In the fall of 1988, I left for my freshman year of college at the University of Iowa. I remember driving out of town very, very fast. I couldn’t wait to leave my small town life behind. I couldn’t wait to embrace the next chapter that awaited me.
At the time, I was also on the run from God. I had grown up in the church, and I think there’s a good chance that I genuinely knew Him. (Someday I’ll ask Him.) But some tough experiences in high school had left me wary of the church. And wary of God. I was a textbook prodigal.
Before I left for school, my mom gave me a Bible. At the time, I was kind of annoyed by it. It was a reminder of the faith that I’d grown up with, a faith that I was, at some level, trying to leave in my rearview mirror. But I was also touched, perhaps at an almost subconscious level, that she cared so much about my faith — or lack thereof at that point. “I’ll be praying for you,” Mom said as I packed my belongings into my dilapidated ’79 Capri.
I knew she would. My mom prayed all the time, for her children, for lots of other folks. “OK, Mom,” I said as I stuffed my new Bible into the car, too.
My mother’s prayers would be answered pretty quickly, actually, as I ran smack dab into a group of Christians at the U of I whose faith was simply irresistible. They loved people, and they prayed for people — just like my mom did. And, like her, many of them (including my roommate) let me know that they were praying for me.
Resistance, of course, was futile. Toward the end of my first semester, I surrendered my life fully to Christ and shortly thereafter got involved with a Navigator campus ministry.
It wasn’t too much later that I attended a conference, I think, where the speaker talked about how to pray for non-Christians. In all honesty, I don’t remember who the speaker was. But I do remember the principles that were communicated, because I wrote them in the back cover of my Bible: “What to Pray for Non-Christians” the header reads.
And so now I’d like to share them with you, along with the scriptural references these principles are drawn from.
1. Pray that God draws them to himself (John 6:44).
2. Pray that they seek to know God (Acts 17:27, Deuteronomy 4:29).
3. Pray that they believe the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 10:17).
4. Pray that Satan would be kept from blinding them to the truth (Matthew 13:19, 2 Corinthians 4:4).
5. Pray that the Holy Spirit works in them (John 16:8-13).
6. Pray that God would send them someone to lead them to Christ (Matthew 9:37-38).
7. Pray that they would believe in Christ as Savior (John 1:12, 5:24) and confess him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10).
8. Pray that they would turn from sin (Acts 3:19, 17:30-31).
9. Pray that they would yield all to follow Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15, Philippians 3:7-8).
10. Pray that they would take root and grow in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7).
It’s quite a list, really, one that covers a lot of spiritual ground. (And, incidentally, most of this list is also applicable to those who already know Christ.) As a college student, I remember fervently and frequently praying through it for four or five close, non-believing friends I made in my time at Iowa. It was a rich season of growth and intercession, and this list in the back of my Bible was one that I prayed over faithfully for years.
In the spirit of confession, however, I have to admit that my intercession on behalf of those who don’t know Christ hasn’t been quite as fervent or frequent in recent years. I’d like to recommit to that discipline, and so I share these scriptural prayer points today as much as an exhortation to myself as, hopefully, an encouragement to you in your own prayer life.
My own prayer inconsistencies notwithstanding, however, I am convinced that God uses prayer — in ways we may not always understand or immediately be able to see — to draw people toward himself. And I’m equally convinced that as we spend time praying for others, both non-Christians and our fellow believers, it’s something God uses to work on our souls and to conform us to the likeness of His Son.