I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.
—John Ruskin

Humility Precedes the Miracles: Part 1

By Stephen M. Bird. April 5, 2013.
(Excerpt from Prayers That Bring Miracles)   Print this Article

Look at the prodigal son’s approach to his father when he returned home for help. The scriptures record that “when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: Make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:17-19).

Notice his humility and reverence. What a contrast with the beggars of Macao [who demanded alms]. Notice how he was humbled and prepared to receive whatever his father might offer. His highest hope was to work as a servant for his dad. Ironically, his humble return to his father resulted in a gift and celebration far greater than that which would be given for a servant, for his father received him as his son. Similarly, we will be received as God's children when we humble ourselves before him.

Humility in prayer indicates that we understand the differences between ourselves and God, who has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). He wants to know if we can see the truth about ourselves. Someone who can't recognize this simple truth can't be humble.

“Ye are my friends, if ...” (John 15:14).

Christ said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). He requires our respect and obedience if we want His help. He set it up that way to interrupt our selfish focus and help us see beyond our little world. When we want to close the distance between us, we have to seek Him on His terms, which are that we be honest and wise enough to recognize our low station. Real understanding of God and ourselves creates humility and reverence in His presence.

King Manasseh: vilest of sinners

Real reverence reaches Heavenly Father in a real way. Even the vilest of sinners can obtain good things from God if they approach Him humbly. Manasseh was a loathsome king of Judah who built altars to false gods and groves for licentious worship practices. He burned some of his children alive as sacrifices to his false gods. He listened to astrologers “and used enchangments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God” (2 Chr. 33:6-7).

So God brought in the Assyrians, who took Manasseh [1] captive to Assyra in chains. Then Manasseh “besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and [God] was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God” (2 Chr. 33:10-13; emphasis mine).

The prophet Daniel

The prophet Daniel had an extraordinary relationship with God and received many miraculous blessings and gifts from him. But Daniel did not approach his Father carelessly. Instead he approached God with deep respect and humility. We can see his marvelous humility by studying one of his prayers. He said, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession” (Dan. 9:3-4).

To get an idea of the pains Daniel took to humble himself, we can go to the dictionaries. Supplications are humble petitions. [2] Fasting means to “abstain from all or some kinds of food as a ... sign of mourning.” [3] Sackcloth is “ a dark-colored material of goat or camel hair used for making grain bags and garments... A garment of sackcloth was uncomfortable and was therefore worn by those in mourning ... [as] a sign of distress and repentance.” [4] “Ashes signify destruction ... and are contrasted with glory. Sitting on them or putting them on one’s head were rituals of mourning and repentance... Ashes are also mentioned as symbolic of insignificance.” [5] Confession is “a general acknowledgement of sin.” [6]

Daniel devotes this entire chapter to humbling himself before our Father, and at the end of his confession, the angel Gabriel comes to give him “skill and understanding” (Dan. 9:22). In the next chapter, Daniel humbles himself again for three weeks, and another angel comes to answer his prayer and says: “From the first day that thou didst ... chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words” (Dan. 10:12).

The word chasten means “to punish in order to correct or make better; chastise ... subdue ... to make purer in style; [or] refine.” [7] So after Daniel chastises, or humbles, himself, he is visited by two angels, both of whom commented that Daniel was “greatly beloved” (Dan. 9:23; 10:11). Can the connection between humility and God’s affection be more clear? The Lord told King Josiah, “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before [Me] ... I have even heard thee also saith the Lord” (2 Chr. 34:27).

Humility is the solid foundation of strength

President David O. McKay said “humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues.” [8] We know that it is an essential ingredient of charity (1 Cor. 13:4-6). A careful search of the scriptures will show that the Lord “resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). A quick review of various concordances under the key word humility and its synonyms (humble, penitent, meek, contrite, mild, submissive, subjection, resignation, self-abasement, mortification, etc.) will reveal many more scriptures extolling humility before God.

Pharoah refused to humble himself before the Lord, so God gave him and the Egyptians lessons on humility with the ten plagues (see Ex. 10:3-4). Our Heavenly Father took the Israelites into the wilderness to humble them. Moses couldn’t have been more clear when he told them to “remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee” (Deut. 8:2; emphasis mine).

The Lord emphasized the importance of humility to King Solomon at the temple dedication by saying: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chr. 7:14). He told Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15). When one is contrite, one is “feeling deep sorrow or remorse for having sinned or done wrong; penitent.” [9] Jesus Himself spoke plainly, saying, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).

Although the sacrifices of the Law of Moses are no longer required, the Lord still requires the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (Ps. 51:17). Proud men crowd God out of their hearts, minds, and lives because they are too concerned about their own affairs. Humility fosters the sacrifice of selfish concerns and brings men closer to God.

Humility is crucial to revelation and to miracles. All of the prophets were humble before God. The Jews regard Moses as the greatest of all their prophets. He was their lawgiver who delivered them from Egypt and established them as a nation. Moses’ humility was heightened after he saw God’s creations. Afterward he collapsed and said, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I had never supposed” (Moses 1:10). Our Heavenly Father worked so many miracles through Moses, at least in part, because he was “meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). As we shall see in chapter five [of my book], faith is a vital ingredient in any miracle, and humility is vital to faith. Moroni said we “cannot have faith and hope, save [we] shall be meek, and lowly of heart” (Moro. 7:43). So Moses’ great humility was a necessary part of his great faith.

Moses was “meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth”

Many of the prophets professed their humility explicitly in the scriptures. Abraham confessed to God, “I ... am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). Ammon said, “I know that I am nothing; ... I am weak” (Alma 26:12). A Book of Mormon prophet who saw the big picture said, “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men ... less than the dust of the earth” (Hel. 12:7). Samuel the prophet reminded Saul, “When thou wast little in thine own sight ... the Lord anointed thee king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:16-17). King Solomon asked for wisdom because he was very humble. He told God, “I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in... And the speech pleased the Lord” (1 Kgs. 3:7-10). Our Lord Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29).

Many persons wonder why they seem unable to hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. Could it be that the problem is pride? Nephi said the proud “are they whom [God] despiseth; and save they shall cast these things [pride] away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the dephs of humility, he will not open unto them” (2 Ne. 9:42).

Why are so many miracles received during times of crushing crisis? Because we are so humbled? Does God allow suffering to humble us? Do we need such extreme circumstances to pulverize our pride so God can bless us? Are we ordinarily too proud to search the scriptures or pray sincerely or honestly face our sins?

Alma entreated everyone: “Let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance... Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:29-30). Honestly facing our sins will bring us down to the depths of humility. Prophets, sacrificing food and pleasures, have gone into the desert to obtain a proper and humbling perspective of God. They've faced their sins and realized their own nothingness. Only then did they meet our Heavenly Father.

Humility respects, but Pride disrespects

Humility before God is a significant part of the respect necessary for a successful relationship with God. Actually, respect is the foundation of all successful relationships. What happens to the relationship of a married couple when one spouse loses all respect for the other? What happens to their communication? What happens to their love, trust, and faith in each other? Is it really possible to have love without respect?

Yet we manifest disprespect if we approach the Lord in an attitude of carelessness or indifference. Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple because in their casual, “business as usual” attitude he saw no respect for his Father in Heaven.

Alma asked, “Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God” (Alma 5:28). King Benjamin implored us to “always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness ... and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily” (Mosiah 4:11). And as Thomas B. Marsh learned, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers” (D&C 112:10).

So the first step toward pulling the powers of heaven into our lives is to call to our Heavenly Father with reverence and respect, descending into the depths of humility before him.


[1] Verse 11 says that “the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh.” It looks to me as though the Lord actively intervened in this instance, while letting the Assyrians operate.

[2] J. B. Sykes, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 1160.

[3] Ibid., 378.

[4] Paul J. Achtemeier, general ed., Harper's Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), 890.

[5] Ibid., 75.

[6] Webster’ New World Dictionary, 297.

[7] Ibid., 241.

[8] David O. McKay. In Obert C. Tanner, Christ's Ideals for Living (Salt Lake City: Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Foundation, 1981), 39.

[9] Webster's New World Dictionary, 309; emphasis mine.

[Note: All scriptures refer to the King James Version of the Bible, except where another translation is noted.]


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