Why bother praying for unbelievers if God has already chosen who will be saved and who will not?
What is Prayer?
Let’s start with talking about prayer in general and then move to the specific issue of praying for the lost. Why do we pray? Is it just a way to get God to do what we want or what we think He ought to do? This is a diminished view of God and prayer. Prayer is asking God to do what we can’t do. Believers pray because prayer has been appointed by God as the means by which he communicates His blessing and goodness to His people. God appoints the means and the ends (Matthew 7:7-11, James 4:2). We pray because prayer is an act of worship. Prayer is the humbling of the soul before God. It is a declaration of our dependence upon God. It is exalting God—His power, His ability, and His character. It is verbalizing and owning God’s goodness, His mercy, His grace, and His might in our lives. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray/ask for daily bread. This prayer wasn’t the means to get a free loaf of bread. It wasn’t a promise that they wouldn’t go hungry from time to time, but it served as a reminder that God is the provider and that He loves to feed and care for His children. In prayer we are not informing an ignorant God, but communicating with a loving Father who has might and power to do. Martin Luther said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”
Why pray for the lost?
In prayer we are asking and communicating with a God who is gracious and merciful, and who desires all to be saved that none would perish; He is one who has the power to save. We pray for the lost because they are under the delusional work of the enemy and are unable to believe the Gospel, but God makes light shine in the darkness (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). We pray for the lost because they are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-2), but God raises the dead (Ephesians 2:5). Jesus has the power to save, and we believe He does save. Jesus’ blood is not weak. The gospel seed is not impotent, but it has the power and ability to produce life! We pray because prayer is a work of the Spirit and not of the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:4) and salvation is a work of the Spirit and not of the flesh (John 1:12-13). We pray for our unsaved loved ones because God has appointed prayer as one of the means through which He sovereignly enacts His will in saving the lost. God has willed us, His people, to play a role in the means of saving the lost: namely, through prayer and sharing the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). These truths do not work against our prayers, but they sustain and empower our prayers. Conversely, if salvation is just a matter of a person exercising his free will in making a decision, then why pray? What would one ask God to do for the unsaved person that wouldn’t violate their free will? Paul boldly prayed that God would save His own people (Romans 10:1), and Paul believed that God possessed the power to save them and was using His proclamation of the Gospel as the means to do so. God ordains both the means and the ends for and to His glory.