Good Monday morning, and welcome back to the podcast. We have talked recently about the tensions inside a home when a Christian is married to a non-Christian. This dynamic can happen for several reasons, sometimes intentionally. A Christian may sin and knowingly marry a non-Christian. We saw this in APJ 1560. Or two non-Christians marry, and one eventually gets saved. We saw this in APJ 1029. Or two professing Christians get married: one proves their faith over the years, or is genuinely converted, and the other falls away over time. We have seen this dynamic in APJs 680, 1690, and in 1839 just a couple weeks ago.
I don’t know which category fits today. We have limited information. But, Pastor John, six times over the years we have gotten an email from a woman named Rose. Her emails are always the same. They’re always brief. They’re always one sentence, the same sentence — this one: “Pastor John, how do I pray for my husband to be saved?” What would you say to Rose?
Oh, how I wish I could see into Rose’s sorrowful heart and pinpoint where she feels the greatest difficulty in praying for her unbelieving husband. Is it how often she should pray? Is it how to avoid vain repetitions when you’ve been praying the same prayer for years and years — hundreds of times, thousands of times? Is it how to keep on praying after decades of seeing no evident change? Is it particular texts that she’s struggling with and how to apply them? Is it loss of desire, maybe, or loss of hope, or loss of love in her own heart? Is it the cooling of trust in God? Is it practicalities like, “Do I pray out loud? Or do I pray in a closet? Or how many times a day?” Is it whether it dishonors the husband to pray for him in groups, maybe? I’ve had women ask me that. Is it whether to pray for him in his presence? “Can I do that? Can I pray for him in his face?” Is it whether to pray for others to reach out to him or whether to pray directly for his soul? Oh, how I wish I could see where the point is that she is asking about.
But maybe it’s just a heart cry: “Help — anything you can say, Pastor John, that might encourage me or keep me going.” And so, I don’t know the details of her struggle, except that it’s been a long time, evidently, because of her repeated requests.
And what I like to do is suggest a way of praying for unbelieving loved ones that I have found hopeful. It’s premised (I have to say this; it’s really crucial to say) on the biblical conviction that God is sovereign and, whenever he chooses, he can overcome all resistance and save the hardest sinner. I do not believe that human beings have final veto power over the sovereign will of God.
Some might think that this kind of absolute sovereignty over the human will, which I deeply believe is biblical, would create a sense of fatalism, maybe, or discouragement that God may not choose to save our loved one in the end. But looked at another way, it actually creates hope, this sovereign God. It means God really can save no matter what the unbeliever does or has done. Nothing can stop him.
“God really can save no matter what the unbeliever does or has done. Nothing can stop him.”
This means no amount of passing time, no amount of accumulated sin, no degree of hardness of heart, no sneering antagonism, no public mockery, no angry resistance — nothing can hinder his salvation if God wills to take away the hardness and save. To me, that’s the only hope we have that unbelievers would be saved, because they’re all dead in their trespasses and sins — and dead is dead. There’s nothing I can do. If God doesn’t do it, people perish. I would’ve perished.
Our Generous Father
So, building on this conviction of God’s hope-sustaining sovereignty, I love to pray the promises of God, especially the new-covenant promises of salvation. But before I mention a few of those, I find it encouraging to remind myself — I must do this every week or so from Scripture — that God really does delight to answer the prayers of his children. I need to see that. I need to be reminded of that in his own words. He’s not a begrudging Father.
So for example, I return often to Matthew 7:9–11:
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
Or Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
“God really does delight to answer the prayers of his children.”
Surely Jesus told us these things to encourage us to pray, to remind us that we should think of him this way — a generous Father to his children. He loves to see us pray: a Shepherd eager to bless, a King eager to give to his subjects. And then, with that fresh reminder of God’s eagerness to hear our prayers and answer them, I turn to the promises of the new covenant.
Turning Promises into Prayers
Now, remember that the new covenant, according to Ezekiel 36, is different from the Mosaic covenant because it doesn’t just come with demands from outside; it comes with enablement to do the commands from inside. He says, “I will cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27). “I’m not going to just give you statutes — I will cause you to walk in my statutes.” That’s the key of the new covenant. And Jesus said that this new covenant was secured by himself by his own blood. He held up the cup at the Last Supper: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). He bought it, and so it is sure.
So here are some of the precious new-covenant promises that I turn into prayers for beloved unbelievers.
‘Become his God.’
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
So, pray like this for your husband: “Dear Father, I pray for my precious husband that you would, in your great mercy, bought by the blood of Jesus, take out the heart of stone and give him a tender, soft heart toward you. Put a new spirit in him. Give him a new disposition to love your word and keep it. Become his God. Make him your child.”
‘Circumcise his heart.’
Or here’s another new-covenant promise, from Deuteronomy 30:6. God looks to the day when a prophet like Moses will arise — namely, Jesus — and promises this for his chosen ones:
The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
So, you pray, “O Father, none of us loves you first and turns your heart to love us. We can’t love you unless you in your great, free, gracious love first circumcises our hearts. You must cut away the old nature of self-exaltation and self-rule. You did this for me. I didn’t deserve that any more than my husband does. O God, I plead with you, circumcise his heart so that it is set free from resistance to your truth and goodness and beauty. Cause him, O Lord, to love you because of Christ.”
‘Grant him repentance.’
Or think of the instruction and the promise in 2 Timothy 2:24–26. It applies, I think, to all of us who at any time use the word in prayer to try to lead an unbeliever out of darkness. It says this:
The Lord’s servant [now that would be me, that would be this wife] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
So, we pray, “Father, even though no one deserves to be saved, no one deserves the gift of repentance, no one deserves escape from the devil, nevertheless, you are a God of mercy. I know this because I escaped when I was just as blind and snared in deadness of heart as my husband. Here I am praying, loving you, trusting you — amazing grace in my life! So, you are a God of mercy, and if you will, you can grant repentance, and liberation, and faith, and life. I know you have mercy on whom you have mercy. I know you are free and all-wise, and as your child, I am asking that, for the glory of your grace, you would give repentance to my husband.”
Do Not Lose Heart
And we could go on, of course — on and on, in fact — turning the promises and the works of God into prayers.
We could turn Acts 16:14 into this: “Lord, open his heart like you did Lydia’s.” Or we could turn 2 Corinthians 4:6 into this: “Father, shine into their hearts with the light of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Or we could pray the words of Jesus in Luke 18:27: “Lord Jesus, you said of the conversion of the rich man, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’ So do the impossible, I pray. Convert my husband.”
So, Rose, we are with you in this great work of wrestling in prayer for your beloved unbeliever. Let’s not forget the words of Jesus in Luke 18:1: “always . . . pray and [do] not lose heart.”