Baptism services were always my favorite weekends at Willow Creek Community Church, where I served as a teaching pastor for several years. I reveled in seeing so many people publicly proclaim their faith in Jesus Christ and testify to his transforming influence in their lives. The biggest highlights for me were baptizing my own son and daughter—once the children of a caustic atheist. But I will never forget another incident that taught me again about the awesome power of prayer.
We were baptizing about seven hundred freshly redeemed people that weekend. We spent the first part of the service explaining the gospel, and then the baptism candidates began filing onto the massive stage to be baptized by one of several pastors. They were told they could invite someone to come up with them, since many were frightened at standing in front of four thousand spectators.
A woman in her sixties, accompanied by her tough-looking, construction worker–type husband, walked over to me to be baptized. I greeted her warmly and then asked a question: “Have you received Jesus Christ as the forgiver of your sins?”
“Yes, I have,” she replied, her face radiant and smiling. “Absolutely!”
I was just about to baptize her, but I was stopped cold by what I sensed was a leading by the Spirit. I turned to the man standing nervously by her side.
“You’re her husband,” I said. I meant the words as a question, but they came out more like a statement.
He nodded. “Yes, I am.”
I looked him straight in the eyes and said firmly, “Have you given your life to Jesus Christ?”
For a moment he didn’t say anything. His face began to screw into a knot. I thought he was going to explode in anger or start yelling at me! Then suddenly he burst into tears. “No, I haven’t,” he sobbed. “But I’d like to right now!”
I was stunned! His wife’s jaw dropped open. I wasn’t sure what to do—should I signal a “time-out”? Then I realized there was no reason to wait. In the next few moments, standing in front of an auditorium packed with people, I led him in the sinner’s prayer as he repented and received Christ’s gift of eternal life. And then, with all three of us weeping tears of joy, I baptized him and his wife—together.
After the service, as I was stepping down from the platform, another woman ran up to me, threw her arms around my neck, and kept sobbing, “Nine years! Nine years! Nine years!”
I managed to untangle ourselves and ask, “Who are you? And what do you mean, ‘Nine years’?”
She gestured toward the stage. “That was my brother who you led to the Lord and baptized with my sister-in-law a few minutes ago,” she said. “I have been praying for him for nine long years, and I haven’t seen one shred of spiritual interest that whole time. But look what God did today!”
Though nine years is a long time, I don’t have any doubt that she was glad she never gave up in their prayers for her brother.
I’m sure you celebrate her husband’s conversion every bit as much as I do, and yet maybe you’re thinking, “Nine years? That’s nothing! She was just getting started! I’ve been praying for my spouse for twelve or fifteen or twenty-five years—and I still haven’t seen any spiritual progress!”
Chances are you have wanted to give up. You have done the prayer drill; now you would like some sort of evangelistic shortcut to reaching your partner. But as that woman would tell you: never give up praying!
After all, Jesus didn’t. He never stopped praying for people who were far from God—including those who were bitterly opposed to him. In fact, these prayers continued right up until his death. Based on the imperfect tense of the Greek in the biblical accounts of the Crucifixion, British pastor John Stott said, “Jesus seemed to have prayed for his tormenters actually while the iron spikes were being driven through his hands and feet.” Over and over and over, Jesus kept repeating his prayer, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
So here is the question for us: If Jesus refused to give up praying for the very soldiers who were in the process of cruelly murdering him, then how in the world could we ever stop praying not only for our own enemies but also—especially—for those who we love the most, including our own spouse?
Once I was speaking at a conference when I noticed a man who was standing by himself in the hallway. His face reflected the most visible peace of God I had seen in a long time. He absolutely exuded contentment! When I asked him about the secret of his happiness, he attributed it to his godly wife who had prayed for him—an agnostic—for twenty-seven years until he finally received Christ in repentance and faith. His conversion changed his eternity, transformed their marriage, and has brought him peace that passes human understanding.
Twenty-seven years! And if you think that is a long time, I got a letter from a Christian who prayed for his atheistic brother for forty-eight years and 348 days—until his brother finally received Christ shortly before dying of cancer. “I just had to keep praying for him,” he told me in a later phone conversation. “I had no choice!”
I hope you too feel a compulsion to pray for the salvation of your spouse and others. Perhaps these stories have encouraged you to persevere, even though you might be seeing very few signs of spiritual progress.
In Spiritual Mismatch, bestselling author Lee Strobel and his wife, Leslie, give you practical advice on how to live and thrive in a marriage when your spiritual beliefs don’t match. Lee and Leslie share their own story of a marriage between a Christian and an atheist as seen in the movie The Case for Christ.
Lee Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune and is the bestselling author of The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for Grace. With a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale, Lee has won four Gold Medallions for publishing excellence and coauthored the Christian Book of the Year. He serves as Professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University. His story is now featured in the motion picture The Case for Christ. Visit Lee’s website at: LeeStrobel.com
Leslie Strobel has been involved in women’s ministries and one-on-one mentoring in the churches where the Strobels have served. She and Lee live in Orange County, California, and are the parents of two grown children.
Want More from Lee?