Humility Is the Main Ingredient of Prayer, Repentance, and Thanksgiving
Prayer is humble because when we pray, we are saying that God is merciful and mighty, that He is wise and sovereign, and that He knows far better than us what is best for us.
C.S. Lewis famously said, “If you don’t think you are conceited, you are very conceited indeed.” Certainly that applies to humility: if you think you are humble, you are probably suffused with pride. In this article, we will consider briefly how prayer, repentance, and thanksgiving are related to humility.
How does prayer relate to humility? We can answer that question by considering the nature of prayer. When we pray, we express our complete dependence on God. Prayer acknowledges what Jesus said in John 15:5: “You can do nothing without me” (CSB translation throughout).
When we pray and ask God for help, we are admitting that we are not “competent in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5). Prayer testifies that we are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), that we are not strong but weak, and that, as the hymn says, we “need thee every hour.” One of the most humble prayers in the world is “Help me, Lord.” We remember the simple prayer of the Canaanite woman when everything seemed to be against her. She cried out to Jesus, “Help me” (Matt. 15:25). Prayer is humble because when we pray, we are saying that God is merciful and mighty, that He is wise and sovereign, and that He knows far better than we do what is best for us.
Repentance and Humility
It isn’t difficult to understand that repentance—admitting that we were wrong and promising to live a new way—isn’t possible without humility. Pride rears its ugly head when we refuse to admit we are wrong, when we refuse to say we are sorry, when we refuse to repent. The best exemplar of this truth is the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9–14).
Jesus tells us that the Pharisee exalted himself (v. 14) and trusted in himself (v. 9), and thus he didn’t feel any need to repent. Instead, he advertised to the world and boasted before God about his goodness and righteousness. His pride manifested itself in his claim that he was morally superior to other people, and we fall into this same trap when we compare ourselves to other Christians or even to non-Christians and feel smug about our righteousness.
The tax collector, however, was truly humble, and Jesus said that the humble would be exalted (v. 14). Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, he felt wretched in God’s presence, and he expressed that wretchedness in repentance, in asking God to be merciful to him as a sinner (Luke 18:13). We see the same connection between humility and repentance in the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son shows his humility in confessing his sin and in acknowledging that he was not worthy to be his father’s son (15:21). True humility exists when we sense that we are the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), when we see rebellion and self-righteousness in our hearts and turn to God in Jesus Christ for cleansing and forgiveness.
Thanksgiving and Humility
We might not think at first glance that thanksgiving and humility are related, but in truth there is a profound relationship. The root sin, as Romans 1:21 tells us, is the refusal to glorify God and to give Him thanks. Let’s think of one example of thanksgiving and humility. The Scriptures tell us to give thanks before partaking of food, and in doing so we confess God’s goodness to us (1 Tim. 4:3–4).
I heard of one Christian who regularly attended church, and he had invited a guest speaker to his church into his home for a meal. He told the speaker that the family didn’t pray before they ate, saying, “We work hard for our food, so it doesn’t make sense to thank God for what we work to acquire.” He didn’t recognize the true state of affairs; his refusal to pray was a capitulation to pride. He didn’t realize the truth of Deuteronomy 8:18 that “the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth.”
When we are thankful, we praise our great God that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). We recognize that there is no reason to boast about anything because everything we have is a gift (1 Cor. 4:8), that He is the One who supplies our every need (Phil. 4:19). Whether we are talking about prayer, repentance, or thanksgiving, we are saying in every instance that we are children and that we are dependent on our kind Father for everything, and that is the heart and soul of humility.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published in this month’s edition of Tabletalk magazine.