“God our Saviour desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4)
Should a Christian pray for the conversion of the world? Some people are not so sure. Recently I have had several people ask me, “Peter, how can we pray for all people when Jesus says to His disciples: ‘I am not praying for the world but for those who You have given Me.’ (John 17:9)? Doesn’t this mean that we should cease praying for non-Christians?”
Actually, it doesn’t. We need to read John 17:9 in the light of Jesus’ further statements in verses 21 and 23. Verse 21 reads: “I ask … that they all may be one just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe.” Here Jesus says that the reason He is praying for the disciples and those who believe in Him is so that they will be one and that the whole world will come to believe that He is the Christ. This sounds suspiciously like He is praying for the salvation of the world. The same idea is repeated in v 23 where Jesus says to the Father, “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfectly one” … and why? … “ that the world may know that You have sent Me and loved them even as You have loved Me.” Verses 21 and 23 should remind us that it’s always dangerous to take a text out of context. And the context here in John 17 is that Jesus is praying for His disciples with a view to them winning the world for Christ.
Now, why should we pray for the lost? Why pray for the souls of men? What is the purpose? Well, Paul tells us: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all …”
Here Paul sums up why the members of Ashfield Presbyterian Church should be praying for the lost. Why should we do it? First, because it’s good and pleasing to God since it’s consistent with His purpose to display His grace in the salvation of people from around the world. Second, it’s consistent with God’s unity. He’s the one and only refuge from the coming judgement. Third, there is only one way of salvation – through the mediator, Jesus Christ. And finally, His sacrifice, a ransom for our sin, has been made for us. This is why Christians should pray for everyone. No one should be excluded from our intercessions.