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Praying for Unsaved Loved Ones

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Praying for Unsaved Loved Ones

Lee Strobel explains the importance of praying for the salvation of your loved ones, and persevering in prayer for even the most unlikely converts among your friends and family.
Original Air Date: October 15, 2020

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Episode Summary

Lee Strobel explains the importance of praying for the salvation of your loved ones, and persevering in prayer for even the most unlikely converts among your friends and family.
Original Air Date: October 15, 2020

Episode Transcript


Pastor Lee Strobel: I mean, is there someone you love, but you’ve kind of given up on? Is there someone you love whose eternity that you are desperately concerned about but you’re not – you’re not following that up with prayer?

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Pastor Lee Strobel will encourage you to continue praying for your friends and family who don’t know the Lord. This is Focus on the Family with your host Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, I believe that as Christians, one of the most painful things we experience is knowing that some of the people we love do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And it seems like, the more we talk about the benefits of being a Christian, the more closed off they become. Even Jesus experienced this. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown, and among his relatives, and his own family.” That’s straight from the New Living Translation. Today, Pastor Lee Strobel will share with us the importance of praying for that loved one. And who knows? God might put someone else in their life. Someone who might be the one to lead them to Christ. And that’s just fine if it gets the job done.

John: Yeah, whatever it takes. And, uh, Lee Strobel is a best-selling author. He’s been on this broadcast a number of times. Here he is now speaking at Woodlands Church in the Houston area where he’s a teaching pastor on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.

Lee: Well, we’re in the second week of a little series called If Jesus Lived in My House. And I want to suggest that if Jesus physically lived with us in our house, one of the things we would notice is that He would pray. And He would pray specifically, and fervently, and continually, and faithfully and expectantly for spiritually confused people all over the village, all over town, all over the neighborhood. He would pray for the salvation of spiritually lost people.

James 5:16 says this: “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” And I’ve seen this for myself time after time how God answers prayer in totally unexpected ways. Now, I do understand when we’re praying for people who are spiritually confused and we’re praying that they’ll come to faith in Jesus Christ, that our prayers cannot force them against their will to bend their knee to Jesus. People have free will. They have the choice, each of us, to make whether or not we’re going to follow Christ or not. So, I don’t think our prayers can force someone to make that decision.

But I do believe James when he says, “The prayers of righteous person make a difference.” They make a difference. I like the way Mother Teresa put it. She said, “When I pray, coincidences happen. And when I stop, they don’t.” The prayers that we offer for spiritually confused people are powerful, and they’re incredible in their power.

I think of the story of a woman named Amelia in England in the year 1849. Her 17-year-old son was spiritually wandering. He kind of walked away from his Christian faith. Maybe you know someone, maybe you have a child or a grandchild who’s going through that experience. And so, she was, as a mom, obviously quite concerned about the eternity of her son. And she was, um – had to go out of town on a long trip. And so, she left on that trip. And while she was on that trip, she felt a great compulsion to pray for her son. And I don’t mean just throw a casual prayer up to Heaven. I mean she went off by herself, and she prayed and she prayed and she prayed for hours and hours and hours for the soul of her son until she felt God in her soul confirming He had heard the prayer, He was going to take action.

And at the same moment that she was praying, back there, miles away at their home, her son was reading a book. And in that book, it talked about how Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for all of the sin of humanity. And the words that jumped out at him were Jesus words on the cross, where He says, “It is finished.” It is finished. The payment is made for the sins of the world.

And so, this young man said, “Well, okay. Well, if it is finished, then what’s there left to do?” And he realized the one thing left to do was for him to receive this forgiveness of Christ, for him to personally receive Jesus as his forgiver and as his leader.

He thought of John 1:12, “But as many as received Him, to them, He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” He had to receive. So he got on his knees, and in a prayer of repentance and faith, he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. And so, a couple weeks later, his mother returns home, and she opens the front door of the home to come in. And he sees her, and he runs over to her, and he wants to tell her the good news. But she says to him, “Son, I already know. I already know.”

Well, that young man’s name was James Hudson Taylor. And James Hudson Taylor turned out to be one of history’s greatest missionaries. He spent 51 years in China. He learned the language. He learned the customs. He traveled all over China, founding schools, founding churches, bringing people to faith in Christ. One historian said this, “More than any other human being, he made the greatest contribution to the cause of world mission in the 19th century.” And people today in China and elsewhere are coming to faith because of the seeds planted through God in the life of Hudson Taylor.

And by the way, when Hudson Taylor was elderly and he could no longer get out of bed, he was bedridden, you know what he did? He had a map of China put on the wall next to his bed with pins stuck in it of the major population centers because he wanted to continue to pray specifically for those cities, even though he was too ill to get up and do anything else.

So, what I want to ask us is what supernatural chain of events might your prayers trigger? Just as a loving mother’s prayers for her son started a movement through Hudson Taylor that continues to echo today, what supernatural chain might your prayers initiate?

We need God’s help for this. This is a spiritual battle. C.S. Lewis said, “There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”

This is a spiritual battle. Ultimately, it’s not our clever Gospel illustrations. It’s not our apologetic answers or evidence that we offer. Ultimately, what brings people of faith in Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit convicting people of their sin and drawing them into the kingdom of God. But the Holy Spirit can and does use us in the process. And our prayers, I believe, make a difference in the process.

So, what I’d like to do – I want to take you through a little exercise. I want to think through, um, five areas of influence that you have. We all have a number of acquaintances and buddies and relationships and so forth. I’m going to walk you through five categories, and I want you to think in each of these categories of the people you know who you’re pretty sure are not followers of Christ. I want you to kind of bring their faces to your mind.

So, the first sphere of influence are your friends: people you play golf with, people you see at the club, people you play tennis with, maybe people you haven’t seen in a while from high school that you’re in contact through Facebook. Think of all the friends who you know. Bring the picture of them to your mind if you’re pretty sure that they’re spiritually confused, they don’t know Jesus.

Second, our family. Who in your extended family are you pretty sure is not safely in the kingdom of God? Bring their face to your mind.

And then our workplace, whether it’s an office or a job site or whatever – think of your co-workers. Think of your colleagues. Who among them are you pretty sure is not a believer?

And then your neighborhood. Who among your neighbors do you know that you’re pretty sure are not spiritually saved?

And then your school. You know, some of you are getting a graduate degree, you go to school part time or you’re in college or high school or whatever. Think of your classmates. Think of the administrators. Think of the principals and so. Who are you pretty sure does not know Christ? Picture all of those people. Then let me ask you this question. If Jesus physically lived in your house, and tonight, He knocked on the door of your bedroom, and He walks in, and He says, “You know what? I am going to answer every single prayer that you prayed last week.” If He were to say that to you tonight, would there be anybody new in the kingdom of God tomorrow? Would any of those faces that came into your mind be in God’s kingdom tomorrow? Are we praying?

There’re half a dozen reasons – I’m going to give you five reasons why we pray for other people. No. 1, because Jesus modeled it. Jesus modeled it. You know, many translations – I don’t know which translation you have in your Bible – um, many translations, when they talk about the crucifixion of Jesus and Luke 23:34 translate the verse this way. “But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they’re doing.” But the imperfect tense of the Greek there, I think, is a little more nuanced than that. And I think the New American Standard Bible does the best of capturing that imperfect tense of the Greek when it translates a verse this way. Again, Jesus, hanging on the cross, atoning for the sins of the world, being tortured to death and He says – and the verse says, “But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them for, they do not know what they are doing.” He was saying it. He was continuing to repeat it. He was saying it over and over again, not just once. It was a practice – over and over again he is praying, “Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” all through the torture of the crucifixion while the nails were being driven through His hands, while the nails were being driven through His feet, He kept repeating that prayer for people, so spiritually depraved they were, torturing to death the Son of God. And British Pastor John Stott says, “In light of that, how can we justify not praying consistently and fervently, continually, expectantly?”

Jesus modeled prayers for spiritually lost people, and then the Apostle Paul followed suit. Romans 10:1, Paul says, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” So, Paul picks up the baton and Paul is praying for a group of people that don’t know Jesus personally. And we need to pick up that baton, and we need to pray for others as well.

Second reason we pray for others is because it is a pure expression of love, a pure expression of love. Richard Foster said this – this is an incredible quote – he said, “If we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them and this will lead us to prayer.”

I mean, is there someone you love, but you’ve kind of given up on? Is there someone you love whose eternity that you are desperately concerned about but you’re not – you’re not following that up with prayer?

John: Lee Strobel on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And this reminder, that you can get Lee’s book on this topic. It’s called The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus. And we’ll send that out to you when you make a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. Call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Or donate and request the book at Let’s go ahead return now to this message from Lee Strobel.

Lee: I know a man who came to faith at one of the first Billy Graham rallies ever. I think 1948 or something like that, and the evangelist Billy Graham did a rally. This guy came to faith. And his first thought is, “I want to reach my brother with the Gospel.” His brother was a very hardhearted guy. He was a graduate of Harvard Law School, and he was a very successful patent attorney in Los Angeles. And so, his brother approached him with the Gospel. The attorney was not interested, kind of shut him down. And so, what – what could his brother do? Well, he could pray. And so, he began praying for his brother. Well, he told me, “Lee, I prayed for my brother – I counted – for 48 years and 348 days.” Forty-eight years and 348 days, and saw no response, until one day he thought, “Well, gosh, this guy Strobel is law background. He wrote a book about kind of the legal evidence for Christianity. Maybe my lawyer brother – might help him.” So, he gave him a copy of my book. His brother at the time had contracted cancer. He read the book, but he was dying. And in the hospital, even with the respirator in where he could no longer speak, his brother said, “You’ve heard the evidence. You’ve seen the evidence. You’ve heard the Gospel. Have you received Jesus?” And he couldn’t speak, but he nodded yes, he had. And then, short time later, he died. And I said to this guy – I said, “Well, 48 years and 348 days, you ever want to give up on him?” And he looked at me like, “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” He said, “Of course not. He’s my brother.” But how many of us have given up on a brother? How many – how many of us have given up on someone we love? I think this guy would say, “Don’t give up. Don’t give up. Keep reaching out. Keep praying.”

Friends, love does not give up on people. Love perseveres. Love is patient. Love does not write people off, even when they seem on the surface to be unlikely candidates for conversion.

Third reason we pray for other people is because as we pray for others, God inevitably does something in us. He does something in us. Romans 5 verses 2-5 say this. “Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they will help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character. And character sharpens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment, for we know how dearly God loves us because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

In other words, as we endure through the years in praying for people who are spiritually confused, something is happening supernaturally, but it’s happening also in us.

Our lives are changing. Our characters are changing. Our patience, our perseverance are being developed. We are becoming a different person because of this prayer exercise of devoting our lives to praying for other people.

And God will take you through a period, and it may be hard as you pour out your prayers for someone you love. It may be frustrating at the time. But God is going to use it, and you will emerge different, stronger, your character different in ways you never could have become without that experience. God changes us for the good when we pray for the good of others.

Fourth reason we pray for other people is because God can, transform our attitude and maybe even our relationships. In other words, God doesn’t say, “Just pray for people you love.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, pray for your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” So, are we praying for our, quote, unquote, “enemies”? Are we praying for that former spouse? Are we praying for that business competitor who’s trying to drive you into bankruptcy? Are we praying for the father that disappointed you? Are we praying for that reckless driver on the freeway that cuts you off?

Friends, you can’t pray for another person’s salvation for very long and still maintain a bitter or hateful attitude toward them. It’s like if you’re in a tug-of-war with somebody else, and you’re pulling and tugging and so forth, it’s as if you just drop your end of the rope. You just drop your end of the rope. Why? Because you cannot fold your hands in prayer if your hands are gripped on a rope that you’re pulling back and forth in competition with someone else. And when we drop that rope and we begin to pray for other people, our bitterness drains away.

And then finally, the fifth reason we pray for other people is because God is still in the salvation business. God is still in the salvation business. Look at 2 Corinthians 6, the first two verses, says, “As God’s co-worker, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For He says, ‘In the time of my favor, I heard you. And the day of salvation, I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Friends, we pray for other people because God is still in the business of changing their life and rewriting their eternal destinations, even among those people who we look at, those faces that we reviewed earlier, and some of them, we go, “That’s an unlikely candidate.”

That’s what people probably said about me when I was an atheist.

I was talking recently with a guy who was one of my colleagues at The Chicago Tribune back when I was an atheist. And he said, “Yeah,” – he said, “Lee, I always thought you’d become the editor of The Chicago Tribune. You were the last guy I thought would chuck it all and go around telling people about Jesus.”

I was a hard case. Maybe you were a hard case. Maybe you were an unlikely candidate. I think of my father-in-law. You talk about unlikely candidates, Al was an unlikely candidate. Al was tough as leather. And Al was an atheist, and his daughter was not a Christian. And I was an atheist. So, everything was great until his daughter became a Christian and then I became a Christian. And the first thing I said is, “Hey, we got to go tell Al! Let’s go tell Al about Jesus. Oh, this will be great!” So, we go in to tell Al. Al listens to me tell the story. And then he says, “Lee, hey. Look, good for you. If that helps you, fine. But here’s the deal. Don’t ever talk to me again about Jesus, okay?” Okay, yeah, thanks, Al. So, the next day Leslie said, “Did you pray for Al today?” I said, “Well, I prayed for him yesterday.” She said, “Well, I know but he won’t talk to us, what else are we going to do? Let’s pray for him.” Okay, we prayed for Al. Next day – “You pray for Al?” I said, “You know I did that” – what else are we – Okay, pray for Al. A week later – “Are you still pray….” – “Yes, I’m still praying for Al. What else am I going to do?”

We prayed for Al for 20 years, and I don’t think we missed many days. And then he had a stroke, and the doctor told us he’s gonna die. He’s gonna have another stroke, may come tomorrow, next week, next month, gonna be soon, and this one’s gonna kill him. So, we took him home. And he was in a La-Z-Boy chair in the living room. And I sent out – his wife was a Christian and my wife – I said, “Go shopping for a while. Give me one last shot at Al.” And they left. And I said, “Al, do realize you’re dying? I don’t want to be in heaven without you. Your wife and your daughter and your grandchildren, Al, we do not want to be in heaven without you. Please.” And I cajoled him, and I reasoned with him, and I shared the Gospel with him. And I tried – and nothing seemed to penetrate this wall that was there. And finally, under my breath – because he was near death, he couldn’t hear very well – so he couldn’t hear me, but I said out loud, I said, “Satan, unhand him,” ’cause I felt like Satan had his claws wrapped around his ankle, was gonna pull him off. Then I reached out to him, talked to him, took about 45 minutes. And then finally, I sensed some softening. I sensed some receptivity. And finally, I said, “Al, you want to receive Jesus right now, don’t you?” And with tears pooling in his eyes, he nodded. He said, “Yes, I do.” And so Al Hurdler, one of the most unlikely candidates for conversion I’ve ever met, after 89 years of atheism, opened his heart, received forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And we will be with him for eternity in heaven. And I almost wanted to give up on him a thousand times.


Lee: Do you have somebody like that in your life, an unlikely candidate? I mean, if Al were here, he would say, “Don’t give up.”

You know, right after Al received Christ, his wife and my wife came home, and I told them the news, and we started the celebration. Figured, if celebrations go on in heaven, we ought to have our own celebration. We’re cooking a meal to celebrate, and then we notice something’s wrong with Al. His right side was sagging. He’s having another stroke. So, we called 911, and an ambulance came. And they put Al in the ambulance. And Leslie got in the ambulance with them, and I got in the car with his wife and trailed behind. The ambulance got to the hospital. They put Al on a gurney, and they’re wheeling him into the emergency room. And he looked up, and he said to Leslie, “Tell Lee thanks.” And he went into that emergency room, and that stroke ended up destroying his mind. And he lingered for a while, and then he died. Al came to faith in the last cogent conversation of his life.

But you know what? It’s never too late in this world. It’s never too late for your friend, for your grandfather, for your brother, for your neighbor, for your buddy at work. It’s not too late for them. So, we ought to be praying consistently, fervently, expectantly, faithfully for people we love who don’t know Christ, even the unlikely candidates.

John: And with that encouragement, that prompt, we’re going to have to close off today’s episode of Focus on the Family. But on our website, you’re going to be able to hear how Lee wrapped up this message by giving some additional ideas on how to pray for those unsaved loved ones in your life. And he’ll also offer some follow-up steps that you can take. You’ll find all of that and more at

Jim: John, I love that idea of praying for unlikely candidates, like Lee’s father-in-law, Al, because only God knows a person’s heart. No one is beyond His love. So, let me challenge you, start praying for your unlikely candidate today. And if you would like to talk about some of the challenges you’re facing in this area, give us a call. We have a very friendly group of men and women on the phones, and they would be honored to listen to your concerns and pray with you. And if your situation warrants it, they’ll schedule a free callback from one of our caring, Christian counselors. Please allow us to serve you in that way. And consider donating to Focus on the Family, to help us minister to families just like yours. When you make a donation of any amount, I’d like to send you Lee Strobel’s book called The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus. If you enjoyed this broadcast, you’ll love the book. Get your copy today.

John: Yeah, and that book is set up in a devotional format, so it’s really easy to read in small segments every day. And Lee and his co-author Mark Mittelberg, who’s been on this broadcast as well, share a lot of great stories to inspire you. Get your copy of the book when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459. Or donate online and request The Unexpected Adventure at And when you’re online with us, check out our brand new, improved Focus on the Family broadcast app. It is a terrific way to access not just this broadcast and our archives, but a lot of great content across the ministry. It’s all available to you through the new app. Next time, Jerrad Lopes encourages dads to step up and become the spiritual leader in their homes.


Mr. Jerrad Lopes: In my mind for years thought I was going to be the best dad in the world and then I became married and I became a husband and I became a father and I’m like, “Oh, man. I’m not nearly as good at this as I pictured that I would be.”

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