10 Ways We Know People Are Lost


The Son of Man has come to seek and save those who were lost (Luke 19:10).

Someone asked Daniel Boone if in all his wilderness travels he had ever been lost. “No,” he drawled, “but once I was bewildered for three whole days.”

Bewildered in a wilderness. Sounds like the place to do that.

The great difficulty in rescuing the lost–the assignment God’s children have been handed by the Lord Jesus–is compounded when the subjects do not realize their dire situation.

How would one go about convincing a lost person he was lost? And why do that in the first place?

Clearly, if one is on-board the damaged Titanic and while scurrying to get off the doomed vessel with as many survivors as possible, he runs into partying passengers without the slightest awareness of their situation, he needs to tell them. He will want to alarm them even, and convince them to take action to save themselves. Whether they will listen is another story.

If we know the hurricane is coming and this neighborhood is about to be destroyed, we will do all in our power to alert the residents.

The days of our lives are finite and this world is doomed. Someone needs to tell the passengers.

In trying to alert the Titanic’s guests or the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward the day before Katrina, you would learn far more about the lostness of mankind in a few minutes than in all the years of your life to that point.

Anyone trying to save the lost–whether at sea, in penthouses having the time of their lives, in prisons, or sitting in comfortable pews with hymnals in their laps–is going to run into a number of realities concerning this condition.

Most lost people do not know they are lost. And many do not care.

The corollary to that is that God’s people often do not seem to know people are lost either. We get taken in by the impressive house they live in, the expensive clothes they wear, their suave manner, or by their religious ardor. If they are really cool, as celebrities and politicians are cool, we’re tempted to give them a pass.

Lost is lost. People without God are in big trouble.

Here are some of the ways we know man is lost.

10. He has no concern about his situation.

Joseph Stowell, in a sermon some years back, told of the time his family lost their small son in a shopping mall. The family split up to look for him–one headed to the parking lot, another down this corridor, others the opposite way. Eventually, the grandfather arrived with the little boy in tow. “He was at the candy counter looking over his options,” he said, “completely unaware he was lost.”

Stowell says we are living in a candy-counter culture. People spend their days considering all the fun options before them without a clue that they are lost and in trouble.

9. He does not know there is an actual destination.

The typical lost-person today is like a farm animal grazing in the pasture–feeding here, resting there, looking for shade, never looking up for the source of life’s bounty, never asking the tough questions of life so long as his needs are met.

8. He thinks all roads are equally good, all exits the same, all religions share the same truths.

Often when leading a service at Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home in Metairie, Louisiana, I point something out to the audience. “Behind you and to my left are doors marked ‘exit.’ They lead outside. However, there are two doors to my right with unusual signs. ‘Not an exit.’ These don’t go anywhere. They’re storage closets.”

This world is filled with contradictory voices offering ways out, ways to God, ways to life and fulfillment. But most are dead ends. Only the way of Jesus Christ is truth. “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life,” He said. “No one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6).

7. The highest test he knows for his ultimate welfare is his feelings.

“I must be all right,” a man said to me. “I feel fine.”

At church one Sunday, Mrs. Powell told me she was having toe surgery that week. “Don’t bother to come by the hospital,” she said. “This is so silly.”

I went anyway. And found her in enormous pain.

“You could never have told me that toe surgery would hurt so much,” she said.

I told her that two floors above her was a fellow church member who had suffered a heart attack. “But he feels great.”

Feelings are poor barometers of anything. The woman with the toe surgery felt awful but was doing fine. The heart attack victim felt fine but his life was hanging by a thread.

6. He rejects any claims of “the” way as too narrow, too demanding, too restrictive.

Returning to Stowell’s metaphor of being lost in the mall, I suspect we’ve all gotten turned around in one of these super shopping centers with corridors in every direction. However, we don’t panic, for two reasons. We know that spaced throughout the mall are directories telling us where we are located and showing where we want to be. Then, every door leads to the parking lot. Even if we exit on the wrong side of the facility, we can still find our way.

That thinking, however, does not apply in matters of the soul. The only way out of this morass we call earthly existence is to heed the calls of a friend who comes to find us and lead us out.

5. He has grown comfortable in his lostness; it’s who he is.

Man has a way of acclimating to his discomfort. Without that, no one would ever live in the frozen north or the sweltering torrid zones. We who dwell in cities where our every need can be met at the strip mall down the street are amazed to find nomads living in the Sahara with their collapsible tents and goats. Primitives thrive in remote jungles and eat monkeys, Eskimoes dwell in igloos and dine off seals, urbanites pay fortunes to live in skyscrapers and consider goose livers a delicacy.

People adjust. Eventually, the thought that there could be a better way never occurs to them.

4. He despairs in his lostness; has quit looking for a way out.

He turns to alcohol, drugs, crime, pleasure-seeking, and despair. Many end their own lives. “There is no hope” forms the gist of many a suicide note.

3. He tends to walk in circles.

An online Time magazine report tells how researchers tracked people who were wandering in forests, deserts, and blindfolded in giant fields. They found that it really is true that lost people tend to walk in circles. When they have a fixed point of reference–the sun or moon or stars–they are more likely to walk straight.

During the Civil War, the Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia, became a notorious death camp. On one occasion a group of Union prisoners decided to tunnel out. They erected a makeshift tent and using tin cups, they dug down, then headed toward the stockade walls. Finally, according to their measurements, they concluded they had gone far beyond the walls and it should be safe to come up. That’s when they got the surprise of their lives.

One day, another prisoner fell into a hole not far from the mouth of their tunnel. It turned out that this was the end of the tunnel. The prisoners had dug in a complete circle, all within the confines of the prison walls. They concluded that since all the diggers with right-handed, they had no way of keeping the escape route straight.

2. He will take directions from anyone.

The danger of standing for nothing, we are told, is that one will fall for anything.

You and I are stunned at the cosmic gimmicks people fall for and the charlatans they follow. We stand in amazement that they will stake their eternities on something so flimsy as a report that this man of questionable character received a revelation from an angel and saw some golden plates which are no longer available. Then they will assure us they know his words are true because “it gives me a warm feeling inside.”

God help us. Literally. God help us.

1. He ignores the Voice of the Great Rescuer in his mind and heart. God calls; he doesn’t listen.

Perhaps he is busy about other things and like those of us who don’t hear our cell phones ring because we were in crowds. Perhaps he has silenced that inner voice so many times the sound has grown weaker and weaker.

“Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).

Clearly, there is so much more than can be said on this subject. I fear I’ve only skimmed the surface. But we who follow Jesus Christ must never let ourselves off too lightly because the people we are sent to rescue do not know they are in trouble.

The people we are commissioned to preach good news to do not know they are living the bad-news life.

Those we have been sent to raise do not know they are dead.

Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick…. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Then we read, “Seeing the multitude, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).

Whether they know it or not has no role to play in our assignment.

In her book A Severed Wasp, Madeleine L’Engel relates a graphic image from an old George Orwell essay. He wrote, “A wasp was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”

We think of the freshly shorn Samson. “(Delilah) said, ‘The Philistines are upon you, Samson!’ And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.’ (Judges 16:20)

Before we can rescue them, they need to know they are lost.

Our task is to penetrate that lostness with the gospel of Jesus.

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8). It’s a job far too much for humans.

Some have estimated that of the 340 million Americans, fully two-thirds (258 mil) are lost. Likewise, of the world’s 6.8 billion population, some 4 billion have little or even no access to the gospel.

In a town where I once lived, I was struck by the irony of a small residence being used as an office for an insurance company. The sign out front read, “World Insurance Company.”

A missionary says, “Each church must become its own missional strategy center.”

Your church is a world evangelism center.

Shiloh Baptist Church on County Road 13 outside Picayune, Mississippi, and Mount Tabor Church on Hillside Highway, Fort Deposit, Alabama, must find ways to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ.

Your church and my church.

You and I.

It’s our assignment.