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I didn’t ask Angelica to Pray The Sinner’s Prayer. Should I have?

This post was originally written on July 23rd, of this year.  It is being updated and reposted with some Great News.  If you read the whole piece, you’ll see what I’m talking about.  

It’s a little town called “Guadalupe” at the edge of the Cloud Forest. We’ve been going there for a while, bringing the Gospel of the Kingdom, and have already seen many come to know Christ. Some of them have been baptized, and all of them are active in their faith. A little over a week ago, myself and a couple of brothers visited a family there in Guadalupe for the first time. We came simply saying, that we had a message from God for them. When we asked what they knew of Jesus, the man of the house said,

I’ve heard of him, but don’t really know much about him or why he came to earth.”

I don’t know that a God Orchestrated

encounter could have been any clearer.

Today, myself and a couple of brothers (spiritual brothers) visited the same family again, and while the man of the house wasn’t there, we spoke with his wife. I shared a short story from Ezekiel 20 and then talked about an experience I had in helping some victims of a bus accident some time ago.

In a nutshell, I was traveling back to our home in the Cloud Forest, and came across a bus accident that had just happened. The injuries were extensive and they had already pulled out a few dead. There was a woman with serious injuries and bleeding and some had asked if I could carry her to a local hospital which I gladly did. We made it to the hospital only to be followed by an onslaught of other victims of the crash. The nurses and doctors were few and so they had to do triage in the parking lot. They had taken the woman out of my car and put her in the back of a nearby pickup truck laying down but conscious. A doctor came by and performed a quick examination and then left. While he didn’t say anything I discerned that his prognosis was not good and he was going to see if he could help someone else. I looked at a friend of mine who was with me and said, “you have to share the Gospel with her now!” My Spanish at the time was poor and I felt an extreme sense of urgency. He hesitated, but spoke a simple gospel message to her.  Just a few minutes later the woman said, “Jesus Save Me, Jesus Save me, Jesus Save Me,” and died.

I’ll never forget that.

Why did I share this story with the woman in Guadalupe? I felt that it was appropriate for her in the moment. I and the others sensed that she was very close to repentance and belief. I reminded her that our days are not guaranteed and that it was God who arranged this encounter and it was Him who desired to have a relationship with her.

Normally for me in the past, and perhaps for many of you reading this, it would have been the perfect time to ask her if she wanted to “accept” Christ into her heart and say a “sinner’s prayer.” But, at this time, I didn’t. I told her that if she had any questions during the week, she should go into her room when all was quiet, ask God, and wait for an answer. We did pray for her and her household and told her we’d be back in a week. When we had gotten to the main road, I asked those with me if we should asked her to “Accept Jesus into her heart,” and “pray the sinner’s prayer,” and they said…

Well, I’m not actually going to tell you what they said, but I am going to ask you what you would have said.

In fact, I’m going to ask you 3 questions:

1. Was I wrong to not ask her if she wanted to receive Christ in that moment and pray the sinner’s prayer?

2. If she dies between now and next week, is her blood on my hands?

3. If I said that “getting others to pray a sinner’s prayer was actually more dangerous to a person’s spiritual condition than not praying it,” would you agree or disagree?

 

Before answering these questions, I want you to know that not a single person in Guadalupe who has recently come to faith and are living for Jesus ever prayed a sinner’s prayer.

 

UPDATE!

On December 29th 2012, both Angelica and her husband were baptized!  Now I’ll tell you what my fellow harvest workers told me on the main road when I asked if we should have asked Angelica to “accept Christ into her heart,” or “pray the sinner’s prayer.”  He said, “No, we’ll trust God as both the Author and finisher of her faith.  We did, and here are the results:

bothbat

 

 

 

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    1. chosenrebel July 23, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

      Miquel,

      Wish I had more time tonight to give this the time it really deserves but let me take a stab at a few thoughts.

      “1. Was I wrong to not ask her if she wanted to receive Christ in that moment and pray the sinner’s prayer?”

      No. I don’t know. You were the one God placed in her life. Each of us has to try to discern in each incidence what is necessary, according to the need of the moment (Ephesians 4:29). At the same time, it is only a question isn’t it? “Would you like to receive Christ?” There are many ways to go from there that don’t include a “sinner’s prayer.”

      “2. If she dies between now and next week, is her blood on my hands?”

      No. You were a herald of the good news. You told her about the king. You told her about the kingdom. You called her to repent and believe. You told her about the resurrection. You implied (at least) “that Jesus was coming again to judge the living and the dead” (2Tim 4:1-2). That is our job. Responses are between the Holy Spirit and an individual.

      “3. If I said that “getting others to pray a sinner’s prayer was actually more dangerous to a person’s spiritual condition than not praying it,” would you agree or disagree?”

      I would change the rules of the question. I don’t think it is always reducible to an agree/disagree pattern. I would say that generally, as many people use “sinner’s prayers” and the like, it is VERY dangerous. Generally.

      Honestly, I really wish I had more time. But I love what you did (as you have related it) and I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story after you return in a week.

      • Miguel July 24, 2012 at 7:52 am #

        Marty, thanks for being the first to comment.

        I love that you said, “At the same time, it is only a question isn’t it? “Would you like to receive Christ?” There are many ways to go from there that don’t include a “sinner’s prayer.”

        You’re right, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking. “Where we procede from there,” is where the most uncertainty and misapplication occurs IMO.

        While I wouldn’t want to give it away just yet, I’d sure like to know what you think those “many ways” might be.

    2. Rick Knock July 23, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

      HI Miguel,

      I’ll offer my 3 cents, since there were 3 questions.

      1. You were there, I wasn’t. I trust that the Holy Spirit led you to make the right decisions under the circumstances. In my opinion, pushing someone into a decision before they’re ready seldom results in a good outcome. Whether they reject Christ outright or accept Him grudgingly, they will still likely be an unbeliever, and resistance will have been increased.

      2. No. God knows what He’s doing. If you were obedient you’re not guilty; if you were disobedient you’re forgiven. We need to trust Him.

      3. Getting others to? Watch out for manipulation and/or coercion and the very real danger of false assurance. (See my answer to number 1.)

      I’m not Paul, but that’s the way I see it.

      Rick

      • Miguel July 24, 2012 at 7:55 am #

        Rick, good to see you here again…

        There are only a few ways that I can think of to determine if one is “ready.” I’d like to know how you personally determine this. The increased resistance to Christ or the Gospel is a very great concern for us.

        What would be a non-manipulative way to lead another to Christ? Without “getting them” to do anything?

        • Rick Knock July 24, 2012 at 9:23 am #

          Hi Miguel,

          At the risk of trying to replace the guidance of the Holy Spirit with a formula…

          Even with the Spirit’s guidance I don’t think we can always know how ready someone is. Like the parable of the sower we sow seed on many kinds of ground, and in the early stages the plants sprouting in the rocky soil may appear almost exactly like those sprouting in the good soil. Both can and should be encouraged in their growth, and people can and should be encouraged to take first steps. The problem arises when we cause someone to think they’ve crossed the finish line, when for all we know they may only have one toe tentatively across the starting line.

          I personally determine (as best I can) where someone is by talking with them, asking them questions, and sometimes placing resistance in their path to slow them down and cause them to seriously consider the decision they think they’re making. I would rather see someone go away knowing that they’re not saved than to have them think they’re saved when they’re not. (Rich young ruler.)

          As for your last question, I never try to get someone to make a decision. I don’t have to. Encountering Jesus has a way of forcing people to make a decision one way or the other on their own. I lead them to Christ, and they make their decision. I may offer them an opportunity to express their decision, but I never try to make the decision for them.

          You’ve likely seen the saying, “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is.” We wouldn’t expect that the first beggar would have to try very hard to convince the second to eat. He merely has to lead them to the bread. When the woman at the well encountered Jesus, no one had to tell her to go and tell all of her friends. When someone encounters Jesus there is always a response one way or the other. Our job is to lead them to Jesus, explain the opportunity He offers and what it all means, and offer continued guidance to those who choose to be followers of Jesus.

          I’m still not Paul, but that’s how it looks from my window. :)

          Rick

    3. Paige July 23, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

      I am in agreement with Chosen Rebel. The Ethiopian eunuch, in his search for the God of redemption, made a decision to follow the Christ and rejoiced in that after one lesson from Phillip. But the Lord had stirred his heart before Phillip entered that picture.
      Matthew and John illustrate sewing and reaping in the kingdom, but neither of those processes is instant.
      I think it is significant that the early church invested in new converts, because as the head turns, so goes the body.
      If you had a part in turning the woman’s eyes toward Jesus then the task of bringing out the fruit belongs to the Spirit (1Co 3).
      I lived many years under the false assumption that praying the “sinner’s prayer” had any significant impact in my life.
      It was nothing short of the work of the Spirit that started the burning away of chaff in my life.

      • Miguel July 24, 2012 at 7:58 am #

        Hi Paige!

        I find it interesting that you said, “I lived many years under the false assumption that praying the “sinner’s prayer” had any significant impact in my life.”

        The statistics, as valid as they can be suggest that 7 out of 10 people who are now believers have said the same or similar things.

        Responding to that people always tell me, “well, that’s 30 percent more than we had before.” What do you think of that?

    4. Frank Viola July 24, 2012 at 6:29 am #

      Got your FB request to weigh in. Thanks for thinking of me. An amazing story in the beginning. My 13 cents: I don’t see anything wrong with what you did. Nor would I have seen anything wrong if you had felt inclined to lead her into some sort of a prayer to call on the Lord, if you felt the Spirit leading you that way. While I’m not an advocate of the so-called sinner’s prayer, God does use it as He uses many traditional things that I don’t advocate. I’m assuming you shared the gospel with this person. I wasn’t there and don’t know the situation or the person’s condition. But it’s *possible* that If there was water around, I may have told her about baptism and what it meant. And then given her an invitation to repent, trust her life to Christ, and be baptized. Explaining what each of those things was and meant. But what you said to her may have been more fitting for the time. I’d say negative to the next point and it would depend on the circumstance and what was said about the prayer exactly for the last question.

      13 cents over and out.

      fv

      Psalm 115:1

      • Miguel July 24, 2012 at 8:03 am #

        Frank,

        Glad you weighed in. Are you going soft??? Just kidding…

        Small sentence big implications: “Nor would I have seen anything wrong if you had felt inclined to lead her into some sort of a prayer to call on the Lord.”

        Perhaps you could wait a bit for others to comment, and then clarify what it means to “lead” into a prayer, and what it looks like to “call upon the lord.”

    5. Marc Winter July 24, 2012 at 7:18 am #

      Hello Miguel,
      I know Jesus wants to save us more than we want to be saved. Being Spirit led in our conversations is the highest form of obedience to Jesus.

      • Miguel July 24, 2012 at 8:05 am #

        Marc, thanks for commenting

        Would you say that being Spirit led is primarily subjective? What about the objective commands of Christ that we are to use in the Making of Disciples?

    6. Jim Wright July 24, 2012 at 7:57 am #

      Miguel, it seems to me if I recall correctly that the criminal on the cross didn’t pray a sinner’s prayer, yet Jesus said he’d see him in paradise. And that man’s only profession was ““Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

      I have likely been directly instrumental over the last year in at least a hundred people coming to accept Jesus as their Lord. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t have someone indicate – in various ways – that they want to get right with the Lord. Often, they have come with a friend to one of our fellowships.

      When I sense the Lord tugging on their heart, I never, ever lead any of them in saying the sinner’s prayer. I just tell them to do whatever is needed to get things right between Him and them. Sometimes they break down and cry out to Jesus right there in our gathering. Often, they do it when they can get alone with the Lord.

      When I come back the next week, nearly 100% of the time they are there with a huge smile and a changed heart and sharing their enthusiasm for the Lord who is now very much alive in them, and often with one or two new folks who also want to know the Lord. (This is why I refuse to accept the “root before fruit” mentality that tells people they shouldn’t expect to bear fruit until they have been taught to properly be rooted in Christ under their teaching – what rubbish!)

      I am careful not to impose my grace on others. This is the grace God has given me for introducing others to Him. Maybe God has given some a different measure of grace to share the Lord with others in different ways. So I refuse to make a formula out of my way.

      But I have seen much more fruit as I have abandoned the sinners prayer and let people expose the darkness of their soul directly to the Lord – on their own terms – and let the Lord meet them – on His own terms.

      I once was part of the leadership of a large church with a couple thousand members. We had alter calls and every week folks would come forward to pray the sinners prayer. Our own analysis showed that only around 1% of those who came forward would actually become part of the church.

      Our experience now is that nearly 100% of those who come to the Lord become integrated into fellowship.

      Big difference!

      I expect you’ll see that woman in paradise.

    7. Jonathan July 24, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      First of all, you mentioned that you shared from Ezekiel 20. Okay, that’s brilliant! I don’t know how much of the chapter you shared with her, but there’s a lot of Gospel, especially the need for the Gospel and the consequences of being without, in there. Then you used a real account of a woman from her own culture.

      To your questions:

      “1. Was I wrong to not ask her if she wanted to receive Christ in that moment and pray the sinner’s prayer?”

      Let’s recap: you shared the Gospel from the Scriptures (in a way that left out any wiggle room), you shared a testimony of God’s saving of a local woman in a near death situation. To restate the question, “Were you wrong is not trying to ‘close the deal’?” You might have been wrong if you had tried. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Romans 10:9 does teach us the value of “confessing with our mouth”, but this is done as a response to the convicting of the HS. The dying woman in your story cried out to God. I doubt this was because of a prompting to pray a specific prayer.

      “2. If she dies between now and next week, is her blood on my hands?”

      No. The Scriptures are clear that the blood is on our hands if we do not share the Gospel with the lost (Ezekiel 3:17-18; Romans 1:14-16). You did that.

      “3. If I said that “getting others to pray a sinner’s prayer was actually more dangerous to a person’s spiritual condition than not praying it,” would you agree or disagree?”

      Having read you for awhile, I assume that the context of this statement would be a focus on getting words said, programmed prayers uttered and then declaring “mission accomplished”. From your own discipleship work, you’ve seen any number of folks whose life after a prayer is inconsistent with their confession. If an overwhelming emphasis is placed on the prayer, there will be a false confidence that will act to make the person immune from conviction by the Holy Spirit.

    8. Mary Elizabeth July 24, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      Hey Miguel.

      Well, from my own experience, when God saved me he had been moving in me before I could utter a ‘sinner’s prayer.’ His presence took hold of me and all I could do at that moment was cry. Inside, in my heart, I chose him, and he just let loose!

      I think God has many ways to reach people, and it’s okay if it’s never the same way. Though God can use the ‘sinner’s prayer,’ he also doesn’t use it. As long as we are lead by him and his life, he will reach out to us in ways we never expected-his life is growing and moving, he is alive!

    9. Marc Winter July 24, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

      I like what Mary said, “I think God has many ways to reach people, and it’s okay if it’s never the same way.” The voice that I hear, and try and repeat, (the relatively short time I have been hearing clearly and regularly 2-3 years) tells me what to say. So far I have not had an occasion to share the Good News with any full fledged non-believers. Those who the Lord has led me to so far, has been believers in need of encouragement in the face unbelief, doubt, worry, and fear. Kind of the road to Emmaus talks, did not our hearts burn within us? Or the woman at the well, come meet a man that told me about myself (my paraphrase).
      Quoting Scriptures in that context is less than a 50% occurrence.

    10. Dennis Hesselbarth July 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

      First I had to go look up Ezek. 20! Not the usual “four spiritual laws” passage. ;) I appreciate and concur that we are presenting the Sovereign Lord, who is to be followed and worshiped only. That changes the “sinners prayer” rather profoundly.

      Repentance and faith obviously must come from within, a heart that is ready for change. To me, it’s not finally a matter of words, but the response of a heart. Out of our heart then comes our words, “someone” once observed. Is the moment of belief when the words are voiced, or when the heart has responded? I vote for the heart.

      That said, the words will come, if the heart is engaged. So I understand Romans 10:10 to suggest that genuine belief results in words, a verbal profession.

      When I came to faith, I came with nearly complete ignorance of the bible and Jesus. I think it helped me to have a “model prayer” that expressed what was already going on in my heart, as I had no words to describe what was going in internally. I didn’t have to be persuaded – I was eager.

      So I’m not opposed to sharing or using a “sinners prayer.” But I’m not quick to use it, or to propose to someone that they pray it. I’d prefer that it be a help to someone whose heart is already engaged. And in that I agree with others – the discernment of the Holy Spirit is vital.

      But I’m not worried that if someone doesn’t spit the words out they’re doomed if they die first!

    11. Karl Ingersoll October 7, 2012 at 5:48 am #

      No, no and I would agree that the Sinners Prayer can communicate something that we don’t want to represent as the Christian life. It is more than an escape from hell or a ticket to heaven.

    12. Jim Puntney December 30, 2012 at 10:00 am #

      Miguel,

      The ‘sinners prayer’ is in the scheme of things a modern application. As you’re story indicated trusting in the prodding, or lack thereof of the Holy Spirit is the key point.

      In my ‘evangelical’ past I’ve pursued encounters with folks who are in distress and ‘pushed’ the issue. I now look back upon this season as a ‘jesus prostitute’.

      This verse seems to be fitting:

      “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”

    13. Rick Knock December 30, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Thanks for the update. :)

    14. BrianK January 2, 2013 at 6:54 pm #

      Wow great topic for discussion; too bad there doesn’t seem to be one. The blogger asked 3 questions. Here are my responses:

      1. Was I wrong to not ask her if she wanted to receive Christ in that moment and pray the sinner’s prayer?

      >> No, you were not wrong. Conformance unto an ideology is not Christian faith. Your encounter was a transformation moment and an event of love and faith.

      2. If she dies between now and next week, is her blood on my hands?

      >> No. I would count all things to God’s sovereignty. But the Spirit may convict your mind to do something as a result of this event. That is a good conviction. I say cast out the guilt!

      3. If I said that “getting others to pray a sinner’s prayer was actually more dangerous to a person’s spiritual condition than not praying it,” would you agree or disagree?

      >> I would agree, 100%. There is nothing wrong with that prayer, and many have experienced God through it. I say there is something wrong with demanding a formula for the salvation process. The Holy Spirit alone invokes anyone to believe in Jesus.

      • BrianK January 2, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

        My first comment is out of place here– there certainly is discussion here! (there wasn’t on a Facebook page :) Sorry, I cut and pasted from Facebook.

    15. Gary Maxwell March 22, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

      I think the greater issue here is how individuals release their faith. And it is as individual as the people who come to faith in Christ.

      Not being there I cannot comment 100% as to the correctness or incorrectness of your actions. Based on your Update, it appears faith was released and salvation was obtained along with actions accompanying that faith–i.e. baptism. Well and good…praise God!

      However, I have seen a lot of blog authors and other “revolutionaries” decry the use of a “sinner’s prayer” reducing it to a “formula”, or, worse, a deceptive or misleading ritual which causes one to believe they are saved when they are not. It has become fashionable among bloggers to take up this topic and weigh in on this practice–usually casting it–the sinner’s prayer–in a negative light.

      A sinner’s prayer is simply a tool, a framework if you will, which allows a person to release their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. There is not ONE sinner’s prayer as many ministries and publications vary in their exact wording. The important thing is for the one coming to faith in Christ to call upon the Lord’s name and do it in a scriptural fashion.

      Paul, in Romans 10:9, 10, gave a “formula” if you will, yet, we would not dare question this as it is God-breathed scripture.

      Again, let’s not argue over the validity of the methods used in sharing the Gospel. Many want to come to Christ but lack sufficient information as to how to come or what to say. And for those who called out to God on their own, they still have to call according to scripture. Just any confession won’t do. it has to be according to scripture.

      I remember the account where it was asked, …”Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Did Peter say “Just work it out on your own and in your own way, after all, I do not want to give you a formula lest you think you believed in vain or were falsely converted.”? Of course not. Peter gave a specific course of direction and instruction which resulted in many coming to Christ.

      let’s not get bogged (or blogged) down in this matter. We have both the Word and the Spirit. Use both to win the lost… okay?

    16. Albert Rauch May 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

      I prayed the sinner’s prayers at so many revival meetings as young boy and teenager often because the preachers insisted that we need to say the prayer to be saved. Tragically it never really meant anything just an emotional experience and as a way to avoid going to hell I had no interested in Christ being my Lord but just wanted assurance that things were going to be ok despite my rebellion which I was living. When I was seventeen, my neighbor shared his testimony and how he too grew up in the church thinking he was Christian because he prayed and how he finally surrender his life to Christ and what a dramatic change it did in his heart and life. The life and love of Christ was evident on him. He never asked me to pray the sinner’s prayer but simply shared his testimony and what it meant to follow Christ. I went home in shock and with a realization that I really wanted badly what he had in Christ. I sought God for several days broken over my sin on my own not telling anyone and surrendering my life unconditionally to Christ and then I experienced an inner transformation of my desires and an awakening to the words in the bible. I radically stepped away from my old life and passionately sought Christ and what was in the scriptures wanting to meet other believers. I became aware that being a follower in Christ was about a radical surrender to him not a just prayer or bargain worked out with God. It meant dying to the old life and committing to a new life lived by faith in Christ. I have seen several friends including my own flesh and blood brother who experienced the same radical change only after they personally came to the end of themselves and surrendered to Christ. They too had said the prayer but after several years they also realized that they did not know Christ but only after they were truly broken and surrender to Christ trusting in what he did for them on the cross. I think we push the prayer to people in fear that God by his Spirit cannot save people. Our job is to fully explain the gospel and what it means to repent and believe in Christ as our Lord and God will do the rest and these people will have a certainty of the Spirit working within them. Romans 10:8-13 “And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

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