How to Pray for Your Neighbor’s Salvation

I recently got new neighbors.  They moved in across the way.

I know very little about them at the moment, other than they are Jewish.

At least, that is my best guess based on the mezuzah that is on their door frame.  I am told that the mezuzah holds a small paper scroll with the words of the Shema prayer written on it in Hebrew.  Mezuzahs fulfill the command to keep the laws of God on the doorposts of our homes, and I’ve seen family members touch it each time they walk into their house.

I doubt my first greeting with them will be to talk about Jesus.

But I can begin to pray for them before I have a chance to know them personally.

How can you pray for your neighbors?

How to Pray for Neighbors Salvation

I know there are many different prayer strategies in personal evangelism (listen to this one), such as this one from Colossians 4:3-4

  • “Lord, Open a door.”
  • “Lord, open their heart.”
  • “Lord, open my mouth.”

When I last got new neighbors in 2011, here is what shaped my prayer for my new neighbors.  We are praying along these lines:

  1. That we’d find common ground with our new neighbors
  2. That we’d build a genuine and authentic relationship.
  3. That we’d be part of God’s work in bringing them to Christ.
  4. That if they don’t have a church, that they would become part of ours.
  5. That we’d get to invite them to our church.
  6. That God would draw them to Jesus if that hasn’t happened yet.

Due to the course of life events in both our families, we moved and they moved before we ever had a meal together.

As I step into a new seasons of praying for new neighbors, here are some ideas that are fueling me.

1.  Pray for passion to share the good news

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s  driving passion to share the good news, as spelled out in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23.

For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law),so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

2.  Pray that God would give you divine appointments

Earlier in the Corinthian letter, Paul wrote:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. (1 Corinthians 3:5)

Paul reminded the Corinthians about how they made their journey to faith over time through various conversational encounters.

Each of those conversational encounters were divine appointments, those prompting a moment that will impact someone’s life in their journey to faith.  I want to give you examples of how this can play out in real life.

Pray for more divine appointments with your neighbor.

3.  Pray that God will keep those neighbors before you.

Your neighbors are not just a nameless class of irrelgious people.

They are not simply “the unsaved.”  Rather, they are individuals with names, stories, hopes, dreams.  They are people that you can grow to love and serve.

You could pray that seeing your neighbors will become a trigger that will prompt you to pray,

Lord use me to share the love of Christ with them.

Lord, use me to invite them to church.

Pray that God would give you the opportunity to invite someone to church this coming weekend.

4.  Pray that you’ll receive the Father’s heart of love.

It’ll be easy to get annoyed with your neighbors when they won’t cut their tree limbs back, or when their dog continues to do its business on your yard.

It’ll become easy to ignore your neighbor if you never interact with them.

It’ll become easy to forget about their spiritual condition once you have spent a good amount of time with them.

Instead of letting business as usual develop, ask the Lord to give you His heart of love for those who don’t know him.

Ask regularly, ask plainly, and ask with great passion.

Ask the Lord for that same compassion Jesus felt that day outside of Jerusalem.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  (Matthew 9:36-38)

5.  Pray that you’ll discern their spiritual thirst.

As you pray regularly for your neighbor, you’ll begin to see what the Spirit of God is doing in their life.

You’ll begin to see their spiritual thirst.

Recently, I went on a charter fishing expedition.  The captain looked for clues as we drove to the fishing spots – birds feeding on bait fish.  The birds showed the captain where the small bait fish were swimming near the surface and that was the clue to the likely presence of the bigger fish we would catch.

Spiritual thirst is that clue that will begin to give you a hint of the spiritual hunger that is just below the surface.

In the way I teach personal evangelism, this thirst is what God uses to draw people to himself.  Jesus said:

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37b)

Jesus plainly taught that if anyone wants a relationship with God, it can be obtained.

But notice that this claim to a relationship is specifically addressed only to those who are spiritually thirsty.

Pray that you’ll begin to see it.

I pray for my neighbors.  Will you pray for yours?

Here is the coaching corner.

Are you praying regularly for your neighbors?

Maybe it is time to make a prayer list of every neighbor in your apartment building, condo complex, or cul-de-sac.

Write down their names and set apart time in your devotional times to pray for them.

Book Review: Offer Them Life

Dan DunnHaving read a steady diet of popular church growth books, Dan Dunn’s Offer Them Life: A Life-Based Evangelistic Vision is different academic challenge.

It is not a book to consume in one sitting, but a great book for those who want to think deeply on the biblical theme of Life.

I love Dan’s passion for evangelism and it clearly shows through the book with a mix of scholarly wrestling plus how to make such insights available in practice.  Dan’s cross cultural missions experience (a passion that I share personally) gives him tremendous insight into his study.

This book requires deep thought and this was a welcome refresher in an age of “theology lite” books I’ve read the last few years.

Reading it felt like an appropriate return to seminary.  For me, that was a timely challenge that I appreciated.

Dan has made the effort to survey the scholarship and to synthesize their thoughts plus his own surrounding the biblical metaphor of life.

I appreciated Dunn’s scholarly approach.  Rather than reduce the gospel to 3 propositional statements, Dunn looks throughout the scriptures at the theme of Life.  He takes well-developed steps to map out a comprehensive picture of this metaphor throughout Scripture to show the centrality of this message in Scripture. 

His thoughts would serve missionaries, pastors, and evangelism trainers like myself as they prepare their evangelism habits and teaching materials.

Main points of Offer Them Life

DanDunnThese are the two most important points:

1. A solid case can be made that “full, vibrant life” is the central theme of the Bible.

This is therefore what God calls us to enjoy in relationship with God, others, and creation.  It is not only eternal life, but a full and meaningful life as one lives out God’s purpose and plan for which we have been created.

2.  Portraying the full vibrant life that God intends to non-Christians is a central element of evangelism.

This what we should be inviting non-Christians toward.  Sure, the offer of salvation includes forgiveness of sin, but it also includes the offer of “abundant life” here and now.

We should not stop using other biblical/theological language, such as redemption, forgiveness, salvation.

Dunn only asks that we add full life oriented imagery and vocabulary to our theological/biblical understandings and also our evangelistic communication.

Quotes I liked:

  • Two perspectives underlie the current practice of evangelism in the U.S. American context. The first is one’s understanding of eternal life. The second is basing evangelism on the concept of kingdom.
  • Christians, therefore, must continually discern ways of thinking about and practicing evangelism that honor the strong biblical theme that God wants God’s created humanity to experience life fully (abundantly, according to John 10:10), on this earth, prior to physical death.
  • When evangelism deals with sin, for example, mutual emphasis could be given to the life-forever benefits of being forgiven through Christ (e.g., access to heaven) and to the life-now benefits of Christ’s forgiveness (e.g., freedom from bondage)
  • These examples serve to illustrate that a great deal of material has been written on the theme of the already and not-yet character of the kingdom’s fulfillment. For my purposes, the most important factor to note is how the tension between the already and not-yet dimensions of kingdom fulfillment relates to the biblical theme of life, and then consequently how this relates to the theory and practice of evangelism
  • I would now like to introduce a related yet different concept for you to consider: that we frame the relationship between life and kingdom in reference to ultimate goal or purpose, as distinct from the instruments or means that lead to that ultimate goal or purpose.
  • Thus, Jesus’s primary goal in announcing the kingdom and inviting people to respond to it was not so that they could be counted as citizens of the kingdom for the sake of the king or the kingdom, but for their own sake, because it is through submission to the rule of King Jesus that they would receive new life in him.
  • If creation of and participation in life was God’s original intention for creation, then God’s intention in Jesus is a restoration and re-creation of that same life: teeming, fertile, abundant, and good. This directly and powerfully impacts the theory and practice of evangelism, for it helps shape our understandings of what we are offering in our communication of the good news
  • Evangelism begins with God, but God also intends, invites, and desires that God’s people be active participants in the evangelization process. The Scriptures vividly portray that God’s plan for calling God’s fallen creation back to God’s self includes people as integral ministry partners in this work. From the calling of Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, to young Mary giving birth to the Son, to the early disciples leading thousands of people to Christ—the Bible makes it clear that God wants to communicate the possibility of new life in Jesus to people through people. Therefore, though evangelism begins with God and is utterly dependent on God, God also envisions a vital role for Christians. Without question, God is the sole source of new life in Christ. However, this does not automatically mean that God is the sole agent in the process that leads us to this new life. God’s sovereignty in evangelism does not cancel out God’s intention for us to be used as God’s agents in evangelism. Rather, it is in God’s sovereignty that God has chosen us as God’s agents.
  • How, therefore, can we portray (and invite persons to) an experience of full life in Jesus that appropriately calls them to center that experience in their commitment to and relationship with God?
  • The answer is, yes, there is very good news for life now, and evangelistic theory and practice must make this a primary emphasis
  • In whatever way we may choose to include the possibility of new life in Christ in our evangelistic vision and ministry, we must include references to experiencing positive benefits in this life, if we want to resonate well with non-believers
  • This is the essential point I am making in relation to creation as the starting point for an evangelistic vision grounded in the biblical theme of life. We begin with God’s good and positive intentions. This provides a more appropriate biblical and theological foundation for theology and evangelism.

This reviewer said it best:

Dr. Dan Dunn has done what few can do. He has written a very academic and scholarly treatise delivered in a language we all can understand. His brilliant mind, disciplined academic pursuit and passion for helping others find life in following Christ has resulted in a book every Christian worker should include in their library, not as another dusty tome, but as a pattern for their life and ministry of evangelism. Every theological school which hopes to actually equip their graduates to do the work of the ministry should include this book in their curriculum.

Dan is a personal friend of mine and I have taught with him in the seminary he has founded in Venezuela.

I have gotten to know him over the last few years as we share passions for personal evangelism and a profound love for Latin America.

Even if I didn’t know Dan personally, I’d still recommend this book for your academic reading.  Let it impact how you practice evangelism.

Order your copy

Order your copy of Offer Them Life: A Life-Based Evangelistic Vision Amazon.  I will receive a small commission.

Why your small church should have a reception after your service

I was an associate pastor in a small church.  We had to carefully manage every dime received through the offering plate.

During lean seasons, we had to question every expense in the budget.

Sometimes we’d question the value of spending money on coffee and snacks after the morning service.  Our pastor prided himself on his thrifty Scottish heritage and often looked for ways to not spend money if there was no value received.

Should our church have spent precious gifts from our members on little food items to have  a small fellowship time after church?

Was it worth the effort to buy napkins, cups, plates?

Did making coffee make any difference?

Did the pastry matter?

Church Hospitality Reception

Pastor, I liked your sermon

Our church had a reception in  room right off the sanctuary.  Guests were invited every Sunday to visit with us and maybe even share a prayer request.

One Sunday, an immigrant approached me after the service.  She had grabbed her cup of coffee and sweetened it with sugar.  Then grabbing a fresh pastry, she asked me to join her at the table.

“Pastor, I like your sermon,” she said in accented English.

I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit that put me on alert that God was wanting to do something.

“Tell me more,” I invited.

She began to tell me about how listening to my sermons answered some of her questions, how easy they were to understand.  She told me how she was learning about God and what it meant to start following Jesus.

As I listened, the nudge of the Holy Spirit felt heavier.  It felt stronger.  Perhaps something like what Phillip might have felt before talking with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

I don’t remember some of the next phases in the conversation, but it eventually moved into me sharing the gospel with her, using the bridge illustration as my default presentation.

We had a napkin handy, so I drew out the illustration there.

When I finished and asked her where she would put herself on that diagram, she indicated that she was ready to trust in Jesus.  With that open door, I led her in a prayer of dedication, offering her life to the Lord and inviting him to come in.

A few months later, she took baptism and got involved in an international student ministry to help other immigrant students discover Jesus.

Did the pastry make the difference?

Church Visitor Reception

Source: Flickr

A fellowship time after our service in a small church provided a context for a life changing conversation to occur. 

This young lady had been listening to sermons, visiting with church members after the service, and developed enough trust to talk about issue on her mind.

The fellowship time provided the context.

Without that context, she might not have stayed.

Without that staying on a regular basis, she might not have surrendered her life that day.

Did the pastry we paid for make the difference?  Of course not.

But the food, fellowship, and the coffee created a relational context for her life to change.

Anecdotal evidence suggests food and beverage gives a person a greater willingness to linger and may help set a comfort level that can create a conversational context.

In my church visitor assimilation seminar (now available for download), one item I focus on why you need some kind of lingering space after the worship service.

A reception helps your small church ministry

A visitor reception like this is one of my top six ways to follow up on a first time church visitor.  Don’t go cheap.  Allow your church hospitality committee to spend the money on this reception.

In my current church, the reception after the service often allows people to stay for another hour (and sometimes 2) after the service is over.

  • Conversations happen.
  • Connections are made.
  • Relationships built.
  • People pray for one another.

Enough relationships are established that second and third visits happen.

If you are leading a small church, you’ll need to create some kind of relational space for newcomers to get to know you.  A reception immediately after the service creates that space.

Your guests can

  • choose to stay and visit,
  • sit with a friendly church member and
  • start a conversation that may lead to that second visit.

Not every guest will take you up on it.  Some will be in a hurry to leave.

But others will choose to linger, to learn more about your church, maybe even to seek out someone to pray with.  Make sure your church greeters are looking for people who might be newcomers.

I have concluded that the funds for a small reception like this are untouchable, and should be increased.

Your reception should have quality beverages, quality snack items, and well made coffee.

Spend the money on table cloths, tables, and chairs to give your guests and members a place to sit.  That’s what one church welcome committee did with their hospitality budget.

I’ve learned that this one small reception can make a big difference in your visitor assimilation.

Outreach to visitors is not a place to be tight on budget.  That is part of your evangelism budget – but that’s my biased opinion.

Check out this church hospitality resource

Church Hospitality BookHow to Welcome Church Visitors is a compilation of several hospitality articles all in one place formatted into one eBook.

It is for church hospitality committees, leaders, and greeters that need to get a fresh vision for welcoming the visitor who comes to your church as well as practical steps to get started.

If you are in a hurry, without enough time to read all the hospitality articles here, get your copy of How To Welcome Church Visitors.

Bonus: Take me up on my offer to provide your church with free coaching.  If you buy my eBook “How To Welcome Church Visitors,” you can get the coaching call free as a bonus, instead of the $97 charge if you did the coaching by itself.  That is an 82% discount off paying for the call itself.

Fellowship Hall photo credit: The World Wants a Real Deal via cc

Stuff I’m Reading for Inspiration, January 17 2014

Every now and then, I spend some time reading other thinkers and Christian bloggers that make me think, react, or comment.  These are some of my favorites this week.

Arminianism Didn’t Save Me! Me Neither

I had no clue about Arminianism when I was born again.  I had no clue about John Calvin or Martin Luther when the Lord was pleased to save me.  All I knew was that Jesus died for my sins, that He rose again, and that He was my Savior and Lord.  That was all I knew.

. . . .

Oh friends, don’t worship a theological system.  Worship the Son of God!  Make Jesus your passion.  Don’t exalt a man above the Lord Jesus.  Exalt the Lord Jesus and make His name great!  Jesus came to ransom us from our sins (Mark 10:45) and His blood can wash away all our sins.

Read more from  @SeekingDisciple here: http://bit.ly/1drcKqO

Is Salvation a Matter of Urgency?

Miguel Labrador always has me thinking.  He a cross cultural missionary serving in South America who asks deep questions out of the work he does.  Here is a glimpse from an old post.

Urgency is imprudent when it:

  • Delivers a compromised Gospel message.
  • Creates an environment for insincere or ignorant “decisions.”
  • Uses emotional pleas to invoke a response.
  • Relies heavily on methodology and light on being all things to all people.
  • Places guilt on those who are not lead to reach out to specific people in specific times.

If Christ is the author and finisher of our faith,

then is there really any urgency in proclaiming the Gospel?.

Read more at http://bit.ly/1cXUiS4 By @Missionaries

Commitment is a very big word. Especially when it comes to sharing the Gospel.

I spoke about someone who once described it this way:

Evangelism is the work of rescuing people from certain death. It is putting aside all fear and hesitance, knowing that we cannot stand by and watch people die without doing something to stop it.”(. Anon)

I am challenged by that statement and it made me examine my own commitment levels. Am I blinkered when it comes to sharing the good news? How do I view people that I come into contact with on a daily basis? Do I view them as souls either going to heaven or destined for a lost eternity? What if I don’t think about it and just get on with my day?

Read more from @gospelonetoone at http://bit.ly/1a9j5G0

6 Keys to Breaking the 200, 400 and 800 Attendance Barriers

This is a recurring post I keep returning to.  Carey is a great thinking and leader based on what I’ve read so far.

’m going to assume leaders are praying and that the church is biblical and authentic in its mission. I’ll also assume that leaders want to church to grow.

But even with all those conditions in place, too many churches just can’t push through.

And even once you get past 200, some churches can’t make it past 400 or 800.  Again, not for lack of desire or opportunity.

So why can’t they grow?

They simply haven’t structured for growth.

Read more from @cnieuwhof at  http://bit.ly/1cFg7ZQ

The Sinners Prayer for the Person with a Christian Background

Fourteen months ago, my friend and I first got acquainted.  We have spent much time together during those 14 months getting to know one another.

When I first mentioned that I was a follower of Christ, the defensive wall went up.   He didn’t want to talk about spiritual things.

But as I continue to mention Christ my ordinary conversations, he has softened his hostility and moved to curiosity. [Read more...]