3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”
7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a sabbath day’s journey away.13 When they entered the city, they went to the upstairs room where they were staying. Peter, John, James, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James, Alphaeus’ son; Simon the zealot; and Judas, James’ son— 14 all were united in their devotion to prayer, along with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
Thoughts on the passage:
What do you do when you are given an assignment or a job to do? Whether it is something for work, for school, or around the house, most of us have some pretty definite tendencies when it comes to getting things done. Some of us are the jump right in kind of people. Others like to put together a careful plan before getting started. Still others procrastinate and leave things to the last minute. Whether the method is intentional or not, we almost all have specific ways that we react when given an assignment.
When you think about it, the ways we react can basically be broken down into two groups, doing something or avoiding do something. Doing something can mean just trying things without much thought or it can mean creating a plan or getting organized, but the essential thing is that you are not waiting to get going. On the other side of things is the tendency to do nothing right away. Some people do this naturally because they leave things to the last minute. Others are distracted or too busy with what is going on in their lives already. Still others do nothing because they are voiding the task at hand. Whatever the reason, this group of people does not start to work on what needs to be done but leaves that work until later.
In our story in Acts, the disciples are given an assignment: be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. Their response to this charge is what is interesting to me. They do not avoid the command (like many of us might be tempted to do). They also do not immediately jump right in, dividing up tasks and heading out to start witnessing to Christ. Instead, they wait and pray.
Waiting and praying, how many of us are good at that? I wish I could say I was good at it, but I tend to either jump right in and get going on something or procrastinate until the last minute (if I don’t really want to do it). Many of us might be good at one or the other of these two things as well. Some of us might wait before doing things or some of us might pray before doing things, but I suspect that most of us do not both wait and pray.
Waiting and praying is a very deliberate act. It is not doing nothing, that would simply be waiting, and it is not simply praying and then doing. By combining these two actions we tie our actions to God’s response. When we wait and pray, we allow God to set the plan and the timetable. For those of us who like to get going this is hard because sometimes it means waiting a while. For those who want to leave things out it can be equally difficult, because once God tells us what to do it is hard to avoid or ignore it. (If you don’t believe me, see how well that worked for Jonah)
When I first heard the Healthy Church Initiative recommendations for our church, I almost immediately started thinking about all the ways that we could start to implement them. I was ready to jump in right away and get to work. What I have been trying to do however is to focus instead on this idea of “wait and pray.” Rather than simply getting to work on things, I am trying to take the time stop and listen to what God is saying. I want to leave room for the Holy Spirit in this process.
There were a lot of reasons why we set the vote on the HCI recommendations for next week. One of the biggest reasons was that June 4th is Pentecost Sunday. This is the day that the disciples were waiting and praying for. Pentecost is the day where Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit to help the disciples in their work is fulfilled. We are voting as a congregation on the same day because it is good for us to remember that without the Holy Spirit, our voting is meaningless. It does matter what we decide to do if we are doing it without the help of God.
I do not just want to leave us with this idea that all we need to do is wait and pray without reminding us that this is hard. We are not as a rule good at waiting. Most of us even when we wait are doing something. Procrastination is not doing nothing, it is just not doing what you need to be doing. I once read something that said the average silent prayer in church was ten seconds. My first thought was there is no way that is true. Then I started to pay attention and I realized something, praying silently for any length of time is hard. Most of us start to get a little restless often by the fifteen second mark. The idea of spending one minute in silent prayer does not seem like much until you try and do it. I wish I could tell you the reason behind it, but deep down waiting and praying is hard.
Waiting and praying is what we need to be doing right now. As we get ready for Pentecost, we need to wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to enter into our hearts and lives. We need to not rush ahead with our own plans and ideas. We need to wait and pray that God is the one who leads us. We need to resist whatever temptations we have to get started or to not get started. Instead, we need to focus ourselves on gathering together, as a community, and praying that we might be empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are going to need it if we are going to live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world.
Questions to Ponder:
What is your first instinct when you are given a job?
How do you make time in your life to wait and pray for God’s guidance?
When is a time you have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life?
God, grant us your wisdom and patience. Help us to wait and pray that we might be guided by your Spirit. Enable us to resist our own instincts to rush in and do and instead to wait for you to take the lead. Bless our congregation as we enter into this time of sacred prayer and discernment that we might know your will for our church. Amen