Second Thoughts on "self-centered prayer"


"Simple Prayer is necessary, even essential, to the spiritual life.  The only way we move beyond "self-centred prayer" (if indeed we ever do) is by going through it, not by making a detour around it.

– Richard J. Foster, Prayer, p. 11

My earliest memories of prayer is when I prayed for my mom to win the lottery.  It was one of those, "I challenge you, Jesus, to show me you are God and can answer the prayer of a 12 year old!", kind of prayer.

Even when I was "born again" at 13, this lost Lutheran now turned Pentecostal on fire for Jesus brought my needs to him daily in intercession, claiming on the promise that he truly hears prayer.

The climb to grow in prayer had an interesting interlude after being challenged by a Bible study teacher in the church student fellowship who always seems to "hear from the Lord", to pray the Lord’s prayer everyday.  It took me about 5-7 minutes to walk to high school and I recall praying the Lord’s prayer (as opposed to mere reciting it) while I walked passed my neighbors.

Since then, I’ve been exposed to the wide riches of all that the best of church history has to offer from the Spiritual gurus of the old the desert fathers to the best-selling authors of the present … not the millionaires but the mystics! And when one grows in theological understanding, and sharpened by the hard knocks of on the ground praxis, one is suddenly more sensitized by any smell of "self-centeredness".


My mind wonders on a little comment from a younger Christian when she said that she was so impressed when she heard older Christians pray (sincerely) for the troubles of the world, and the suffering of others and not themselves.  And when she’s just struggling to make sense of her daily work challenges, praying for that appears to be so "unspiritual". And yet, these "other-centered prayer" older Christians, who are more sophisticated in their prayer are mostly missing from corporate worship, walking on their individualized custom made spiritual track, honest but not re-engaging older less sophisticated spiritual habits and maybe, just maybe there is yearn for a deeper spiritual maturity but in the words Foster used above, could it be a little too  "detoured" from the "self." ?

So, it’s not about "other-centered prayer" is a mark of a higher spirituality than "self-centered" prayer.  Both are part of the whole relating to God, self and world equation. The "self" is an honest place to start, it’s when we stop there – and move into self-indulgence that’s where the spiral downwards occurs. I see some kind of interaction between the self and others in prayer now.  Whenever, I’m praying for the world out there, I bring my"self" and how I view all this into the conversation.  Whenever, I’m troubled and perhaps bring very mundane stuff from my children’s safety to the next council meeting, I connect these concerns with the what I read in the papers, and the what we discuss in the council is informed by current affairs.

Back to "going through it", Christ came not to destroy our "self", but to redeem it. "Self-centered prayer" is redeemable too. During those times, we may sound selfish and self-absorbed … but when we stick long enough in prayer, God does wonders.  And combined with some healthy scriptural meditation, the content of our prayer changes … because the content of our concerns evolves. It’s hard to hangout with some One who’s self-less and remain selfish. "Going through" self-centered prayer is part of bringing our true selves into contact with the Spirit who recreates us step by step. The Self will then turn outwards and follow where God’s voice prompts us to … the self will still be part of the process, not sidelined by pseudo-spiritual maturity, but a self which is responsive to "others" and truly open to the "Other" who created us, redeems us, and molds us. This is a good route to go …

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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