‘Circumcise his heart’: John Piper on how Christians should pray for unbelieving spouses

John Piper at Sing! 2022 Conference
John Piper at Sing! 2022 Conference | Screengrab: Sing! 2022 Conference

John Piper recently offered advice on how a Christian wife can pray for her nonbelieving husband, which included asking God to “circumcise his heart.”

In the latest episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast posted on the Desiring God website, Piper answered a question submitted by a woman named “Rose” who asked the prominent theologian and pastor for advice on how she should pray for her non-Christian husband.

In his answer, Piper began by noting that he came to the question from the perspective of someone who believes “God is sovereign” and “can overcome all resistance and save the hardest sinner.”

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“Some might think that this kind of absolute sovereignty … would create a sense of fatalism, maybe, or discouragement that God may not choose to save our loved one,” Piper said.

“But looked at another way, it actually creates hope, this sovereign God. It means God really can save, no matter what the unbeliever does or has done. Nothing can stop Him.”

Piper said that he loves “to pray the promises of God,” such as the “new covenant promises of salvation,” among which include praying that God “take out the heart of stone” from her husband “and give him a tender, soft heart toward you.”

Piper then cited Deuteronomy 30:6, which states that “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

“So, you pray, ‘O Father, none of us loves you first and turns your heart to love us. We can’t love you unless you in your great, free, gracious love first circumcise our hearts,’” Piper advised.

“‘O God, I plead with you, circumcise his heart so that it is set free from resistance to your truth and goodness and beauty. Cause him, O Lord, to love you because of Christ.’”

Piper also recommended that she pray that her husband is granted repentance, 2 Timothy 2:24–26, which says that “the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

“So, we pray, ‘Father, even though no one deserves to be saved, no one deserves the gift of repentance, no one deserves escape from the devil, nevertheless, you are a God of mercy,’” Piper recommended.

“‘So, you are a God of mercy, and if you will, you can grant repentance, and liberation, and faith, and life. I know you have mercy on whom you have mercy. I know you are free and all-wise, and as your child, I am asking that, for the glory of your grace, you would give repentance to my husband.’”

Piper concluded by telling Rose that “we are with you in this great work of wrestling in prayer for your beloved unbeliever.”

In 2011, Christian authors Lynn Donovan and Dineen Miller wrote a book titled Winning Him Without Words, which focused on their efforts to witness to their nonbelieving husbands.

Both women had married nonbelievers before they themselves had become Christians, with both telling Focus on the Family in a 2012 interview that actions were a powerful way to evangelize.

“You cannot save them, Jesus is going to save them,” said Donovan in the 2012 interview. “You live your life, love Jesus and that's what winning him without words is all about. You let him see how much your life is a model of Christ's love.”

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