Requirements of True Prayer (3): Humility and Confidence
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following post was adapted from a sermon called "In the School of Prayer: The Requirements of True Prayer," preached by Prof. Ron Cammenga on March 26, 2023, at Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church. Listen to the whole sermon here, or read on for part three of this series.
Sincerity and humility, closely connected.
Our coming to God in sincerity of heart is that we humble ourselves before God in prayer. This then is the second requirement of acceptable prayer according to the 117th Answer: that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery, so we may deeply humble ourselves in the presence of his divine majesty.
Humility before God is grounded in at least two fundamental truths that come out in this part of the 117th Answer. First, the Catechism teaches us that we are mere creatures in the presence of the majesty, the majesty of God. His divine majesty. The Catechism says that we must rightly and thoroughly know our need, the need that we have in the presence of God's divine majesty. We are a needy people. That must be the conviction of our hearts. That must drive us to prayer.
We are a needy people in prayer. We look to God in our need. In prayer we call upon God, giving expression to our need. And in prayer we beseech God for the supply of our need. This is the very essence of prayer. Certainly it includes our physical need since we do not have anything, anything on account of our own ability. We have not the least ability to care for ourselves. We humble ourselves before the one who cares for us.
There is not very much humility in prayer today. That becomes evident in the posture of prayer. That becomes evident in the language of prayer. Undoubtedly one reason for that lack of humility is the loss of the sense of our need, that we are a needy people. Pride, unbelievable pride, the arrogance of those who are independent is the rule. In our day there is no sense of the majesty of God anymore. The explanation for that is largely the teaching of evolution. Man is independent. Man has no need of God. We have ourselves brought ourselves to where we are today. And so, we pat ourselves on the back. That teaching is destructive, utterly destructive, to humility and that's what's happening as a fruit of that teaching in the churches today.
But secondly, the reason for humility is not merely the sense that we are dependent creatures, have nothing in ourselves, but that we are sinful creatures. That's the thing that must drive our humility. The Catechism says that we rightly and thoroughly know our need and misery—and anyone who's acquainted with the Heidelberg Catechism picks up on that key word in the Catechism, misery—for from the very beginning, the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism is that our misery is our sin and the guilt of our sin before God. That's what makes us such miserable men and women. A humble prayer, therefore, is a prayer that recognizes our sinfulness. It is a repentant prayer.
Whenever we come to God in prayer, we must come as those who are truly sorry for their sins, as those who are broken over sin. Not to be sorry for our sins, to come into God's presence with pride of heart, that's the extreme form of a lack of humility. In Psalm 138:6 the psalmist says that the proud dare not approach, dare not draw near to God. One who prays to God while deliberately going on in sin, not only prays insincerely, but he prays without the necessary humility. Only the sinner broken over his sin, like the publican in Jesus' parable who could not lift up his eyes even to heaven, prays in humility.
This is one of the most serious deficiencies in prayer today and that, again, is evident in posture, in language, lack of humility, and then add to that, listen for that in all the prayers that you hear, the complete lack of the petition for the forgiveness of our sins. It's missing. It's missing in 90 percent of prayers in the church world today. But there's a reason for that, and that reason is, of course, the teaching that prevails in the churches that, "I have some good in me. I am a good person. At the very least, I have a free will so that I can choose my own salvation." And so, man is not cut down and humbled as he ought to be. Instead, he's lifted up in pride, and that has its fruits in prayer.
Although we are to pray in humility, that humility is not destructive to confidence. This is the last requirement of prayer: we are not only to approach God humbly but also with confidence, and that clearly is the teaching of Asaph in the Psalm that we read. That's verses 14 and 15, "Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me." The last verse of the Psalm, "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God."
Confidence in prayer, because God has commanded us to pray. Confidence in prayer, because he's promised in his word that he'll hear our prayers and answer them. Confidence in prayer, because the one to whom we draw near is our Father, the God of the covenant, who loves us as his own dear children. He's going to answer our prayers. And then, confidence that God will hear and answer our prayers for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior. That's the reason for confidence. Not at all in ourselves, not in our prayers, but our confidence in prayer is in Jesus Christ. He is the confidence that although we are altogether unworthy of it, for Christ's sake, God will certainly hear and answer our prayers.
And that's the last part of the 117th Answer. That ought to motivate us to pray. We ought to be motivated to pray, because God requires us to pray. We ought to pray, because in prayer we enjoy communion with God. We ought to pray, because prayer is the chief part of the thankful life of every Christian. We ought to pray, because God will give his grace and his Holy Spirit only to those who with sincere desires ask them of him. And now, we ought to be motivated to pray, because God promises that he will hear and he will answer our prayers.
In Psalm 34:15 the psalmist writes, "The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry." Cry, people of God. Cry out to your heavenly Father in prayer. Cry out to him in the confidence that he will hear you, that his ears are open to your cries. Cry out to him in the confidence that for Jesus' sake he will answer your cries.