Whom to Pray For?

For someone else:

Job prays for God to forgive his friends; Abraham prays for Abimelech; his servant prays for a wife for Isaac; Isaac prays for Rebekah to have the baby she yearns for; Moses prays for relief from the plague of frogs upon Egypt; then for relief from the flies; from the hail and thunder; for relief from the fire raining down on Israel; from the snakes plaguing Israel; for God’s mercy on many occasions; for God’s mercy on the people generally; Manoah prays for guidance to rear Samson; Samuel prays for rain, for forgiveness on behalf of Israel; David prays against his enemies; and again; and again; and again; and again; and again; and again; and again; and again; and yet again; and for the peace of Jerusalem; Asaph prays for the restoration of the people; David prays thanksgiving on behalf of the people, and a blessing on Solomon to build God’s temple; Solomon prays a blessing on the temple and on Israel; a man of God prays against, then for, King Jereboam; Elijah prays for a sign that will turn Israel’s heart back to God; Elisha prays at the bedside of a dead child; Elisha prays for his servant’s eyes to see what he sees; then for blindness upon their adversaries; Hezekiah prays for deliverance for Israel; Isaiah prays for reassurance for Hezekiah; Hezekiah prays on behalf of the unconsecrated; priests and Levites pray a blessing on the people; Hezekiah and Isaiah pray for Israel’s deliverance from Sennacherib; and for the remnant which survives; for God’s forgiveness of them; Jeremiah prays against the enemies of Israel; and for the remnant; Daniel prays for God’s forgiveness on the remnant, confessing his sins and theirs; Micah prays for God to shepherd His people; Jesus teaches prayer for one’s enemies; prayer in secret; to pray for blessings physical and spiritual; He prays for little children; He prays for Simon Peter; and for His followers as His end draws near; the disciples pray for God to show them His choice; the apostles pray for seven chosen servants; Simon the magician asks the disciples to pray for God’s forgiveness of him; Peter prays for Tabitha to be restored to life; the church prays for Peter’s release from prison; Paul prays for all present to become followers of Christ; Peter prays for Publius’ father to be healed; Paul prays to be able to go to Rome; that the Israelites might be saved; asks those in Rome to pray for him; those in Corinth, too; predicts that others would pray for Corinth because of their generosity; he prays for the Corinthians to persevere; Paul prays for Ephesus; and again; and asks them to pray for him; he thanks God for the believers in Philippi; and thanks them for their prayers on his behalf; Paul prays for believers in Colossae; and begs their prayers for himself and others; for believers in Thessalonica; and again; and again; and again; and requests their prayers; and at the end of his second letter as well; Paul encourages Timothy to teach praying for others; and again; and prays for Timothy constantly; as well as Philemon; as Philemon has been praying for him; the writer to the Hebrews begs their prayers for him; James teaches prayer for others; and so does John, even for forgiveness for them.

For one’s self:

Jacob prays for deliverance from Esau; Samson prays for strength to avenge himself; Hannah prays for a child for herself (but dedicates him to the Lord); Hannah prays a song of thanksgiving; Samuel prays, presumably about Israel rejecting him as a leader; David prays a blessing on himself and his house; that Ahithophel’s counsel to Absalom would be turned into foolishness; Elijah prays for himself … to die!; Hezekiah prays for his life; three tribes prayed for victory; Isaiah prays for God to correct him in justice; Ezra and the returnees pray for safe passage for themselves and the temple’s riches; Ezra confesses the intermarriage sins of the remnant; Nehemiah prays for the king’s favor to his request; and that the king will grant his request; and that the Lord would srengthen his hands; Daniel prays for God’s help; David prays God’s favor on himself; and again; and again; and again; for forgiveness for himself (possibly referring to the incident in Psalm 51); and again; and again; for long life and a long reign; for mercy; Solomon prays for a blessed reign; Heman prays for mercy; Jonah prays for deliverance from the belly of the fish – as if it has already happened; and then he prays to die, seeing Ninevah’s deliverance; Zechariah prays for a child for his wife, Elizabeth; in a story Jesus tells, a Pharisee and a tax collector pray for themselves; He advises praying for strength when persecuted; for Himself as His death draws near; Jesus prays for deliverance from death for Himself – but also for God’s will to be done; and again; and advises His friends to pray not to fall into temptation; and again; Stephen prays to Jesus to receive his spirit as he is martyred; and James teaches to pray when in trouble.

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?

3 thoughts on “Whom to Pray For?

  1. Wow. What was that I said, “You never seem to disappoint”??? Wait a minute, just because you’ve now given us enough to study for the next couple of weeks, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to go MIA for another two weeks again!Oh, who am I kidding? You owe us nothing. If anything, I am indebted to you for sharing your time, energy, talent, thoughts, and heart. And for all of that, I have yet to figure out how to repay you.

  2. Very interesting, KB. Here’s what occurs to me (emotionally) about prayer. I think sometimes I’ve almost given up on praying for myself because I don’t see the results I’d like to see in the time I’d like to see them. I give up too easily. Yet I still pray for others because I think maybe God will answer my prayers for THEM even though He doesn’t answer mine for myself the way I think I need. This is a generalization of course, because intellectually I know God is answering my prayers in some way and in His time. But it goes back to my old ways of thinking that God could’t possibly love ME enough to really answer my prayers to remove certain thorns from my flesh. I rest in the fact that I’m not the only person to say, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”And in faith I will continue to pray for others as well as for myself. It does help to see your research on proportions of others-focused prayer to self-focused prayer. It’s always good to be reminded to stop focusing on ourselves.

  3. “Give US or daily bread”, “forgive US”, etc. I never realized until now that Jesus was teaching coorporate prayer.Perhaps the reason we are weak and impotent is that we don’t pray together and for “US”.His Peace,Royce

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