How Can I Pray for My Non-Believing Friends and Family?
It’s rare for a family to consist of all Christians; even more rare that their friends and extended family are all believers. Most Christians face a seeming uphill struggle relating to and praying for them. We often wonder, “How can I pray for my non-believing friends and family?”
A dear friend shared with me how she prayed more than twenty years for Sharon, a very angry lady. She was hostile to anyone who disagreed with her, often combatting kind words about salvation with verbal animosity. She had very few friends and was fine with that because she wanted to be left alone. My friend felt that uphill struggle, but she knows we do not go into prayer alone; we have the Helper — the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) — and we have our Lord Jesus interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
God had other plans for Sharon — plans for her to be His.
In early 2023, Sharon surrendered to Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. She says, “I’m a people-person now!” She attends Bible studies where she is growing as a believer, and she sends heartfelt messages to friends with Scripture and encouragement. My dear friend shared she’s never before seen such a transformation.
Joy here (John 15:11).
Joy in heaven (Luke 15:7).
Joy in eternity (Jude 24).
Did Jesus’s Family and Friends Believe in Him?
Mark 3 relates the accounts of Jesus healing on the Sabbath (vv.1-6), the crowds who followed Jesus and the impure spirits who cried out to Him (vv. 7-12), as well as the appointing of the twelve (vv. 13-19), and the accusations of the teachers of the law and His family (vv. 20-35). In the last section of chapter 3, the crowds gathered so close to Jesus and His disciples, that “they were not even able to eat” (Mark 3:20). Verse 21 tells us, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’” Ligonier Ministry adds, “At least at this point in Jesus' ministry, His family was blinded enough by sin to mistake His teaching for the ravings of a man suffering a bout of insanity.”
Matthew 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6, and Luke 4:16-30 all relate the narrative of Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth. He’d just shared kingdom parables with the crowds and moved on to Nazareth with His disciples, where He taught in the synagogue. The people were amazed. We must remember amazement is not a wholly positive reaction, for it connotes disbelief and confusion along with wonder. They questioned Jesus’ wisdom and power. Matthew 13:55-57 states, “They exclaimed, ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son’ … Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at Him” (emphasis added).
Scripture tells us Jesus’ time was “not yet” (John 2:4; 7:6,8). Partly for this reason, He faced much unbelief. We’ve seen how His family thought He was mad (Mark 3:21) and hometown friends dishonored him (Matthew 13:55-57). And “not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5). Jon Bloom of Desiring God writes, “Not one of Jesus’ brothers is mentioned as a disciple during his pre-crucifixion ministry. But after his resurrection and ascension, there they are in the upper room worshiping him as God” (Acts 1:14).
All this to say if people in the presence of Jesus didn’t believe in Him, how are we supposed to pray for those non-believers we know and love?
Does Scripture Command Us to Pray for Non-Believers?
We are to model Christ, and in His High Priestly Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus prayed for us when He said, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word,” (John 17:20). Did you catch that? Jesus prayed for those who would come to faith in Him even before most of them (us) were born. In Luke 6:28, Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, and aren’t those who don’t know Jesus our enemies (Matthew 12:30)?
In a real sense, then, we are to pray for any unsaved people, whether we know them or not. With billions of people the world over, most will have Christians praying for them by name. What a privilege to be part of such a crowd of witnesses for the Lord as we “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Our Lord Jesus faced a family who said He was out of His mind. Is this how your family and friends see you now that you are a Christian? People remember us from back when.
When we were young and immature.
When we were stupid and irresponsible.
When we were brash and worldly.
When we thought we were “all that and a bag of chips.”
Jesus has revealed our sins and has forgiven every one of them. How very humbling. Pray for your non-believing family and friends to see how He has changed you! Good Lord willing, God will draw them to Himself through our Lord Jesus (John 6:44).
Ten Scenarios of Prayer for Unbelieving Friends and Family
I am so thankful to have parents like You gave me, but they desperately need You! They are puzzled by my faith, and I long for them to know You as Lord and Savior. Show them Your grace even through me as I share the Good news with them.
2. Your Best Friend
“Tommie” has known me since we were kids. She’s quite taken aback with my acceptance of You as my Lord and Savior. She thinks I’m fine and I don’t need to be saved. She doesn’t even know what saved means. I try to explain but she pushes back every time. She thinks since I’m such a “good” person I’ll go to heaven, and she thinks she will too. You know her, Lord, You know her deepest secrets and longings. Please draw her to You so she understands her need for a perfect Savior. Help me share You with her.
3. Your Spouse
My Lord and my God,
When I married my husband, You know we were both unbelievers. And now that I am Yours, he is angry because he thinks he is all I need. He doesn’t want anything between us, and since You are my priority, he feels betrayed and hurt. Help him to see the joy of knowing You and how You complete our lives as no spouse can. Help him know You make life and marriage the best it can be as we wait for You to return or take us home.
4. Someone Who’s Sick
“Sue” is physically sick, You know that and she knows that. What she doesn’t know is her soul is sick without You. Please use this physical sickness to draw her to You so she may know the fullness of joy that comes with being Yours. Please help her body heal and reveal Yourself to her so she may become an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and will share You with many others.
5. A Recently Widowed Man or Woman
My friend just experienced what he thinks is the greatest loss ever when his wife died. Please show Yourself to him so he will embrace you as His Lord and Savior. He doesn’t know that to save his life is to lose it, but to lose his life for You is salvation (Mark 8:35). You know his wife didn’t know you. Help him to see the truth and enjoy life forever with You. Only then will everything that happens in this life make sense.
6. A Friend Who Just Lost Their Job
“Jean” is depressed about losing her job. She was well-paid and she found her value in her vocation. Help her to know You are the only way, truth, and life (John 14:6), and while a job may seem to answer all of life’s difficulties, it truly isn’t. Bring her to saving faith in You and show her who You want her to be in Christ.
7. A Friend Whose Spouse Left Them
“Karen” is devastated and hopeless since “David” left her. She doesn’t know where to turn for help and she refuses to hear me share the good news of Jesus. Father, soften her heart and open her eyes and ears to the only Savior she will ever need — Jesus Christ. How I pray she responds to Your kind invitation with faith and repentance.
8. A Family Member or Friend Who Doesn’t Understand Your Faith
My brothers and sisters think I’m nuts. Didn’t that happen to you, too? O, how it must have made You ache with compassion for them, knowing You are the way, and the truth, and the life. Call them, Lord. Open their hearts to Your kindness and goodness. And Your holiness! Teach them what it means to be truly awestruck as You reveal Yourself to them.
9. An Agnostic or Atheist
You are mighty and good and kind and loving. How can anyone look at creation and not acknowledge You as our Creator? Open “Joe’s” eyes and heart to throw off the lies and embrace Your wonders. Help him see everything through a heavenly lens, and may You be glorified as they share their wonder with other agnostics and atheists.
10. Someone Caught in a Cult
My Lord and my God,
My heart aches for my friends and family members who are caught in false teaching. They have been emotionally abused by this cult and are being held captive by the very lies of the evil one himself. Only You can shed marvelous light on the darkness they now embrace. Reveal their wickedness and use me or someone else to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. Rebuke the evil ones and bind them so Your marvelous truth may penetrate our loved ones as You draw them to Yourself through our Lord Christ.
11. A Bonus Prayer for Christian Family and Friends Who Are Themselves Praying for Other Non-Believers.
Protect all of us Father, we pray, as we seek to share Your perfect goodness with others. Help us to handle Your Word rightly and guide us with Your Holy Spirit as we speak. Help us to listen well, not grow angry or combative, and stay focused and compassionate.
My dear friend who prayed for Sharon adds this about her, “Let’s not let the enemy discourage us from praying for anybody. God can do what no man can do. Isn’t this just wonderful?”
When you interact with unbelieving friends and family, remember these things:
Pray before you have a conversation with them.
Don’t be combative or offensive.
Don’t get angry.
Answer every question you can. If you don’t have an answer, three words serve as a sufficient answer, “I don’t know.” Follow up with them after you’ve found the answer. They’re waiting to see if you’re courageous, smart, and wise.
God is conforming you to His image, so be who you are and don’t adapt to who they think you are or should be. I am praying for you!
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Zinkevych
Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis.