Is it OK to pray for yourself? Yes, absolutely yes!
In fact, not only is it OK, but the Bible commands it. I do not mean that we are to ask for anything and everything we want with the expectation that God will deliver on cue. Nor am I suggesting that we focus our asking on creature comforts, material prosperity or earthly pleasures.
Scripture urges us to ask for the things that God wants for us—the spiritual riches that will enhance, strengthen and beautify our lives in Christ. And in asking, we are praying the best things possible for ourselves!
My life was forever changed the day I discovered this simple yet profound truth. It happened as I prepared to preach a sermon on 1 John 5:14-15. The first line reads, “This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything (in accord with) His will, He hears us” (material in parentheses added).
As I worked through the original Greek of this text, I discovered three important things.
- First, the Greek verb for ask means “continue to ask.”
- Second, that same verb means “ask [for ourselves].”*
- Third, the word hear means “agree to grant.”
So in the original language, that verse literally says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we continue to ask for ourselves, anything in accord with His will, He agrees to grant it” (italics added). Wow! What a promise!
Having discovered that incredible promise, my next question was, “Lord, how can I know what is in accord with Your will?”
The answer was not long in coming. The Spirit led me to Romans 8:29, reminding me that it is God’s will for me to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.
So I did a simple thing. I prayed daily for the Father to conform me to the likeness of Christ. What happened in the following months was both wonderful and painful—wonderful because of God’s gifts of grace, painful because I had some not-so-Christlike flaws I had to deal with. Nevertheless, His answers fully confirmed His promise. God’s answers were so real and confirming that I soon began adding other requests that were “in accord with God’s will.” My first short list included three basic requests:
- Lord, make me a man of prayer.
- Lord, make me a man of the Word.
- Lord, help me to share my faith.
After praying those prayers for years, I found that prayer, Bible study, and evangelism had become the main themes of my life and ministry. Way to go, God!
Jesus Makes It About You
In the years that followed that life-changing discovery, other Scriptures came to light that confirmed His amazing promise. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus unabashedly commands us to pray for ourselves: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7, emphasis added).
In verse 11 Jesus tops off that command with a promise. Comparing His Father’s generosity with the giving patterns of earthly parents, He says, “How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” The “good gifts” the Father gives to “ask-ers” are most certainly spiritual riches “in accord with His will.” To my surprise, I found that Jesus used the same verb with the same meaning in His final comments to His disciples before He went to the cross. He said: “If you remain in Me, and My words remain in you, you will ask (for yourselves) whatever you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7, parenthetical words added). Why is that promise here?
The disciples had just heard Him say, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (v. 5). That being true, their only hope for doing anything for Christ in the days ahead was to ask for and receive His help. That is also the only way that you or I will be able to do anything worthwhile for Christ. “Whether we like it or not,” said Charles H. Spurgeon, “asking is the rule of the kingdom.”
At least three things happen when we ask and receive God’s blessings for ourselves.
First, asking cultivates gratitude. You don’t say thank you to a vending machine. You do say thank you to a generous person. Asking makes us aware of the giving Father and His generosity, and it makes us grateful to Him. If the Father simply vended His spiritual riches to us without our having to ask, I doubt that we would return thanks to Him very often.
Second, asking and receiving fosters humility. If we could live our Christian lives without God’s help, we would have reason for pride. Of course we cannot, so we have to ask. Asking and receiving spiritual riches puts us in the debt of our generous Father and moves us to give Him the credit for our spiritual well-being. Giving God the credit He deserves is the very essence of humility.
Third, asking for spiritual riches is key to the abundant life. If we can ask for spiritual riches with absolute assurance that God will “agree to grant” those riches, there is nothing to stop us from going for the max—asking for faith, hope, love, joy, peace, grace, goodness, kindness, self-control, holiness, godliness, righteousness, faithfulness, fruitfulness, wisdom, knowledge, purity, humility, and more. The more spiritual fruit we ask for, the more we will receive. The more we receive, the more we will experience the abundant life.
But what if we don’t ask? Isn’t it possible that God will give us His riches even if we don’t ask? There is no doubt that God is gracious and, in His grace, He gives and gives and gives—sometimes even when we don’t ask. However, James, writing to impoverished believers, underscores the seriousness of not asking: “You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). Failing to ask is a grave oversight that leads inevitably to spiritual poverty.