Have you ever felt tempted to quit praying for a lost person in your sphere of influence – be it a family member, long-time friend, or anyone else you’ve known for a period of years? It’s one thing to talk about persevering in prayer. It’s another thing to actually do it!
Because somewhere within may lurk the idea that there is no way this person is going to come to faith. The thinking may include sentiments like – I mean, if you only knew them. They’re reprobate. They’re never going to change. They don’t want to hear about Jesus. In fact, they’re downright hostile to the gospel. Well, I hate to say this, but they are a lost cause!
Been there? I have!
Well, I have a biblical and no so subtle response to this kind of thinking – not so fast!
You see, we have a not so obscure example of one who, if it were possible, certainly would have qualified in his day as being a ‘lost cause.’ Yet, with God all things are possible, including the salvation of the ‘most unlikely’ of people.
Let me introduce – drumroll please – Saul of Tarsus.
As Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5), and a man full of grace and power (Acts 6:8), testifies and then is martyred in Acts 7, Saul makes his ignominious first appearance in the Bible:
“…and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” (Acts 7:58-59, Acts 8:1, 3.
No we can only imagine early believers response to Saul’s raging persecution. It seems to me there possibly were two camps of thinking regarding his rampaging.
First, there may have been a group of believers who viewed Saul as a ‘madman’, as ‘bad news’, and someone to avoid at all times in all situations. Is it possible there may have been some followers of Jesus who may have coined Saul a ‘lost cause?’ For here was this learned religious Jewish man who certainly would have, to some degree, been exposed to Jesus’ teaching and would have known of His miracles and renown during HIs earthly ministry. And this man categorically rejects everyone and everything associated with Jesus.
On the other hand, there must have been those disciples who remembered Jesus’ words regarding human enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45)
Wow! This is not a natural response. Rather it’s a supernatural response – and one I believe would have been undertaken by some of Jesus’ faithful followers to Saul’s opposition and persecution.
And you say, how?
Through an attitude of love and compassion for Saul’s spiritual lostness along with prayer for his salvation.
There is no biblical record of anyone actually ‘witnessing’ to Saul. But in Acts 9, Jesus comes to seek and to save this one who is lost, bringing Saul out of the Kingdom of Darkness and into the Kingdom of Light:
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:1-6)
The Apostle Paul would later write: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
As we think about people in our lives, you most likely don’t know a ‘Saul’ like figure personally. But you definitely know people who are lost and difficult to love, serve, and pray for. You may even have someone you’re tempted to coin a lost cause.
Well, not so fast!
Remember the Apostle Paul, and if your so inclined, think about your own faith journey. I can tell you I only uttered the name of Jesus Christ in vain for the first 23 years of my life. Yes, I was an enemy of God! Yet, I’m eternally grateful that people witnessed to me, prayed for me, and showed me God’s love. And I’m eternally grateful to God for saving me.
So, persevere in prayer, persevere in good works, persevere in love, and persevere in proclaiming the good news of Jesus. And remember, there are no lost causes, just lost people!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)