Compassion moved the heart of Jesus when he saw the people following him. The crowds “were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). To the disciples Christ said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (vs. 37-38). Surely, the Lord expected the apostles to pray not only for the addition of more workers in the field but also for the effectiveness of soul-winning efforts.
That the Twelve took these instructions seriously is evident. They promised the Jerusalem congregation to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). The apostles were diligent preachers, but they were equally dedicated to prayer. How can prayer affect the souls of lost people, though? Don’t they freely choose whether to obey the Gospel? Yes, but various factors may influence their decision.
Some influences are negative. For instance, a man may grow up in a godless home or earn a degree at a university hostile to Christian faith. A woman may be poisoned by the worldly values of close friends or by the hypocrisy of insincere church members.
Of course, positive factors influence people too. Benevolence, hospitality, upright conduct, genuine love, or visiting the assembly of a caring congregation may encourage conversion. And so may prayer. Through his providence God can create situations that draw people to himself. Besides, prayer can inspire within us a greater zeal and determination to work in behalf of lost neighbors and friends.