There has been something troubling me and I want to ask what you think. As I was reading along in 1 John, chapter 5, I came to verse 15:
"And if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him."
I immediately thought of my parents and brothers and sister and sister-in-law, and that I have been praying for their salvation ever since I found Christ myself. And how would I know that the Lord has ever heard me, because none of these people have gotten saved? I have prayed for them for the past twenty-five years.
With those thoughts in my mind, I read on. The next verse in chapter 5 talks about there being a sin that is unto death, and John says that he doesn't say it should be prayed for. There was one cross reference in my Bible for that verse pertaining to the word 'pray'. I thought perhaps it would give me an idea what the sin is that John said is unto death, and I turned to it. It was Jeremiah 7:16:
"Therefore, pray not for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me; for I will not hear thee."
That's pretty alarming, Bruce. Is the Lord telling me to stop praying for my family? Would He do that? Would He ever tell someone to quit praying for another? I don't know what to think. Or maybe I have just overreacted, and this verse really doesn't apply the way I perceived it? I'm appalled at the idea of abandoning my family.
Please reply when you have some time, and talk to me about this. I don't want to think that my parents and family are beyond hope. That's a terrifying thought. I am compelled to pray for them.
Prayer is something that has some interesting paradoxes. You have raised one of them. If each man is personally responsible to God, how can my prayers make any difference in that person's salvation. If they miss out on God‘s salvation, can they blame me for not praying enough? God is not willing that any should perish, yet "the many" do.
Does prayer change things when God knows the end from the beginning (or does He know that I will pray and that He will answer and is that all part of His plan?) This becomes mind boggling. So the simple answer is that we should do what is easily understood and leave the rest to God.
1 Thessalonian 5: 17 is easy to understand, "Pray without ceasing." That is don't give up praying about the things that God has laid on your heart.
sin unto death has a couple of interpretations. Some think it is murder because
murder was always supposed to be punished by death in the old testament, unless
it was manslaughter. So murder in this context would be premeditated. A murderer
does not have eternal life (1 John 3:15).
In conclusion, I don't think our prayers "save" people but I do think our prayers continue the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In other words, I do think our prayers increase the window of opportunity for the people for whom we pray. The people we pray for will actually have greater condemnation because they have had greater opportunity if they reject Christ.
I think we should leave the saving to God, and continue in the praying as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands. I think we should be confident that the Lord has heard even though in the case of unbelievers, He may not be able to change their minds through the Word of God and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit so they can be saved.
I hope this helps.