Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. He would give them what they needed to survive and thrive. After He promised this, the Holy Spirit did not come for ten days--about 270 hours--until the morning on the Day of Pentecost.
For the disciples, those ten days must have felt like torture!
I’m not a patient person. I want things done now! Waiting feels like slow torture to me, so I identify with what it must have felt like waiting for the Spirit to come. Sitting and waiting seems like a waste of time.
Waiting time is not wasting time. There’s something important about these ten days. God was doing something in the disciples.
Naturally, they didn’t just wait--they had business to conduct! Judas was gone, so they needed a replacement. They narrowed the choice down to two people—Barsabas and Matthias. In the end they chose by casting lots and Matthias won.
I’m sure they thought the choice of Matthias was huge, but it turned out to be pointless. Matthias, a relative nobody, did very little. But a few years later, God called Paul without all the organizational procedure. This was the only decision they made before the Holy Spirit came. When left to themselves without the Spirit, they made pointless decisions. When the Spirit comes, he makes the choices. His decisions are the ones that really matter.
We get excited about surface issues because we are shallow, surface people. But what goes on beneath the surface of our lives is far more important than who gets to be a leader and what programs they start. It’s the Spirit that gives power and makes lasting changes. Worldly decisions are pale reflections of what the Spirit is doing within. It’s not what we decide, but what God decides that makes the difference.
There are many times in our life where God calls us to wait. When we find the one we love, we have to wait for sex until marriage. When we go to the doctor, we have to wait for lab results. When we buy a home, we have to wait for reports, credit checks, and closing. When we have surgery, we have to wait to heal. We plant seeds and we wait for the harvest. We pray prayers and wait for the answer, which almost always takes longer than we think. We think of the waiting as a waste of time. But is it? God uses the waiting times to prepare us for greater things.
So what was God doing in them during those ten days?
We aren’t told how many people were with Jesus when he ascended into heaven, but Paul may give us a hint. In 1 Cor. 15:6, Paul mentions that more than five hundred people saw Jesus resurrected at the same time. Most interpreters assume that this was at His ascension. Yet when Pentecost came ten days later, there were about 120 present. That means that eighty percent of those people—four out of five—did not wait around just ten days until Pentecost.
Eighty percent shows up a lot in studies of the church. In most churches, eighty percent do twenty percent of the work, and twenty percent do eighty percent of the work. Guelich and Hagberg in their book, The Critical Journey, assert that about eighty percent of Christians are content to stay on a surface level of faith, and it is only about fifteen or twenty percent who go beyond the basics. The story of Pentecost seems to bear this out. I believe that the majority of Christians don’t wait for God and therefore miss out on what He has for us. They don’t miss out on heaven—that is a free gift—but they miss out on the kingdom living here. They become content with ordinary life and do not seek for deeper growth in the faith, mainly because they do not know how to wait upon the Lord.
Let’s picture this scene—over five hundred people have met together after seeing Jesus ascend into heaven. Jesus has just promised them that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them. All they have to do is wait in Jerusalem.
Some of them--the hyperactive ones—say, “We can’t just sit here! We’re supposed to be telling the world! Let’s go post some flyers around town!”
But how do you know where to post the flyers? How much energy are you willing to exert in flyer-posting? When He comes, He will bring all kinds of power, and He will lead you into all truth, including where the posters are supposed to go? Beside we don’t know when the Holy Spirit is coming. Don’t you want to be here when the Holy Spirit shows up?
But some can’t sit still, so they have to go.
Then there are the anxious ones. “We’ve got work to do! We’ve got laundry and ironing! What if the Holy Spirit shows up and we don’t have any clean underwear? Besides, our kids need to be fed. We’ve got to make sure they’re ready for school. We can’t stay here and just wait!”
But isn’t God in charge of our houses and kids? Isn’t He big enough to take care of things at home while we are waiting for Him here? Besides, do you really want to be waiting in line at school and miss the Holy Spirit, when you could have been there?
Charles Hummel called this, “The tyranny of the urgent.” Little things of little important demand our time and attention, while big things of great importance go neglected. The Holy Spirit is coming, and He comes with little or no warning. We must be waiting and watching, instead of fretting about things that won’t matter in eternity.
But they can’t stop fretting about things, so they leave.
Then there are the practical ones, “Look, we are just not the praying type. We’re practical. We only understand things of this world. If you want a house built or a ceiling fan put in, we can do that, but the Holy Spirit is for mystical types. We can’t see how sitting in a room doing nothing is going to bring power.
Once He comes, we’re still going to have to get organized and do the job, so why are we waiting for some kind of spooky, mystical experience?”
Being a Christian means believing in an unseen world. Not everything that is real is practical. God works in an unseen way. Even after seeing miracles like the resurrection and ascension, our practical nature keeps wanting to reassert itself. We understand only what we can see and hear. But just because we can’t see the wind, doesn’t mean it’s not blowing. Just because we can’t see the power of the Spirit doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
But because they can’t see the point, they just go home.
Eighty percent went home. What about those who stayed? What did they do right?
They waited in silence. Nothing we can do or say makes much difference. It’s just being there in God’s presence that makes the difference.
People worry too much about what to say to God. What we say doesn’t matter, just be there before Him. We don’t have to know what to ask for, or what we should expect. We just sit down, shut up, and be patient with God.
They waited in prayer. While waiting they thought about God. They probably sang and read Scriptures, too, so they could keep their minds focused on Him. Whenever they started worrying about their jobs or whether their front door was locked, or if their roast in the oven was burning, they kept turning their attention to the matter at hand by reading, singing, or listening.
The waited in submission. When you train a dog, the first command it learns is “sit”. The first thing we must learn as a disciple is to sit, too. Sit and wait for God to speak.
They got themselves ready to meet Him. If the Spirit came to you today, would you be ready to respond? Is there anything in your life that will hold you back?
Practice anticipatory thinking. Suppose God called you today to leave your country and go to a foreign country, and you had no restrictions due to job, health, or family? What besides outer circumstances would make it hard for you to go? Those are the things that we must surrender to Him before we can be ready to serve Him. When the Holy Spirit calls we must be ready to go.
As we wait, we struggle to recognize the voices in our head that call us away from Him. These voices are things like disobedience, lust, gluttony, impatience, jealousy, fear, discouragement, and pride. To ready ourselves, we must be willing to recognize these voices.
It’ hard to wait, but well worth the effort. Those who could wait, merely wait, were the ones who experienced anew Pentecost of the heart and the soul. As Isaiah said,
“They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary. They will walk and not faint.”