As soon as she asked me, I knew. It was the first day of my internship with InterVarsity’s Evangelism Department and it only took me a few minutes to see that this was not just a resume-building experience. This was going to be tough. I might actually learn something.
My supervisor, Sarah, asked me to pick two friends and commit to pray for them every day that semester, an idea InterVarsity calls “2+ Prayer.” I was a bit reluctant, but God soon highlighted the people in my life whom he wanted me to pray for that semester.
Meet the Characters
I met Anna while moving into my dorm freshman year. The past few years at school have been rough for her—trouble in nearly every dating relationship and in the classroom. Right in the middle of her troubles, she expressed a desire to explore more of who Jesus is, so we studied bits and pieces of the Bible together in a GIG.
Summer happened. Back at school that fall, Anna and I didn’t talk about faith much. She knew I followed Jesus, and I thought that might be enough. You know the quote: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” Since then, two years of my silent gospel hadn’t been communicating well.
The other of my 2+ friends was a future roommate I hadn’t met yet. Lauren would be moving into a house that fall with me and a few of my friends. While her Facebook profile showed some details about her life, I didn’t know anything about her. One thing I did know was that God was making me inexplicably concerned for and curious about her.
Looking for an “In”
God was going to do some crazy things, I just knew it. If I was going to commit to be praying for my two friends, he had to do something powerful, right? He at least owed me that much.
I did my best to hang out with Lauren and Anna on a weekly basis. We would get lunch or coffee, or head to a football game or a campus etiquette dinner (free food!). Whenever I hung out with them, I watched for my “in”: ways that God might be moving in their lives.
I saw one with Lauren a few weeks into the semester. On her way out of our apartment one day, she told me that she hadn’t been sleeping well. I started to pray something a little unconventional: that sleep wouldn't come. I prayed that she would be up at night and be faced with herself and the direction her life was headed. I prayed she would see how dissatisfied and bored she was. I prayed that God would swoop in at just the right time and clearly reveal himself.
God answered my unconventional (and maybe a little mean) prayer and Lauren didn’t sleep well for weeks. This made for a grumpy roommate, but this was God’s way of softening her, I just knew it. Lauren’s big “salvation moment” had to be just around the corner.
Meanwhile, Anna and I kept getting together for coffee and having the same conversation over and over. Things in her life were tough. It was easier for me to listen to her problems than share with her the solution: Jesus. Besides, I thought, we had been through it all before in our GIG. She knew the truth and had rejected it. It was out of my hands now, right? I expected God to connect the dots for her.
As the semester wore on, it didn’t get any easier. I was excited that God was keeping Lauren up at night and that Anna and I continued to grow closer. But from what I could tell, there wasn’t any progress toward Jesus in either of them. Discouragement loomed and praying for them became a duty.
It was only after a serious conversation with Sarah that I realized that part of what I had agreed to was action. God wants to use me as a part of my friends’ faith journeys and that requires that I actually do something. I couldn’t expect to just sit back and hope that Lauren or Anna would make the first move.
The Beginning of the End
Encouraged by my conversation with Sarah, I sat down with Anna over chai and talked about our GIG from three semesters earlier. While it was clear she wasn’t actively seeking Jesus, she was still interested.
Anna told me two things: 1) she had occasionally read the Bible I had given her, and 2) she was dropping out of school. I was simultaneously excited and crushed. How could I foster growth if she was moving out of my life?
Only a few days later, Lauren told me she was moving out of our apartment at the end of the semester. I was floored. I had been praying for her salvation for months, and I thought we were finally becoming genuine friends. How could God save her if we weren’t together?
I went home for Christmas more than a little discouraged. God had highlighted these women in my life only to pull them swiftly out. Instead of seeing them commit their lives to Jesus, I watched them walk out of my life. My goal—their salvation—had not been met. Surely God’s timing was premature. I just couldn’t understand what he was up to.
Making Sense of It
Now, from my view several months later, things look a little clearer. While God didn’t choose to save them during my 2+ Prayer assignment last semester, he brought Anna and Lauren closer to himself in a lot of little ways: conversations, sleepless nights, and watching the impact Jesus makes on my everyday life. God was pursuing them even then.
More than anything, I can see how praying for Anna and Lauren grew me. I saw God’s heart for my lost friends, and I felt such a strong desire to be a part of God’s plan for bringing them back to him.
While I love Anna and Lauren, and I am invested in seeing them come to Jesus, I have no claim on them. Just because I prayed, God does not owe me their salvation. He can work on their hearts without me, but he chooses to involve me. All he asks is that I keep my eyes open and expect that he is already working in the lives of my friends. Simply being involved in the process is a privilege.
Sowers and Reapers
As I wrestled with this, I came across John 4:35-38. Jesus is encouraging his disciples to shift their focus from the physical to the spiritual using a farming metaphor:
“I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
The sower and the reaper work together to harvest the crops. They’re glad together when the work is over. Both are absolutely necessary—one is not better or of more value than the other.
The same can be said for any follower of Jesus invested in his mission. Some followers prepare people to meet Jesus, and others make the invitation and introduction. Just because I’m not the one who had the privilege of leading Lauren or Anna into my Father’s kingdom, doesn’t mean that my labor is of no value. It’s just a different kind of work.
My prayers and my expectations of God have changed. Since Lauren and Anna have stepped out of my daily life, I’ve been praying for more sowers in their new circles of friends. I’ve been praying for the someone who will reap the harvests in their lives, so that one day we can all be glad together.