What goes through your mind when you pray for people? Do you sense that God sometimes gives you the words to speak aloud? Or maybe you know exactly what that person should think, believe, or do?
Wouldn’t prayer be easier if you were a puppeteer and could control people like they were marionettes? “Don’t do that anymore!” “Drop that bad habit!” “Be responsible!” “Love God!”
I believe that most of the time, when we pray for others, we do so out of good motives. We envision what Jesus can do and that inspires us to pray powerfully. We don’t want to settle; we want God’s best for them!
Praying for others gets tricky when those people are caught up in sin and failing God. Parents hate to see their children hang out with the wrong crowd. Friends grieve when addictions ruin the lives of their buddies. Church leaders ache over the damage caused by poor decisions made by congregation members or their families. In such cases, what’s the right way to pray? What should we ask for? The answer seems obvious: we should pray for God to change their minds!
Why not? Proverbs 21:1 says that “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” So shouldn’t we be confident that God can alter attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors? Shouldn’t this inform our prayers?
Well, this verse tells us that the Lord can turn hearts the way He wishes, but not necessarily the way we might prefer. We might not get what we want.
So what should we do? How do we deal with those whom we care about who refuse to please God?
A young minister named Timothy faced similar questions. Sent by the apostle Paul to bring order and harmony to the churches in the city of Ephesus, he found himself opposed and his authority challenged. I suppose people don’t like change! What to do?
Paul’s advice was simple: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
Great suggestions, but following these admonitions doesn’t ensure success. “If,” “perhaps,” “may” – all conditional, all tentative. Opponents may remain hostile; rebels may continue to resist. But there’s hope that repentance, like a gift, might be received and opened.
No guarantee. Maybe that’s where you’re at. You might worry about the spiritual condition of friends or relatives. You see clearly what they need, but they rebuff it.
Don’t treat them like puppets. Intercede for them even if you have no assurance that things will go the way you pray. God might grant them repentance. Isn’t that worth it? Won’t you take that risk?