Is it good to pray for yourself? Is it spiritually healthy to talk to God about your own needs? Have you ever wondered if you were doing a selfish thing by praying for yourself? If it is a positive practice, what is the healthy balance between praying for ourselves, and other aspects of prayer? I saw a question on Quora that made me think it through. Let me know your views in the comments section below.
Do you ever get the same feeling of disquiet as I do sometimes when I pray for myself? It doesn’t come all the time, but now and then I wonder if I’m becoming self-absorbed. You know the feeling. I’ll be walking in the woods, starting by talking to God, but then, after a while, realise that I’ve been praying about my needs, my agenda, my wants – and I wonder if I’m just badgering God, rather than talking to him as a friend. Is it wrong to pray about what we want and need?
What Kind of God?
What kind of God would we be praying to who did not take an interest in us? And if he takes an interest, would he not also want to hear about our personal needs? He took an interest in our spiritual state and sent his son to die for us. With that kind of commitment to our spiritual well-being it only makes sense that he wants us to talk to him about what’s on our minds. I’d go so far as to say that praying for ourselves is not only permissible – it is vital to an authentic relationship with God.
I’d go so far as to say that praying for ourselves is not only permissible – it is vital to an authentic relationship with God.
Three + Three
Jesus prayed for himself (Matt 26.39). He taught his followers to do the same (Luke 11.1-11, see below). David told God what he wanted (Psalm 25.2). The list goes on. What kind of prayer was this? What can we do to pray personally, but not selfishly?
Here are three signs of praying for yourself unhealthily, followed by three guidelines for praying for yourself which are biblical and healthy. The unhealthy signs are all taken from this passage in Luke 18:
“The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’” (Luke 18:11–12 NIV11)
- Comparisons. Comparing ourselves to other more or less ‘righteous’ people is unhealthy. God is not interested in how we are measuring up against some other sinner. He is interested in our love for Him. He wants to connect with us in our prayer time. How can we really know whether we are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than someone else anyway? Only God knows the heart (1 Samuel 16.7).
- Boasts. We in a bad place when our prayer is a recollection of all the things good about ourselves and our behaviour. That’s not to say we are wrong to celebrate what God has done in us and through us. It’s just that our rejoicing should be that “your names are written in heaven.”” (Luke 10:20 NIV11)
- Balance. God gets one mention. “I” gets four (five in the Greek). When our prayer is mostly about ourselves it’s unlikely to be healthy. Make sure God gets more than a passing mention in your prayers. He is the one who gave you the ability to pray, after all.
Here are three guidelines for healthy prayer about yourself – all taken from Luke 11:
“When you pray, say: “ ‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation. ’ ”” (Luke 11:2–4 NIV11)
- Begin with God. The address, “Father”, the acknowledgement of his status, “hallowed”, and the primacy of his agenda, “your kingdom come”, place us before God as one who has come to talk to him, as one who wants to know him, love him and serve him.
- Beg for bread. We need only today’s bread. We need not worry about tomorrow. The request is for bread, not a 6-course banquet. If God gives us a feast, who are we to refuse? But we are healthier when we pray for what we need, not what we’d like. I see no sin in telling God what you’d like to see happen, but we just need to be careful to be focused on the need, more than the want.
- Confess your sins. When we confess our sins by talking about them to God in prayer we are talking about ourselves. But not so that we wallow in a mud pit of self-loathing. Instead, we are bringing them to God with a confidence in his forgiveness that will lead us back to his service.
There you have it. Three signs of selfish prayer, and three actions to assist unselfish but still personal prayer. Pray for yourself, by all means – just don’t make yourself the focus of the prayer.
Do you pray for yourself? If so, do you feel guilty, or do you sense God’s pleasure in those prayers? What do you pray for when you pray for yourself? How do you avoid the danger of self-focus? Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn to pray with authenticity and humility.