not in the concrete.”
Jesus prayed for Peter by name–“Simon, Simon.” He prayed for his need by name–“that your faith may not fail.” He prayed specifically.
Generic prayers do little good here. We must pray specifically for the lost people we know, and for what they most need to come to faith. Perhaps they have intellectual questions about the faith; perhaps they were hurt by a church; perhaps their friends are keeping them from God. If you don’t know how to pray specifically, ask the Holy Spirit to help you, and he will.
Pray persistently.As soon as Jesus saw this battle coming, he prayed for Peter. And he didn’t give up until he was sure the battle was won–“when you have turned back.” We are to keep praying until the battle is over and victory comes.
I was a speech major in college. In one class we studied nothing but the greatest speeches in the English language. My favorite, not just because it was the shortest but also because it was so effective, was Winston Churchill’s commencement address to the school he’d once attended: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never. Never. Never.” He was right, and never more than in the battle for eternal souls.
Pray confidently. Jesus believed his Father for Peter’s faith. So can we. Pray with a vision of what will happen when this person comes to faith in Jesus. Pray with excitement and anticipation. Jesus did.
My father had a plaque above his desk I’ve always appreciated. It said, “All good things come to him who hustles while he waits.” While we wait for our friends to come to Christ–while we seek ways to engage, invite, and connect–we first pray. Jesus did.
Mother Teresa was opening a new mission in New York City. Skeptical reporters surrounded her with their cameras and lights. One asked her, “How will you measure your success here?” The tiny nun said into the cameras, “I don’t believe our Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.” She was right. With Jesus, success is obedience.
Will we be obedient to pray as Jesus prayed? To fight this spiritual battle for the souls of the people we know and love?
When you and I stand before Jesus one day and he asks us, “Who did you bring me?” what will be your answer to him?