Prayer | What I Don’t Pray For

The Hand by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia

The Hand by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia

Recently, I posted on figuring out what to pray for and how the two Great Commandments inform our prayers to God. Funny thing is, I was thinking about posting a series on prayer for this month before I was aware that our church was going to put on a prayer summit in partnership with Maybe I had heard it and it stuck in the back of my mind or maybe this was God’s way of guiding me to think about the state of prayer in my own life in tandem with my church. However it came to be, reflecting on prayer has been provocative and challenging to my life. I’ve found myself challenged to sacrifice time and comfort. I’ve been challenged to embrace more hard work in my life though it teems with the work of figuring out how to lead a family, raise an awesome baby girl, and support my equally awesome wife’s pursuit of a Ph.D. But nonetheless, I’ve been challenged to figure out what to pray for. What I didn’t expect was to be challenged about what I don’t pray for.

What I Don’t Pray For

The last night that we were able to attend the meeting, I felt quietly convicted about one simple thing: what I don’t pray for. More specifically, I felt God confront me by the truth of Scripture and the quiet leading of the Holy Spirit that there are times that I feel led to pray for certain people, and I don’t. Furthermore, the truth is that what or who I don’t pray for falls under these categories:

  • I don’t want God to intervene.
  • I want God to judge something/someone.
  • I am ignorant.
  • I lacked faith.

Surprisingly, this revelation was just a simple leading of the Holy Spirit. I expected more emotion (I am a feelings first kind of guy most of the time), but the simplicity and gentleness of this conviction was profound in its own way.

I Am Jonah

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way;
and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
-Jonah 3:10-4:3

Jonah was a prophet sent to Ninevah of Assyria. The Assyrians were creative, cruel, and barbaric in the manner of tortures they would devise towards their conquered foes. Jonah hated the Assyrians and their oppression. So, when God wanted him to preach repentance to Ninevah, he ran the other way. Why? Jonah knew that God would keep His word and show mercy to the Assyrians if they repented, and Jonah would rather see the city nuked. These verses show that Ninevah repented and Jonah was bitter.

Why do I say that I am Jonah? His story resonates with me. I remember the times that I didn’t witness to bullies or pray for them. I remember the times when I resisted God’s leading to treat church members mercifully who wanted to see me fired or brought before the church as a party to heresy. I remember the times that I wanted God to be wrathful and vengeful because I was hurting. I remember my heart breaking over the very real possibility that my disobedience may have contributed to deep scars among the saints and damnation among sinners.

I have long since put vengeance behind me, but I needed to see my motivation for not praying: offended pride.

Where Do We Start

Please forgive me for the amount of “I”s in this post. This is part of my testimony — learning to love people in response to the love that God has shown. Learning to pray for our enemies is one of the hardest parts of the hard work of prayer. Learning to love God’s purposes more than our own egos and agendas is right up there with loving our enemies.

So, where do we start? Faith. We start by either accepting or rejecting God’s testimony about His character.

Further up, I listed four areas that I don’t pray for. This is only a part of how real faith interacts with each of these voids; I hope you will add more to it:

I don’t want God to intervene. When we’re in a position of power –emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual– we don’t want God to intervene in our best-laid plans. Those is doubly true if we’re finally gaining the upper hand over an enemy. The truth is this: our position of power is an illusion. Trusting in God’s intervention is an exercise in trusting that God is indeed merciful and kind to His children and His enemies. We must let go of our pride and trust that God’s way is both merciful and just.

I want God to judge something/someone. The call for justice is powerful. God is just and has made us to resonate with justice. When we withhold prayer for someone, especially when we’re led to pray for them, we have made ourselves judge, jury, and executioner over them. When we’re hurt, we often go from 0 to smite instead of relying on God’s justice. When we learn to pray people or situations that we want God to judge, we can trust that His justice will be perfect — and it may be that God knows where mercy or wrath may be better applied than we do. But just watching a person proverbially drown and holding up our noses at them and not intervening, that’s hateful.

I am ignorant. We cannot pray for those things or persons we do not know about. Please don’t worry about the things you don’t know what to pray for. The Spirit will reveal plenty for you to pray for in the meantime. This can be an area of false guilt for some, and it doesn’t have to be.

I lacked faith. Often when God doesn’t smite or miraculously alter ours or someone else’s destinies and/or fortunes, we’re tempted to think that God doesn’t hear us (He does) or that He’s incapable of intervening (He is) or that He doesn’t exist (He does). The prayers of saints are always before Him like incense. God is the all-powerful Creator who stepped into human existence for the express purpose of rescuing His people without losing a single one (that or Jesus of Nazareth was a pathological liar, and we above all should be pitied). And yet, most of our prayers go seemingly unanswered. Most likely, those prayers are answered “no” or “not right now.” Faith can be a tricky thing if we’re resting on how well we like God’s answers to our prayers instead of the promises Scriptures make about His righteousness, justice, mercy, goodness, etc. Our faith must be in the One Who answers prayers, not the act of praying.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

–Hebrews 11:1

We must relearn to pray for those that we don’t pray for. Often my own prayers for people or situations in those four areas start with honesty. Be honest to God about how you feel, but learn to pray like Jesus and say “not my will, but yours be done.” Many times when I pray the hard stuff, I have to verbalize this truth: “I love You more, O Lord, than I hate/dislike/don’t want You interfering in this situation/person.”

Man, prayer’s hard sometimes — but worth it.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a comment below about how to pray when you don’t want. If you found this article useful or even provoking, please take a moment to share it on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. Great post, Casey. But I thought you were going to talk about what we shouldn’t pray for, like “kill my enemy” and “make me rich”, and stuff like that. Maybe that could be a future post?

    • Good suggestion. I didn’t mean for the title to be a “bait and switch,” but a play off of my previous post’s title.

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