Working through NonbelieversBy Nathan Mates
As we live and work, odds are that at some point we will be working under nonbelievers-- they can be bosses, governments, and more. While it is certainly in our best interests to pray for their salvation, it is also certainly possible to pray that God works his plan through them, despite their unbelief. It is something of a trap of the devil that blinds us to the possibilities of praying for God's will to be done through nonbelievers.
Looking through the Bible, we see many examples of such nonbelievers helping out with God's plan directly. The Pharaoh of Egypt's heart was hardened [Exodus 4:21] so that the Israelites were not allowed to leave until 10 plagues had been inflicted on the country. After ten plagues, the Israelites were to plunder the Egyptians on the way out: "Tell the people that men and women alike are to ask their neighbors for articles of silver and gold." (The LORD made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and Moses himself was highly regarded in Egypt by Pharaoh's officials and by the people.)" [Exodus 11:2-3] So, despite the Egyptian people's unbelief in God, God had worked in their hearts to be very helpful to God's people.
Much later on, when the Israelites were back under captivity in Babylon, there were many opportunities for them to come to their unbelieving captors to have God's will done. God had promised this directly before the captivity: "This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."" [Jeremiah 29:10-14]
So, how was this release from captivity accomplished? Like the previous time in Egypt, the ruler was an unbeliever, but they still did God's will. Ezra notes it as follows: "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "'The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you--may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'"" [Ezra 1:1-4]
Later, Nehemiah, serving before King Artaxerxes of Babylon, prayed and fasted [Nehemiah 1:4] before asking to accomplish God's purpose: "The king said to me, "What is it you want?" Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, "If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it." Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time." [Nehemiah 2:4-6] Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem with the King's blessing, finances, and governorship of the area. God had worked in a second unbelieving king to accomplish his purpose.
Completing a trilogy of books about the Babylonian exile, the book of Esther follows Ezra and Nehemiah in the pattern of working in God's will on unbelieving rulers. King Xerxes had been persuaded to sign on to Haman's plan to destroy the Jews in captivity [Esther 3:12-14]. At first glance, this King would appear to be serving Satan's purpose in wiping out God's people. But, due to the work of two of God's people, Mordecai-- in loyal service to Xerxes-- and Queen Esther, Xerxes's previous order wasn't carried out. Although the previous order could not be revoked [Esther 8:8], Xerxes's second edict changed the balance of power: the Jews had the right to self defense, and even the right to strike out at anyone that "might attack" [Esther 8:11-12] them. And so, God kept his people alive through the workings of nonbelievers.
Are these events limited to the Old Testament? Not in the least. While a prisoner under Roman captors, Paul used his unbelieving captors to carry out God's will. Acts 27 is a story of Paul's shipwreck. Paul had been given by God a plan for all 276 on board [Acts 27:37] surviving this disaster without any casualties. The Roman Centurion in charge of the non-sailors onboard-- the other soldiers and their prisoners-- was used to prevent disaster. Instead of allowing the sailors to escape in the lifeboat, that potential means of escape was thrown away at Paul's words. [Acts 27:-30-32]. Then, as they neared land, "The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the Centurion wanted to spare Paul's life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land in safety." [Acts 27:42-44] God was in charge of that wreck, yet Paul had to trust in his nonbelieving captors to accomplish God's plan.
While working with other Christians, it is easy for all involved to pray for God's will to be done. But, as society turns more and more towards other false Gods, it may seem impossible that God's will can be done through nonbelievers. If you find yourself in such a situation, remember the many instances in the Bible-- and even more since then-- where God has worked despite their unbelief. God is stronger than those unbelievers, and those that seek God's will through prayer and fasting-- as Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai, and Paul all did-- can accomplish miracles.