Data from a survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that 45% of U.S. adults say they pray each day. Another survey found that, among Americans who pray, only 41% reported praying for someone who mistreated them, and only 37% said they pray for their enemies. It’s common to think about WHAT you pray for. You might pray for the health and safety of you and your family, or you might about something you want to happen in your life, like a new job. It might be less common to think about WHO you pray for. However, the Bible provides clear examples of who you ought to consider praying for, as well as what to pray for them.
Who are the people I should be praying for?
What and who you pray for matters. James 5:16b (NIV) says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” You shouldn’t take prayer lightly. Though it can become part of a ritual or daily habit, remember that prayer is a “powerful and effective” way to “let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6b).
Consider these seven, specific people to pray for.
Let’s start with the broadest group (everyone) and work down to the most specific (yourself). 1 Timothy 2:1 (NIV) says, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people …” This message from the Apostle Paul is inclusive of every person. If you can think of them, you can (and should) pray for them.
Why does God want you to pray for everyone? Just a few verses later, Paul makes it clear. Praying for everyone “is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 NIV). God wants all people to know him and be saved. Praying for people is a part of that.
2. Other followers of Christ
Paul’s prayer for the Church at Ephesus in Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV) is a good example of praying for other believers.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
You should pray for other followers of Christ that they would be strengthened in their faith and have a deeper grasp of Christ’s love for them. This type of prayer strengthens the body of believers, which is the church.
3. Local, state, and national leaders
In 1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NIV), the Apostle Paul tells Jesus’ Jewish followers to pray “for kings and all those in authority” so that they “may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” This message came at a time when followers of Christ were experiencing oppression from Roman leaders, which made it a radical statement. For the peace in your community, state, and country, it’s important to pray for the wisdom, humility, reconciliation, and restoration of those who are in positions of authority.
4. Your enemies and those who persecute you
Praying for these people feels counterintuitive to our human nature and need for self-preservation, retaliation, and vengeance. Romans 12 calls you to “bless those who persecute you” and remember that revenge is not yours to take because it is God’s to repay.
Matthew 5:44 specifically calls for you to “pray for those who persecute you.”
This idea echoes Proverbs 25:21-22 (NIV) which says:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
How different is this from how you think (and pray) about those who stand against you today?
5. Spiritual leaders and teachers
Paul asks for prayers as a spiritual leader in Ephesians 6:19-20 (NIV).
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
In the same way, you should pray for leaders, teachers, ministers, and pastors in the church. They need boldness, discernment, and wisdom to make the good news of Jesus Christ known. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) is a good verse to pray for these people that God has put in these positions.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
6. Those who are sick
In Jame 5:14-15, there is a call for the sick to request the prayers of the elders of the church. This prayer “offered in faith will make the sick person well.” This type of prayer is a demonstration of your faith in the one true God that can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). This doesn’t mean that every prayer for the sick will result in 100% healing. However, we have confidence in approaching God: “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14 NIV).
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
In Matthew 7:7-8 (NIV), Jesus commands you to ask, seek, and knock. Philippians 4:6-7 makes it clear that you are to “present your requests to God.” Psalm 55:22 (NIV) goes on to tell you to “cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you.”
Sharing with God what is on your heart is part of building that relationship with your creator.
What should I pray for these people?
In the examples above, we’ve also outlined some of the ways to pray for these specific people and groups. Beyond that, Jesus and the Apostle Paul provide examples of what to pray for people.
In the examples of Jesus praying for others, we see that he prayed:
- For their faith (Luke 22:32)
- Against temptation in their lives (Luke 22:40)
- For their unity (John 17:11)
- For their sanctification (John 17:17)
When we see the Apostle Paul praying for others, he is praying:
- For the salvation of the lost (Romans 10:1)
- That the brothers would stay on the right path (2 Corinthians 13:7)
- That believers would be strengthened by the Spirit, rooted and grounded in love, able to comprehend God’s love, and filled with the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14–19)
What if I don’t know who or what to pray for?
Prayer can feel overwhelming. If everything you’ve just read has led you to say, “Where do I even start?” Use the Lord’s Prayer as a place to begin your journey in prayer. You can also use this guide to focus your prayer time.
There’s also encouragement for you in Romans 8:26-27.
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
Even when you don’t know who or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf when you approach God in prayer. Just take the first step.