Americans are a praying people. Research shows we pray for our health, for our family members, for our finances and for God’s guidance. These are good things to pray for. But something is missing: prayer for the lost.

Not sister Jane and son Paul and best friend Christie, although we should pray for those close to us. I mean the man we notice at the bus stop, the troubled family down the street, and the multitudes who don’t know Jesus. Are strangers included in your daily prayers? Jesus prayed for the lost of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37).  And in the greatest intercessory prayer recorded, Jesus said this: “My prayer is not for them alone [the Christian family]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (John 17:20).

Are your prayers extending to those dying without Christ? If unbelieving strangers are not in our prayers, they are not in our hearts and minds. The apostle Paul reminds us that Christ died for all people. “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanks-giving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority….This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

In and around the 19th century, a missionary movement spread from Great Britain to China, India, southeast Asia and Africa. You’ve heard some names from this period: Carey, Judson, Taylor, Moffat, Livingstone and Schweitzer. Hudson Taylor, for example, took on the challenge of preaching Christ to the Chinese people, who make up a quarter of the world’s population.

When he arrived in China, there was one Protestant Christian for every one million people. Fifty years later, the ratio was one Protestant Christian for every 2,000. This missionary movement was driven by the Gospel Commission taken seriously; along with prayer, prayer, prayer! Hudson Taylor was a naturally weak man. He was introspective, often lonely, frequently ill and sometimes depressed. But he knew the source of his power, and daily he spent hours interceding with God. His testimony is clear: We “move man by God through prayer alone.”

If the lost have been missing from your prayers, will you seek to change this? When you see a sad person at the mall, send up a prayer. When you notice someone practicing sin, pray. Extend your mind to all for whom Christ died. Focus on entire nations, cultures or groups of people. In our churches, how seldom prayers and intercessions are made for the unknown lost!

The beauty of prayer for the lost is that if it is sincere, it translates into action. When I am praying for the lost, I am asking God, “How can I be used in answer to my own prayers?”

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, Copyright © 1973, 1978,1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Republished from the March 2005 issue of Outlook magazine.