“There are two ways to attain high esteem. One is the world’s method: Take every opportunity to promote yourself before others, seize occasions for recognition and manipulate your way into the center of attention. The other way is God’s way: Humble yourself. Rather than striving for recognition and influential positions, seek to put others first. Cultivate humility, for it does not come naturally. One of the many paradoxes of the Christian life is that when God sees your genuine humility, He exalts you.” – Henry Blackaby
Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra was asked what was the most difficult instrument to play. Without hesitation he replied, “The second fiddle! I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” This is the problem we as Christians face. We don’t easily want to play second fiddle because it’s too humbling a position. We want to be important. We want to be first, but how we can cultivate a humble heart in our prayer life.
In John 12 Mary of Bethany offered thanks humbly at the feet of Jesus. She freely gave her all with a grateful and abandoned heart. Clothing herself in humility, she poured a perfume on Jesus that he quickly recognized because of the sacrifice. It was costly.
Many of us are worried about our finances and are consumed with thinking about an uncertain future. We worry about our retirement or money for college. Mary gave her most valuable possession—worth $40,000 in our day—her entire inheritance and future. Take a moment to think about the reality of what Mary did in this one humble act. She freely gave her all to Jesus, and the fragrance of what she did filled the entire room. It seems in a world that is getting progressively dark, a fragrance of humility would make a marked difference. Mary had a humble heart.
As we evaluate our life, what is one of the best things we can give one another, and especially those in our own family? Perhaps we can offer a humble heart—a heart that looks out for the interests of others and is not self-seeking or proud, a heart that serves and loves unconditionally, and a heart that cultivates humility in prayer. Isn’t this what Jesus wants in our life? He hates pride and selfish ambition, but He loves the meek and lowly.
Did you hear about the minister who said he had a wonderful sermon on humility, but he was waiting for a large crowd before preaching it? I think we can all identify with this preacher because we all need to grow in humility. It does not come naturally.
Perhaps we need to be more like the scientist George Washington Carver. He developed hundreds of useful products from the peanut! When he was young he asked God to tell him the mystery of the universe. But God answered: That knowledge is reserved for me alone. So he said, “God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.” Then God said, “Well, George, that’s more nearly your size.” And he told him.
A good example of both the proud and the humble is Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector found favor with God. We read in Luke 18:13-14: “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
Cultivating Humility in PrayerJesus is our daily example of humility. As you consider cultivating humility, ask God to develop humility in your prayer life. Meditate long and carefully on the humility of Jesus as you apply the following:
- Have a worshipping heart – Jesus had a worshipful heart. Worship and praise open the heavens and bring heavens blessings onto the earth. It ushers in the glory of God. Begin your prayer time with a worshipping heart. Enter God’s court with praise.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5).
- Have a grateful heart – Jesus was always grateful. Gratefulness ministers the fragrance of thanksgiving and kindness. It carries a heavenly fragrance. It moves our eyes off of our self and esteems God. It brings encouragement and victory. A grateful heart changes the atmosphere around us. Thank God for specific things He has done for you this past year.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
- Have an abandoned heart – Jesus gave His all for us. He did not use His divine power for His own ends while on earth but lived dependent on the Holy Spirit and abandoned to God. Jesus emptied Himself completely. In prayer have you laid all your plans and desires at His feet?
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:6-7).
- Have an obedient heart – Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross. He embraced a type of death that involved indescribable emotional shame and physical pain. In God’s presence, evaluate your life in the area of obedience. Write a prayer asking God to help you in any areas where you struggle in obedience.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).
- Have a servant’s heart – Jesus was the servant of all. See John 13:3-17. He made Himself of no reputation. He embraced shame and disgrace as a servant. He hid his glory under the veil of humanity and did not insist on His own rights. Evaluate your heart, and repent of any lack of humility or servanthood in your life. Take time being still, and then specifically bring them before the Lord.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” (Mark 10:45).
- Have a considerate heart – Jesus considered others as more important than Himself. He was not self-absorbed or self-preoccupied, but He was absorbed in the good of others. As you pray, consider others. Don’t be preoccupied with praying only for yourself, but bring the needs of others before the Lord in prayer.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3-5).
Let’s ask God to teach us humility in our daily life and in our prayers.
Simple acts of humility will make a difference in a world that esteems getting ahead and self-promotion. Jesus is our greatest example. He is out to win our hearts for love. One so strong and tender stooped so low for each one of us. Can we not do the same for Him?
“That which brings the praying soul near to God is humility of heart. That which gives wings to prayer is lowliness of mind. Pride, self-esteem, and self-praise effectually shut the door of prayer. He who would come to God must approach the Lord with self hidden from his eyes. Humility is a rare Christian grace of great price in the courts of heaven, entering into and being an inseparable condition of effectual praying. It gives access to God when other qualities fail. Its full portrait is found only in the Lord Jesus. Our prayers must be set low before they can ever rise high.” E. M. Bounds
Together in the Harvest,
Intercessors Arise International
International House of Prayer (IHOP) KC Staff
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some form of an invisible protective shield around us while we pray to keep the distractions away from us? Yes! And here’s some good news: each one of us can and should build this protective shield to guard our Salah as per the instructions given in the Qur’an and the Sunnah:
And those who strictly guard their Prayer (Al-Mu’minun 23:9)
This verse goes to show that our salah needs to be constantly shielded and guarded from everything that affects its quality.
The collective attentiveness in the actions of the heart, tongue and limbs form the basis of the khushu` protective shield.
In the first part of this article, we looked at the nature of khushu` and how it affects us both in and out of salah. Now we will look at some practical steps you can take on your path to developing khushu` in your own salah.
Here are some practical tips to maintain humility in prayer:
Increase in Islamic knowledge; learn about Allah, tawheed, His Names and Attributes, and various aspects and sciences of the Sunnah. Why? Because Allah says:
It is only the learned amongst His servants who truly fear Allah. (Fatir 35:28)
With regards to gaining knowledge, even our Prophet (peace be upon him) had a teacher to understand the deen (religion) of Allah: it was ibreel (Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him). Therefore, we must seek knowledge under the guidance of Islamic teachers and scholars.
2. On Time
Pray on time and plan your life around salah timings and not the other way around. Prioritize pleasing Allah over pleasing people. We can’t say, ’But I have work, I have to meet so-and-so etc.’ because before all of that came about, we already knew about our salah timings; so that’s not a valid excuse. But in situations that are out of our control, such as an exam, try to ask the moderator if a few minutes can be allowed for salah. That way we would have at least tried our best rather than not trying at all.
3. Seek Refuge in Allah
Seek refuge in Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) from Satan by saying ‘a`udhu billahi min Ash-Shaytan ir-rajeem’ (I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Satan) before starting the salah and during the salah too when needed. Also say bismillah (in the name of Allah) before beginning the salah.
4. Be Mindful
Contemporary psychologists use a very simple technique called ’Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy‘ to help people stay focused in the present moment rather than being engrossed in foggy thoughts of past or future while losing touch with reality. It means to simply remind yourself to come back to the present moment as soon as you realize that your thoughts have drifted away from what is happening right now.
With practice, insha’Allah we can benefit from this technique to maintain our khushu`. Start by being mindful of Allah when you make the intention for ablution; be attentive while doing the ablution; then recite the recommended du`aa’ (supplication) after completing the ablution. At all times of the day, keep away from anything that makes you forget the remembrance of Allah. Satan will use various tricks and tactics to divert us, so we have to be aware of his methods. The moment you realize that the heart and mind have wandered off, try to bring your attention back. The more often you do this, the more your humility will improve insha’Allah.
Read the tafseer (exegesis) of Surat Al-Fatihah; understand each verse and pause in between. (Tafseer by Ibn Kathir is recommended.) Remember, well-begun is half done! Read translations to understand all the surahs that you recite during salah. Try to offer Tahajjud and recite the Qur’an during those hours of the night, as that is a good time for understanding the words of Allah.
Always try to remind yourself that you are standing in front of Allah, pray as though you see Him; and if you cannot do that, then be aware that He is definitely seeing you. As you recite, visualize the Arabic words of each surah (chapter of the Qur’an). Do not close your eyes, but focus on the place of sujud (prostration).
7. Never Stop
Be wary of sticking to your salah, particularly in times of distress – it will help a lot in dealing with the situation as mentioned in the Qur’an:
Seek Allah’s help with patient perseverance and prayer. It is indeed hard except for those who are humbly submissive. (Al-Baqarah 2:45)
Help children develop their humility and concentration from a young age. Do not force them to offer salah; rather inspire them to come to salah.
8. Good Pace
Be attentive and relaxed by maintaining a good pace between salah actions, giving a minimum of 5 seconds or more per action. Every time you say ‘Allahu Akbar’, say it from your heart. Make your sujud a bit longer than usual, recite du`aa’s in it and also before the final Tasleem.
9. It Could Be the Last
Before approaching salah, remember the inevitable reality: death. Allah created us only to worship Him. Perform every salah as you would perform your last salah. We may not know when, but one day we will be praying our last one.
After each salah, develop a habit of reciting the supplications as recommended by our Prophet.
After reading this article and understanding what it says, it is really up to us to take a moment and step outside of our self, honestly analyze the quality of our salah, level of our iman (faith) and the impact of these on our life as a whole. We’ll all agree that correct knowledge is absolutely lovely, but it will be of no use to anyone at all until we actually decide to implement what we now know. It is only then that knowledge becomes lovelier and in turn beautifies us from inside and out.
Do not lose hope or give up if these tips do not work at first or do not provide an immediate solution. Remember that the seed of khushu` will grow only after a gentle rain of consistent reminders seep into the heart by Allah’s will.
The Humility in Prayer
This is a treatise we have written concerning humility (Khushu’) and the hearts meekness and breaking (inkisar) before the Lord. The basic meaning of Khushu’, is the softness of the heart, its being gentle, still, submissive, broken, and yearning. When the heart is humble, so too is the hearing, seeing, heard, and face; indeed all the limbs and their actions are humbled, even speech. This is why the Prophet (saw) would say in his bowing (ruku), “My hearing, sight, bones, and marrow are humbled to You,” another narration has, “and whatever my foot carries.” One of the Salaf saw a man fidgeting in his prayer and remarked, ‘If the heart of this person was humble, so too would his limbs be.’ The source of the Khushu, that takes place in the heart is the gnosis of Allah’s greatness, magnificence, and perfection. Teh more gnosis a person has of Allah, the more Khushu’ he has. The greatest action of worship which manifests the Khushu, of the body to Allah is the prayer (Salaah). Allah has praised those who have Khushu’ in the prayer.