One of my favorite stories about the power of prayer to win the lost is over 1600 years old. It begins with a woman named Monica who was raised by Christian parents in North Africa. When she was old enough, her parents arranged a marriage to a pagan man. Evidently the marriage was very difficult because of divided spiritual loyalties. Monica and her husband had three children who survived. Two of them followed Christ but one son left the faith of his childhood. By his own admission, he chose the path of worldly pleasure. For many years he lived with a mistress and together they gave birth to a son out of wedlock. He broke his mother’s heart by joining a religious cult. Monica prayed for 17 years that her son would return to Christ and to the church. Looking back, her son said that she watered the earth with her tears for him, praying more for his spiritual death than most mothers pray over the physical death of a child. She fasted and prayed and asked God to save her son. One day she went to see the bishop and with tears asked why her son was still living in sin. The bishop replied with words that have become famous across the centuries: “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish. Your son will be saved.” He was right. It took several more years of fervent praying but eventually Monica’s son came to Christ. His name is Augustine. We know him today as St. Augustine. He is universally regarded as one of the greatest thinkers in Christian history. Sixteen centuries later his books and writings are still in print. He makes it clear in his Confessions that his mother prayed him to Jesus. She would not give up and eventually God answered her prayers.
I think the bishop was right when he said, “It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” How precious are a mother’s tears! There is no substance more valuable in all the universe than the tears of a godly mother. There are mothers and grandmothers who have prayed their children and their grandchildren to Christ. There are mothers and grandmothers who have seen their children in the “far country” of sin and have prayed them step by step back to the Father’s House. When everyone else gave up, godly women laid hold of heaven and claimed their offspring in Jesus’ name. And God heard those prayers and answered them.
Please do not misunderstand. I do not believe that our prayers contain merit in and of themselves. But God has ordained both the means and the ends of salvation. And the two chief means of salvation are fervent prayer and the proclamation of his Word. We pray because everything depends on God, and we preach because the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Your prayers are part of heaven's plan to reach out to the prodigals in your life and bring them back to God. If you are heavily burdened for a loved one, you may be sure that that burden does not come simply from yourself. The burden is a gift from God, a token of his mercy toward the prodigal who at this moment cares nothing for the Lord. Your prayers are thus an indispensable link in the chain of God's purposes.
So never give up. Pray, pray and keep on praying. Your prayers accomplish more than you have ever dreamed.