Summary: Amazingly, some have actually spoken against praying for the salvation of souls. In this brief study, we shall see that both the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ Himself prayed specifically for souls to be saved. How then can we do otherwise?
John 17:18, 20 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world....  MY PRAYER is not for them alone. I pray also for those who WILL BELIEVE in me through their message.
•• Jesus was the premier example of prayerfulness in the Bible. He was devoted to prayer, even to the point of praying all night (Luke 6:12).
•• The verse quoted from John 17 makes it very clear that Jesus prayed for souls to be saved. He was not fatalistic about it; He did not leave it to chance. No, but rather He actively prayed, not only for the soul winners that He trained personally, but also for those unnamed persons who in the future would hear their message and be saved.
•• I believe that Jesus prayed for lost souls from an inner motivation that was His very purpose for coming from heaven to earth — “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
• What this suggests to me is that our prayers for the salvation of souls will be more effective if they are motivated by an inward longing for the lost to be saved. Jesus most certainly was stirred by that motive.
Romans 10:1-2 Brothers, my heart’s desire and PRAYER to God for the Israelites is that they may BE SAVED. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.
•• As we've seen, Jesus had prayed a broad prayer for those unnamed future persons who would one day believe in Him through the Gospel message preached by His followers.
• This is an illustration of a widely-targeted prayer for the salvation of many people. When I pastored a church in southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, I was part of a weekly pastors’ prayer group that met every Thursday for 15 years to pray for souls to be saved throughout our geographical region.
•• Paul’s prayer adds further insight. He prayed specifically, by name (“for the Israelites”), for a target group to be saved.
• Paul’s prayer encourages me to pray, by name, for specific people whose salvation I long to see. If you have unsaved relatives and friends — and most likely you do — target them by name in your prayers to God for their salvation. And, of course, be ready yourself to be a witness, a bearer of the salvation message to them. [Note: I have compiled an extensive list of salvation scriptures to help you share the Gospel.]
• The apostle’s prayer, like that of Jesus, was motivated by a “heart’s desire” for the Israelites’ salvation. If you don’t yet have that, ask God to place a prayer “burden” in your heart for specific people’s salvation. Then pray diligently for them!
1 John 5:14-15 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
•• As John wrote, our prayers will go forth with great confidence if we “ask ... according to [God’s] will” (vs. 14). Fortunately, Paul helps us in regard to God’s will concerning the saving of souls — “...God our Savior ... wants all men to be saved...” (vs. 4 above).
• We understand that man must cooperate with God’s grace by repenting and believing in Jesus. But the fact that God “wants all” to be saved should energize our prayers for the salvation of souls.
• We may pray generally, as Jesus did, or specifically, as Paul did, knowing that such prayers are according to the revealed will of God.
•• In sum, look to God for a burden for souls. Pray for conversions throughout your geographical region. And specifically, by name, pray for those friends and relatives who have not yet found the Lord’s great salvation.
O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come (Psalm 65:2, KJV).