How to Ignite Your Passion for the Lost


The Apostle Paul wished he could give up his own eternal life to save his countrymen(Ro. 9:1-4). Charles Finney wept at the thought of people facing a Christless eternity. A.B.. Simpson agonized in prayer over the nations where Jesus Christ was not exalted. Hudson Taylor’s nightmare featured millions tumbling into the chasm of hell. When we think about these people, we are put to shame. Few of us today come
close to having a passion for souls like those men. But can “a heart for the lost” be developed?

In the ’90s, this topic raises two foundational questions:

The Theological Question: Are lost people really lost? In our age of “politically correct” vocabulary, we hesitate to refer to people as spiritually or eternally lost. We cautiously describe people as “seekers” or “not quite as for along in their spiritual pilgrimage.” Terms like “lost” and “sinner” come across as too harsh, blunt, or insensitive.

In addition, the age of pluralism creeps into many Christian minds, making us think of Jesus as one answer on God’s multiple choice test, in which every answer is correct. Even some professing Christians shy away from declaring Jesus as the unique way, truth, and life (Jn. 14:6)-God’s only way of salvation.

Our theology rests on the question, “Is Jesus the one way?” If yes, then how did Jesus refer to people outside of a relationship to Him” He called them lost. In the parables of Luke 15, He refers to a lost  sheep, a lost coin, a lost son-all as analogies of those who need to be redeemed.

And then, in His encounter with the hated tax collector Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, Jesus stated His mission clearly: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Lk. 19: 10).

The second foundational issue is a Personal Question: What is our world view? The way we see our world and our respective roles in the world determines whether or not we even care about developing a heart  for the lost.

If we see ourselves as living on a comfortable Christian “cul-de-sac,” where the goal is escape from the world, then we won’t care much about developing a heart for the lost. If Christianity encompasses doing
good deeds and being “nice” (without any elements of proclamation of truth or engagement for decision), then why develop a heart for the lost?

On the other hand, if we recognize that God summons us as infiltrators-“salt” and “light” in Jesus’ terms-then developing a heart for lost people expresses our reason for being. Our heart for those outside the
Kingdom of Christ thrusts us into the world.

If we understand that people are lost and that we are God’s agents of reconciliation in a broken world, then we arrive at a third question: How can we rekindle our heart, our love, our earnest desire for lost
people? If we’ve lost that sense of compassion for the lost and the compulsion to preach the gospel that Paul demonstrated (Ro. 9:15, 1 Cor. 9:16-17), how can we get it back?

Consider five ideas:

Catch the passion from others.

Passion spreads like fire. That’s why I love to hang around Richard. He exudes love for lost people and a sincere desire to proclaim the love of Christ to them-through both word and action. When I’m with
Richard, I either end up in a conversation with someone about Jesus or I listen to Richard’s excitement about a person who recently came to know Jesus Christ. His fire ignites my heart.

Where do we find these people? Most of us look immediately for that uniquely gifted person who serves as an evangelist, but there are others who are equally stimulating.

Look for new Christians, whose zeal over being forgiven bubbles over. Their excitement about the newfound love and peace and forgiveness in Christ exhilarates us to remember the saving work of Christ in us.

Look for the person who has been dramatically saved from something-an addictive lifestyle, tremendous bitterness, or a life devoted to selfish ambition,. Look for the person who, like the apostles in the book of Acts, “cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Put simply, if I have grown complacent about lost people, encountering a person who is passionate about Christ transforms my attitude. This illustrates why it is so important that we pray for our spiritual  leaders to demonstrate compassion and compulsion for the lost: we either catch their zeal or we adopt their apathy.Looking to develop a heart for lost people? Find someone whose fire can ignite you.

Open your eyes.

Involvement in a host of Christian activities in our small groups or churches gives us a distorted view of the world. It is easy to think that everyone in the world thinks and acts just like us. We forget just how far some people are from God thoughts. In order to get an accurate picture, we need to place ourselves where we can rub shoulders with unbelievers.

Take a break. Step back. Realize that in the various worlds we touch (neighborhood, job, school, etc.) there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who never think about God, never attend church, never wrestle with God’s call on their lives, never wonder about heaven and hell (except in the face of death).

Observing people like this means that we must pray for and wait for an opportune time to speak. I sat next to a professor of business on a flight from Boston to the Midwest.

She controlled her own life and seemed rather self-satisfied. I thought, How can I direct the conversation to the gospel? I was stumped. On our descent into the airport, the woman sighed deeply and then held her breath as we landed: “I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m just terrified of death.”

She could not control her mortality, and a window for the gospel opened.

Looking to develop a heart for lost people? Take time to observe the lost people you want to reach.

Put yourself in their position.

Compassion for lost people implies our willingness to put ourselves in their positions. Try this: imagine the challenges of your past year, and then imagine going through those challenges without Jesus, without the comfort of God’s promises, without the love of God’s people, and without the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

For many of us, imagining a year without these things is a painful exercise, yet such imaginations can stir in us a greater realization of the hopelessness and even despair that many people are living with  “lives of quiet desperation” according to Thoreau.

Referring to the Christian’s role in secular society, Lesslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, states that “The Christian community is characterized by hope and that ‘hope is the oxygen of the soul.”‘ Carrying that analogy out, many of the people with whom we live are suffocating, and the oxygen of the good news is their only hope!

Looking to develop a heart for lost people? Spend some time pondering the perspective of a person who faces reality without Jesus.

Study their biblical fate.

Ajith Fernando, in Crucial Questions about Hell, states that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. If lost people are really bound for hell and an eternal separation from God, shouldn’t our
passion for the lost be intensified?

What does the Bible say about the eternal destiny of people without a relationship with Jesus Christ? Our answer to this question will motivate us to action. It will move us with Jesus’ compassion. He saw
the crowds as harassed and helpless sheep, desperately in need of a Shepherd (Mt. 9:36-38).

Looking to develop a heart for lost people? Let the reality of their eternal destiny sink in and then move you to action!

Ask God for a ‘divine appointment.’

In my college fellowship, the evangelist speakers we hosted would often intimidate me with their stories of great success as witnesses. I seem to remember their messages as starting like this: “On the flight on the way in tonight, I had the privilege of leading 12 people to Christ. Yes, by the time we landed, we had planted a new church and appointed elders in rows 5, 9, and 1 I.”

I’m sure that my memory is somewhat warped, but in spite of their intimidating examples these speakers communicated one idea that really stuck with me. They instructed us to ask God every day for “divine
appointments,” that is, encounters with people whom God was sovereignly preparing to hear the gospel.

Asking God for these “divine appointments” expands my heart for lost people because I’m more on the lookout for someone to-talk to. On one occasion, God led me to a lonely business traveler whose wife had just died of cancer. Because of his pain, he opened up and told me that he was now wondering about the meaning and purpose in his own life. What an opportunity! (And I should tell you, I took it.)

Another came in the locker room of a local pool. A group of us were talking about a local high schooler who had died during a hockey game. One of the guys suddenly blurted out that his own son had died in a similar way 10 years earlier. Others withdrew from the conversation, unsure of what to say. But for me, it became an opportunity to offer comfort that I hope will be a bridge for sharing the gospel.

Looking to develop a heart for lost people? Ask God today for a “divine appointment.”

Be imitators of Jesus.

We live in an age when people, organizations, and corporations define themselves by their “mission statements.” Personal mission statements identify roles as well as expectations. Organizational mission
statements point to specific services or values articulated in organizational behavior. Corporate mission statements highlight a vision that all members of the corporation adhere to, a vision that helps them see where their contributions serve the overall dream of the company.

As was pointed out earlier, in His encounter with Zacchaeus, Jesus identified His mission statement: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19: 10). Not only was this His mission statement, but it should be the mission of His Church as well.

Our desire to develop a heart for the lost speaks to our desire to identify with Jesus. If Jesus articulated His mission as seeking and saving the lost, shouldn’t we do the same? As we grow to understand and to adopt the heart priorities of the Lord, compassion and outreach to the lost will top our daily agendas.

Helping Others Develop a Heart for the Lost

Whether we’re working with new Christians who ore just learning to reach out or with older Christians who simply have no experience in outreach, how can we impart a heart for the lost to others? Four ideas
apply to setting the example in daily living:

1. Take them with you. If you have the ability to casually share the gospel in every day circumstances or to meet people’s needs in simple ways, allow a brother or sister you are descipling to see you in action. Imitation is basic to the process of discipleship (Mt. 4:19, 6-40, 1 Cor. 11:1).

2. Reschedule. One of the great traps of Christian fellowship is that it is so easy to absorb all available time in Bible study, worship, and Christian growth. In contrast, if you import a vision for reaching lost people, reschedule your time with other Christians so that together you’re going into the world to listen
to people and then engage them in discussion about the gospel. Illustrate by your schedule that a heart for the lost is a priority.

3. Lead them to the Scriptures and let them reach their own conclusions. If a biblical conviction about the eternal fate of the lost underlies a heart for outreach, allow others to catch that vision for themselves-not by what you believe, but by pointing them to the Scriptures (Jn. 3:16-17, 14-6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim.2:5,etc.) and letting them inductively conclude that lost people need Jesus Christ. The convictions go deeper when the student discovers the truth for himself or herself. (See the article “Everything You Wonted to know about Hell But Were Afraid to Ask,” by Norman Geisler, in the previous issue of
Discipleship Journal.)

4. Talk about benefits. Let others know what witnessing will do for them. Talk about the about the simulation of sharing the gospel with others and the spiritual vitality that results. It is one of the best
ways to motivate other to demonstrate compassion and reach out to lost people. When people realize that in giving, they receive, they are often more willing reach out.

-Paul Borthwick


PAUL BORTHWICK is the minister of missions at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he heads the international outreach or the church. Paul is also the author of 10 books, among them How to Be a World class Christian (Scripture Press), A Mind for Mission (NovPress), and How to Choose a Youth Pastor (Thomas Nelson).