I was unexpectedly asked once what I thought the church’s greatest need was in our time. So, let me spring that question on you. No doubt the list of possibilities is endless. Given the sad state of the church today, the length of that list would be legitimate. Hidden in plain sight among all Jesus’ sayings, though, is one thing for which He calls the church to plead with God most in this and every age.
In His teaching on prayer in Matthew 7:7–11, Jesus calls our renewed hearts to persistent pleading with our Father because this is the means He has ordained to give us what we need most. In our sinful anxiety that wants the quick fix to life (vv. 25–34), Jesus challenges us to beg like a little child for our truest of needs. Jesus invites us to plead: “Ask . . . seek . . . knock” (v. 7). Each of these verbs increases in intensity, as do our questions: Ask (“What if I get no response?”); seek (“What if, when I find Him, He has locked the door?”); knock (“What if the door doesn’t open up?”); knock (“What if it takes a while for Him to come to the door?); knock. Like the persistent widow, we are encouraged here “to the effect that [we] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).
Jesus goes on to promise that God will answer our pleading: “It will be given . . . you will find . . . it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7, emphasis added). As C. H. Spurgeon said, “The Lord intends to educate us by non-success as well as by success, and therefore He causes us to sigh and cry until His Spirit puts forth His power.”
So, what is it that Jesus promises will be given when we ask, found when we seek, and opened when we knock? In Matthew, Jesus speaks generally of God giving “good gifts” and “good things” (v. 11) such as those in the Lord’s Prayer: daily bread, forgiveness, and leading away from temptation.
But there’s something more specific. In the parallel passage in Luke 11:5–13, Jesus specifies what God will grant us if we obey: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (v. 13, emphasis added). Thus, John Calvin said the Holy Spirit is “what is to be sought above all else.” In its answer on why prayer is necessary, the Heidelberg Catechism says in part that “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with hearty sighing unceasingly beg them of Him and thank Him for them” (Q&A 116).
When you and I think about what our churches need most and what the church universal needs most today, Jesus reminds us that what the church needs most is the Holy Spirit—“the Lord and Giver of life” (Nicene Creed). Will you persistently plead, asking, seeking, and knocking for Him to be given? If so, God will answer.