Have you ever felt that someone is hopeless? Beyond redemption? Unworthy of mercy?
That’s what I’ve been feeling in recent weeks as I’ve watched the horrifying scenes of the Taliban once again ruling Afghanistan. Going house to house to find and exterminate Christians…killing Afghans who sided with the Americans…brutally suppressing women…raping young girls.
Everything in me has screamed, “UNFORGIVEABLE!”
Then, to my horror, American officials expressed surprise in how the Taliban have behaved. Somehow they thought the Taliban of today would be different than the maniacal killers we defeated 20 years ago.
Any sane person should be clear: The Taliban will never be transformed by American “diplomacy.” They’re never going to conclude, “Since this American administration is being nice to us, I guess we should change our ways.”
I’m having flashbacks of Neville Chamberlain, Britain’s prime minister who thought he could change Adolph Hitler through negotiation and kindness. His naiveté was one of history’s greatest diplomatic blunders. Demonic tyrants can’t be changed by human benevolence.
So, if you’ve been feeling hopeless about transforming the Taliban, I’ve been right there with you.
However, after adamantly concluding there’s no hope for these unrepentant terrorists, I happened to remember a famous story in the Bible. It recounts, three separate times in the book of Acts, how Saul of Tarsus was dramatically changed into Paul the apostle.
Saul would have fit right in with the Taliban. Like them, he was enraged against followers of Jesus. Like them, he was going door to door to hunt them down. Like them, he was thoroughly convinced he was on a holy mission from God.
What was it that changed Saul’s mind? How did his mission change from killing Christ-followers to joining them – even being willing to suffer persecution himself?
If we can understand the transformation of Saul, maybe we can see why there’s hope for members of the Taliban, after all.
HOW TO PRAY FOR A “HOPELESS” PERSON
Although you probably don’t have any friends who are part of the Taliban, there’s a good chance you see someone in your life as hopeless and unchangeable. I’ll admit, this has happened to me from time to time. I’m far too prone to give up on people.
Yet I’m finding hope in the story of Saul’s conversion. It turns out that God can redeem even those we deem unredeemable.
As I’ve wrestled with the pessimistic attitudes I’ve had toward the thorny people in my life, I’ve begun to see my need for a whole new approach in my prayers. If there’s someone you’re tempted to give up on, perhaps these pointers will help you as well:
- Pray for God to remind you again of the unmerited grace and mercy you’ve received from Him. When we forget how gracious and patient the Lord has been with us, we become judgmental and hopeless in our view toward others. Paul never forgot that he had been “the chief of sinners” before being transformed by God’s grace and power (1 Timothy 1:15). Smug, self-righteous prayers will never succeed in attracting lost people to the Savior (Luke 18:9-14). And if the “hopeless” person is your spouse, you must be particularly careful to avoid approaching them with a haughty attitude (1 Peter 3:1-2).
- Pray for the person to have a supernatural encounter with Jesus. Saul was not transformed by persuasive arguments or apologetics. No wonder he would later write that the kingdom of God doesn’t consist merely of words, but rather of power (1 Corinthians 4:20). When I got saved over 50 years ago, we often shared the Gospel with tools like “The Four Spiritual Laws” and “Steps to Peace with God.” Although I’m certainly not against such approaches, it seems that most of today’s unbelievers need something more. Just as happened to Saul on the road to Damascus, they need a powerful personal encounter with the risen Christ. In recent years, there have been numerous testimonies of Jesus appearing to Muslims in their dreams. Through your prayers, the same kind of thing can happen to your “hopeless” friend.
- Pray for the person to encounter genuine Christians. I once heard a story about missionary E. Stanley Jones asking Mahatma Gandhi why he never became a Christian, especially since his views on non-violence lined up well with the teachings of Jesus. Tragically, Gandhi replied, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians. Many of you Christians are very unlike your Christ.” It’s heart-breaking that the judgmental and hypocritical lives of many professing believers often get in the way of lost people being attracted to the Christian life. Before Saul encountered Jesus, he witnessed the amazing martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7). As Christians in Afghanistan experience that same kind of martyrdom, let’s pray that many members of the Taliban will be impacted by their courageous testimony.
- Focus on God’s faithfulness rather than on the conduct of the person you’re praying for. Although it’s tempting to keep looking for evidence that our prayers are working, we should focus our hopes instead on the goodness the Lord. Paul wrote, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). You see, our hope must be firmly anchored to the “God of hope” rather than on the responsiveness of the person we’re praying for.
- Keep praying, and don’t give up. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a godly woman named Monica who had a wayward, hedonistic son. Abandoning his mother’s Christianity, the son embraced paganism and the mystical practices of a cult. For 17 agonizing years, Monica cried out to God on behalf of her son. Finally, he was converted – and people now refer to him as St. Augustine, one of the most influential writers in church history. Galatians 6:9 promises that in “due season” we will reap a harvest if we lovingly persist in our prayers and don’t lose heart.
LIGHTING A CANDLE
Lately I’ve been thinking of the famous maxim, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” That’s a nice thought, but how could we possibly shine any of God’s light into the horrific situation in Afghanistan, on the other side of the world? It turns out that the Lord is making a way.
This week I got together with my friend David Sanford, a national director of Missionary Athletes International. David told me of an incredible opportunity God is providing. Around 10,000 Afghan refugees will be housed on a military base on the east coast of America, and the door has miraculously opened for his organization to do soccer camps and share the love of Jesus there. In the weeks and months ahead, many bewildered, traumatized refugees will experience love from Christians, often for the very first time!
Even though it’s not likely you can travel to Afghanistan to be a missionary right now, the Afghans have come right here in our own backyard. Please join me in praying for this timely outreach.
As we’re praying for the refugees and for the brave Christians who are still in Afghanistan, let’s not forget to also pray for the Taliban. Pray that even the most hardened terrorists will experience a life-changing encounter with Christ, just like Saul of Tarsus did.