The other day my wife, Mary, told me she spoke with someone that was having a personal problem. I don’t know what that problem was, but the burden must have been heavy for Mary suggested that the lady ask God for help in solving it. The person replied, “I can’t pray for myself, because that would be selfish.”
God bless that woman! God knows her heart is a righteous one, for she wants to help others more than help herself. Putting others before ourselves is an act of love and the Bible tells us to “let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14, NRSV).1 It was the Apostle Paul that wrote those words and that wasn’t all he said about love. All of 1 Corinthians 13 is about love and, probably, the most quoted on that subject in the Bible (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
Although our Lord expects us to pray for others, he does not expect, nor wants us, to refuse prayer for ourselves; to assume we shouldn’t pray for our self is a false assumption. He doesn’t want us to hide our own problems and suffer silently, but wants us to acknowledge our needs to him.
Some Biblical Examples of Answered Personal Prayer
There are plenty of examples of personal prayers in the Bible, and we will examine a few of them in this short study. So, if you think, for some reason, that you would feel guilty praying for something personal, take heed to these examples.
King David, the third king of Israel, committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had a man killed in an attempt to cover his sin. Upon realizing the disaster created by his actions, “he became broken before God, and one of the most heartfelt prayers in the Bible, Psalms 51, was written.”2 God answered his prayer and forgave his sins.
In 1 Samuel, chapters 1 and 2, Hannah was one of the two wives of a kind man, Elkanah. Hannah had no children and, being unable to have a baby, she was considered shamed and cursed. “She was desperate, and she knew that the only one with the power to give her the desire of her heart was the Lord. God heard Hannah and her prayer touched the Lord so much that he was moved to give her a child.”3 This child was Samuel, the prophet.
Even Jesus prayed to his father for personal help. When Jesus was on the Mount of Olives, shortly before his crucifixion and knew what tragic personal sacrifice would soon be coming down upon him, he anxiously prayed. “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He was struggling with the will of his father and admitted that he was tempted not to go on, but acknowledged his will to follow through, if that was God’s wish.4 God did want him to continue unto death, but answered his prayer by sending help in the form of an angel to give him strength and encouragement (Luke 22:43). Strength and encouragement are things we all need, from time to time; I know this from personal experience, many times over.
God Knows We Need His Help
God reveals to us that we are not always able to meet our own needs, so he desires to provide through his own abilities and grace when we are weak. But even more than that, he “created us with a need for help. Asking for help isn’t admitting failure, but recognizing the way God made us. Before the fall, in [the] Garden of Eden, God created Adam to receive provision and help rather than be self-sufficient. On a material level, God provided all of Adam’s food, water, [and] even his breath. He provided fellowship for Adam through his own presence.”5 Even more than that, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18).
So, God expects us to seek personal help and even encourages us to do so. And he tells us that, if we have faith, whatever we ask in prayer will be provided (Matthew 21:22). He explains that the process is simple, too. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8).
Christians are praying every day for healing, or patience, or understanding, as these things are fully in line with biblical principles. I pray every day for personal things, including wisdom to learn more about God and his plan, or guidance to write these articles accurately and truthfully, or to provide a way to best answer someone’s questions.
Of course this doesn’t mean we are allowed to be greedy. “Dear God, I want a new Porsche automobile” isn’t a prayer that is likely to be granted, but if you need transportation because your car is beyond repair, it is reasonable to pray to God for help in solving that problem, so you can get to work and provide for your family. Likewise, if you lost your job, it is reasonable to ask the Lord to help in opening another door to an employment opportunity.
Also, we should not use prayer to negotiate with God; we cannot make deals with him. “Dear God, I’ll go to church every week, if you will just do me this one favor” is not a proper approach to our Heavenly Father. That is not a godly way to communicate. It is easy to make a deal with the devil, but not so with God.
But if you are living by faith and you love Jesus and wish to follow his teaching, there is no reason to decline praying for yourself. “Next to the Holy Spirit, no one knows your heart better than you. No one knows your hopes, your fears, your secret sins, your ambitions, or your needs better than you do. No one can impact your word for good or bad like you can. That’s why you need to pray for yourself.”6
Should We Love Ourselves?
The Bible doesn’t come out and say you must love yourself, but that is implied many times. When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31).
This scripture does not mean to put us on a pedestal, like so many sports figures, performers, politicians, and other celebrities do. We are not to believe we are better than, or that we should look down upon, others. What the scripture means is that we should love God first, and if we do, we should emulate him and strive to spread that love to others. Simply put, the more we look inwardly and love ourselves, the more we can love others and be content with our lives and live with peace of mind. One author put it this way, “We treat others in the same way we treat ourselves. And if I am uncertain about my worth, I will be uncertain about the worth of others.”7
No matter what we strive to do, we are sinful humans and will get ourselves in trouble, once in a while. No matter how hard we try to remain healthy, we will occasionally get sick. No matter how much we try to help, we will be disliked sometimes. When these problems and troubles come our way, pray for help and it will be given.
My music selection for this article is “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” This is an all-women production of an upbeat Christian song about asking for personal prayer. Selected lyrics are below and the video is listed in the References & Notes.8 Enjoy!
Not my sister but it’s me, Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Not my brother but it’s me, Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.
Well it’s not my uncle and it’s not my cousin, but it’s me Lord,
Well it’s not my grandma and it’s not my grandpa, but it’s me Lord,
It’s me, it’s me. Oh Lord, it’s me.
Copyright © 2020, Dr. Ray Hermann
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Reference & Notes
- Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), ©1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- “Answered Prayers in the Bible”, (Pray with Me, retrieved 18 March 2020), https://www.praywithme.com/answered-prayers-in-the-bible.html
- Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), pp. 1040–1041.
- Hoeppner, Aubrey, “Three Reasons Why Asking for Help Is Honoring to God”, (Unlocking the Bible, 1 October 2015), https://unlockingthebible.org/2015/10/three-reasons-why-asking-for-help-is-honoring-to-god/
- Davis, Will, “The Key to Praying for Yourself”, (Guideposts, 25 September 2012), https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/prayer-stories/pray-effectively/the-key-to-praying-for-yourself
- Hunter, Oretha, “Thankful Thought Tuesday: You are Wonderful”, (Orethapedia, 12 November 2019), https://orethapedia.com/2019/11/12/thankful-thought-tuesday-you-are-wonderful/
- “Standing in the Need of Prayer”, Artists: Angela Primm, Tanya Goodman Sykes, Sue Dodge; Album: Women of Homecoming, Vol. 1, (Gaither Music, 24 September 2013) -VIDEO: https://youtu.be/x90HfUJl6eY