If My People...Humble
January 10, 2010 Series: If My People...
Topic: Prayer Passage: 2 Chronicles 7:13–7:14
“If My People…Humble Themselves…I Will Hear”
Last week Allen gave us some background on 2 Chronicles 7. This is the passage that we’re drawing our theme for this series from; “If My People…” Solomon has completed the temple; he’s prepared and offered an extravagant sacrifice for the Lord which was accepted with fire from heaven and he prayed a prayer of dedication to the Lord on behalf of the people of Israel. Then God appeared to Solomon and answered his prayer. Today we’re going to read verses 13-14 and focus on verse 14a; “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves...” What does it mean to humble ourselves and pray?
Last week when we announced that we were taking this month to focus on prayer, you might not have had the most positive response in your heart. Prayer may be one of those long standing struggles for you and you don’t want to hear it again, you may have been tempted to just check out. Or this topic might bring on feelings of condemnation because you want to see growth but haven’t and your discouraged. Well, I hope that I can regain your attention by telling you that we’re not going to talk about the how-to’s of prayer. There will be no prayer plans, no prayer charts, no prayerometers. Instead what we’re going to talk about is our hearts; the disposition and posture of our hearts toward God.
But first I feel it’s important for me to tell you something about myself. I want you to know who I am. By God’s grace I’m pursuing humility but I do not consider myself to be a humble man. I want to love my wife the way Christ loved the church but my love for her is lacking. I want to love my children the way the Father has loved me but my love for them falls short. I want to love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength but my love for Him is incomplete. But I do have one love that’s all encompassing; one love that demands all my attention, all my affection and all my energy. It’s this love that keeps me from loving all the rest. This one detrimental infatuation is me. I love me. And every chance I get I’m tempted to cater to me, to prefer me, to please me, to listen to me. I trust me, I protect me, and I look out for me. I want to worship me. This is why I need to hear this message today. And I believe if we’re honest, we would say we’re all in the same boat. We need change…Amen. So let’s ask God for help and then we’ll go to the word and explore what it means to humble ourselves and pray.
Read 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
“13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Notice that the 1st condition of this “if-then” promise is for the people of God to “humble themselves”. God is saying, “first humble yourselves then come to me and pray and seek my face and repent”. So, there’s a condition, a prerequisite required for God to hear and answer.
But what does it really mean to humble ourselves and pray? Are we supposed to put on sackcloth and ashes? Should we devote our lives to poverty? Should we walk around beating ourselves with sticks so that we make sure not to indulge in any pleasure?
What God is requiring is the same thing He has always required. This is no different than what we each did when we repented for the first time. (MAYBE DRAW OUT) It’s not just an outward action; it’s the very essence of who we are. Humbling ourselves isn’t what we do, it’s what we believe. And what we believe informs the way we live. Humbling ourselves is a matter of the heart. The act of humbling ourselves isn’t intended to be an isolated event; God wants everything. So we have to start at the root.
Weeding illustration-Bridges Pg.141. This morning we want to go for the root.
James knows how to get to the root. Most of us are familiar with James 4, let’s turn there and read 1-3. He reveals our motivation by drawing a straight line from our fights, quarrels and anger to the motivation of our heart: passions and desires; more specifically passions that are waging war inside of us and unmet desires. James also reveals the motives of the heart by draws another line from self centered or even nonexistent prayers to our heart. Now we can see the symptoms (anger, fights, nonexistent or wrongly motivated prayers) and the motivations (selfish, self centered desires and passions) but we still don’t see the root. So we have to keep digging-let’s dig into verse 4: “You adulterous people!” OK, now we have the root. The last line James draws is from our heart to God. The symptoms reveal our heart toward God. If we’re proud, pursuing and demanding our own way, James calls us adulterers and enemies of God. God is jealous for the whole heart of His people and he won’t accept less.
Do you struggle to pray? Do you want to pray? You know you should pray, you know you should desire to pray but maybe you don’t. What do you do? Look for a better plan, wait till the New Year to make a new resolution, give up? You have to look for the root, which is in the heart. What is the posture of your heart toward God? Are you submitted to Him or are you demanding of Him? Do the symptoms of your life reveal a desire to see you or God glorified? If we struggle with prayer we probably have a problem with our hearts posture toward God.
Our heart’s posture toward God will dictate every aspect of our lives including our prayer. As a church, (I’m assuming I represent your heart when I say this), we want grow; grow in maturity; grow in size; grow in our ability to reach the lost in this community; we want to grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We want to see the power of God at work in our midst. We want to experience the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. We want see the sick healed, sins overcome and marriages restored. But in order for this to happen, we have to love Him more than ourselves; we have to desire all glory and honor to go to Him and not us; we have to want what He wants more than what we want. How can we expect to experience the power of God if we treat Him like we don’t need it?
Our pride and sinful desires are focused on us and away from God. Pride lives in each of our hearts and we must root it out. But we can’t do it on our own, that would be pride. We have to start at the cross.
Humbling ourselves is the most appropriate response to Gods merciful disposition toward us. Here’s a quote from Jonathan Edwards and a definition of humility, from CJ Mahaney’s book Humility that I think will help set us get on the right track:
“Our definition of humility must be biblical and not simply pragmatic, and in order to be biblical it must begin with God. As John Calvin wrote, ‘It is evident that man never attains a true self knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.’ That’s where the following definition can help us: Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of Gods holiness and our sinfulness.” CJ Mahaney, Humility
The gospel is our starting point. In The Bookends of the Christian Life, Jerry Bridges quotes John Stott and then describes why the gospel is necessary for an accurate self assessment:
“John Stott described the best place to find the basis for such humility: ‘Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves…until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross that we shrink to our true size.’ Why is a fresh view of the cross needed in order to cultivate humility? When we see Jesus there bearing our sin, we also see exactly what we deserve from God for each sin we commit. Then and only then can we begin to honestly assess ourselves.” Jerry Bridges, Bookends
Responding to the gospel is our only hope. It’s where we find truth and power. And we need power to fight our pride because to fight pride we must deny ourselves.
Humbling ourselves requires self denial. Look back at 2 Chronicles 7:13- “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people” A lot of people aren’t getting what they want. And it’s not because they don’t have enough faith. God says, “When I…”.
Now, I don’t think any books on the topic of self denial every made the NY Times best seller list. But it does follow perfect suit with the gospel; the most extreme display of self denial that ever occurred, and it was for our sake. Jesus denied himself of everything, why would we think it would be any different for us? It’s not-turn to Philippians 2:6-9:
“Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him…”
James goes to self denial as well in verses 7-10. Submit to God (not yourself). Resist the devil (enemy) and the desires and passions that rule the heart. Draw near to God (not the world). Mourn and weep, understand your true condition, don’t laugh and find pleasure in this world, repent, turn from your sin and humble yourself. Humble yourself and let God exalt you, let God lift your head, let God be your strength, let God be your everything. Humble yourself and He will give you grace.
God says: If you exalt yourself I will oppose you, you’ll be my enemy, you’ll strive and toil and never be satisfied and I will humble you; but if you humble yourself, I will give you favor and power to accomplish more than you ever thought possible and I will exalt you. When God exalts us there is joy unspeakable.
CJ Mahaney again:
“This is the promise of humility. God is personally and providentially supportive of the humble. And the grace he extends to the humble is indescribably rich. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The pleasures of humility are really the most refined, inward and exquisite delights in the world.” CJ Mahaney, Humility
We’ll never be disappointed or put to shame if we deny ourselves and humble ourselves before the Lord. But what does this have to do with prayer? It has everything to do with prayer. In the same way that Mickey and his family couldn’t enjoy their back yard until He attacked the roots of the poison ivy, pride will continue to hinder our prayers until we deal with the root of our love for ourselves.
Humbling ourselves happens in our hearts and affects every aspect of our lives. But humbling ourselves also is essential in cultivating a life of fervent and powerful prayer. And as a church we desire to grow in our experience of prayer. But we will never grow more corporately than we grow individually.
I’d to call the band back up and I want to leave you with this amazing truth: Humbling ourselves gets the attention of our God. Isaiah 66:1-2 says,
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.’”
If you want to see your prayers draw the attention of the almighty creator, humbling yourself.