I have a non-Christian friend who asks me to pray for her quite often. I know, even if she doesn’t, that what she needs most is a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So, should I pray with and for her for good but less important things? After all, Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).
When non-Christians ask us to pray for them, we sometimes feel torn. On the one hand, we know God hears our prayers for guidance, help, and temporal mercy in a way that He doesn’t hear theirs. Proverbs 15:29 says, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.” We don’t want to circumvent what God might be doing in their lives through trials, and we don’t want to be used for selfish purposes. On the other hand, we don’t rejoice in anyone’s suffering, and we want our non-Christian friends to know the power of God and so turn to Him in faith. So, how should we pray?
The answer is found when we realize that we don’t have to choose between their request and our desire for their repentance and faith. We can trust God to answer our prayers in His perfect wisdom and to His ultimate glory.
While we cannot pray for wicked or unlawful requests, we should gladly pray for good things for our non-Christian friends. Employment, health, loving relationships, and many other things people ask us to pray for are good gifts from God. Jesus said, “[God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). God’s good gifts need no other justification, not even salvation, and if our non-Christian friends end up using those good gifts in ungrateful ways, that doesn’t change the fact that love seeks good things for neighbor and enemy alike (v. 44).
But having prayed for what our non-Christian friend requested, we should also pray, either with him or in private, that God would reveal Himself through the answer to our prayer. And we can trust God to know how. In His perfect wisdom, He may use the granting of a good gift in answer to prayer to bring someone to belief in His existence and power, and so to seek after Him in the gospel. And we should be bold to follow up and point this out. On the other hand, He might deny that good gift in order to bring her to an end of herself so that she turns to Him.
God alone knows how to turn a sinner to Himself. We’re not in charge of how that happens, but we need not fear that our prayers for good things will get in the way. Our responsibility is to love our neighbors through prayer—prayer for good things, and prayer for the best thing.
Dr. Michael Lawrence is lead pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Ore.