Change the Way You Pray: From Self-Improvement to Kingdom-Advancement

Hello, friend! Today, I’ve got another guest post from a fellow blogger called CoCo. I guest posted on her blog back in February, and now she has a special post for you guys on mine! Want to hear a great message about Christian self-improvement? Well, keep reading!

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I’m a perfectionist. I’m also an overachiever. Add in a tendency to strive for self-righteousness, and you get a flailing, floundering mess.

I have prayed so many prayers that God would help me to live a godly life in order to be pleasing to Him, and there’s nothing wrong with those prayers. In fact, God desires for us to pray in that way to ask for His help. It puts a smile on His face when we ask to be made like Jesus.

However, I’ve come to realize that my motivation for praying that way is often very distorted. I often make it about me, and my goodness, and what I’m doing for the Kingdom of God. 

I ask that I would be seen for my good deeds–a distortion of the biblical idea that we are the light of the world. I ask that I would be “blessed”–the false idea that the gospel is for our own prosperity. I ask that those around me would know that I am a Christian–for selfish, holier-than-thou reasons. 

I may be praying pretty words and even biblical prayers, but if my heart isn’t in it for the right reasons, then I’m no better than the arrogant Pharisee we read about in Luke 18:10-14 (ESV):

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:10-14 (ESV)

Self-Improvement Vs. Kingdom-Advancement

God has brought to my attention that there is a significant difference between self-improvement and Kingdom-advancement.

Self-improvement should never be our end goal. Why? Because our lives start and end with the gospel, and the Bible makes it very clear that we are saved by grace and grace alone. We play no part in our salvation beyond accepting it as a free gift. Our Christian works and reputation add nothing to our salvation. (Of course, faith without works is also dead, but that’s a topic for another article).

Consider these words from Galatians 3:2-3– 

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Galatians 3:2-3

No human attempt at righteousness is ever going to succeed apart from the grace of God. So why do we still strive to be perfect? Why do we still find ourselves trying to be holy on our own? 

It’s time to give it up.

It’s time to let it go.

It’s time to realize that our good works do not make us good people, just the same as our mistakes do not make us bad people.

If you are in Christ, you are a sinner made saint. You have a new identity–one that you don’t have to work to maintain through fruitless efforts of self-improvement.

As Christians, we shouldn’t pray self-improvement prayers as much as we should pray Kingdom-advancement prayers. A Kingdom-advancement prayer is a prayer of surrender that asks for God’s will over our own. It holds the idea that we are broken vessels, while God is the Healer–we are the clay while God is the Potter–we are the branches while God is the Vine. Self-improvement prayers ask for our own kingdom, while Kingdom-advancement prayers ask that God’s Kingdom come.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

2 Corinthians 4:7

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Don’t Seek Glory–Seek Surrender

Do we desire to be a light for God? We should change our prayers from “may they see my good deeds,” to “may they see Christ in me and may God be glorified.” It isn’t about our reputation; it’s about God’s.

We shouldn’t pray for recognition or honor, but instead for humility enough to redirect all the glory back to God. His Word says that, in the end, it is the last who shall be first. 

We shouldn’t pray for others in order to boast about our godliness or because “I’m praying for you” is a nice thing to say. We should pray for them because we love people and desire to see God work in their lives. Prayer is not only public, it is also private.

So much changes when we shift from self-improvement legalism to kingdom-minded surrender in our prayer lives. That perspective takes the pressure off of us to be good and instead gives God room to work through us. Because of grace, life suddenly isn’t about being good as much as it is about being sanctified. 

Out of Our Hands and Into His

Since the Bible tells us that we are God’s stewards, we might be tempted to think that we hold all these resources in our hands and it’s up to us to spend them wisely in order to please God. And while that’s true in some ways (like in the parable of the talents), we must also keep in mind that our very lives belong to God–meaning that we ourselves are among His resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and tells the sun when to rise, but His word says that even our bodies aren’t our own because we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He will use us if we surrender to Him. Being a good steward starts with realizing that God is in control, and we are not.

The Church needs to stop using God as a catalyst for self-improvement and instead let God use us to bring glory to His name. God gives us resources so that we may advance His Kingdom, not give His Kingdom so that we may advance our resources. 

As I’ve discovered in my own life, self-improvement and the need to be good can actually become a god if we aren’t careful. Resources are helpful, but when we are seeking them first they are no longer assets, but hindrances. 

Mercy Over Sacrifice

In the end, it won’t be about what we’ve done: the tithes and offerings that we gave, the good deeds we performed, or the Instagram captions we wrote filled with “Christianese” words. It won’t be about our friendly smiles or our modest outfits. 

It will be about what God did: redeemed sinners with His blood, performed miracles through the least of these, and changed lives for no reason other than His love for His children.

The least of these don’t need to be good enough for God; God needs to be good enough in the minds of the least of these.

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’

Matthew 9:13

That is what David meant in the Psalms when He said:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

I have had to learn that it’s okay to be broken. In fact, we are all broken, whether we admit it or not. But the ones who do admit it are the ones who find true restoration. The ones who ignore their brokenness and go on living in self-righteousness are the ones who are “well” and “in no need of a doctor,” as Jesus explains in Matthew 9:12. They continue to strive for self-improvement and miss the fact that freedom is found in surrender. 

Not only is it okay to be broken, it is necessary to be broken. 

Not only is it okay to not be enough, it is necessary to not be enough.

Those who are “well” get stuck in self-improvement and drown because of all the pressure. 

But those who recognize that they are broken and in need of a Savior will be passed from death to life and will fly on wings like eagles.

We can either continue to build our houses in vain, or we can allow the Lord to build them for us. The choice is ours to make.

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CoCo Ashley is a young writer devoted to using her words for the glory of God. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and dreams of one day publishing both fiction and nonfiction. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find her talking with her friends, reading a book, or simply being an introvert with music in her headphones. Connect with her on her blog at cocoschitchat.com.

5 thoughts on “Change the Way You Pray: From Self-Improvement to Kingdom-Advancement

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this Caroline. Loved it. Glad you take such initiative and share these meaningful and much needed messages from your network. May that’s your calling and I would urge you to continue this journey. Yes there is a long way ahead but i would like to believe that with God all things are possible and as you stay committed to the task, the Lord will lift you up. Blessings and always happy to help. Just let me know.

    Like

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