The Danger of Praying "Alone"

Of all the Christians I know, I have never heard a single one argue against the importance of prayer in the lives of God’s people. In fact, it is normal to hear brothers and sisters speak about their dissatisfaction with the frequency and fervency of their prayers because they understand just how crucial prayer is for their spiritual health. That thinking resonates in my own heart as well. But I want to be more precise in saying that different types of prayer are needed to nurture a healthy soul. Any one type of prayer alone can harm as much as it helps!

A variety of prayers are commanded and modeled in the Bible—prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, supplication, and more. If we’re honest, one or two of these likely dominate our prayer lives. But your soul needs all of these for its spiritual well-being. Why? Because even with a means of grace like prayer, our flesh can lean toward pride and self-focus. Plus, the danger can be hard to spot since, in praying, we are engaging in something we see as holy.

Supplication Alone

Think of the effect of prioritizing supplication over other forms of prayer. Supplication is necessary for our spiritual health because it expresses dependence on the Lord. We are turning to the God of all grace and all resources saying, “I don’t have what I need, but You do. I can’t attain it, but You can provide it. So, please help me, for Your glory.” But over-emphasizing supplication leads a person to spend too much time thinking about self—“My problems, my weaknesses, my needs, my struggle, etc.”

It's critical to remember that Paul sees the antidote to anxiety as more than supplication. In Philippians 4:6 he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (emphasis mine). In supplication, it’s easy to focus on getting what we need, which can be oriented toward self, and forget all the good God has already given. Thanksgiving points our hearts Godward; whereas, supplication alone can inadvertently keep our hearts fixed on the pressures around us.

Intercession Alone

There is also a danger in prioritizing prayers of intercession over other forms. Praying for the needs of others is a wonderful discipline for every Christian to embrace! But, if it is emphasized to the neglect of personal prayers of supplication and confession, it has gone too far. It can be difficult to admit weaknesses and sins, so some choose to have their prayer lives governed by prayers of intercession so that they don’t have to feel the weight of examining their own hearts and being honest about their needs and specific idols.

For example, Paul prayed for the churches (Ephesians 3:14-19; Philippians 1:9-10; Colossians 1:9-12), but he also requested prayer for himself as he sought to be faithful. He called on the Ephesians to pray “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (6:19-20). A commitment to intercessory prayer must be balanced with a commitment to prayers of confession and repentance. We must pray with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,” and, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:4, 10). Varying our prayers in this way puts down the prideful shield of self-protection and allows God to be our refuge in Christ. Confession and supplication open our hearts to more of God’s sanctifying, sin-killing work; whereas, intercession alone can keep one’s heart closed to the Spirit’s transforming power.

Confession Alone

For others, there is a tendency toward giving too much weight to confession in their prayers. This also threatens the believer’s soul, even with the penitent appearance of such practice. Can it really be troublesome to pour out confessions repeatedly? Can such vulnerability and self-effacing honesty harm a Christian’s heart? Confession, without the balance of other types of prayers, can keep the eyes fixated on self, not in a prideful way, but a pitying way. When confession dominates your prayers, pride is not showing itself in a way that suggests you think highly of yourself, but in a way that shows you desperately want to think highly of yourself. It can even encourage self-trust if you are believing the lie that enough confession will bring you to a place of hope and peace.

These pitfalls display the need to bring in more prayers of worship or adoration. God then becomes central and you view your sins through His attributes, which A. W. Tozer says are all “on the sinner’s side.” In Psalm 40:12, David is open about his moral failure when he says, “My iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see; they are more than the hairs of my head.” But directly before this in verse 11, he makes it clear that he is viewing his sin through the lens of God’s character: “As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!”

When God, and not self, is the focus of our prayers, we are protected from attempting to use confession to get into God’s good graces. We remember that all our sins have been paid for at the cross because of God’s perfect love for us in Christ. Prayers of worship and adoration free us up to see confession as a way to return to fellowship with the One who would be so infinitely kind; whereas, confession alone may betray the sin of spiritual pride and self-sufficiency.

Our good Father knows exactly what our hearts need to thrive spiritually. In short, we need to prioritize Him. But in His wisdom, God knows we need different kinds of prayer for this to be a reality. With this in mind, what does balance look like in your prayer life moving forward?

Note: This article originally appeared on We encourage you to visit The Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship where you can find helpful, biblical resources by a number of trusted pastors and authors.

Brent Osterberg




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