One of the most important assignments believers have is to pray family and friends to Christ. Jesus interceded for future converts when he said to the Father, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (disciples) message” (John 17:20). Paul interceded for the salvation of fellow Jews with heart-felt prayer: “Brothers and sisters, my hearts desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1, TNIV). In a letter to Timothy Paul urged that, “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone.” Such praying said Paul “pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The New Testament picture is certainly clear. Prayer precedes conversion.
To pray effectively for unconverted persons we need to see them as God sees them. The Bible makes it plain that God has a heart for unsaved persons. He does not want anyone to perish, but wants “everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He is willing to grant them “repentance leading….to a knowledge of the truth…and escape from the trap of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). He sent his Son “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). And his Son, who came “to save the world” (John 3:17), commissioned others “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18). Our Father God, like the father in Jesus story of the prodigal son, yearns for and watches for his prodigal sons and daughters to come home. He wants to save! He is able to save! He moves in the lives of people when we pray.
Satan, on the other hand, does everything in his power to keep unsaved persons in his grip. Jesus exposed Satan as the “strong man” who tries to keep his possessions “safe” by being “fully armed” as “he guards his own house” (Luke 11:21). This same evil one seeks to hinder their salvation by blinding their eyes “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and snatches away the seed of the gospel message sown in their hearts (Matthew 13:19). Those who reject the gospel remain in “the trap of the devil…taken captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).
Scripture gives us important insights on what to pray for those who don’t know Christ.
- Pray that the Father will draw unsaved persons to himself. Jesus said, “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The unsaved persons for whom you pray will not go to Christ out of their own volition. They can’t. But the Father who can draw them delights to do so in response to our asking.
- Pray that they will come to repentance. The Lord wants unsaved persons to come to repentance and to be saved (2 Peter 3:9). And, he wants us to pray for that. God will welcome their repentance so that he can purge out what hinders their salvation and give them new life.
- Pray that they will hear and understand the gospel. They have to hear. Paul was making this point when he asked, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14). And they have to understand. Jesus warned that Satan would snatch the seed of the gospel away from those who don’t understand (Matthew 13:19).
- Pray that their minds will be opened. Satan tries to blind the mind of unbelievers, “so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). God wants to open their minds so they will see the “light.” Opening human minds is God’s business. But moving God’s Spirit to do so is prayer business.
- Pray that they will be freed from Satan’s bondage. The devil is a defeated enemy. He is the “strong man” who is bound by Jesus (Luke 11:21). He is the “power” disarmed by Jesus (Colossians 2:14). The devil can deal with any force that we humans can bring against him, but he cannot deal with the hands of almighty God moved through our prayers. Ask God to thwart Satan’s plans by un-binding and un-blinding the persons for whom you pray so that “they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26).
Scripture also gives some clues on how to pray for those who don’t know Christ.
- Pray with a compassionate concern that reflects the Father’s heart. Intercession is not of matter of dispassionately presenting our thoughts and words to God. God not only hears our prayers, he weighs them—weighs the burden in our hearts.
- Pray with faith. Believe that the Lord is willing. He “wants all people to be saved” and is pleased with the prayers that make this happen (1Timothy 2:4, TNIV). Believe that he is able: “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
- Pray with boldness. In Jesus story of the midnight visitor the host, who pleads with a neighbor for bread to serve his friend, knocks persistently and boldly. Jesus commends his boldness and says, “because of his boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:5-8). Pray boldly for persons who do not know Jesus. God will be pleased.
- Be willing to invest time, plenty of time. Intercession is work and all work takes time. Effective intercessors are always on watch for the Lord (see Isaiah 62:6-7).
- Finally, pray continuously. Never give up! God’s time in not our timing. He wants “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). That includes unsaved family, friends, and neighbors for whom you are praying.
As God begins to change the hearts and lives of unsaved persons you are praying for, make yourself available to those persons if that is at all possible. Tell the Lord you are willing to be used in their lives. Reach out to them in loving, caring ways. And, once a person receives Christ don’t stop praying. Thank God for your new brother or sister in Christ and then double your prayer efforts for them knowing that Satan will double his efforts to pull them back into his web of doubts, deceits and sinful entanglements. Persist in prayer until they are well established in the faith.
Alvin VanderGriend is the author of Praying God’s Heart, from which this blog is adapted.