My teenage daughter and I burst into tears in worship last weekend. One of our pastors was preaching about the cross. Ellie and I were overcome with emotion as he described Christ absorbing our sin and enduring the wrath of God, all on our behalf.
Why? Why were we weeping with joy and wonder while others felt nothing? Our weeping was a gift from God.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
I remember the first time I climbed deep into a cave. Until that day, I had no idea what “pitch dark” really meant. I could hear the voice of my friend who was right next to me, but I couldn’t see him. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.
Then my friend turned on his flashlight. Everything changed. Darkness was gone, and the cave was visible and beautiful. This is what the apostle Paul describes in his letter. We all walk in complete spiritual darkness unless God decides to shine his light on us. In some mysterious way, God shines light in a person’s heart so that he instantly sees the beauty of the gospel. No amount of human effort can produce this. Salvation is a miracle of God.
Many of us would say that we believe this theological truth, but our actions betray us, revealing just how much we trust in people, speeches, and events. On more than one occasion, people have begged me to speak to their lost friends, believing that my words would make the difference. Too often, I have granted their wish (rather than correcting their theology), and tried desperately to come up with the perfect words to talk their friends into falling in love with Jesus. Do you see yet how ridiculous this is?
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan has blinded these people. Apart from God’s working, our begging someone to see the beauty of Christ is as pointless as begging a blind man to enjoy the beauty of a sunset. Do we direct our begging, first and foremost, to God?
Jesus tells us the parable about a persistent widow to remind us that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). There is tremendous power in perseverant prayer. God is not like us; he is not bothered by his children asking for the same thing over and over. He is pleased by the faith demonstrated when we pray and pray for someone to be saved.
When I love particular people deeply, it’s natural to persistently pray for them. I think it would actually require more effort to refrain from praying for them. My best friend in college decided that he didn’t want to follow Jesus. It broke my heart. Ken and I went our separate ways, and our lives went in opposite directions. I never stopped praying for him though — I couldn’t. Whenever Ken’s name would pop into my mind, prayer was my natural reflex.
Two years ago, I was speaking in Seattle where Ken lived. I invited him to the event so we could reconnect. We graduated from high school in 1985. After thirty years of prayer, God decided to shine his light on his heart. Suddenly Jesus looked beautiful to him and he couldn’t believe that he didn’t see it all this time. A few weeks later, Ken and his wife flew down to San Francisco, and I baptized them. I can’t express what a gift that was. He is one of the few people I have prayed for consistently for thirty years — a small price to pay to be with him for the next thirty million.
No soul is too far gone for God to bring back. No heart is too hard for God to soften. No son or daughter is too lost for God to rescue. Keep praying for God to do what only he can.
When we understand the consequences of rejecting Christ, and we are filled with love for another human being, persistent prayer should be the natural response. To this day, I still have questions about how the decreed will of God meshes with the effectiveness of my persistent prayers. For now, I’m more than content to obey and pray. Though I’m still uncertain how it works, I have seen it work. Meditate with me on Luke 18, trust the words of Christ, and then pray with sincerity and expectation.
If you can see the riches you have in Christ, take time to thank God with all of your being. He has given us the greatest treasure we could receive. He has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”