Interceding for Sinners

Sam Petitfils

“And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (Exodus 32:14)

It’s not hard to grow frustrated with those who disappoint God and us. The following was taken from Our Daily Bread:

“While very ill, John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, called to his wife and said, ‘Read me that Scripture where I first cast my anchor.’ After he listened to the beautiful prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, he seemed to forget his weakness. He began to pray, interceding earnestly for his fellowmen. He prayed for the ungodly who had thus far rejected the gospel. He pleaded on behalf of people who had been recently converted. And he requested protection for the Lord's servants, many of whom were facing persecution. As Knox prayed, his spirit went Home to be with the Lord. The man of whom Queen Mary had said, ‘I fear his prayers more than I do the armies of my enemies,’ ministered through prayer until the moment of his death.”

Knox faced persecution, but still followed the example of Jesus and Stephen in praying for his persecutors. Have we lost the desire and drive to pray for those who oppose God? Consider some reasons why we should pray for them.

1. They are in need of our prayers the most. In the verse above, Moses prayed for the Israelites, even though they worshiped other gods and made a mockery of the true and living God. Though indignant at their unbelief, Moses cast himself before the LORD and appealed to His tender mercies. God used Moses’ intercession to spare the Israelites His wrath.

People who sin in blatant disregard of God’s commands need our prayers. Only God can turn them around, and He often does it through the prayers of faithful saints.

2. Remember the example of the Apostle Paul. Paul was dead set against the early church, traveling from city to city in order to imprison believers and destroy the church. But God changed him and can change others. When we give up on certain people, are we really giving up on God?

3. God won’t save them all, but He will save some. God has not obligated Himself to save all, but He will save some. Our prayers and actions may very well be the means He employs to reach others (see 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1-2). The promise that God still saves souls should spur us to pray all the more for sinners, even so-called great sinners, to turn to the Lord.

Faithful Christians will experience mixed feelings towards enemies of God: They will grow indignant at their rebellion, but they will also grow in compassion for their souls. As John Knox faithfully prayed for his chief enemies, let us pray for those who need Christ, even though they openly oppose Him. We won’t see everyone turn to God, but we will see some.

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