Is it even Biblical to Pray for a Person’s Salvation?
Recently, someone told me that it is not Biblical to pray for someone’s salvation. He said that the Bible instructs us to pray for more laborers, but it never instructs us to pray for the salvation of specific individuals. This got me curious, so I started taking a closer look at this subject. When I asked others about their thoughts, I got responses ranging from, “Yes, of course. God desires that we intervene on the behalf of others,” all the way to, “Definitely no; what ARROGANCE!!!!”The Bible, of course, has to be our final authority. So, what does it say? First, before we take a look at the Bible, we'll take a look at the reasons why some people feel we should not pray for the salvation of others. After doing a great deal of research on this subject, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two main reasons why people feel we should not pray for someone else’s salvation. They are:
Reason 1: We don’t have the right to make that type of decision for someone else
Many people do not believe we have the right to ask God to save another person. They would say something like, “Hey, I can’t make a decision like that for someone else. If I were to ask God to save them, it would be the same as me deciding their eternal destiny for them. This needs to be their decision, not mine.”
Their logic is pretty straight forward. God makes it very clear in the Bible that He desires to answer our prayers. So, if we were to consistently pray for someone else’s salvation, there is a good chance that God will answer that prayer. Although that sounds great, it kind of leaves the recipient without any say in the matter. It is one thing for me to make important decisions for myself, but do I have the right to make a decision of this magnitude for someone else?
That would be a valid question if that is what we are doing, but it isn’t. We are not saying, “God I want this person to become a Christian, so override their desires with my desires.” No, all we are really asking when we pray for a person’s salvation is that the person will truly have a clear understanding of the gospel and be able to make an informed and unbiased decision.
There are many factors that would cause a person to turn their hearts against God. Following are a couple of examples:
Regardless of the reasons, the person has based his decision to reject God on skewed information. When I pray for a person’s salvation I am asking God to remove this emotional baggage so that he can decide to accept or reject Christ based purely on the facts. I am not asking God to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do. Rather, I am simply asking God to let him clearly see the facts without having the facts distorted or filtered.
There are so many things that influence our decisions: our upbringing, the cultural biasness in which we live, our life experiences, and our accumulated emotional baggage. All of these things can impact our openness to the gospel and our attitude toward God. These are the things we are asking God to cut through when we pray for these people.
Another thing we need to keep in mind is we are not imposing our will upon the people that we are praying for; we are actually intervening on the behalf of those in need. Let’s say a large building collapses during an earthquake and we rush over to help look for survivors.
Are we imposing our will upon the people trapped under the building? Maybe they are happy with their new life and they want to stay this way. Maybe we shouldn’t rush into judgment and assume that they want our help. Maybe we should wait until they invite us to dig through the rubble. Digging through the rubble is an action that will significantly alter their life; do we really have the right to make that kind of decision for them?
Obviously, that viewpoint is absurd; these people are in a real trouble and they obviously would desire a better life than what they are currently trapped in. Likewise, it is equally absurd to think that a person truly wants to live in a life of sin and misery. I believe that they would eagerly desire the gift that God is offering them if they truly understood what He is offering and if their thought process was not distorted by their emotional baggage and other biasness.
No, we are not imposing our will upon these people; we are intervening on their behalf.
Reason 2: God has never instructed us to pray for the salvation of others
Some people will say that the Bible never instructs us to pray for the salvation of individual people. They say that the Bible instruct us to pray for more laborers (Luke 10:2), but not for the salvation of specific people. Therefore, since these prayers and not Biblical, God will not answer them.
While it is true that the Bible does not contain any verses that say anything similar to, “Pray for the salvation of your friends and neighbors,” there are some verses that indirectly tell us to pray for the salvation of the lost.
For example, 1 Timothy 2:1 says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” When God tells us to pray for all people; what do you think He want us to pray for? Should our prayers for the unbelievers be that they stay healthy, become financially prosperous, and have a happy home life? Clearly, the primary need of the unbelievers is their salvation. Therefore, the primary thing we should pray for when we are praying for the unbelievers is to ask God to salvage and redeem their lives.
Matthew 5:43-45 says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Once again, what are we to pray for? From the context of the passage our prayers should be done in a positive tone with the purpose and intent of helping that person. There are many things that you can pray for, but I believe the primary thing that would be the most helpful for the unbeliever is that they find true happiness and peace; which can only be found in Christ. Therefore, praying for their salvation should be our primary prayer.
I suspect that the reason why some people are drawn to this view (believing that it is not Biblical to pray for the salvation of others) is because they, consciously or unconsciously, are concerned about the impact that Prayer Evangelism may have on world evangelism. More specifically, they think that Prayer Evangelism may cause some people to feel that there is no need to go to the mission field; that there is no reason to give and live sacrificially in order to reach the lost.
This is a valid concern. Currently, there are more people being born into the world than there are people being born again. The fields are white unto harvest and there are not enough laborers to even come close to meeting the needs. It is hard enough as it is to get people to leave their life of comfort and live a life of hardship in order to bring the gospel to the lost. It would make a difficult job even harder if people are given another reason to stay home.
I completely understand their concern. Nevertheless, Prayer Evangelism is not a threat to world evangelism. Its purpose is to supplement the work of the messenger, not replace the messenger. It is an essential ingredient for world evangelism, but world evangelism still needs the messenger.
Romans 10:14, 15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
The Bible makes it clear in numerous passages that we must go into the world to bring the gospel to the lost and there are no substitutes for that. It has been said, “If we don’t go, they won’t know.” For whatever reason, God has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching the gospel through weak human vessels to bring the gospel to the world (1Corinthians 1:21).
As I stated earlier, Prayer Evangelism plays an integral part in world evangelism. With Prayer Evangelism you ask God to do two things. First, you ask God to prepare the person’s heart to be receptive of the gospel. Second, you ask God to bring people into their lives to present them the gospel.
With Prayer Evangelism, you still need people to bring the gospel to the people you are praying for. Think about it, if God answers our prayers by bringing someone into that person’s life with the gospel, then Prayer Evangelism actually increases the number of laborers; not reduce the number.
During WWII, our military leaders learned several painful lessons. First, we found that when you are attacking a hardened and entrenched enemy, you cannot simply invade them and expect to succeed. You first need to significantly soften the target before the invasion. This usually required days or weeks of dropping bombs from bombers and shelling the target from land or sea.
The other difficult lesson that we learned was that heavy bombardments by themselves were not sufficient; you cannot simply destroy a target with weeks or months of bombings. A bloody and costly invasion is still necessary. With the advancements of our new bombers during that war, we thought we could simply bomb our enemies into submission. This was anything but true. Even with heavy bombing to soften the targets, we still suffered heavy losses invading both Iwo Jima and Normandy.
Praying for a person’s salvation is an important part of “softening the target.” Weeks and even years before a person is presented with the gospel, a person’s heart needs to be prepared. As discussed earlier, God needs to remove the emotional baggage, cultural barriers, and other forms of biasness that exist in their heart. He also needs to bring about events to make them open to the message. For example, a near fatal accident may cause the person to start thinking about eternity. Or, a failed marriage may cause a person to question the meaning and purpose of life.
Ephesians 1:17-18 says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Even Paul prayed that God would work in people’s hearts to make them more open to the truth. This principle applies to both believers and unbelievers. We are not doing anything different when we ask God to work in a person’s heart so they would be receptive to the gospel.
As stated earlier, many of the people who do not believe we should pray for the salvation of others say Luke 10:2 provides the only example of praying for evangelism. This passage says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” In real practical terms, what does this prayer for laborers actually sound like? Is it a generic prayer such as, “God, please raise up more missionaries to go out into the world,” or is it something more specific?
Let me give you an example. Recently a new tribal group was discovered in the Vale do Javari reservation of Brazil. The news sent excitement in the missionary communities, especially those dealing with tribal work. The challenge was sent out loud and clear: “Pray that God will raise up some missionaries to reach these people.” Even many of those who don’t believe we should pray for people’s salvation were praying that God would send missionaries to that tribe.
Think about what they are actually asking God to do? What is the intent and purpose of these prayers? Simply put, they want God to bring someone into that tribe to present the gospel to the Indians so they can get saved. That is the only purpose of asking God to send forth laborers.
Whether they want to admit it or not, they are praying for the salvation of the people in that tribe. Since there are only 200 people in that tribe, they have made a very personal and specific prayer request for salvation. In reality, this is no different than a Christian seeing a plane fly over and asking God to send Christians into the lives of each of the 200 passengers in that plane in order to give them the gospel.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that there are only 30 people instead of 200 in that tribe. Let’s reduce it further and say there are only ten people in that tribe. Would that change our prayers? Would it still be appropriate and “Biblical” to ask God to send laborers into a tribe of ten people? Would it be appropriate to ask God to send laborers into that tribe if there was only one person left?
Let’s say that there is only one person in that tribe and we ask God to send laborers into that tribe to bring the gospel. What have we just prayed for? In essence, we have prayed specifically for that one person’s salvation. Is that any different than praying for the salvation of your neighbor? Is that any different than praying for the salvation of a total stranger you see walking down the street? No, there isn’t any difference; they are identical.
I have two more points I would like to make before I close. First, there are people who say that they firmly believe that we are not allowed to pray the salvation of others. I wonder if that is really true. Have they (or will they) ever prayed for the salvation of their young children? If they have unsaved parents or siblings, have they ever prayed for their salvation? Let’s say that there is a person they have been witnessing to for several months. Have they ever prayed for that person’s salvation? If they have made these prayers, then they are highly inconsistent with their beliefs. There is no difference in praying for your child’s salvation and praying for a total stranger that you happen to see on the street.
My second point deals with making specific requests in our prayers. We have two choices when it comes to praying for more laborers. Either we can be specific in our prayers for more laborers, such as with the above example of the tribe in Brazil, or we cannot be specific at all.
If you conclude that it is Biblical be specific in these prayers, you then have to conclude that we can pray for the salvation of specific individuals. However, if you conclude that we cannot be specific in these prayers, then we can only make generic requests for more laborers.
If you say that we cannot be specific, I need to ask you why. We are instructed in the Bible to be specific in all of our other prayers; why can’t we be specific in our prayers for more laborers? Following are verses that give examples of Paul and others being very specific in their prayers
Following are verses where God instructs us to be specific in our own prayers:
In addition, Jesus said that we can pray for anything we want in His name and if it is within His will He will answer it. If we want a person to be saved, there are no reasons why we can’t ask God to work in that person’s life to bring about that salvation. Yes, it is Biblical to pray for a person’s salvation.
Someone recently asked me, “Will just one prayer be enough to bring about a person’s salvation?” Obviously we don’t know for certain, but as a general rule I suspect the answer would be no. As with most of our other prayers, it seems that God requires us to continually bring our petitions before Him. This topic would be a large study, in-and-of itself, but it appears that there are many factors involved in whether a prayer is answered. It is not a simple thing of, “I asked for it, therefore I will get it.”
Exodus 17:8-13 provides us some insight on this subject. The nation of Israel was fighting the Amalekites and Moses was instructed by God to stand on a hill and hold up his staff. As long as he held his staff above his head the Israelites prevailed; when he lowered his staff in exhaustion the Amalekites prevailed. When Moses was interceding on behalf of the Israelites, God’s hand was at work bringing about a slow victory. When Moses stopped interceding, God stopped working.
God recorded this unique battle in the Bible in order to provide us a powerful picture (example), of prayer and intercession. He wanted to show us the necessity of being persistent in our intercessions; the battle is not won with a single prayer. There are three things we can learn from this. First, God’s answer and help may not be immediate; it may take a while before the problem is resolved. Second, one prayer or act of intercession is not sufficient. It may require a significant amount of intercession to bring about the desire goal. Third, it appears that if we do not maintain the necessary intercession, the problem will not be resolved.
In conclusion, I want to bring up one final verse. Galatians 2:6 says we are to bear one another’s burden. One of the greatest burdens of all should be our concern for the eternal destiny of the people around us. Let’s bear the burden of a lost world and pray for their salvation.
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