Why should we pray for the lost to be saved? Why should we pray for revival? We’ve been told we should, and it is a strongly rooted practice among us, but is the idea of praying for the lost to find salvation a Biblical concept? Is it a reasonable concept? I am persuaded that the answer to both of these questions is no.

The Bible repeatedly tells us to pray for the laborers who are harvesting the field of souls, but I am not aware of any passage that tells us to pray for the lost souls themselves. Consider the following passages:

Luke 10:2—Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest. (see also Mt 9:38)
Eph 6:18-19—Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.

Col 4:3—Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds:

II Thes 3:1—Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:

If the Bible does not instruct us to pray for the lost, why has the practice become so deeply rooted among us? My personal theory is that we want to believe our prayers for the lost are efficacious for their salvation because it gives us a sense of control. Prayer is something tangible. When we pray it gives us the sense that we have contributed something to the situation so as to possibly affect the outcome we desire. We want to think that our prayers will be instrumentally responsible in someone’s salvation. The more we pray the better chance they have of being saved, we reason. It’s often described as “intercessory prayer” in which we stand before God in their stead. But does the Bible ever describe such “intercessory prayer?” There are 11 passages in Scripture that speak of intercession, none of which ever involve interceding for the salvation of the lost:

Is 53:12—Jesus intercedes for us in His sinless sacrifice

Is 59:6—The intercessor God was looking for was someone to administer justice in an unjust society. Since He could not find one He took it upon Himself to judge

Jer 7:16—God says not to make intercession for Ephraim because He wants to destroy them.

Jer 27:18—Make intercession to God so that temple vessels do not go to Babylon

Jer 36:25—Intercession from one human to another

Rom 8:26—Spirit makes intercession for us through us, not through us for someone else

Rom 8:34—Christ makes intercession for us

Rom 11:2—Elijah interceded for judgment against Israel

I Tim 2:1—Make intercessions for all men, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in godliness

Heb 7:25—Jesus is our high priest who makes intercession for us

In these passages Jesus is interceding for us, or people are interceding on behalf of others requesting that they be judged! Not once do we find someone praying for the lost and such a prayer called “intercession.”

While it is a common belief and practice among us to pray for years for our friends and loved ones who have rejected the Gospel message that they might be saved, we never find the early church praying for people for years on end that they might change their mind about Jesus. They simply preached the Gospel, collected the fruit, and moved on. Some accepted the message while others rejected it. Those who accepted it were welcomed into the believing community. Those who rejected it were left to themselves. The apostles moved on to other places and other people. In Acts 18:6 Luke said that when the Jews rejected Paul’s message he shook his clothes and said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” According to Paul he did his duty in preaching the message of Christ. How his audience chose to respond was up to them. They were responsible for their choice, not Paul. So when they chose to reject the message Paul moved on to other people and locations. He did not stick around and continue pleading with them to change their hearts and minds toward Christ. He followed Jesus’ advice not to cast pearls before pigs, and Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve and seventy to brush the dust off their shoes and move on to the next city if their message was rejected (Mt 10; Mk 6; Lk 9, 10). Our job is to preach the Gospel, not to ensure the results. If those who hear the Gospel accept it, we are delighted. If they don’t accept it, we mourn their fate but we move on. I am afraid that we waste too much precious time preaching to and praying for those whose hearts are hard toward God, having freely chosen to reject Him.

On the logical end of things, what do we think praying for people to be saved accomplishes? If we say enough prayers for someone, is God going to overrule their free will and force them to be saved? Of course not! If God was in the business of making people serve Him evangelism would not be necessary, and free will would be a farce. So what’s the point of praying for the lost, then? Do we think it will motivate God to work “overtime” in their lives? Do we honestly think God is just sitting around twiddling His thumbs until we say our prayer, and then He kicks it into high gear? Of course not! God is already actively doing all He can do to bring the lost to saving faith, whether we pray for them or not. He loves them more than we ever could. That’s why He paid the ultimate sacrifice for them: He gave His life in exchange for theirs. When did He determine to do this? After we prayed? No, before we ever even existed! So if our prayers for the lost cannot make God work any harder on their hearts, and our prayers cannot change the will of the sinner, what is the purpose in praying for them?

How does this tie into revival? We always hear “Pray for revival to come,” but revival is not the kind of thing that comes through prayer. Souls are saved through the preaching of the Gospel, not by a well-meaning saint praying in the prayer room. Our prayer lives may help us be the kind of Christians we need to be to engage the unbelieving public with the Gospel (boldness, character), but prayers for the lost are not efficacious in themselves. Strangely enough, spending lots of time praying for revival may actually hinder revival because it keeps us from doing the one thing that brings revival: evangelism.

This may sound cold-hearted to some, but I do not mean it that way. I’m just trying to be Biblical in the content of my prayers and my approach toward evangelism. I am trying to think through the things we do, weighing them against Scripture and reason. I am still open to being persuaded back toward the traditional understanding/practices if anyone can supply me with some solid Biblical references and a reasonable explanation as to how prayers for the lost can alter their eternal destiny. Would anybody like to give it a shot?