We can find all sorts of articles that tell us what things to pray for. But are there things that we shouldn’t pray for?
“If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it.” (1 John 5:16, NLT)
“Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them, and don’t be me to help them, for I will not listen to you.” (Jeremiah 7:16, NLT)
We’re all familiar with things we should pray for:
- God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done (Matthew 6:10)
- Our daily bread (Matthew 6:11)
- God’s forgiveness (6:12)
- God’s direction and spiritual protection (6.13)
- For those who are sick (James 5:14)
We can easily come up with other things that we know are God’s will. We should definitely pray for those things to happen! For example, we should pray for others to come to faith in Christ. If “the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, NASB), then we should pray for those who are lost to be saved. Second, if we are to love others as we love ourselves, then we should pray for them – even our enemies. Third, Scripture directs us to submit to those who are in authority over us (for example, 1 Peter 2:13-14), so we certainly should pray for them.
Things We Shouldn’t Pray For
But are there things we should avoid praying for? Perhaps surprisingly, I would say “yes – several things!”
Prayers That Are Against God’s Will
First, we should not pray for anything that is clearly against God’s will. We could easily think of some obvious examples (“Dear God, help me not to get caught robbing this bank today”). I joke with the people at the church I serve that God has made it clear to me that I’m not supposed to pray about the weather. (In the winter, I was prone to complaining to God about the snow and cold. I don’t like snow. God probably just got tired of listening to me whine every winter.)
Sometimes – although I believe that it’s rare – God may specifically direct us not to pray for something or someone. The verse from Jeremiah that I set out above is one example. However, I think we could also come up with some other examples. One type of prayer that comes to my mind is the prayer that God would “bless us financially.” I’m aware that a great number of Christians believe this sort of prayer is acceptable, but I’m not sure why. If Jesus taught us that it is hard for rich people to enter God’s Kingdom (and he did – Matthew 19:23-24), then why would we pray that God would do something that makes it harder for us to enter His Kingdom? Why would we expect God to grant such a request?
Prayers That Hinder Us from Knowing God’s Will
Second, we should be careful to consider God’s will in whatever we pray. It’s common for people to close their prayers with a statement such as, “if it is your will,” or something to that effect. But that’s not what I mean. In fact, that sort of statement can often keep us from considering God’s will. We think that we’ve covered our bases by saying that, rather than asking God to show us His will.
And we should never allow “if it is your will” to become an excuse to pray bland prayers. Here’s what I mean: Jesus prayed three times in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of death would pass from him. He prayed fervently, passionately: “And being in agony, He was praying very fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44, NASB). But he also prayed, “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” The prayer for God’s will to be done did not limit Jesus’ fervor in His prayer. We should never allow “if it is your will” to be an excuse for praying lukewarm, passionless prayers. If we’re not careful, what sounds like obedience turns into apathy: “Oh, well, God will do whatever He thinks best.”
Prayers That Presume That We Know God’s Will
Finally, I think we should be very careful about praying prayers that presume that we know what God’s will is. I’m afraid we’ve become more comfortable praying this sort of prayer in the political realm than we probably should. Instead of seeking God’s will and then praying in accordance with that will, we assume that we know what God wants and we pray that way. We should pray for God’s will to be done in regard to our governmental leaders and policies. But if we become so convinced that we know God’s will that we stop listening to God, that’s a dangerous place to be.
Are there things we shouldn’t pray for? Yes. But we should not let that fact keep us from praying! If listening to God is a major part of our prayer lives, God can tell us if we’re praying for something that isn’t His will. “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus…and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let’s approach God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19, 21-22, NASB).