7 Ways to Pray for People Who Don’t Know Jesus

Ashley Holleman  and Heather Holleman
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What do Christians on mission pray for? The Holy Spirit intercedes for us as noted in Romans 8:26 and guides us as we pray for others.

Before jumping right into evangelism apart from the wisdom, direction, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, pray for these people by name every day and wait to see how the Lord is working. But what do we pray? Throughout the Bible, we ask God for the same things we see the biblical writers praying about as led by the Holy Spirit. I have found these verses particularly inspiring and instructive:

1. Ask God to send a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” to that person.

Paul writes this in Ephesians 1:17–19:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Many times in the process of praying for people on my list, one of them approached me to talk about how they have sensed God stirring in them or drawing them to spiritual things. Living a sent life means we understand the work of the Holy Spirit to draw others to Jesus; we simply participate in what God is already doing. I have prayed this passage in Ephesians for a neighbor who suddenly began wondering about Jesus and His claim to be the “way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

Right now, who has the Lord laid on your heart to pray this prayer from Ephesians? Take a moment and ask God to send the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that person will understand who Jesus is. Pray that the “eyes of [his or her] heart may be enlightened.” You might not see the results of your prayers immediately.

2. Ask God to “turn [their] eyes away from worthless things” and that they “come to their senses.”

In Psalm 119:37, the priest asks the Lord this: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things . . .” I pray this for myself, but I also pray this for others in my life who begin to walk down the dark and slippery paths of sin. I pray Psalm 119:37 for people on my list who seek spiritual truth apart from Jesus. I have several friends, for example, who see spirit-channelers, psychics, and mediums. I have friends who spend a fortune on New Age practices for healing. One night, after over a year of talking with a friend about Jesus, I felt especially frustrated with her attempts to find guidance and healing using techniques I felt were either scams or demonic. So I prayed in my living room a desperate prayer that God would expose the lies of the enemy and turn her eyes from worthless things. I prayed from 2 Timothy 2:25–26 where Paul writes this:

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

I notice, here, how Paul advises gentle instruction as we engage others with the gospel. I also notice how it is God who grants repentance that leads to truth. But mostly, I notice why we need this work of God: so that others come to their right mind and escape the trap of the devil. Then I shudder at this final truth of how the devil takes others captive to do his will. What a mighty and vital prayer to ask that God release our friends and family from the trap of the devil!

Who in your life might you pray for now who needs to turn their eyes from worthless things? Who do you feel has been ensnared by the devil? Begin praying right now that God would do the great work described in 2 Timothy 2.

3. Ask God to send others to help.

In Matthew 9:38, Jesus says to “ask the Lord of the harvest . . . to send out workers into his harvest field.” I love this prayer as I think about our children going off to college. I pray that God brings people into their lives who know Jesus and who might help our daughters continue to grow in the Lord. I like to remember that God sent the disciples two by two (Mark 6:7). I often feel alone in my sent life, especially if I’m praying for friends who don’t know other Christians.

“Living a sent life means we understand the work of the Holy Spirit to draw others to Jesus.”

Recently, I felt overwhelmed in my conversations with a certain colleague. Her questions often stumped me, and she toggled back and forth between belief in Jesus and then a return to a universalist position that all paths lead to God. She also paid money to contact the dead for wisdom and advice for her future. I prayed one morning that God would bring someone else to help me. I said, “God, please send someone else like me who will talk to her about You.” During a phone call a few days later, my friend began talking about a new Christian friend that she’d reunited with who talked about Jesus and invited her to church. She said, “She’s exactly like you!”

I’ve also prayed for people on my list that God would cause Christian neighbors, coworkers, and new friends to enter into their lives. When I hear about these Christians, I write down in my prayer journal that God has answered my prayer to send others to help.

4. Ask God for an open door for the gospel.

In Colossians 4:2–4, we read some of the most encouraging words for our sent life. Paul writes this:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.

I love this call to devote ourselves to prayer. And why would Paul instruct us to stay watchful? It’s a wonderful posture of anticipation of where God is working and how He is moving in the lives of others. Paul asks that God would “open a door” for the message of God, and he further requests that God give him clarity in his presentation. As I interact with my community, I pray this prayer most of all.

5. Ask God to give you boldness to overcome your fear.

I recently noticed something amazing in the book of Ephesians. One day, when I was reading Ephesians 6, I took note that Paul asks for personal prayer. He only does so a few times in the New Testament, so I paid attention. What would Paul ask for? A wife? To be released from prison? For more money? I thought of all the things a person might ask for when they request personal prayer.

But no. Paul asks for something astonishing. This is his request in Ephesians 6:19–20:

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Oh, how I love this prayer! I love that, like me, Paul needed courage. Notice how he repeats that word “fearlessly” twice. He prays that he will “fearlessly” declare, and I pray the same courage for myself. I find it fascinating and deeply inspiring that Paul wanted nothing more than words to make Jesus known. In your own list of people for whom you pray, which person requires the most courage and why? For me, I pray for courage when speaking to people who sometimes intimidate me like supervisors, highly intelligent people, or those known for loving arguments.

Since Paul admits his need for fearless proclamation, I sometimes tell people I’m nervous or scared to begin conversations with them, especially if I’m talking to someone who has been hurt by the church or by other Christians. I’m afraid of offending them, saying the wrong thing, or causing further damage by the way I speak. So sometimes I simply say that to them. I say, “As we talk about Jesus, I just want you to know I’ve prayed for courage and clarity. I’m afraid of not communicating God’s love clearly to you! I’m also afraid that you will categorize me as hateful or mindless.” This statement disarms others and lets you move into gospel conversations with honesty and love.

6. Pray the message of Christ spreads quickly.

I pray the same prayer Paul requests of us in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. He writes, “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”

I’m an impatient person. I don’t want to wait long for others to receive Christ. That’s why I love praying that the message spreads rapidly. Right now, as you consider your family, community, and workplace, ask God to allow the gospel to spread rapidly throughout that location. As I think about historic revivals on college campuses or in small towns, I find myself overcome with excitement that I might, in my lifetime, see a rapid spread of the gospel.

7. Ask God to continue to instruct you in when, where, how, and to whom He would like you to communicate the gospel.

Lately, I’ve been meditating on Psalm 32:8 where David writes this about God: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Pray for God to continue to instruct you and lead you. Pray for His counsel to fill your mind as you read on into the next section that trains you for a lifetime of Spirit-filled adventure.

You might pray a prayer like this:

Jesus, I want to live a sent life. I am available for You to use me when, where, and how You wish. Teach me how to live a life that You commanded and empower me to live. Thank You for the Holy Spirit who is doing this work in me now.

In Review

  1. Ask God to send a “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” to that person. (Eph 1:17-19)
  2. Ask God to “turn [their] eyes from worthless things” and that they “come to their senses.” (Ps 119:37)
  3. Ask God to send others to help. (Matt 9:38)
  4. Ask God for an open door for the gospel. (Col 4:2-4)
  5. Ask God to give you boldness to overcome your fear. (Eph 6:19-20)
  6. Pray the message of Christ spreads quickly. (2 Thess 3:1)
  7. Ask God to continue to instruct you in when, where, how, and to whom He would like you to communicate the gospel. (Ps 32:8)

Because you are now filled with the Holy Spirit, you’ll feel fresh power, wisdom, and expectancy as you pray, and you’ll find yourself inspired to persevere in prayer for the people in your life who don’t yet know Jesus.

For Further Reading:


by Heather Holleman and Ashley Holleman

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