Consider what God says to us regarding prayer. First we are told, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6, ESV). Then the Bible says, “No one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:11, ESV). In Scripture it is a given that we will not seek the Lord as we should.
Again and again we are shown God’s standard of perfection—and our inability to reach it. Why? It is so that we can avoid the fate of the Pharisees. They got up early in the morning and prayed long prayers. They constructed rules to keep an appearance of holy behavior. But Jesus points out that while they appeared clean on the outside, their hearts were dark and rotten. “You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39, ESV).
God is after a deeper work in us—deeper than we could ever accomplish on our own. Paul sums it up in one brief passage: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . . Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3, ESV).
When our obedient works are not fashioned by the grace of God, we feel it. On the surface we may feel proud of what we seem to achieve, but when we fail, we feel discouraged to the point of giving up, thinking, “This is too heavy a burden. I can’t take it anymore.”
Exactly! That’s the point: It is too heavy a burden. This is why Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).