Should We Pray for Unbelievers or for Evangelists? (2024)

Audio Transcript

Some of the best questions you all send to us come from the tensions you see directly in Scripture as you read the Bible — like the one we have today. Do we pray for the salvation of unbelievers directly? Or do we pray for the evangelists who bring the gospel? It’s an interesting Bible question on this Friday, as we close out week number 489 on the podcast.

The question today is from a listener named Tim: “Hello, Pastor John! Can you tell me if we are commanded to pray for unbelievers? It seems like the prayers and the instruction on prayer in the New Testament are focused on praying for believers in contexts of evangelism. I’m thinking of Colossians 4:3–4 and Ephesians 6:18–20. In those places Paul is seeking prayer for his bold preaching, not prayers for unbelievers themselves. Is this instructive for us? Are we to pray for unbelievers? Or pray for evangelists? How does the Bible instruct our priority here?”

Yes, the Bible teaches us to pray for unbelievers, and particularly to pray for their salvation — but not only for their salvation, but also lots of blessings of other kinds that flow from salvation or lead to their salvation.

But the question Tim asks is not uncommon because Tim is right that, ordinarily, Paul in particular asks for prayer for his preaching more than he asks prayer for those who are hearing his preaching. Now I’ll come back at the end to why that might be the case, but that is the case, and that’s why the question arises.

I can remember maybe forty years ago at a conference at Wheaton College where a person stood up in the audience and asked J.I. Packer point-blank, “Give me one text where we’re told to pray for unbelievers.” And I’ll tell you what he said in a minute when I get there, but this is not an unusual question. Now, my reason for saying the Bible does teach that we should pray for unbelievers is that there are at least five lines of evidence pointing more or less explicitly in this direction.

David’s Prayers for Enemies

First, there’s the Old Testament example. It may be surprising to you (it was to me) that this example turns up in a psalm where righteous indignation, the righteous indignation of the psalmist, is calling on God to vindicate him against his enemies. But listen to what brought him to this point in Psalm 35:11–14:

Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask of me things I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
But I, when they were sick —
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning.

So, the psalmist had prayed for his enemy until, evidently, God showed him that he’s going to become an instrument of God’s judgment. That happens in the psalms. So we’ve got an Old Testament example of praying for our adversaries.

Jesus New-Covenant Commands

Second, there are Jesus’s instructions in Matthew 5:43: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Same thing in Luke 6:28: “Pray for those who abuse you” — not “pray against them.” These aren’t imprecatory prayers. This is, “Pray for them — pray for what they need.” And what they need most is faith in Christ and eternal life.

‘Bless Those Who Curse You’

I think this is what the command of Jesus to bless means as well. Jesus said in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you.” Well, what does bless mean? It means we pronounce a Godward wish of well-being on someone. Blessing is the hope that things will go well with someone, and then that hope is directed to God in longing and expressed to our enemy in words. That’s the way blessings work, whether they’re to believers or unbelievers. You can see it in that famous blessing in Numbers 6:24–26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you.”

So you’re asking the Lord to do something, but you’re speaking directly to a person. So this command to bless our enemies became a watchword in the early church. It’s amazing how frequent it is:

  • 1 Peter 3:9: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.”
  • Romans 12:14: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.”
  • Paul set an example of this in 1 Corinthians 4:12 when he said, “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure.”

Now, these blessings are prayers; they’re prayers for unbelievers — that God would cause things to go well for them, for their ultimate good, for their salvation.

‘As in Heaven’

Then there’s another instruction Jesus gave. I think it indirectly tells us to pray for unbelievers, and this is the answer that J.I. Packer gave. I remember it all these years later because I didn’t expect him to go here at all. He went to the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9–10)

“The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for unbelievers to believe and obey and do the will of God the way the angels do it.”

Well, when it says to pray for the kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done as in heaven, that phrase “as in heaven” means not just that God’s sovereign will would be done the way Judas did it — that’s not the way it’s done in heaven — but that it would be done the way angels do it. And the angels do it full of joy, full of faith. So, think of the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer for unbelievers to believe and obey and do the will of God the way the angels do it in heaven. I thought that was a remarkable, insightful answer.

There are a lot more direct answers. I’m not sure why he went there — maybe that was just all that came to his mind at the time — but I thought it was remarkable.

Jesus’s and Stephen’s Dying Pleas

Here’s the third line of evidence: There’s Jesus example — not just the instructions that we just saw, but his example. While he is on the cross, he prays for his enemies: “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34).

And then Stephen continued that same dying prayer as he was being stoned in Acts 7:60: “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” That’s amazing. He prayed for his unbelieving killers.

Paul’s Prayers for His Kinsmen

The fourth line of evidence is Paul’s example, not only of blessing, which we just saw for those who persecute him, but also of explicitly praying for the salvation of his lost Jewish kinsmen in Romans 10. I think, if somebody asked me in public, “Give me one example of the Bible teaching that we should pray for unbelievers,” I’d say Romans 10:1: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”

So I take this to mean that this was his steady prayer as he ministered in the Lord’s name: “Lord, save my brothers in Israel, and make them my brothers in Christ.”

Paul’s Personal Requests

And now the fifth line of evidence. Tim, when he asked the question, pointed to Colossians 4 as a typical way that Paul asks for prayer — namely, for the preachers and not the hearers. And I commented that this is typical. That’s right. Paul does that most often. He said this: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison — that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:3–4).

We see the same thing in Ephesians 6:19, where he says, “[Pray] for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” And we could add to this 2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.”

Now, none of these texts says explicitly that we are praying for the unbelievers — none of those last three that I quoted. But when you think it through, what they’re asking for is that Paul’s word would be bold and clear and unhindered and triumphant and glorified. You can’t avoid the fact this includes, “Lord, grant converts to Paul’s preaching.”

“God has bound salvation to the news of Jesus Christ so that Christ gets glory for the faith.”

So, I think Paul is indeed asking indirectly for prayer for unbelievers. And I suspect — this is my effort to answer the question of why Paul spoke the way he did most often — that one of the reasons Paul asks for prayer this way (namely, for himself and his preaching) is that he is so keenly aware that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). He knows that it is God who raises dead people spiritually and brings them to faith. And God gives them life and faith and eyes to see the glory of Christ by causing them to hear the word of God.

Paul really wants us to keep in mind that God does not move around through the world bringing people to faith apart from the hearing of the gospel. God has bound salvation to the news of Jesus Christ so that Christ gets glory for the faith. So let’s always keep these things together — namely, prayer for the salvation of unbelievers and prayer for the word to run and be glorified through more and more faith.

Should We Pray for Unbelievers or for Evangelists? (2024)

FAQs

Should We Pray for Unbelievers or for Evangelists? ›

1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us to pray for all people—including those who don't yet know Christ. We are to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (certainly those are unbelievers). We know that part of Jesus' mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Where in the Bible does it say to pray for unbelievers? ›

1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us to pray for all people—including those who don't yet know Christ. We are to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (certainly those are unbelievers). We know that part of Jesus' mission was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

How do you pray for someone who is not a believer? ›

Pray that God would work within these unbelievers to change their hearts. “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:19). Pray that God would put his Spirit within them.

Who does the Bible say we should pray for? ›

We should pray that God's love and justice reign on earth (Matthews 6:10; Luke 11:2). We should pray for daily provisions (Luke 11:3). We should pray for forgiveness of sin (11:4). We should pray for God to protect us from temptation (11:4).

Should Christians pray for non Christians? ›

Yes, the Bible teaches us to pray for unbelievers, and particularly to pray for their salvation — but not only for their salvation, but also lots of blessings of other kinds that flow from salvation or lead to their salvation.

Does the Holy Spirit dwell in unbelievers? ›

Some people are confused about that. The Bible makes it clear that the Holy Spirit does not indwell the unbeliever, for the Spirit comes only to those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. Romans 8:9 says, "You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the spirit of God dwells in you."

Can I pray for someone to go to heaven? ›

Jesus said that there is only heaven and hell, according to Matthew 7:13-14. There is no purgatory. You cannot pray anyone into heaven.

How do you approach someone who doesn't believe in God? ›

Instead of viewing talking with a non-Christian as a life-risking endeavor, keep these eight steps in mind.
  1. Value them as people. We need to see those who disagree with us as people. ...
  2. Listen. ...
  3. Find points of connection. ...
  4. Understand their perspective. ...
  5. Avoid using Christian jargon. ...
  6. Welcome questions. ...
  7. Admit ignorance. ...
  8. Pray.
Sep 27, 2019

Why is it important to pray for other believers? ›

Prayer lightens burdens

Praying for one another is a powerful way for us to bear one another's burdens. It is a loving act to pray for someone and join them in taking the pain of their heart to God. We may promise to pray for someone and then forget entirely when they are out of our sight.

What does the Bible say about praying for those in authority? ›

1 Timothy 2:1-7

I urge . . . that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

When should you stop praying for someone? ›

If you don't get a clear no from God, then certainly keep praying if you feel led to. But if God has said no, it's not right to keep begging because you think God needs you to beg more. God always does what is most loving (Matthew 7:7-11). If he's said no to something you want, trust that he's doing this for your good.

Who do I pray to for? ›

First, prayer should ordinarily be directed to God the Father. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). The Father sent His Son into the world to redeem sinners and to reconcile us to Him (John 3:16; 2 Cor.

Can you pray without praying to God? ›

One does not need to believe in God for prayer to work. Despite being an atheist, Sam Harris has unapologetically spent time meditating with and learning from Hindus and Buddhists. This makes sense because you do not need to subscribe to any particular religion or believe in any God to meditate.

Can you pray on behalf of someone else? ›

Praying for someone else is called intercession—we are praying to God on behalf of another person. We can go to God with these intercessory prayers with confidence, knowing that God will hear us, because Jesus Christ first interceded for us (Romans 8:31-39).

Can Christians pray silently? ›

Silence and solitude are essential aspects of contemplative prayer, a practice of prayer that waits on God and trusts in God's present love and grace. While silence can be especially helpful in becoming attentive to God while praying, it is hardly an excuse to remain aloof from the needs of our neighbors.

Which Christians don't believe in the Holy Spirit? ›

Oneness Pentecostals are often referred to as "Modalists" or "Sabellians" or "Jesus Only". Denominations within the Sabbatarian tradition (Armstrongism) believe that Christ the Son and God the Father are co-eternal, but do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a being or person.

What does the Bible say about living with unbelievers? ›

Do not be bound together with unbelievers,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” Believers can and should relate to unbelievers' situations, but we must never emulate their lifestyles of separation from God.

What is blaspheming the Holy Spirit? ›

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is willful, wide-eyed slandering of the work of the Spirit, attributing to the devil what was undeniably divine. These people had seen as clearly as anyone could see and understood as lucidly as anyone could understand that Jesus performed his miracles by the power of the Spirit.

Will believers recognize each other in heaven? ›

In fact, the Bible indicates we will know each other more fully than we do now. The Apostle Paul declared, "Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). It's true that our appearance will change, because God will give us new bodies, similar to Jesus' resurrection body.

Is it OK for Christians to pray for the dead? ›

Prayer for the dead is well documented within early Christianity, both among prominent Church Fathers and the Christian community in general. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Christians pray for "such souls as have departed with faith, but without having had time to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance".

Who intercedes for us in heaven? ›

The Bible shows us that Jesus speaks to the Father on our behalf. Romans 8:34 says that Jesus “is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” In 1 John 2:1 we read that Jesus is our “advocate with the Father,” and from Hebrews 7:25 we learn that Jesus “always lives to intercede” for us.

Is talking to God the same as praying? ›

Prayer is simply talking to God -- and the most important thing I can say about this is that God wants you to talk to Him! He loves us and He has promised to hear us when we pray. How can you learn to pray?

Do we pray to Jesus or in his name? ›

God takes our offerings and changes them. So, praying in the Name of Jesus does not mean that we get our way. Praying in the name of Jesus means that we get Jesus's way, and we go that way together, in community.

What is it called when you believe in God but don t? ›

A theist is the opposite of an atheist. Theists believe in the existence of a god or gods. The word deist refers to someone who believes in God. But a deist believes that while God created the universe, natural laws determine how the universe plays out.

What is it called when you believe in God but don't care? ›

Article Talk. Apatheism (/ˌæpəˈθiːɪzəm/; a portmanteau of apathy and theism) is the attitude of apathy toward the existence or non-existence of God(s). It is more of an attitude rather than a belief, claim, or belief system.

What is it called when you believe in God but not the Bible? ›

The term ietsism is becoming more widely used in Europe, as opposed to the phrase 'spiritual but not religious' which prevails in North America.

Is it better to pray alone or with others? ›

Prayer alone with the Lord is powerful. Prayer with the community is most powerful, for the Lord himself said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Why praying with other Christians is powerful? ›

When We Pray Together, We Experience God's Presence. Matthew 18:20 (NLT) For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Ephesians 3:12 (NLT) Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.

What is praying for others called? ›

Intercession or intercessory prayer is the act of praying to a deity on behalf of others, or asking a saint in heaven to pray on behalf of oneself or for others.

Does the Bible command us to pray for our leaders? ›

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV): Pray For Those in Authority

"I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness."

How do you pray for your pastor or spiritual leader? ›

Scriptural Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the men and women You have appointed as our Pastors. Thank You for blessing our Pastors with their leadership and wisdom. Thank You for leading, directing, and protecting their families. Lord, You are our Good Shepherd, our High Priest.

Should Christians pray for the government? ›

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we 're commanded by God to pray for all people, including our government and nation, for two reasons. (1) This practice is good and pleases God. (2) God desires societies where people are free to live peaceful and godly lives, and to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

What should you not do when praying? ›

Four Hindrances to Prayer
  • Ignoring God's Word. If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. ( ...
  • Loving Sin. ...
  • Desiring Wrongly. ...
  • Doubting God.
Oct 18, 2017

How many times should we pray according to the Bible? ›

Jesus emphasized the need to persevere in prayer, and by this, He meant that Christians ought to pray for at least two set times per day, during the day and at night. Notice in the following parable what the text says in verse 1 of Luke 18. He tells them how they should always pray.

Is it biblical to pray over someone? ›

The Bible commands us to pray for one another, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, ESV).

What are the 3 powerful prayers? ›

The prayer of protection. The prayer of transformation. The prayer of restoration.

Should we pray to the saints? ›

We believe asking each other for prayers is important, necessary and even commanded by God. We believe in the resurrection of the dead. These two ideas come together and guide us to understand that not only are we allowed to ask the saints to pray for us, we are required to do so.

Is it okay to pray to the Holy Spirit? ›

 Prayer is and should be directed to God.  Therefore, as prayer is directed to the Father (e.g., “Our Father, who is in heaven”), and to the Son (e.g., Stephen, as he dies: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”), it is proper that prayer be directed to the Holy Spirit (e.g., “the seven spirits”).

What does an atheist say instead of praying for you? ›

A: Any variation on “I'm so sorry to hear about this, and I'm here for you if you need anything” or “Call me if you need to talk” should work.

Where in the Bible does it say not to pray to anyone but God? ›

Matthew 6:5 - Wikipedia.

Can you be saved without prayer? ›

Throughout the Bible, it is made clear that prayer is not the switch that activates salvation. Faith alone is the means of our justification. Salvation occurs the moment someone turns from his or her sin and places their hope for salvation in Christ.

Why is it important to be an intercessor? ›

The meaning of intercessory prayer Intercessory prayer means to ask a favour from God on behalf of others. It is very important to pray beyond oneself for others. Oftentimes, we promise people of our prayers, and at other times we pray for people without their knowledge. At times, we ask people to pray for us.

Can you pray the Jesus prayer for others? ›

That is, when we want to say the Jesus prayer for other people who are in need, we should say at first, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thy servants” or “thy servants”, remembering their names, but afterwards, we should continue without mentioning their names and without fixing our mind on them, without thinking of ...

Who is an intercessor in the Bible? ›

The definition is basic: an intercessor is someone who prays, petitions, or begs God in favor of another person. It's a Biblical concept that appears often. The most famous case probably is when Abram barters God down from the need to find 50 righteous men to 10 righteous men in order to spare Sodom and Gomorrah.

Does it matter if you pray out loud? ›

There is power in praying aloud, so although silent prayers may be more comfortable for you, you should try to give voice to them when you can.

Can I pray too much? ›

Is it possible that God would get angry with us because we pray too much about a particular problem? I worry about bothering Him too much with my problems. ANSWER: Absolutely not! The Bible tells us to persist in prayer and to pray about everything.

Can you pray for someone who doesn't believe in God? ›

If your friend does not believe in God, you can talk about nature because everything testifies that there is a God (see Alma 30:44). You can also pray for her and study the scriptures with her—for example, Psalm 19:1. I know that the Holy Ghost will help her receive a testimony of our Heavenly Father.

What Scripture blinds the minds of unbelievers? ›

2 Corinthians 4 1

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

What is Romans 10 9? ›

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Is it okay to pray for an atheist? ›

Prayer, though, has a performative dimension that makes it effective and appropriate for expressing thoughts and feelings. So, prayer for the atheist can be like singing in the car or in the shower. No one is listening, and that is just fine. Prayer does not need to be addressed to anyone.

Are we obliged to pray for others? ›

The Bible commands us to pray for one another, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16, ESV). God manifests Himself in many ways when praying together and for each other.

Have nothing to do with unbelievers? ›

2 Corinthians 6:17 GW

The Lord says, “Get away from unbelievers. Separate yourselves from them. Have nothing to do with anything unclean. Then I will welcome you.”

What is God's grace to unbelievers? ›

Common grace is what God provides to everyone, even to the unbelievers. Common grace maintains the whole of creation, and every breath that anyone takes is due to it. God still loves His creation and, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5: 44-45).

How to preach Jesus to unbelievers? ›

Pray and fast for unbelievers (John 14:12-14; 15:7-8). One reason unbelieving people are not on our minds is because we don't pray for them. Make a list of unbelieving people and begin praying for their salvation. But also ask God to open doors for evangelism, then by faith be obedient when the opportunities arise.

Do you have to be baptized to go to heaven? ›

While Jesus told Nicodemus, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5), he did not set baptism as a hindrance to salvation but just the opposite. We so often judge things by human standards, but God is not restrained by our standards.

What is Philippians 4 13? ›

Philippians 4:11–13

12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

What is Romans 12 19? ›

19 Dearly beloved, aavenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

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