Praying for unbelievers
How should we pray for those who don’t yet know God?
Don’t think God is listening to your prayers? Indeed He is. But He may have higher plans.”— Max Lucado —
When we think about praying for unbelievers, we first need to look at what God has done and is doing for them. He gives many of the same things to all people—both saved and unsaved. He has provided this earth on which to live. “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NASB). The list could go on. He also sent His Son to die for all people (1 Timothy 2:6).
When we pray, we are to pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). But what is that will in regard to unbelievers? Two verses make that clear: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) and He is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So the first and foremost thing we should pray in regard to unbelievers is that they be saved. It’s what God wants.
You say: “I do pray for the salvation of my neighbors, friends, and co-workers who don’t know the Lord. But so often, they don’t become Christians. What’s happening? Am I praying in a wrong way? Is there something more I have to do for God to answer my prayers?”
Well first, let us realize that God hears every prayer we pray (Psalm 34:15, John 9:31). If He does not answer in the way we want, it’s not because He doesn’t hear us. He does. But there is more at work than just His will and His hearing us. When we pray for someone else, they are involved too.
When we pray for an unbeliever, God begins to work in their heart and life. He wants to answer our prayers and for people to come to know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. But the person we pray for might resist what God is doing in their life and might even reject it completely. That is sad, but each person is responsible for their own response. As the one praying for them, I am not responsible; neither is God. God will not ride roughshod over someone against their will. He will work mightily in their lives, but the ultimate decision as to whether to trust Him or not is up to that person themselves.
So when we pray for the salvation of an unbeliever, we can be assured that that is God’s will, and we can expect Him to work in their lives. They might not become a Christian, no matter how hard we pray. That is their choice—to believe or not.
In every other situation, though, we can pray for them just like we would for someone who believes. We can pray for God to heal them if they are sick. We can pray that they get a job, if that is what they need. But, just like with all of our prayers, God will only grant our requests if it is His will.
Prayer changes who we pray for and it changes us.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6,7).
So let’s pray. Pray for everyone: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). That includes unbelievers. But let’s also remember that though it is God’s will that all be saved, some will not come to Him. That shouldn’t stop us from continually praying that those around us will come to Him. May His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.