Waiting for the Spirit’s Filling

Title: Waiting for the Holy Spirit’s Filling

Text: Acts 1:12-14

Date: October 28th, 2007

Jesus had given the disciples the seemingly impossible assignment of living the Christian life without his physical presence to help them, and in addition, he had assigned them the near impossible task of recruiting others to join them in the Christian life. How could they ever hope to accomplish their assignment? Jesus’ answer: wait and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Matthew 28:16-20, here again is their assignment from Jesus, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Now how would they ever be able to teach people to obey everything Jesus had commanded them, or how would they even be able to obey everything Jesus had commanded to them? Again, the answer: wait and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Notice at the end of the Great Commission, Jesus says that he will be with them always, even to the very ends of the earth. How can that be? Again, the answer: through the power of the Holy Spirit; they were to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish what would otherwise be totally impossible in their own power. Now what does this all have to do with us today? Everything, because we too have been assigned the seemingly impossible task of living the Christian life, of following the teachings and examples of Jesus. We too have been assigned the task of recruiting others to follow Jesus and join us in the Christian life. How can we trust in Jesus instead of our own selves, how can we follow Jesus instead of following the way of the world, the flesh, or even the devil? How can we follow Jesus in our weaknesses and ignorance? How can we be an example or witness to others of the truth? There is only one way, only one answer: the Holy Spirit’s power operating in our lives to enable us to rise above our natural human limitations and lift us up to the supernatural level of faith and obedience. That’s the only way can live the Christian life, that’s the only way we can so witness to others so they too will become a Christian. So the key for the disciples as well as us today is waiting for the Spirit, or as Luke 24:49 instructs, to wait until “you have been clothed with power from on high.” Why are some, many, or even most Christians today weak in faith, defeated in living the Christian life, and not much of a shinning example or witness before the world? Because some, many, or most Christians aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit and so they lack the power of God operating in their lives. They are trying to live the Christian life on their own human power instead of waiting for God’s Spirit to empower them every day. So the answer is to wait for the Holy Spirit, but what does it mean to wait for God’s power? How shall we wait to get the power of the Holy Spirit? Let’s see how the original disciples waited so that we know how to properly wait today for the Spirit. Acts 1:12-14 (read).

First, they eagerly obeyed Jesus. Acts 1:12, “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.” Now notice they didn’t run off and try to immediately obey all the commands that Jesus had given them, but they quickly set out to obey the last command he had given them, which would enable them to obey all the other commands he had given them. Aren’t you grateful that those original disciples were obedient to Jesus in this important instance? Aren’t you glad they didn’t try to just head out and begin living the Christian life and fulfill their life calling and ministry on their own power without the power of the Holy Spirit? If they had tried that we probably wouldn’t be here reading about them, we probably wouldn’t be Christians – any of us, we wouldn’t even know anything about Christianity because there probably wouldn’t have ever been a Christianity to remember – if those disciples had just gone out and tried to obey Christ on their own power. They would have fizzled out like a campfire in a rainstorm. They would have caved in when the Jews of Jerusalem started putting pressure on them. They would have folded when the mighty Roman Empire started opposing them. They would have quit when the Devil, demons, and all the powers of hell came against them. They would have gotten discouraged, dismayed, depressed, and dejected, and simply walked away when things got difficult. But thank God they didn’t try to be good Christians by their own powers. They obeyed the Lord, they left that mount where Jesus had ascended into heaven and headed right back to Jerusalem as Jesus told them. They were obedient. So the first thing we see here is that if we want the power we must be obedient. Now the people of the world, unbelievers, they don’t worry too much about power from God because they aren’t trying to do anything that requires God’s power. They aren’t trying to obey God. They aren’t trying to follow Christ’s instructions. They aren’t trying to live the Christian life. They are disobeying God right and left and it doesn’t bother them a bit. You don’t need power from God to sin, you need power from God not to sin. You don’t need power from God to disobey God’s will, you need power from God to fulfill God’s will. So you see the first prerequisite for obtaining the Holy Spirit’s power is a desire to know and do God’s will. Or in other words, you have to have a heart of obedience towards God. Do you really want to fulfill God’s will in your life? Do you sincerely and honestly desire to walk in obedience to Christ? If given a choice between doing what you want and what God wants, and if they are not the same thing, can you honestly say you choose God’s way? These disciples headed back to Jerusalem just as Jesus told them. Is that how you respond in obedience to Christ? If not, get on your knees and beg God to give you a heart of obedience. Ask God to make you willing to be made willing. That’s the first thing.

Second, they prayed seriously. Acts 1:13-14, “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Now this is the key to how they waited for the promise of the Holy Spirit: they prayed. And not only did they pray, but it says they prayed constantly. They didn’t just pray at meals before eating, although we can be sure they did that. Some Christians consider prayer before meals their main prayer time each day. “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food, Amen.” “There, that’s my daily prayer. I say it, not one time, not two times, but three times every day. I pray three times a day. That’s pretty good isn’t it?” That’s good for a little kid, a child, but it’s pretty pitiful for a grown adult Christian. That’s not what it means when it says that the disciples prayed in Jerusalem. It means a lot more than that. The Jerusalem Bible says, “All these joined in continuous prayer.” The Revised Standard Version says, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.” The Living Bible (our family found this Bible really helpful right after we all committed our lives to Christ; it’s good for new believers), the Living Bible says they, “held a prayer meeting in an upstairs room of the house where they were staying.” So what did this prayer meeting look like? What exactly did they pray? How did they pray? How long did they pray? Someone once calculated that if Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again around the time of the Passover, and if Jesus appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days, and the Spirit came on Pentecost, which is 50 days after Passover, then they were probably praying for a period of around 10 days. How did they pray? They may have had a 24/7 prayer meeting, meaning that someone or some group was praying around the clock and people would come and go as was necessary. This might be what it means by “constant” prayer. Or it could be they had morning prayer, noon prayer, evening prayer and nightly prayer times. It’s a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches to have what they call the daily hours of prayer. The Episcopal Church has something like this too. It’s a prayer schedule where prayers are said at fixed times and anyone can join in as they are able. Maybe the disciples prayed something like this. Maybe that’s what it means by “continuous” prayer. But what kinds of prayers did these disciples pray? Did everyone pray at once out loud or did just one person pray at a time? Did they pray sometimes silently? Were the prayers fixed prayers taken from the Jewish synagogue tradition or were they mostly spontaneous? We’ll get back to these questions, but let me mention something else.

Third, they were sincerely devoted. Acts 1:13-14, “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. . . . They all joined together constantly in prayer.” Over the past 40 days Jesus had appeared to them, taught them, and told them to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, for 10 days they prayed constantly and continuously together. What about their other responsibilities in life? What of their families, marriages, children? What about finances, making a living, paying bills? What about washing clothes, repairing their homes, taking care of business? We don’t hear anything about these daily concerns, although we know they must have carried on with these things in some way in order to simply live. But the point is that they were devoted to obeying Christ, that was their priority, not these other things that most people give all their attention to in life. They focused themselves on God, they weren’t distracted by a thousand and one other things. They didn’t just go to a prayer meeting every night over those 10 days in Jerusalem, they lived in continual prayer those 10 days. They didn’t just schedule prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit to baptize them in power — prayer was the whole agenda for them during this time. Waiting for the Spirit in prayer was a more than a “meaningful” thing in their lives, it was their life. They had nothing else to do, there was nowhere else to go, this was the focus of their attention, the whole focus, not just one of many things they were busy with in their lives. And that’s why they received the power from on high and why most Christians don’t receive the power from on high today – they have too many other things taking up their time and attention in this life. People are busy today, oh, so busy, doing this, that and the other. It’s the same with Christians. They rush here and there, do this and that, busy, busy, busy. They can’t figure out why their Christian lives are so powerless, why their prayers are so weak, why they can’t seem to obey God much, why they aren’t very interested in reading the Bible although they know they should. They can’t figure out why they can’t resist temptation, or why they can’t love people more, or why they can’t seem to witness for Christ, or why church participation is so much of a chore. It’s because they are so distracted by other things that they can’t focus on important things, priority things. Television is the biggest culprit for distraction. Hours and hours of television distraction every day. Thank God those disciples didn’t have television or else Christianity might not have ever made it. What a distraction, what a waste mostly. David Wilkerson once wrote a book about how television is one of our biggest idols because it takes our attention away from God. He said that in the old days senior citizens used to do what they could do for the cause of Christ by gathering and praying together for the world, the country, the church, and the people. Now instead of prayer, it’s mostly watching television every night. If we want power from God, if we want to live the victorious Christian life, resist temptation, obey Christ, be a witness for Christ, we’ve got to turn off the television set and get our priorities straight. These disciples were devoted, they were committed to prayer, it was important to them, more important than the thousand other things the world said to do with their time. How important is God to you? Then give up a lot of the other things in life that are robbing you of God’s reality. Either God gets your full attention or these other things.

Now how did they pray, what did they say? We know that Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. . . .” They probably used that as an outline for prayer, for confessing their sins, for praising and thanking God, for asking requests for others and themselves, etc. They may have used some Jewish prayers from the synagogues. But the important thing is not exactly what they said in their prayers but their heart attitude towards God while they were praying. As the Bible says, “Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart.” As they prayed we know that they were utterly dependent on God for their future. They had identified themselves with Jesus in a Jewish community that mostly rejected Jesus. They were becoming outcasts within their own community. Socially, doors were closing on them. Employment and work would be difficult to find for these early followers of Jesus; probably not many Jews would be willing to help them. They would probably need to hide from the authorities who might decide to hunt them down to discourage others from following the Jesus sect. Life would be difficult for them; they knew that. One of the reasons they were praying together, probably hidden away, was they were afraid of what the authorities might do in the days after Jesus. All of these pressures and problems were on their minds, so they probably prayed a lot for strength and faith to endure. Of course, they probably prayed about the Holy Spirit, for the power from on high that Jesus promised, for the ability to carry out their Christian life and mission. Being ignorant, they prayed for wisdom and knowledge. Being afraid, they prayed for courage. Being confused, they prayed for assurance and peace. Being uncertain, they prayed for confidence. Humanly speaking, they were in a desperate situation, an impossible situation. If we really take our calling and mission in life given by Jesus to each of us seriously, we’ll also feel the impossibility of it all, humanly speaking. Being so weak, how can we follow and obey Christ, how can we even keep our faith all the time? At the same time in our struggles, how can we be a witness for others? It all seems impossible, except that Christ has promised the ability through the Holy Spirit. That’s why it’s so important that we wait in prayer, beg and cry out to God, for the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in our lives. Without this extra power we won’t make it. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to live a defeated Christian life. I want power over temptation; I want powerful prayers and inspiring Bible study. I want to witness the gospel to others, and be able to trust and obey God in life. But I know I can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit. What about you? Do you want that power from God too? If so, let’s pray.

Father, in the name of Jesus, we pray today for the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We know that our lives are full of distractions because we live in the 21st century which is full of more distractions than people in former times ever had to face. But we ask that you help us turn away from these distractions and focus our attention upon you. Please fill us with the Holy Spirit and empower us for Christian living so that we can trust in you and obey you in our lives. Give us the power to pray with power, to read our Bible with power, to witness with power, to carry out ministry with power. Give us the power to love with power, to resist temptations with power. Father, we realize that without this supernatural power we will be defeated by the powers of the world, the flesh and the Devil. We realize that without this power we will simply live as the average Christian lives, half awake and half asleep, one foot in the world, one foot in the kingdom of God, living double-minded, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. God, deliver us from that mediocre existence. Fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we can make a difference in the world and in the lives of the people around us. We, like those disciples, are waiting and praying that you give us the promise of the Spirit. Please answer our prayers. Thank you for our salvation, and thank you ahead of time for the power to live the Christian life. Amen.


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