When praying for those around me, I am often uncertain how to pray for my friends in relationships, especially those who are not Christian. Is praying for the wellbeing of a non-marital physical relationship condoning a non-Christian lifestyle?
Central to the issue is the fact that the Bible recognizes non-marital couples as being metaphysically united. Believers are urged to forego sex outside of marriage, not because it fails to bind two people together, but because it does it too well. Paul argues that it is not marriage that causes “the two [to] become one flesh,” but sex itself; to unite with someone, whether in or out of marriage, is to become one with them in body (1 Cor. 6).
And that is precisely how we ought to pray for such pairings – as one being. And now the new question of what that looks like arises. Ultimately, every prayer must contain the words “May your will be done.” Even Christ’s famously denied prayer held that sentiment – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22). We come to God and rightfully plead our case as He has asked us to do; but, in the end, we bow before His will in both our actions and our prayers. What we truly ask is that He have his way in us and in others.
When it comes to people and relationships, God’s will is actually rather simple: perfection and redemption for all who fall short. Thus, just as we ask God to manifest himself in the life of one person, we plead with him to work in the communal life of a couple. We may pray that our friends and loved ones practice chastity, but simply because a relationship does not live up to the Christian ideal does not mean we ought not pray for its wellbeing – just the opposite, in fact. We do not ask that sinners be destroyed but repaired, and just as we must pray that non-Christian individuals may be redeemed, we must pray that non-Christian relationships may be redeemed.
Therefore, when we ask God to bless non-marital couples, we do not deny the validity of his standards for sexuality, just as praying for a sinner’s welfare does not contest God’s righteousness but confirm it. Whether or not a relationship is begun in marriage or not, it does not change the fact that God desires to work upon it to make it perfect. Physical relationships formed before marriage need love and faithfulness and grace as much as those formed more according to Christ’s will. Indeed, as our Lord said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matt. 9).
We must pray, then, that the Healer in Heaven might completely cure all relationships on earth, both marital and extra-marital. Marriage is the promise, before God and man, that the bond of sex will be respected and maintained. Whether or not that promise is made, a communal entity is still brought into existence, and we do not worship a God who destroys such things but One who heals them. This is why faithfulness to a partner is so important – it keeps the spiritual body of the relationship whole so that Christ may do His work most effectively. And let us make no mistake, that work must be done regardless of whether we are Christian or non-Christian, married or not. All need to come and be made perfect, and we must pray that His will be done in all.