How to Pray for an Unbeliever

Many Christians have a heart for an unbeliever in their life but struggle with how to pray for them beyond a general prayer for their salvation. I urge you first, to pour out your heart to God on their behalf and assure you that God hears you even when you don’t express yourself well. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to pray continually. If your heart is burdened with their soul, continue to pray even when you do not see results. I often hear of those who have come to Christ after many ups and downs and years of prayer by a friend or family member. Be genuine and persistent.

Be specific about what you see and desire for them but be ready for God to have a better plan. Consider David’s prayer for his sick child, God had a different plan for him than David’s desire (2 Samuel 12:16-23). You may have had a conversation or interaction with them that gives clues to what they may be struggling to understand or their rejection of God in some specific way. They may also be putting up a front to mask their true state.

Below are some ways found in scripture that may help spur on ideas about how to pray for the unbeliever, whether it is a long-time friend or someone you just had an encounter with in the grocery store:

Pray for God to turn their heart from stone to a heart of flesh (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 11:19, 36:26, Hebrews 8:10). First, we pray to God for what we cannot do but only He can, to change their heart. Throughout the Old and New Testament we find this imagery regarding our rebellion and hardness of heart. In the New Testament a similar concept is the idea of putting to death the old man and making alive the new man (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:22-24).

Pray for the whole person. Do not stop at the idea that “it’s a heart thing”. Instead recognize that God calls us to love him with our whole being (Matthew 22:36-37). The unbeliever needs prayer holistically, not just their heart but also their mind (thoughts and beliefs), their strength (actions and level of engagement), and their soul (deeper eternal essence, will, and desire).

Pray for their eyes and ears. (Acts 28:26-17) Jesus spoke against the Pharisees and Sadducees in their presence and accused them of having eyes but not perceiving and ears but not hearing or understanding (Matthew 13:13-15). Pray that the unbeliever will have eyes and ears to see, hear, understand, and perceive what God has done for them. Many times, they are deceived by the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 3:18-20, Colossians 2:8) and need God to open their eyes.

Pray for repentance. The New Testament begins with John the Baptist preaching repentance (Matthew 3:1-2). At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He preached repentance (Matthew 4:17). Peter gave a call to repent in his sermon (Acts 2:38). Repentance is a change of action, to turn 180 degrees (Acts 3:19-21), away from our sin and toward God. The unbeliever rejects Christ because he loves his sin (John 3:19-21) and wonders why we do not follow (1 Peter 4:3-6). Turning away from sin is hard, we all need God to grant repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Pray for overcoming of their concerns. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains what commonly occurs when the seed is sown (Matthew 13:18-23). Sometimes there are false starts with a new believer, or these things may even prevent someone from taking that first step. They may need to pursue deeper understanding, overcome tribulation or persecution, or avoid the distractions caused by the cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), making disciples implies more than handing off a tract or speaking the gospel. They may need encouragement and support from other believers to overcome what may seem like the easy thing to do, fall back.

Pray that God will draw them to Him. We know that no one seeks God by themselves (Romans 3:10-11). God must enable them and draw them to Himself (John 6:44-45). God, in His providence has brought them into an encounter with you and He will continue to orchestrate events in their lives to bring them to Him. God gave Ezekiel a picture of our state as a valley of dry bones, it is God who breaths life into us (Ezekiel 37:3-5).

Pray to be used by God to plant or water. Maybe God is calling you to a deeper relationship and action with that individual. God’s Word declares the beauty of those who bring or preach good news of salvation (Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:14-15). God may use you and multiple others to both plant and water what has started in the unbeliever and he promises rewards for this labor (1 Corinthians 3:5-8). Jesus himself tells us to pray for laborers for the harvest (Luke 10:2). It is with great joy that we are used by God in the salvation of others (Luke 10:17).

Pray that they will hear and understand the gospel message. You may have had a brief encounter with someone that you are praying for, but not had a chance to fully proclaim or explain the gospel. Among all of these other things, the gospel message is central. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), it is what they must hear to understand and believe in Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit will work through the gospel to bring them new life. Even in cases where there were miraculous signs, it is the message of the kingdom of God that makes a difference (Acts 13:12).

Pray for a saving faith. Faith is usually not an instant transition, it often involves small steps and progress. A historic definition of saving faith indicates that there are three key aspects of a saving faith. First, one must understand the gospel and basics of Christianity. Many understand it but do not believe. Second, they must believe in God and those basics as recorded in the Bible. The demons believe and shudder (James 2:19). Third, we must put our trust in Christ. It should be a complete trust and beginning to be demonstrated by our actions (Hebrews 11:1-40, James 2:14-26). It is not simply an intellectual or blind belief.

Pray for boldness in action and in speech. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15) is not a matter of prayer only, we are called to act. Jesus calls us to go, to make disciples, to teach them, and to preach the gospel to all. In the early church after Jesus’ resurrection Peter, John, and the other believers prayed to speak God’s word with all boldness (Acts 4:29). We should do the same! While we may feel apprehensive about speaking about our faith, remember the unbeliever may be even more apprehensive about abandoning their current beliefs and what it may mean for their friends and family as well. They need prayer for boldness as well.

Go! Pray! Make disciples!

Author: Jon Neifert
Posted on January 03 2020
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Isaiah 52:7