Empowering the Church: Waiting
This is part two of empowering the church, a key principle for the church as a whole and individual Christians in particular.
The Power of Waiting For God
Key Principle #1: EMPOWERED part 2
The Power of Waiting For God
When was the last time you called upon your Ultimate Friend in the highest place to give you power? As you read the first chapter of Acts, you’ll see that power is not automatic, it is not guaranteed or unconditional, and neither is it instantaneous. In fact, there are times when the church has power and sometimes when it almost seems impotent. But there are some prerequisites for the church to have power and the first one is one of the hardest for Christians to do: Wait.
“And, being assembled together with them, (Jesus) commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father..” (Acts 1:4a). Put your finger in your Bible in Acts and check out the cross reference that ties this book back to the end of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24 and verse 49. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” The King James Version uses the word “tarry” in Luke and the Greek word is often translated as “to sit.” Now isn’t that a picture? The church has often been accused of “sitting on the premises” instead of “standing on the promises of God.” But to tarry doesn’t mean to be lazily and idly sitting around, but rather an active type of waiting, busily preparing for something great and might to come about.
I am blessed to be married to a wonderful woman, who, at this writing, I’ve known for right at 34 years. If she’s ever left at home alone, she is hardly ever just “sitting,” she is “tarrying.” She is actively cleaning, doing a creative memory scrapbook, busily doing something. She is a Martha, constantly working and getting ready for the upcoming day, week, month or whatever. That’s what Jesus called the church to do, actively wait on the Lord for power from on high.
The Acts passage uses a different word, unique in the New Testament, “wait for the promise of the Father.” It combines two words, one meaning “abide, remain or stay in one place” and the second word means “around.” So in other words, Jesus said to “wait around.” While Acts 1:4 is the only place where the word is used in the New Testament, it is used in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Check out Genesis 49:18, “I have waited for your salvation, O Lord!” There’s a longing for salvation and Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples to just hang around but to sit and expectantly await the Promise of the Father. That promise was the Holy Spirit.
God’s promise was the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit brings with Him power from on High. Does it ever seem to you that the church is powerless? Do you feel powerless in this world? We see the advancement of the secular world, encroaching on the morals and direction of our society, in our economy, in our politics, and all the while the church becomes less and less influential in the world. Where is that “dunamis” power? The Greek word for power is of course dunamis and is the basis for the English word “dynamite” but not many churches and not many Christians could be described today as dynamic. Why? It could be that our modern church is so influenced by society that we no longer waiting on God, expectantly anticipating His power, but instead we strike out on our own.
Waiting on God is difficult because it requires patience. I like the King James word for patience, “long-suffering,” which is what the compound word in the Greek literally means. There once was a grandmother who stood to pray before her children and numerous grandchildren at the Thanksgiving meal. She gave a long and heart-felt prayer of thanksgiving for all of her little blessings she had gathered around the table, praising God that the fruit of the womb was the gift of the Lord. No sooner than she said Amen did all of the children start clamoring and clawing for the food around the table. After a raucous roar, soon everyone noticed that Grandma was still standing with her eyes clenched tight and her mouth moving slightly. “Grandma, Grandma, what’s the matter?” the children called out. “Oh, nothing, I’m just praying for the patience to handle all the blessings He’s given me.”
God’s blessings take patience and sometimes even long-suffering to see but they will only come if we wait patiently and with assured anticipation that God will come through. Samuel Beckett was a playwright and most famously the author of the play “Waiting for Godot.” Godot (not pronounced as I heard a radio announcer say one time as “Go-Dot” but rather it is French and pronounced GO-doh). Beckett refused to say definitively who or what Godot represented but the main man in the play waits and waits for the man who never arrives. Some people have felt they have waited and waited on God and He never arrives. I wish I could say that God always comes, like the cavalry from the old westerns, over the hill just in the nick of time. If Beckett, an admitted skeptic and agnostic, wrote his play to mock those believers who aimlessly and errantly wait on God, only to be disappointed, he probably has a lot of people in his corner. There have been times when I’ve waited and waited on God, as a train comes barreling down the track. Sometimes I’ve jumped left when I should have jumped right, sometimes I did just the opposite and sometimes I’ve been run right down by that barreling train.
In context to Acts 1, Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 of the 50 days prior to Pentecost and after His resurrection. This command to wait may have been given twice, first after the resurrection, as indicated by Luke 24, and again just prior to His ascension to heaven, as indicated in Acts 1. If that’s the case, then Peter and John and a few other disciples needed that second reminder but they went back to fishing in Galilee (see John 21). Sometimes we think we are obeying and waiting on God, but we aren’t really. We know Jesus appeared to the disciples, minus Thomas, the evening after the Resurrection and again a week later with Thomas present. He made other appearances undoubtedly as Paul says Jesus appeared individually to Peter and to his own half-brother, James, the future leader of the Jerusalem church. I would think Jesus would have appeared to his earthly mother, although the Scriptures don’t explicitly state that. She was among the 120 waiting in Jerusalem when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit came. But the John 21 fishing trip may have come about when the disciples grew tarry-weary.
In most cases, it is not us waiting on God, but God waiting on us to be obedient. We don’t have the power we need because we act like we don’t need His power from on High. We aren’t anticipating the Holy Spirit, we antagonizing the Holy Spirit by living like God doesn’t see our secret sins, hear our petty gossip, our cutting words, or our promiscuous language; we grieve the Holy Spirit by acting like He cannot see our carnal television shows and movies, or know our wicked thoughts or discern our selfish motives. We aren’t waiting on God, He is waiting on us.
I wish I could say that ten days (the time from his last appearance and ascension into heaven) was the longest God ever calls us to wait. But do you remember how long it took for Abram to conceive Isaac? Or Joseph to see his brothers bow down to him and vindicate his being sold into slavery? How many years was it until Moses was used by God to draw the people out of Egypt? How long have we waited for Christ to return? How long has Israel been waiting for Jesus to restore their Holy Land to them? (See the end of this chapter for the answer to those questions). Paul says in Romans 8 that all of creation groans, awaiting the redemption of creation.
Our family went through a struggle recently and a daughter of a missionary, Rhonda Smith, said that her saintly mother often would ask her during her rough years of her life, “Is Jesus not enough for you? If nothing ever worked out for you the rest of your life, would Jesus alone be enough for you to have faith?” Compared to eternity, our waiting on God is a miniscule portion of the smallest part of the proton of the Hydrogen atom in the midst of trillions of galaxies of vast creation of the universe. C.S. Lewis challenged us to imagine an endless sheet of paper, stretching out to eternity from the left to the right, from the top to the bottom, and then to take a pencil and mark a tiny line on that infinite sheet of paper. The beginning of that line would be the beginning of time and creation and the end of that line would be when time should be no more.
And all the while, the guy behind us at the stoplight honks in the millisecond it takes for our foot to get off the brake and onto the gas.