Where does the Bible say we can ask departed loved ones to pray for us?

Q. I read your blog about your wife’s battle with ALS (Endless Mercies). Couldn’t see the words toward the end through my tears. I have no words. My best friend’s wife had cancer 7 years and had a similar, but shorter landing. Walking through it with him was a life changer.

My question is about something you wrote on one of your posts here: “As followers of Jesus, we may reasonably ask any of the saints in heaven (including our departed loved ones) to pray for us, just as we would ask a brother or sister in Christ to pray for us here on earth.” Can you tell me where it is in Scripture that states this? I’ve never heard this before and I’ve been a believer for nearly forty years. Thank you.

First, thank you so much for reading through the Endless Mercies blog. There I talk about how meaningful and valuable it was to have people walk some of the journey with us. You’ve become another of those people for me. My sincere sympathies to your friend on the loss of his wife, and to you as well. You were part of their experience, and the loss is also yours, though you speak too of what walking with them brought into you life.

Let me respond to your question. In the post you mention, I explain the reason why I think we can ask people in heaven to pray for us: “One of the most important ministries of those who have gone on ahead of us into the presence of God is to pray for us who remain here on earth.”

The Bible doesn’t say anywhere explicitly, so far as I know, that we can actually ask for their prayers. But we might consider a passage such as the one in Revelation where those who have given their lives for Jesus are crying out, “How long, Sovereign Lord?” (certainly a prayer) and asking God to bring justice on earth and an end to the persecution of his people. This is a case where those in heaven are depicted as praying for those on earth.

We might also consider more generally the statement in Hebrews that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” I know that some take this to mean that those in the crowd are witnesses to us of God’s faithfulness in their lives in the past. But I understand it to mean that they are witnesses of what God is doing in our lives in the present and of how we are responding. The statement says, after all, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders . . . and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” I take this to mean, “because people are watching us and cheering us on,” not just, “because they ran the race well themselves.”

In short, the idea that we can and should ask our “friends above” to pray for us, just as we ask our “friends on earth” to do so, is more a matter of inference from what seems reasonable to believe and conclude about them. As I said, there is no specific statement in the Bible that says we can do this, and if someone were hesitant to do so as a result, I would certainly understand that. But I think their friends above would keep praying for them just the same!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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