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There’s a little blue card in your bulletin this morning,” Pastor Lon Allison told the congregation that Sunday morning in January 2009. “I want you to take it out, and on that card I want you to write the names of five people you need to pray for—people you know who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
“Maybe they are people you don’t even like all that much,” Lon said. “Maybe even some that you struggle with, but people who need Jesus.”
Sitting in the service that Sunday, Greg Cox began writing as the names of various people in his life came to mind—men and women he knew who were far from God.
“Lon told us not to underestimate God’s ability to change people, so I wrote down some real doozies,” Greg remembers, “people I could hardly imagine would ever come to Christ.”
Because the cards were handed in at the end of the service, Greg created a little bookmark for himself when he got home that day, writing the names down to remind himself to pray for the people on his list.
And he began to pray.
“I am not somebody you would call a prayer warrior, or even the most disciplined person when it comes to my devotional life,” Greg explains. “But whenever the list came to mind, I would pray through the names.”
Just a short time later, he saw the first answer to those prayers.
Greg was on a company retreat when Sonja, a coworker whose name was on his list, stood up and spoke to the group.
“I can’t really explain it,” she said, “but I am certain that I have been feeling God calling me close to Him—telling me that I need a relationship with Him. So I got the name of a woman’s group at a local church, and I’ve been going to their meetings.”
Greg was stunned as he heard those words from someone who, as far as he knew, had expressed little interest in spiritual things.
Over the weeks that followed, Sonja not only became a follower of Jesus but also proclaimed her faith in Christ by being baptized! Today she is actively involved at her church and is serving in the children’s ministry there.
“Seeing Sonja come to faith reenergized me to continue praying for the others on my list,” Greg said.
Even so, he admits, as time passed, his focus faded—until one Sunday morning when Lon was speaking once again. “As he prayed that morning, he mentioned the lists we’d made and said, ‘Let’s pray for the people on our lists.’”
“At that point, I realized that it had been a while since I prayed for the four people still on my list—including the husband of a woman on my team at work, a guy who was really struggling with a lot of difficult issues.
“His wife was a coworker I didn’t see very often—maybe once every couple of months when she would come in to teach a class,” Greg says. “But she showed up the very next day.
“It’s Monday morning, and she comes by my office and says, ‘Greg, you’re not going to believe what happened yesterday.’
“I sat back in my chair and said, ‘John became a Christian.’
“‘How did you know that? You’ve got to be kidding me,’ she said. She couldn’t believe I’d guessed her news,” Greg recalls. “And I said, ‘Because I prayed for him when I was in church yesterday morning.’
“She then started telling me about how her husband had accepted Christ after church the day before,” he said. “And when we figured out the time, it had happened pretty much at the same time when I was praying.
“I’m a little bit skeptical about things like that,” Greg said.
“Today, John has Christ as his Savior, and it’s made a difference in his family,” he added. “I just saw a Facebook picture of them on vacation in Florida, and I believe that family is together because God has made a difference in John’s life.”
Even though Greg had had some conversations with John about the Lord, he believes that praying for John was the biggest role God had for him in seeing John come to faith.
Another coworker on the list was a young man Greg worried about because of a negative relationship in his life.
“He was dating a woman who was a bad influence and was pulling him away from anything that was going to point him to God,” Greg recalls. “I was concerned for him, but then, all of a sudden, he broke off that relationship and started attending a good church, joined a Bible study, and became a Christian. Just amazing!”
It had now been two and a half years since Greg wrote down his list of “impossible” names, and by that point, three of those individuals had come to faith in Christ!
“I am a guy who likes to talk,” Greg says, “but my friend Jim has always been able talk me under the table! And when I’d try to talk about spiritual things, those conversations would go absolutely nowhere. He would tell me all about his own made up religion: Be good. Live a good life. A little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
To make the situation even more difficult, Jim’s wife was an atheist. She had grown up in a traditional church and had bad experiences that left her with what Greg calls an absolute disdain for Christians. She didn’t even want Jim to read the Bible.
“We would be talking about Jesus,” Greg says, “and he would admit that there were some good things about Jesus and that He was a good teacher. We would have that conversation, but then he’d tell me, ‘Ellen would never go for that. She would throw me out of the house if I started following Jesus.’”
Greg was frustrated by how his friend continued to resist the truth, avoiding the subject when possible—but even when Greg couldn’t see it, God was at work. In fact, Greg could hardly believe it when he learned that Jim and his wife had attended an Alpha group at a church near their home and had come to faith in Christ.
“This is a camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle kind of thing,” Greg says. “I cannot believe God did that. I know He turned water into wine, but that He saved Jim and Ellen just blows my mind.
“In my mind, Satan had such a stranglehold on those two and probably thought they were his,” Greg says. “That God would touch their hearts is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen Him do.”
Today, one more name remains on Greg’s original list. “It’s a tough one,” he says. “But God has taught me, above all else, that He hears and answers prayer.
“Sometimes we’re tired, we’re spiritually lazy,” he adds, “but creating a list is something we all can do.” And for Greg, even the act of making a list—writing down those names—made him a little more deliberate in his conversations, a little more intentional about building relationships, and a little more fearless in sharing his faith.
“Of course, not everyone responds. There are funerals we go to, and it’s not good. It’s very sad. But I think we need to take the burden off our shoulders. It’s the Holy Spirit who makes people respond,” Greg says, “not us. He doesn’t need our salesmanship skills to bring people to Him, but He allows us the privilege of being part of the process.
“Praying for people to come to Christ is powerful,” Greg adds, “and that better be on our prayer agenda—specific people, specific names.” Following his own recommendation, Greg has recently formalized a new list. And again he’s praying—and watching to see what God will do.
An admitted fan of C. S. Lewis and his book The Screwtape Letters, Greg likes to imagine how “Uncle Screwtape” would feel about his list. “I think the last thing he want us to be doing is praying for other people,” Greg says, referring to the senior demon in Lewis’s satirical novel. “I think that kind of prayer makes demons shudder.”