“There are two ways to attain high esteem. One is the world’s method: Take every opportunity to promote yourself before others, seize occasions for recognition and manipulate your way into the center of attention. The other way is God’s way: Humble yourself. Rather than striving for recognition and influential positions, seek to put others first. Cultivate humility, for it does not come naturally. One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that when God sees your genuine humility, He exalts you.” - Henry Blackaby
Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra was asked what was the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied, "The second fiddle! I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony." This is the problem we as Christians face. We don’t easily want to play second fiddle because it’s too humbling a position. We want to be important. We want to be first, but how we can cultivate a humble heart in our prayer life.
In John 12 Mary of Bethany offered thanks humbly at the feet of Jesus. She freely gave her all with a grateful and abandoned heart. Clothing herself in humility, she poured a perfume on Jesus that he quickly recognized because of the sacrifice. It was costly.
Many of us are worried about our finances and are consumed with thinking about an uncertain future. We worry about our retirement or money for college. Mary gave her most valuable possession—worth $40,000 in our day—her entire inheritance and future. Take a moment to think about the reality of what Mary did in this one humble act. She freely gave her all to Jesus, and the fragrance of what she did filled the entire room. It seems in a world that is getting progressively dark, a fragrance of humility would make a marked difference. Mary had a humble heart.
As we evaluate our life, what is one of the best things we can give one another, and especially those in our own family? Perhaps we can offer a humble heart—a heart that looks out for the interests of others and is not self-seeking or proud, a heart that serves and loves unconditionally, and a heart that cultivates humility in prayer. Isn’t this what Jesus wants in our life? He hates pride and selfish ambition, but He loves the meek and lowly.
Did you hear about the minister who said he had a wonderful sermon on humility, but he was waiting for a large crowd before preaching it? I think we can all identify with this preacher because we all need to grow in humility. It does not come naturally.
Perhaps we need to be more like the scientist George Washington Carver. He developed hundreds of useful products from the peanut! When he was young he asked God to tell him the mystery of the universe. But God answered: That knowledge is reserved for me alone. So he said, “God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.” Then God said, “Well, George, that’s more nearly your size.” And he told him.
A good example of both the proud and the humble is Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector found favor with God. We read in Luke 18:13-14: “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
Cultivating Humility in Prayer
Jesus is our daily example of humility. As you consider cultivating humility, ask God to develop humility in your prayer life. Meditate long and carefully on the humility of Jesus as you apply the following:
Have a worshipping heart - Jesus had a worshipful heart. Worship and praise open the heavens and bring heavens blessings onto the earth. It ushers in the glory of God. Begin your prayer time with a worshipping heart. Enter God’s court with praise.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
Have a grateful heart - Jesus was always grateful. Gratefulness ministers the fragrance of thanksgiving and kindness. It carries a heavenly fragrance. It moves our eyes off of our self and esteems God. It brings encouragement and victory. A grateful heart changes the atmosphere around us. Thank God for specific things He has done for you this past year.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
Have an abandoned heart - Jesus gave His all for us. He did not use His divine power for His own ends while on earth but lived dependent on the Holy Spirit and abandoned to God. Jesus emptied Himself completely. In prayer have you laid all your plans and desires at His feet?
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Have an obedient heart - Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross. He embraced a type of death that involved indescribable emotional shame and physical pain. In God’s presence, evaluate your life in the area of obedience. Write a prayer asking God to help you in any areas where you struggle in obedience.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).
Have a servant’s heart - Jesus was the servant of all. See John 13:3-17. He made Himself of no reputation. He embraced shame and disgrace as a servant. He hid his glory under the veil of humanity and did not insist on His own rights. Evaluate your heart, and repent of any lack of humility or servanthood in your life. Take time being still, and then specifically bring them before the Lord.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve...” (Mark 10:45).
Have a considerate heart - Jesus considered others as more important than Himself. He was not self-absorbed or self-preoccupied, but He was absorbed in the good of others. As you pray, consider others. Don’t be preoccupied with praying only for yourself, but bring the needs of others before the Lord in prayer.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
Let’s ask God to teach us humility in our daily life and in our prayers.
Simple acts of humility will make a difference in a world that esteems getting ahead and self-promotion. Jesus is our greatest example. He is out to win our hearts for love. One so strong and tender stooped so low for each one of us. Can we not do the same for Him?
“That which brings the praying soul near to God is humility of heart. That which gives wings to prayer is lowliness of mind. Pride, self-esteem, and self-praise effectually shut the door of prayer. He who would come to God must approach the Lord with self hidden from his eyes. Humility is a rare Christian grace of great price in the courts of heaven, entering into and being an inseparable condition of effectual praying. It gives access to God when other qualities fail. Its full portrait is found only in the Lord Jesus. Our prayers must be set low before they can ever rise high.” E. M. Bounds