What and who to pray for is often the question.
In Romans 8 we read that “the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don’t know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered.”
Admit it—you mostly don’t know how to pray! So you need a helper. And if you have received the Helper that Jesus promised, you have that Helper living in your spirit! Learn to pray “in the spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:14; Ephesians 6:18; Jude 20).
It may come as a surprise to some that the emphasis in the New Testament writings is not in praying for the unsaved. Jesus taught his disciples “the Lord’s prayer” and that did not include the world. So what did Jesus pray for?
Jesus asked his disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest, not for the unsaved, but for labourers engaged in the harvest and especially to pray for the Lord to send more labourers!
Did he ever pray for his family?
He certainly prayed for his disciples—let me mention John 17 where we read how Jesus prays . . . .
I don’t pray for the world, but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. . . . . . . these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. . . . . . I pray not that you would take them from the world, but that you would keep them from the evil one. . . . . . . . Sanctify them in your truth. . . . . As you sent me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world. . . . . . . . . . . . Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word . . . .
What a wonderful blessing it is to know that Jesus is praying, interceding for us–not for the world– as we go about doing his will and announcing the good news. We are being empowered!
Paul the apostle assures his Ephesian readers (Eph 6:18) that he prays constantly for them (but not for their salvation or healing!) He never seems to ask anyone to pray for any specific unsaved person—but to pray “. . . at all times in the Spirit, and being watchful to this end in all perseverance and requests for all the saints”.
Paul also asks the same readers to pray for him that he will speak boldly: “ . . . . on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the Good News, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Eph 6:18-20.
The original Jerusalem believers asked for boldness and authority among themselves (Acts 4:29-30) “. . . . . grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
We can never use our prayers to manipulate the Lord. He can never be controlled by us in any way. Prayer is all about relationship—He is your Father and you are His daughter or His son.
And it’s not how much time you put in, or your sincerity, or your passion and energy and zeal that somehow get’s God’s attention. No. It’s asking according to his will and walking, living, praying in the Spirit.
So we do not have to ask God to save someone (or to heal someone either) because we know that it is His gracious will that none should perish but come to eternal life (John 3:14-17; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Tim 3:2-7). And so He has committed the message of reconciliation to us, Jesus’ disciples (2 Cor 5:18-20). We do not pray for the harvest but for the harvesters!
People own their lives by choice—God does not barge in on anyone. He waits for the invitation. He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. He does not act as an intruder. He asks for our love, our willing obedience. It seems obvious that the Lord seeks and uses those who want to do His will and not their own. Like Jesus. Even like Paul.
We are all volunteers! The Lord never coerces us into doing his will. We always have the terrifying freedom to ignore him or refuse to obey. It is so amazing how we are created with sovereignty, after His image, with choice, a will. Awesome.