There is a teaching that we should spend most of our time praying for others, since blessings will come back to us. However, this seems like a silly argument in that the focus has never been the other people, since the point is that if the person prays for others, then he will be blessed even more.
This false doctrine stems from a perversion of the virtue of selflessness. Some of the teachings on “forgiveness” and on “sowing and reaping” exhibit the same error, so that we forgive others because of its benefits to us, and we are generous to others because of the rewards that will come to us. The distortion at times results in a selfishness that corrupts all good works, and at times in rebellion and sinful neglect of oneself.
For example, when a man dedicates himself to feed the hungry, it is not selfless or heroic for him to feed others and not himself, even when the food is there in front of him. It is stupid and sinful to needlessly starve himself and feed others instead. The “sacrifice” is artificial, and he is a self-righteous phony.
We are not only responsible to serve others, but also to care for ourselves. We belong to God, so that when we care for ourselves in a manner that is consistent with God’s word, we are not being selfish, but being faithful with God’s property. The Bible teaches that God gives us good things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17). If we do things in moderation, then it is not sinful to partake of food, drink, material goods, and the blessings of God beyond that which is necessary for survival.
I understand my needs better than other people understand them, and it would be sinful for me to neglect these needs. Moreover, it would be foolish and dishonest for me to pray for others as a method or with the intention to address my own needs. God’s word instructs me to pray for myself:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
The prophets, the apostles, and the Lord Jesus often prayed for themselves. This is not always a sign of selfishness, but it can be an expression of dependence on God as the ruler of all things and the source of all blessings, and an expression of confidence in God’s eagerness to do all that is favorable to his people and his kingdom.
To pray for others as a method and with the intention to address our own needs is just a hypocritical way to pray for ourselves. We might as well be honest about it and pray for ourselves, and then pray for others. There is no reason why we cannot do both. In fact, one of the best things that you can do for a man is to teach him to pray for himself. This is different from telling him to be selfish and disregard other people’s needs. Rather, this teaches him to maintain fellowship with God, and to call upon God in faith. It represents a spiritual and mature lifestyle.
Some people think that inward focus is always wrong, and that the only proper focus is outward, in intercession and evangelism. This is blatant rebellion against what the Bible teaches:
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:28)
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)
Again, the false doctrine is a perversion of biblical virtue. It is self-righteousness, arrogance, and hypocrisy hidden under a show of piety and heroism.
When I was converted, I believed Christ for myself, not for anyone else. I was a sinner, and I needed God to save me. By believing the gospel for myself, one more person was saved – me. It would have been absurd to refuse conversion and start to evangelize instead. In the same way, I have access to God through Jesus Christ, and it would be absurd not to pray for myself. I have needs, so I will talk to God about them. It is that simple. We insult God’s grace if we do not regularly petition him for our own needs and desires. Of course, we should also pray for others, and rejoice when God meets their needs.