Saturday, November 10, 2007
That's what I found, anyway. It is, as always, not a complete nor exhaustive list. There are lot of prayers mentioned but not described in scripture, which might have been for self or others or some combination (as many of the above are, and are listed twice as a result). Much of Lamentations is a prayer of mourning and penitence, and among many prayers that are on behalf of the writer and all of God's people. And there are a lot of prayers - especially in the Psalms - that are simply paeans of praise and expressions of people desiring for God to work His will. Jesus' few recorded prayers often contain that expression, "Thy will be done."
Many of the Psalms, especially David's, and some other Old Testament prayers and prophecies call for God's wrath to fall on the enemies of Israel, and that somewhat weights the number of prayers "for someone else" - although they are actually "against others." Ultimately, I grouped them there because they are tacitly "for Israel" in their intent.
We could quibble about a few - especially men praying for children for their wives as prayers "for someone else," and I wouldn't argue that those prayers are also "for one's self" as well.
I estimate that, in scripture, prayers for others outnumber prayers for one's self about two to one at most ... maybe five to three at least. (That's why the left column is bigger than the right.)
I would have to say that I do not find God uniformly disregarding prayer for one's self and preferring/answering prayer for others. Numbers of examples and exhortations-about-how-to-pray do not, by themselves, tell the whole story. It would be interesting - and very time consuming! - to fully research prayer in scripture and note which prayers are described as having been answered by God - and how. It might be even more revealing to connect those specific instances to penitence expressed in those prayers.
I wish I knew what Jesus prayed about those many times when He went out to lonely places to pray. Scripture does not tell us.
I know whom I picture Him praying about, given His nature; His character; His focus in life.
Even if numbers are no indicator, I still feel that prayer in community has extraordinary power - whether it is one person praying for the common good of the community, or the community praying for each other. It is an expression of concern for others above self to God.
And, to me, there is something sad about someone who has no one to pray for him or for her; or someone who does not pray for others as a general rule - or someone whose prayers are characterized by concerns for self, rather than for others and for what God wants.
So I also suspect that there is an innate power in praying for God's will to be done ... being willing to conform our will to His, even if His immediate will is not presently clear to us; being willing to accept that will and live it and praise Him for it.
The power I see in those prayers-for-others and prayers-for-God's-will-carried-out is the power in them to change our hearts, drawing us out of self and ever closer to God through His Christ and His children.
As followers of Christ, do our prayers for others outnumber our prayers for ourselves?