Our church journeyed through January with a focus on prayer. Our preaching series was “Questions of Prayer,” which aimed to be honest about questions we share about prayer and give us orientation points for our praying. An optional step past Sunday morning is working through Steve Harper’s book, Talking in the Dark: Praying When Life Doesn’t Make Sense.
Chapter 8 of Talking in the Dark is titled “Praying for Yourself.” Steve begins by sharing the concern of a woman who attended a prayer workshop he was leading. “She remarked that she was weary of praying ‘give me, get me’ prayers” (p. 101). I’ll share the first part of his response here, which deals with our misunderstanding of ourselves.
It is, of course, alright to pray for ourselves. Plenty of biblical stories tell of people praying for themselves and many of the psalms are prayers offered to God with specific requests.
When there is darkness in praying for ourselves, what is at issue?
Steve tells us that the problem is our secular, rather than biblical, notion of the self: “The secular notion tells me I am an independent, individual self that is supposed to be affirmed and actualized. In other words, we are egocentric.” (p. 102)
But the bible tells a different story. “Instead of the psychologized understanding that I am a self, the Bible teaches that I am a person.” To say we are persons is to say that we are made in the image of God (imago dei is the Latin phrase). Understanding ourselves as persons in the image of God, imago dei, is square one for praying for ourselves. “Fundamentally, imago dei means that I am a being in relation to others. …As a self, it is possible to understand life in isolation. But when I realize that I am a person, I understand that I am always in community.”
When realize that we are “persons in community” rather than “individualized selves,” the way we pray for ourselves is different. The “give me, get me” prayers the woman was weary of are the prayers of an egocentric individualized self. The truer prayer for oneself as a person is praying that seeks what will help us glorify God and become “a fuller and finer member of the human family.”
In the next post, we’ll look at how the Lord’s Prayer helps us to pray as persons.