Praying for myself – is that selfish?

Is praying for myself selfish?

Kevin M., England

Answer given by Pastor Christian Salcianu,
1st August, 2022 – Watford

The short answer is No, and I will explain why below. I know that the expected answer is Yes, but such an answer betrays a lame understanding of what prayer is. It may even close all the doors, not leaving room for a bigger picture.

Let me remind ourselves what a prayer is. While for some it is a formula, part of a ritual, speaking certain words, in a particular order, often in repetition, in front of icons, altars or to heaven, for others it is something completely different. More than a meditation, it is a conversation (be that in your mind or with audible words) or a dialogue with God. At very least it is a one-way expression of your thoughts, feelings, inquiries, and blessings, that is, from you to God.

[I need to stop here to make sure we agree, in keeping with the Bible, on two key points: (a) all prayers go to God, not to angels, saints or any other beings; (b) there is no other mediator between humans and God than Jesus. A Bible study on these topic can be provided upon request.]

Let me bring in 3 prayers, as powerful examples.

The first prayer in the Bible is mentioned in a very one sided context. If you will read Genesis 4 following a particular thread, you will find out that Cain’s offspring (the bad guys) covered the earth. They had a monopoly on industry, business, weapons, real estate, and show business, not to forget being infamous for violence, polygamy, blasphemy etc. It seems that the only solution for Seth’s offspring (the good guys) was… Read with me, the last verse:

“At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.”

Genesis 4:26

May I ask then, was this selfish? Why “at that time”? And it was a beginning. While all others would call their enterprises to serve and help them, God’s people chose a different path. In other words, that was the beginning of corporate prayer, in an organised form.

Let’s face it, that was not selfish, but it was rather a last resort, a final acknowledgment that only God can save or move things or solve situations. I am bold enough to suggest that a prayer, any prayer, is yet another punch to your old self. If it wasn’t you wouldn’t have prayed. You would have just gone your way – yes, as in “I did it my way”, feeling no need to ask for help.

This brings me to the second key prayer. In the Lord’s Prayer widely known as “Our Father” (see Matthew 6) we learn about “Your will be done…” God’s will, an echo of Genesis 4. So many people forget that first part, and only focus on the last requests, a very much “we” kind of prayer: give us, forgive us, do not lead us into temptation, deliver us… (Sounds quite tempting to say “hey, this is selfish”.) To prove that prayer for ourselves is not selfish, I invite you to consider once more:

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…”

Matthew 6:12

The authentic, honest prayer is far from selfish. It should in fact be selfless. I’m saying it again, a prayer is not selfish – not even when you pray for yourself. Because it is the acknowledgment that there is nothing good in you (see Romans 7:18). Authentic prayer, by default, is a mark of selflessness.

Then, what about praying for our loved ones? For family and friends… isn’t that selfish? In the Bible we are invited to pray for others. Even to the point of praying for other people (James 5:16), for all people, kings and authorities (1 Timothy 2:1-2), to the utmost of praying for one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44). Try to pray for your enemy or for that leader you despise, and you will grow spiritually. Thus we come to the third important prayer.

Let me walk along with Jesus in Gethsemane Garden, in prayer (see John 17). I can hear him speak out loud, as He seems very focused on the fate of his disciples. Read 17:9 “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world…” Ouch. Hard to avoid that one, right? From a “selfish” perspective it is a very close circle of friends. But a very interesting aspect of his prayer is the idea mentioned in verse 20:

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.

John 17:20

Do you see the next generation of believers there? Baptised at Pentecost, taking the Gospel to pagans, bearing the names of epistles (Galatians, Corinthians etc.) Do you see, two millennia later, the current generation there? Do you see you and me in Jesus’ prayer? Once again, what on the surface may seem to be a selfish prayer – for me, for my loved one, for those around me etc. – may in fact have a ripple effect in the everlasting.

I encourage you to pray for yourself. It is the best place to start. And, as you go step by step into knowing God’s will better you will pray more profoundly. For you, as you come to know better your spiritual needs, and for others, as you forget yourself while investing in others.

Let me suggest a good starting point. Read or listen the chapter entitled “The privilege of prayer”, found in Steps to Christ (the book). It will be a delight. Mind you, the author touches also on the point at which “prayers become personal and selfish”. Got your attention?

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