‘learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit’ (Matthew 11:29)
Humility is a rare Christian grace, of great price in the courts of heaven, but what is the connection to between humility and prayer. The idea has recently captured me as I continue my pursuit to become closer to God through the inner journey.
E.M. Bounds writes in The Essentials of Prayer regarding humility and prayer, “humility is an indispensable requisite of true prayer. It must be an attribute, a characteristic of prayer. Prayer has no beginning, no ending, no being, without humility. As a ship is made for the sea, so prayer is made for humility, and so humility is made for prayer.” Humility gives access to God when other qualities fail.
Humility is born by looking at God, and His holiness, and then looking at self and our unholiness. For me the key was learning to turn my gaze toward God, because in knowing God’s love I realise how truly dependent I am. We may assume that we turn to God first in prayer, but it is God who first gazed at us, who first loved us unconditionally and brought us into being. God continues to look at us lovingly, searching for room in our hearts throughout the day.
Humility holds in its keeping the very life of prayer. With pride we cannot pray. Humility, though, is much more than the absence of pride. It is a positive quality, a substantial force, which energises prayer. There is no power in prayer to ascend without it. Humility springs from a lowly estimate of ourselves.
Humility is one of the unchanging and exacting attitudes of prayer. When praying it is impossible to refrain from noticing that humility is the foundation of spiritual life and prayer, without which nothing can grow. Humility is truth; it is only through the growth in humility that we measure our progress in spiritual life. Humility is the direct means by which we offer ourselves to Christ, and by this means, it is possible to attract Him to us.
While we are on the earth nothing is more important to us than humility. When we take time to ponder our own humility, we see how far we are from being humble. To be humble is to walk in truth. Since truth is built entirely on humility, the closer one comes to God the more progress there must be in this quality; and if there is no progress in humility, everything is going to be ruined.
Every stage of spiritual development growth is only possible through humility. There will be a stage when we will be tempted to sit back and relax, thinking we have arrived. What people lack at this juncture is that without humility we will remain here [at this stage] our whole life.
Looking to the events in Christ’s life we find a door into the inner life of God and into your own life. ‘ …who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form.’ (Philippians 2:6-7 NRSV)
No wonder we find prayer so difficult and discouraging; it grows best when cultivated in humble conditions. According to ancient Italian folklore, an olive tree needs five things to flourish: drought, rocky soil, heat, solitude and silence. Prayer comes alive when we embrace the challenging environment of humility. Deep prayer always strips us of what we think is important and offers no payoff; it teaches us how to do God’s will.
Humility gives us true sense of who we are. It allows us to understand ourselves, both in brokenness and sinfulness, but also in our dignity and giftedness as human beings.
The real secret of humility is that it opens our heart, heals it, and clears a path into the depths of our souls, releasing energy so that we can act freely and love without limits.
As payer matures in the concert of humility, we discover a new perspective on our lives: our attention shifts away from a focus on failings and successes and turns to the story of God’s mercy and love. It is no longer our search for God that matters but God’s passionate desire for us. Our lives are not our own but rather the history of God’s work in and through them.
There is no Christ without humility. There is no praying without humility. If we would learn well the art of praying, then we also need to learn well the lesson of humility.