Tim Kerr: If prayer is such a good thing, why does it seem so hard?
We've invited Tim Kerr, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church Toronto (Ontario), to answer the question, "If prayer is such a good thing, why does it seem so hard?"
Tim has studied and taught on the topic of prayer extensively. Most recently, Tim spoke on this topic at The Gospel Coalition's Regional Conference in Ontario. Tim is also the author of the excellent Scripture-based prayer resource Take Words With You.
If prayer is such a good thing, why does it seem so hard? Of the many reasons for this struggle, most would not come up with the reason given by the prophet Isaiah: “There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (Isa. 64:7).
According to Isaiah, prayerlessness is evidence of a judgment from God. This is sobering to contemplate. With a few notable exceptions, the North American church is not especially known for its vibrant prayer life. This problem, according to Isaiah, is not going to be fixed by a few more strong exhortations, reading the right books, a new conference on prayer, or even better daily discipline.
If the sun were removed from our solar system, the earth would quickly grow dark, cold, and all life would soon stop. We need the sun’s presence to stay alive. In spite of all of our technological progress, we are utterly dependent on the sun. In the same way, we are dependent on the light of God’s face for prayer. If God hides his face from us, prayer becomes very difficult, if not impossible.
Until the light of God’s face shines on us, our prayers will likely remain shallow, short, or absent altogether. Isaiah mentions another cause of prayerlessness: our sin. The word “melt” has the idea of losing strength. Indulged sin, even if limited to the thought life, will effectively paralyze prayer.
So what’s to be done? In order to receive the grace to change, we need to implore God to help us, but that is our problem in the first place!
If sin makes God hide his face, the great question is, “What then makes God show his face?” If we find the answer to this, we will start to unravel the root problem of our prayerlessness.
The Scripture speaks of only one reality that compels the Almighty to turn his face toward us. When the Ancient of Days has His exacting justice fully satisfied, all shall be well between creature and Creator. But how can an infinite being ever be fully satisfied? An offering must be made that is not only capable of dying the sinners death, but of swallowing the everlasting darkness of that infinite sentence. Surely only one who is both Transcendent and Immanent could possibly qualify. Infinite Spirit mixed with flesh and blood. Set apart from sinners yet not set apart from humanity.
Here is the word we are looking for. Propitiation. Where the offended God is appeased fully. Where fury is turned to favour. The lamb slain from the foundation of the earth. Sent on a mission propelled by God’s love to drink every drop of the wine of God’s wrath. Not a drop left over for us. Not a single drop!
In other words, propitiation provides for prayer! So here’s the practical part. The first movements of renewal in prayer begin with a look at Calvary—but not in the way we usually look at that sacred cross. We are prone to see the cross horizontally—what it does for us, what Jesus did on the cross for us. But the jumper cable “look” at the cross that restarts our prayer lives is of a completely different variety. We must look at the cross vertically—what the cross did to God, how the cross affected infinite holiness. How the cross satisfied God.
Look now. Do you see the light of his face? The frown of God turned to a smile! Nothing reinvigorates prayer like the welcoming face of our God, arms outstretched, welcoming us into his presence! Let that light draw you to Him today!
“In the light of a king's face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain” (Prov. 16:15).
For further resources from Tim, please see the series of articles he contributed to desiringGod on "Pastors, Devote Yourselves to the Word and to Prayer."
You can also download Take Words with You here for free.