Humility and Prayer

By Dean Trune     

At nine-thirty in the evening, I began leading students at a Midwestern Christian college campus in a concert of prayer, a guided prayer service. About eleven o’clock that night, we finished praying. Then we decided to allow students to step up to two microphones and share what God had done during the prayer time. Immediately students formed lines at both microphones and began confessing and repenting of personal sin. I was amazed how powerfully God was moving. There were many young men who stood in line, but when they arrived at the microphone they could do nothing but sob. They couldn’t even form words. The same was true of the young women. The repenting and confessing time lasted about seven hours.

As the sharing began winding down, I realized how tired I was. Yet I was energized by reflecting on what had happened. I was really impressed with God. Although I could not yet grasp the breadth and depth of what God was doing, I glimpsed a principle: When people approach God with humility,

God then has the opportunity to move supernaturally in ways far beyond what we expect or imagine. No doubt, God encourages us to talk to Him. He is ever present. He is ever listening. He is willing to answer. He is waiting. So what about us? What shapes our words, our thoughts, and our desires when we long to communicate with Him? If I am to pursue Him recklessly and relentlessly, then humility is required in my prayer life. It is so easy to pray self-centeredly, arrogantly, demandingly, selfishly, even shallowly. Anyone—a new believer or a lifelong Christian—has likely offered prayers like this at one time or another. But we have hope! Praying humbly can take us to the deeper level of intimacy we desperately seek. Consider these five wonderful ways to speak to God with humility: petition, submission, obedience, confession, and repentance. Our hearts can connect with God's heart in a God-honoring way as we develop humility.


In Matthew 7:7, God says, “Ask.” That is simple and clear. But our requests or petitions about ourselves need to be in line with God's heart, His purposes, and His Word. As I travel, I experience many “divine appointments,” my term for conversation and prayer opportunities with strangers. When I ask people how I may pray for them, sometimes someone will say, “Don't pray for me. Pray for someone who needs it." I always wonder if they think they are doing fine and don’t want to admit any needs, or if they think they do not have the right to ask God for anything. If they are a divine appointment, they may have shared some struggles with me. Those people probably believe the latter—that they do not have the right to ask God for anything.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus gives us examples of requests or petitions throughout the New Testament. He petitioned His Father in John 17. When Jesus prayed the Lord’s Prayer, or what I think should more properly be called the disciples’ prayer, in Matthew 6, we find several petitioning thoughts. James makes it clear in the fourth chapter that the main reason why we do not receive is that either we do not ask or we ask with the wrong motive. Praying with humility leads us to ask with the right motive, which is having the Kingdom—not ourselves—as the main beneficiary of our prayers. When I pray mainly for my safety, security, comfort, or lack of effort, I have put myself at the center of the universe instead of God. That is pride, not humility. Jesus did not come to make us safe, secure, comfortable, or lazy. He came to make us holy. God gives grace to the humble, and following Jesus’ example of praying with humility opens up His vault of grace. He desires to do so for His glory, not mine.

Connecting more closely with God includes adopting an attitude of submission. I pray with the Lord of my life in mind. If I pray selfishly, I am asking God to help me in the cause of my lordship. I am His. My life is His life to use in whatever gives Him the most glory. Jesus prayed from the position of a submissive heart. At least five times in scripture He tells us He came not to do His own will but His Father’s will. For example, Jesus says He is sent to “do the will of Him who sent me" (John 4:34). Can we pray any other way and still connect with the heart of God? Unlikely. Intimacy with Him requires submission.

One indication of our love for God is our obedience to what He desires. Jesus’ teachings tell us of the importance of obedience:    

  • "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).  
  • "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10).

Praying humbly flows from and into our obedience. Jesus goes on to say in John 15:11, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." His joy flows out of our obedience to His commands. Our obedience flows out of our love for Him. If you and I are not experiencing His joy in our daily walk, it is either a problem with our love for Him or our obedience to His commands.  When leading seminars, I am often approached during breaks by those who say they are discouraged and struggle with depression. I frequently respond by asking, “Have you ever tried fasting?” An even better question might be, "In what area is God calling you to be obedient—and why are you resisting?” Resistance fixes my eyes on me while obedience fixes my eyes on Jesus. Resistance displays pride. Obedience displays humility.

Humility travels the road of confession. The majority of times that the word "confess" or "confession" is used in the Bible, it refers to confessing or the confession of our faith. A few times it refers to confessing sin. James 5:16 appears to connect together the concepts of confessing sin, praying for each other, and healing. Someone has said that confession is simply agreeing with God. There is such a tendency in our culture not to accept responsibility for our actions but to blame someone else. Authentic confession of sin is not only accepting ownership for the act of and desire for sinning, but also seeing sin as an act against someone.  All sin is against someone. It is either against God or against God and others. David confessed, "I have sinned against the LORD" (2 Samuel 12:13).

In the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, Jesus identifies the younger son's confession this way: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

This latter example sees sin as an act against someone that also carries a consequence. Confession is much different than simply being sorry. Saying "I'm sorry" does not necessarily identify ownership and certainly does not acknowledge an act against someone. To be pursuing intimacy with God, I must see my sin from God's perspective. I must see it as an act against Him, and when appropriate against others. Only through the act of acknowledging sin and acknowledging it as against someone can I maintain a clear conscience.

I attended a conference several years ago and heard teaching on the topic of maintaining a clear conscience. Following that teaching, God brought to mind eighteen people that I had offended but had never confessed my sin or asked them for forgiveness. I confessed to all eighteen people (some people and incidents were ten years in my past) and asked for forgiveness. All eighteen forgave me. A few years later, I listened to that same teaching on having a clear conscience and God brought to mind ten people that I had left off my first list. Some of these people and incidences were twenty years in my past. I found nine of the ten people and confessed my sin against them and asked them to forgive me. All nine said yes. I could not find the tenth individual, but I am prepared to ask for forgiveness if God brings her across my path.  

Paul encourages Timothy to instruct the deacons to have a clear conscience in 1 Timothy 3:9. In Paul's second letter to Timothy, he states that he serves with a clear conscience (1:3). The writer of Hebrews speaks of being confident of a clear conscience (13:18); and Peter, in his first letter, encourages his readers to have a clear conscience in order to silence malicious talk (3:16).  I purpose to have a clear conscience. It is my desire to have no one stand before God and tell Him that I offended him or her and never sought forgiveness.

To pray with humility requires a repentant spirit. As the Holy Spirit prompts us with conviction, God expects repentance. The act of repenting means to change one's mind and purpose. To change one's mind but not one's heart is incomplete repentance. Complete repentance means we are heading in one direction, and then we turn and head in the opposite direction. Confession is acknowledging the sin and who it is against, but repentance is changing my mind and heart concerning the sin. I am not sure if I can truly repent without truly confessing, and I probably cannot truly confess without truly repenting. If I have a pattern of sin in my life and I am continually repenting, maybe I am repenting in my mind but not in my heart.

Intimacy with God through humility requires all of my heart to be engaged when I pray. Pride allows me to justify my sin. Humility allows me to repent. I love the joy that a repentant spirit brings. It is undeniable, and it is irreplaceable. Petition. Submission. Obedience. Confession. Repentance. All elements need to be employed as we pray to reach the deep intimacy we seek with our Creator. Praying humbly means that I lay out everything in every corner of my being before God. He is ready and waiting for us. It is all about Him and not about me. Praying with reckless and relentless humility will lead us to God’s heart.

Reflection and Discussion Questions  
  1. What percentage of your prayer time is spent deepening your relationship with God through confession, obedience, repentance, and submission?
  2. How often do you specifically spend time confessing to God?
  3. What are the specific dangers of telling God how He ought to answer your prayer request?
  4. What example can you give where you simply asked God what He wanted you to do and He led you in a whole new direction?
  5. Is there currently an area of your life where God is calling for obedience?

Action Step
Take a few minutes and ask God to lead you through a prayer where you purposely spend time in petition, confession, obedience, repentance, and submission. What did He lead you to do?

Prayer Point

Father, I confess that at times I have offered You prideful, self-centered, self-serving prayers. I forced You to answer “no” because I focused on my glory and not Yours. Please lead me to quickly confess and repent and to instantaneously submit and obey. This is not about convincing You to bless me but about glorifying You in how I pray. May my reckless and relentless passion for You lead along the road of humility.

Dean Trune is the director of International Impact Living Ministries. This aricle is excerpted from his book The Path Toward Passion (c) 2009 PrayerShop Publishing. Used by permission.
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