During our bible study session last weekend, we discussed what it entails to pray for the dead. It was eye-opening to discover that many Christians misunderstand how to handle the faithful departed souls. We pray for departed souls, believing that our prayers will have a bearing on their spiritual condition. Fortunately, from the scriptures, we expounded on what impact they make. We also identified the prayers for the soul to rest in peace.
The most common prayer says, ‘O Lord, may you grant eternal rest to them and shine your light upon them. I ask that you grant them mercy so that their souls may rest in peace, Amen.’ This prayer is considered a powerful prayer that keeps us strength during loss and comforts us that God has ensured the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.
In this article, I invite you to walk with me as we will get to understand the topic of praying for the departed. We will also uncover answers to the questions most Christians ask, such as whether it is biblical to pray for the dead and what should we, as Christians, say to the departed souls. Read on to find out.
What does the Bible say about praying for the dead?
The Bible is quiet about praying for the dead. When we look at various deaths in the Bible and the occurrences afterwards, we do not see any prayers for the dead. When Jesus died on the cross, Luke 23:50 implies that a man named Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and requested Jesus’ body. The Word goes on to say that he wrapped the body in linen clothes and then placed it in a tomb.
The ladies who had come from Galilee with Jesus followed Joseph to see where Jesus was laid. When they saw his body, they returned home to prepare oils, perfumes, and spices that they would apply to the body. The Bible does not speak of anyone praying for Jesus’ body. The book of Hebrews 9:27 implies how man will die once before being judged afterward. This means that no matter what you do after one passes on, it will not change God’s judgment of his actions.
The friend of Jesus in the Bible, called Lazarus, is another example of what happens according to the scriptures when one dies. John 11 suggests that the sisters of Lazarus tried informing the Son of God early about their brother being ill. However, Jesus seems to have deliberately waited until the man passed on so that God’s power would be witnessed.
According to John 11:38, when Jesus asked that they move the tombstone, Mary and Martha wondered why since he had already been dead for four days. Until then, the Bible does not mention that any of his family had prayed for the dead man. It was only Jesus, the Son of God, who had the power to command Lazarus to get up, it also does not say that Jesus prayed for the body to rest in peace. This scripture implies that when people die, only God has power over them and not human beings. This also suggests why Mary and Martha could not pray for their dead brother.
Additionally, Deuteronomy 34 talks of the death of Moses. The Bible implies that he died after God had shown him the land that he would bless his descendants with. When he died, he was buried, and the Israelites grieved his loss for 30 days. However, the Word is quiet on whether they prayed for him to rest in peace. This means that the Bible encourages grieving the loss of a loved one, but does not talk of praying for their souls.
Why do people pray for souls to rest in peace?
To ensure their eternal destiny is in Heaven
People believe that saying a prayer for a loved one, who has just departed, might have an impact on where they go. During wakes or funerals, we hear some priests mention a prayer to guide the souls of the departed in the next life, and many believe that this prayer works. For this reason, people are normally encouraged to pray for their loved ones as soon as they pass on, so that they may not be stuck in purgatory but instead be guided to eternal life.
To remind the departed of our love for them
Alternatively, other believers assume that praying for souls to rest in peace assists the departed to remember our love even in the other world. We hear people announce during funerals and even on social media pages, “May she rest in peace”, while others say sweet words such as, “He is in a better place now.” The belief here is that this is a prayer to comfort the family of the deceased that he will go to Heaven. The remaining ones on earth are thereby left believing that their loved one went to a better place thanks to the prayer.
To praise God for victory over death
Other Christian faiths pray for souls to rest in peace so that they praise God for Christ’s victory over death, and equally over sin. Remember that according to John 3:16, Jesus died to save the world from sin. So there are Christian faiths that gather to thank God for showing His power again, that He has overcome death.
Does praying for the souls of the dead help them?
John 5:16 speculates that it is of no use to pray for the living whose sin leads to death. This implies that there is no after-death plan for salvation, so the dead would not benefit from us praying for their forgiveness. Additionally, Revelation 20:12 says, And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. This means that a man will be judged based on how he lived on earth.
Their sins will not be forgiven because we asked in prayer, nor will their eternal destiny change because we prayed for them. The scriptures insist that we can only ask for forgiveness while here on earth, but once death strikes, no amount of prayer will change God’s judgment (1 John 5:16-17).
John 11:25 suggests that if your loved ones who have departed had a relationship with Jesus, then they will be experiencing the fullness of His love in Paradise. So you don’t have to pray for their souls. Additionally, the scripture implies that God will comfort you who remain on earth, over the death of a loved one.
Remember that even while on the cross, the thief next to Jesus had to dedicate his life to God before he died. The Bible in Luke 23:42-43 suggests that he asked Jesus to remember him when he went to His kingdom. Various biblical scriptures continue to encourage people to seek God while on earth so that when they die and are judged, they will be justified to live an eternal life. The Word implies that we will be judged based on our actions on earth unless we give our lives to Christ and follow Him. Additionally, the Bible says that the righteous will find peace and find rest in death (Isaiah 57:2), but the wicked will never find rest. (Isaiah 57:21). This implies that all Christians need to seek their God while they live so that their decisions can guide their eternal destiny.
5 prayers for the departed souls to rest in peace
Losing a loved one is always heartbreaking and a difficult experience. In these moments, we feel lonely and broken, and our only comfort is the Word of God. This is why I have compiled these prayers that can be a guide when the faithful depart.
Prayer for Hope in Death
Father, I am lost. You tell us in Romans 8:28 that ‘in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ Yet right now, my faith fails me. However, I have watched you turn my most bitter situations into miracles. I know you hear me, and I trust in you. Help me overcome this anguish-Inspired by Vienna, Cobb Anderson.
Prayer for Gratitude for the departed’s time on earth
Thank you, Lord, for the time you gave me to be with this person. Compassionate God, I thank you for allowing me a chance to create memories with him. I understand that, just as your Word says, it is you who gives and who takes. Walk with me, Lord, and help me to learn to let go – Inspired by Natalie Regoli.
Prayer for the Joy of Seeing Them Again
Heavenly Father, we are deeply wounded after the loss of our loved one. Yet we know that your Word asks us not to grieve as unbelievers would. But instead, to have hope in the coming of the Lord, who will return with Jesus and those who fell asleep in Him. Take our grief, therefore, dear Lord, and turn it into joy because we find difficulty in doing so- Inspired by Lisa Samra.
Dear Lord, may he live as long as we live; for he is now a part of us; as we remember him. Teach us to move on, and help us to keep his memories in our hearts. As we start this project that is named after him, may it be a success. May it be a reflection of who he would have been, and may the love we shared with him while he was alive be felt in this project – Inspired by Natalie Regoli.
Prayer of Comfort
Gracious God, we are grieving. We have no direction, and we are deeply wounded. We pray that you shine your light upon our lives, especially now that we have lost our loved ones. Your Word promises that you will comfort us when we grieve and that we will know no pain. So Father, walk this path with us and heal our hearts-Inspired by Gregory Coles.
How long after death should you pray for the soul to rest in peace?
Some Christian faiths imply that one should pray for the soul to rest in peace immediately after they get the news of their loved one’s demise, to guide them to go to Heaven and not to remain in purgatory. These faiths encourage praying for the dead souls for as long as we can until these souls eventually intercede for us. Some of these faiths go on praying for the faithful departed for up to 40 days. Afterward, the souls are believed to be peacefully rested.
However, other Christian faiths opine that as much as it is good to say a prayer for the departed, the Bible indicates that the prayer has no impact on their eternal destiny. They, therefore, trust in God’s mercy on their loved ones and hold on to the belief that the souls have rested in peace once their people pass on. Additionally, these faiths go on to hold memorial prayers for the departed every year on the date that they passed on, where they remember their loved ones and keep their memories alive.
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, right? Being raised by Christians significantly impacted my life since I started professing Christ from a young age. My passion for the Christian faith made me pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology. I am a believer and pastor dedicated to spreading the word of God. I have been in the Christian ministry for over a decade and am currently ministering in Life Christian Church. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Please check the About Us Page for more details.