How to Pray for the World

April 2020

While preparing to preach on our Lord Jesus’ great prayer in John 17, I was struck by an interesting comment regarding his words in 17:9, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world but for those You have given Me, because they are Yours.” (HCSB) D.A. Carson comments as follows:

The world can be prayed for only to the end that some who now belong to it might abandon it and join with others who have been chosen out of the world. There is nothing intrinsic to the “world” itself, granted what John makes of the world, that could sanction prayers on its behalf. To pray for the world, the created moral order in active rebellion against God, would be blasphemous; there is no hope for the world. There is hope only for some who now constitute the world but who will cease to be the world and will join those of whom Jesus says for they are yours.1

So, if our Lord does not even pray for the world, how are we to pray – especially in light of the global crisis we now face? Is “your kingdom come; your will be done” (Mt. 6:10) sufficient? What about Paul’s injunction to pray for “kings and all those in authority, so that we might lead a tranquil life in all godliness and dignity” (1Ti. 2:1-2)? I am not yet clear on this, stumbling over my prayers, simply telling my Lord what is on my heart. I know He is gracious and hears. From my studies of the Psalms and prayers in the New Testament, I know that He wants me to tell Him how I feel and what I am struggling with. He may know it already but talking to Him about it verbally or in writing is cathartic.

So how exactly do we pray for the world, from a biblical perspective? I would suggest praying for the chosen to come out of the world and find Jesus; and I would strongly suggest the cry of “Maranatha!” (1Co. 16:22), calling with the Spirit, “Come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20b). For as much as the world groans under the current crisis, it is but the birth pangs preparing for the return of our Lord (Mt. 24:4-8). Truly, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

  • 1. D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 561.