Is there anyone we are not supposed to pray for? I recently heard a sermon on prayer, and one of the points discussed was “Who should we pray for?” From reading James 5, the speaker came to the conclusion that we should pray for people when they ask for prayer and when they are righteous (though he admitted there were a few exceptions: Acts 28:8). When I read James 5, however, that’s not exactly what I see.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:13-16)
It is a sick person’s responsibility to ask for anointing, but there is nothing to hinder us from praying for one another unless specifically asked. In fact, there are numerous verses that give a clear instruction to pray for people who would not be asking for your prayers.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Mat. 5:44-45)
Jesus Christ did this when He was hanging on the cross and asked forgiveness for His murderers (Luke 23:34). Stephen did much the same thing, praying “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” as he was being stoned (Acts 7:60). I’d be tempted to say just from looking at these examples that we can, and should, pray for anyone who seems to need it. However, there are a very few verses that talk about not praying.
If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. (1 John 5:16)
I’m assuming this refers to a deliberate turning away from God as described in Hebrews 10:26-31. It’s probably a similar state to that of the nation of Israel when God told Jeremiah not to pray for His wicked people. (These are the only verses I’ve found that instruct someone not to pray. If you know of any others, please let me know.)
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee. (Jer 7:16)
Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up a cry or prayer for them: for I will not hear them in the time that they cry unto me for their trouble. (Jer. 11:14)
Then said the LORD unto me, Pray not for this people for their good. (Jer 14:11)
Choosing not to pray for someone definitely seems to be the exception rather than the rule, however. We are to pray for those who are friendly to us and for those who persecute and despise us. We pray when we’re asked for prayer, and we’re not hindered from praying when not asked. In fact, not praying can be a sin. Even after Israel sinned by asking for a king, the prophet Samuel said, “God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23).
Christians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) and Paul makes it clear that such prayer is not limited to praying for fellow Christians.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Now, this doesn’t mean we need to pray everyone’s hopes and dreams come true and they prosper in every endeavor. In some cases, particularly when praying for those who are in authority and “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”, that could mean praying against ourselves or our fellow Christians. But I think we can pray that God’s will be done, that He would work things out for good and hold people back from doing evil, and that He would open a person’s eyes so they might turn from wickedness. That seems like the kind of thing to pray if you love (agape) someone. What do you think?