Thomas Ross's post is coming on the heels of this late edition, but someone has written along the same way of thinking here (good article on prayer). I think you should consider it. I don't know that he would agree with these articles that I have written, but I agree with his.
Some I've heard equate not praying for an unsaved person's salvation to not caring for the lost. They treat that equation like it's an argument. I consider this a form of sentimentalism. Obeying the Bible pins the needle on love. You can't love more than the love of obedience to Scripture. But that's the "Christian world" we live in, one where you have to convince people that God is more loving than they are. Will more people be saved if we pray an unscriptural prayer? Does more of anything unscriptural or even non-scriptural help more in any way?
I'm continuing this series on prayer, and you'll find links above the last post. I began dealing with the following points: the prayer for healing, the prayer for an unsaved person to be saved, faith and the will of God and prayer, again, and then last explore a little history. We're to the second of these.
Can God heal people? Yes. Can God save people? Yes. Will He heal everyone and save everyone? We know He won't. Who will He? We don't know. Do we need to know in order to pray that prayer?
I'm going to get to more about this in weeks to come, but I remind you that Jesus said this in Mark 11:24:
What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
We have the model prayer. We have that verse. As it relates to interpretation of the Bible, I apply the following statement: When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. We should look at what Jesus said to do. We shouldn't be going out of our way to discover a nuance from a statement that will change what Jesus said to do.
The Prayer for an Unsaved Person to Be Saved
Four arguments come to mind that I've read defending the praying for someone to be saved. These have made their way into the comment section: (1) Moses' prayer for Israel in Exodus 32:11-14, (2) the "Father, forgive them" of Jesus and Stephen, (3) Paul's instruction in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, and (4) the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:1.
Again, if we were supposed to be doing this, it would seem that this teaching would be more plain than what people use for this practice that often makes up pages of church prayer lists. What justifies that? When churches and believers don't actually follow the model of Jesus, but do vocalize name after name in these various categories, something has gone awry, could we not admit? But let's look at the arguments that open the door for this practice, that make it permissible with really no criticism. I think most men are just happy someone is on his knees and his mouth is moving, pronouncing prayer cliche after prayer cliche.
(1) I'm arguing this, because it is used as an argument. I fully understand someone not wanting this used as one of the arguments though. It looks very much like our dealing with Old Testament examples in the prayer for healing. Moses prays a scriptural prayer. He relies on and even quotes the Abrahamic covenant as a basis of his intercession. On top of this, we're talking here about physical preservation of a people, not spiritual salvation. There is a physical component to everyone's salvation, because saved people inherit a real, physical millennial kingdom, saved through real bodily resurrection. But Moses' prayer was based on a promise to Israel that we don't have. We should move on.
(2) Jesus said, "Father, forgive them," from the cross in Luke 23:34. Stephen cried, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge," while being stoned to death in Acts 7:60. Some have argued those are prayers for salvation, perhaps because to them they don't make sense any other way. How can someone be forgiven without repenting? And there is no forgiveness without conversion. That represents the way of thinking, I believe. Since every prayer of Jesus is answered, then His prayer for their conversion is answered. Therefore, this argues for praying for individual conversions.
When I have heard the prayer of Jesus on the cross used as an argument for praying for conversion, the argument is that we know in fact people who were there do get saved. You've got the centurion at the cross (Matthew 27:54). In Acts 6:7, we read that a great number of priests were converted. Of course, there were all those people saved on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. When Jesus says "them," according to this argument, He is talking about the selective individuals who do get saved and not the ones who don't. Only the saved ones are forgiven. Does it read like that?
Could everyone admit that these two texts don't read as a prayer for conversion? Could everyone at least admit that almost no one (I've never heard it) uses this type of language when they are praying for the conversion of someone? But I'm still going to argue it.
Luke 22:34 reads in the following way, as I read it. You've got lost soldiers crucifying Jesus. Omniscient Jesus says they know not what they do. The prayer is connected to "they know not what they do." You can't remove "Father, forgive them" from "they know not what they do." They are following orders. They are not adequately enlightened spiritually and theologically, no Old Testament scholars or students of the teachings of Jesus. They were crucifying Jesus out of ignorance. In His righteous forbearance, Jesus intercedes for the soldiers similarly to Moses' intercession for Israel. This is a very specific forgiveness to allay the wrath of God the Father against these men. Jesus wanted them spared at this time, not for all of eternity. Ignorance does diminish guilt, not completely but enough that God in compassion could overlook it or wink at it in the short term for this specific act (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8). That makes far more sense. The prayer reveals the forbearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of utmost pain. We shouldn't be reading further into it than that.
Stephen's prayer was like Jesus'. I believe he was being similarly forbearing and the same explanation is the best explanation. In a sense, ditto the last paragraph for Stephen. He followed the example of Jesus in his own death.
(3) 1 Timothy 2:1-4 reads:
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Here is a passage that says to pray for lost people. I haven't argued against praying for the lost. The lost fit under the category of "all men" in v. 1. The general "all men" transitions to the specific, "for kings, and for all that are in authority," in v. 2. For what purpose do we pray for our governmental rulers? A hina clause shows the purpose, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life." Proverbs 21:1 reads, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD." We have examples of that all through the Old Testament. One that comes to mind is Esther 6:1ff, where the king reads the books of the chronicles and finds out that Mordecai had saved his life. God uses this to save Israel.
Our prayers for governmental authorities, including unsaved ones, is so that we will have the freedom to live our Christian lives in a peaceful way. In this country, the Supreme Court can make a ruling that will allow Christians to live according to their convictions. Praying has an impact on that. We can know that it is affecting the ones for whom we pray. I don't believe it means that we'll have the government we want, but it does help.
Some have connected vv. 1 and 2a with v. 4 to say that the praying for all men and for kings and for those in authority is for those latter people's salvation. They say these verses teach that we pray for men to be saved. If these verses were to say that, it would have been easy for them to say that. There is a way to say that, which makes it easy to understand that's what these verses are saying, but they don't say that. Our being able to live godly and honest lives in a peaceable way is not salvation.
I believe there is an evangelistic purpose communicated here. When Christians are more free to evangelize, because they are not hindered from doing so by government, this being part of living godly and sincere, then more people might get saved. We want to keep preaching the gospel and not be stopped by the government from doing that, so let's pray for the government to preserve that freedom as much as possible. You can't disconnect evangelism from the godly living of a Christian. That's why we have v. 4 like we read it.
Verse 4 is not a prayer for people to be saved. It is connecting evangelism to the godly living that is enabled by the government refraining from interfering with evangelism so much. Prayer can turn the heart of the king and rulers toward allowing evangelism. There are prayers like this that we can pray for lost people. God won't make them get saved, but He will intervene in their decision making in favor of Christians in answer to their prayers.
When v. 3 says "for" (gar), some, such as Albert Barnes, say, "That is, it is good and acceptable to God that we should pray for all men." So Barnes skips what is closest in proximity -- the kings, the authority, the ability to live godly and sincere Christian lives in peace -- to get to "pray for all men." If these verses were to tell us to pray for all men to be saved, they could have said, "pray for all men to be saved," but they don't. They say, 'pray for all men, and in particular, pray for governmental powers, so that we church members, believers, can live out our Christian lives as freely as possible.'
Evangelism is a motivation to pray for men. I don't want a law passed by state or local government that says I can't go door-to-door preaching the gospel. I don't want the police arresting Christians for telling someone he's a sinner. I don't want confrontation of a homosexual for his eternal soul to be judged by our state authorities to be criminal hate speech. This is how the prayer of vv. 1-2 relates to the salvation of v. 4. It isn't teaching us to pray for an individual to be saved.
(4) Romans 10:1 says,
Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.
In Romans 10, Paul is answering the argument that he doesn't care about Israel and doesn't care about Israel's salvation. Paul himself gives several arguments for why that isn't true. He says that the real reasons why are because these people of Israel are ignorant and rebellious. He says that it isn't because the plan of salvation isn't accessible or easy. It is both. It is nigh unto them. It's easy to understand. You confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and so forth. But before he gives those arguments, he makes one simple argument. You can't say Paul doesn't care if Israel is saved, because it is his "desire and prayer to God for Israel...that they might be saved."
First, this doesn't read like a prayer for someone to be saved. His prayer isn't that Jethro or Saul or Benjamin or Rachel might be saved, but that Israel would be saved, they might be saved. A literal translation of this verse could be:
Brethren, in contrast to what you are saying the good pleasure of my heart and the prayer which (is) to God concerning Israel is unto salvation.
Paul's desires and prayers were in the direction toward salvation concerning Israel.
Will Israel be saved? Yes. There are many promises in the Old Testament that Israel will be saved.
Isaiah 10:22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
Isaiah 45:17 But Israel shall be saved in the LORD with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.
Isaiah 59:20 And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 33:16 In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness.
In the next chapter, Paul writes (11:26),
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
Paul could pray for Israel to be saved, because God promised that Israel would be saved. The disciples could pray for the Holy Spirit to come (Luke 11:13), because Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit would come. We can pray for the kingdom to come, because the kingdom is promised to come.
Someone has said that Paul isn't praying for the future salvation of Israel, but for the present salvation of Israel. 10:1 says literally "unto salvation" (eis soterian). We shouldn't be reading the present salvation of individual Israelites from Paul's prayer. His prayers are in tune with what God is going to do in the end, save Israel. Israel shouldn't think otherwise. This is not a 'pray for individuals to be saved' verse in its context.
So What Are Evangelistic Prayers in the New Testament?
First, Luke 10:2: "pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest." The tares are going to be separated from the wheat, judgment is coming, so we should pray that God would send laborers into that harvest, the implication being evangelism. That's a good prayer. Are you praying that?
Second, pray like Paul asked for prayer in Ephesians 6:19-20:
19 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, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Pray for utterance. Pray that I might open my mouth boldly (this fits Acts 4:31, praying and then speaking the Word of God boldly, characteristic of Christians who are filled with the Spirit). Pray that I make known the gospel. Pray that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. Are you praying that?
Third, pray like Paul asked for prayer in Colossians 4:3-6:
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: 4 That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.
Pray for a door of utterance to be opened. Pray that I may make it manifest as I ought to. Pray that I use my time wisely in evangelizing. Pray for my speech in evangelism. Pray that I would know how to answer every man. Are you praying that?
In addition to these, I pray for wisdom. I pray for Holy Spirit conviction, because I know He will convict -- Jesus said He would.
We won't see more people saved praying prayers not in scripture. We won't see less people saved by praying prayers we do see in scripture. It is my opinion that people don't want to pray scriptural prayers, because they don't like them. They would rather pray for someone to be saved, sort of like Paul would rather pray for God to take away the thorn in the flesh.
God is not going to save everyone. Few there be that find the narrow way that leads to life eternal. Few there be that be saved. Jesus dusted His feet of an entire Samaritan town, and surely there were others like them. But the way He does save is through the preaching of the gospel. When we pray for boldness and doors to be open, then we can preach the gospel and that is in fact the power of God unto salvation. Are you praying for boldness, or do you not like boldness? Maybe you like to be tentative and instead pray that people will be saved, perhaps through some other means than boldness?
Praying for Your Own Children
I added this section because someone asked about it. Should we pray for our own children to be saved? I didn't pray for my children to be saved. I prayed for the wisdom to be clear. I prayed for understanding -- that's a biblical prayer (Colossians 1:9). What is sufficient for children to be saved? 2 Timothy 3:15:
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
If you want your children to be saved, teach them until they know the holy scriptures. The Bible is sufficient for this. Many parents depend on someone else for this and put little time into it. The word "knowledge" is deep knowledge. Israelite children were taught Leviticus and Numbers. Ours get pictures and little diddies.
More to Come