Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Holy Spirit, Prayer and Community (III)

Holy Spirit, Prayer and Community (III)

Wait for the Holy Spirit

Acts 11In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with ]water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit."

What would be the questions you will be asking?

What does it mean to be baptised with the Holy Spirit?

What would happen once I am baptised?

How would I recognise the Holy Spirit when He comes?

Would he speak?

If so how would we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit

How do we differentiate our voice from His?

If we continue not to be able to hear, how long do we need to wait?

What other signs will show that the Holy Spirit is present

All these would be legitimate questions.

Instead the apostles asked 6"Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?"

The disciples didn’t get it.

They do not know what it means to be filled or baptised or indwelt with the Holy Spirit .

They did not know what it means to be empowered, guided, led by the Holy Spirit

They were not curious, they were not interested.

The central thing on their minds: when will Israel be free and independent again. When will the glory days of King David return

Implicitly what roles are we to play in the Kingdom?

But notice the difference later when they waited and prayed.

Eugene Peterson gave a good summary of the prayers in Acts. Let me run it through it slowly and leisurely:


12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk[b] from the city. 13When 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. 14They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

One of their prayers while they waited was prayer for guidance in the replace of Judas in the company of the Twelve. That prayer resulted in the choice of Matthias as an apostolic witness to the resurrection.

After ten days, these waiting and praying men and women received what Jesus and the Father had promised: the Holy Spirit, the active presence of Jesus and the Father in them.

They now prayed more than they were, more than they knew, “as the Spirit gave them ability” (2.4)

People were puzzled. Worshippers had gathered from all over the Middle East for the feast of the Pentecost and each were hearing “in the native language of each” a witness to God’s deeds of power in the prayers (2.6, 11)

Peter preached a sermon, explaining that this was nothing new – this was continuity with what God has been doing for a long time. He quoted the prophet Joel, the prayers of David (Ps 16, 132,110) and then connected it with Jesus. Three thousand saw the picture, were convicted, repented and were baptised.

The Jesus community was up and running.

And praying.

And they prayed and they prayed in the rest of Acts.

The community's common language is prayer (Acts 2:42). They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Prayer is both implicit and explicit in the story of the Jesus community that Luke continues to tell:

When Peter and John are released from prison and return to the community to report, "they raised their voices together to God" and prayed (4:24-31);

When the work of caring for the hospitality needs of the people gets to be too much, the Twelve call the community together and appoint deacons for that work so that they themselves can "devote themselves to prayer," nurturing and maintaining the primacy of their basic language of prayer, taking care that it not be diluted or dissi­pated (6:1.6);

When Stephen is being killed by stoning, he prays —prayer is the language most natural to him, deepest within him (7:59)1

Saul in Da­mascus, blind and hungry for three days, prays for help, which then comes through Ananias and the Holy Spirit (9:10-19);

In Joppa, Peter is taken to the home of Dorcas, who has just died, and "he knelt down and prayed" — his spontaneous response (9:36-43);

All the action in the great, turning- point Cornelius story is fashioned in prayer (10:2, 9, 30-31);

The commu­nity's first line of defence against the murderous machinations of King Herod Agrippa I is prayer (12:5,12);

When the community requires direc­tion for expansion they pray (13:3);

New churches are constituted and shaped by prayer (14:23);

When the Council of Jerusalem decision is deliv­ered, its prayer-filled composition is described in the wonderful phrase, "it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (15:28);

When Paul and Silas arrive in Philippi they seek out "a place of prayer" (16:13, 16);

In the Philippians’ prison, Paul and Silas immediately make that also a chapel of prayer, "praying and singing" (16:25);

Paul's tearful parting with the Ephesians’ elders concludes when "he knelt down with them all and prayed" (20:36);

After a seven-day visit at Tyre, Luke, who is travelling

with Paul at the time, reports that "we knelt down on the beach and prayed" (21:5);

As Paul recounts his conversion story to a hostile crowd of Jews in Jerusalem he mentions that Jesus spoke to him "while I was praying in the temple" (22:17);

On his last storm-tossed travel to Rome, just before the ship is wrecked, Paul addresses the crew, telling what happened while he was in prayer the night previous, a message of comfort and God-granted security (27:23-26);

On the morning of the shipwreck, Paul addresses all the passen­gers and crew, 276 persons in all, and urges them to eat and give "thanks to God" (27:35-36);

On Malta, the island of their shipwreck, when Paul learns that the father of a man who has befriended them is sick and near death, he "cured him by praying and putting his hands on him" (28:8).

The frequency and persistence of the language of prayer in the com­munity of Jesus is evident throughout the narrative; it is also not obtru­sive. We are not being urged to pray, or given examples of prayer. This is simply the way the community uses the language. Luke does not remark on it as anything unusual or contrived. Quite the opposite: prayer is the natural, unselfconscious language of the community.

The community in Acts was a praying community.

Can we claim to be one?

After all – we do fast and pray

At our board meetings, CG meetings, elders prayer meetings, in fact before every meeting we open and close in prayer.

Individually and in our families we pray before meals, in times of blessings and crisis, in good times and bad times

We emphasise prayer, we seek out prayer partners

We pray for the sick, the needy, the people in want

We pray before we go out in evangelism

We believe in prayer

Nonetheless are we a praying community?

What is the characteristic of a praying community?

Number of hours individuals and community pray per day?

Number of prayer meetings per day, per week, per month?

What lessons can we learn from the community in Acts?

What are the characteristics of a praying community?

1. It is the Holy Spirit who takes the initiative. We have renounced taking the initiative. Our response is to wait and watch Jesus at work.

Pentecost – church was conceived (not a man, nor a guru, nor a prophet)

Persecution and the Christian Diaspora – 8

Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch

Saul’s conversion – 9

Gentile Pentecost, Roman centurion Cornelius – 10

Calling out of Paul and Barnabas - 13

The Macedonian call -16

Paul’s final imprisonment –witness in Rome - 21

But it is hard to wait upon the Holy Spirit. What if He doesn’t speak for a long time. How long are we to wait? What are we to do in the meantime?

The price of renouncing our initiative

James – executed, Peter imprisoned and finally executed

Stephen executed,

Paul imprisoned and eventually executed, 9.16 how much he must suffer

21.11-12 , v 13 ready to die for the Lord Jesus

John exiled to island of Patmos

2. Being : Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit

As Gerard Kelly puts it so well in his commentary in EWG (14/1/06) Mat 7:21-29

“Jesus places an active love-relationship at the very heart of the Christian religion. For how can we know God’s will, unwell we know God? To know what God wants in each situation we face implies a deep devotional life; that we will ask God so often what he wants that we start to know by instinct; that we are so familiar with the person of God that it becomes easy to recognise his purposes”



Mission and Vision statements

Goals and targets

Programmes and methods

Getting the balance




We get the balance right by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit in prayer.

They all have their values and they are helpful and useful. But they are only tools. In good, experienced, godly, wise, discerning hands they will be well used. What we are talking about are not the ‘tools”. We are talking about how a community of God is built.

How do we do that ? By prayer, one day at a time. It is slow, long work. At the end of it, any transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit, not ours. Only the Holy Spirit can build and transformed the community for it is a community conceived by Him. We do build it. It is not communism, nor any other ism.

3. We then finally learn that Christian life is not about us, it is about God.

In contrast much of Christianity, at least as Peterson claims in the US, is about us:

Fulfilling our potential

Getting in on the blessings of God

Expanding our influence

Finding our gifts

However the Jesus community exists for Jesus’ sake. Jesus does not exist for the community’s sake. How is this community formed, nurtured, shaped and moulded?

A lot of the time through suffering and weakness.

What we do is that we try to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. When we keep in step with the Holy Spirit, He will lead us one step at a time, moment by moment, one day at a time to live out our life of faith. To love, to forgive, to care for, to show concern, to sacrifice, to comfort, to challenge, all the time praying – as we do so our life of faith develops into what Peterson calls a life of answering God, a life of responding to God, which is to say, a life of prayer.

Summary and closing challenge:

God gave us a gift, His beloved son Jesus

To do what we cannot do

To save us

To give us life, abundant life

The church is God’s gift

A community called by his name

That we may receive support, care, love and concern

Building blocks of community

Law, creed, love

Holy Spirit and the prayers He inspired gave us a glimpse as to the type of community he is looking for.

Here in Acts – we discover the church is conceived by the Holy Spirit and directed, guided, sustained, moulded to be the people of God through prayer.

Which is why we find it hard to wait on the Holy Spirit. Prayer is what develops after we step out of the centre and begin responding to the centre, to Jesus.

But we always presume to take the initiative and then ask God to bless our plans, our efforts, our programmes.

How then can we learn to really pray, wait upon the Spirit as an individual and as a church?

Eugene Peterson noted that Jesus asked us to wait – but we responded by asking ‘when’?

What are the issues and questions that occupied the disciples? Eugene Peterson suggested that they are concerned about:

When will we get our kingdom assignments?

When will the real action is going to begin

When will we be asked to exercise leadership, take charge and run things?

They were interested in “when”, when the kingdom would be restored to Israel?

Why did Jesus asked the disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit?

So that they would receive power!

7He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

We are all obsessed about power, control and influence.

In church and in our organisations we are deeply concerned as to “ Who has the final say?”

In the community at large we want to exercise power and authority. To be weak is to be marginalised, to be victimised, to be set aside and ignored.

But we say, we want to proclaim to all and sundry, all the different religions and philosophies that Jesus is the king of kings and the Lords and lords, that in the name of Jesus every knee would bow…

True – if we need to exercise authority, Jesus is indeed Lord and Lords and in Jesus we have authority over all.

But remember – Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

So what does that mean when Jesus promised that they will receive power?

Speak in tongues

Lame walk, the blind see and the prisoners are set free.

Yes. But then also:

James – executed,

Stephen executed,

Paul imprisoned and eventually executed, Peter executed,

John exiled to island of Patmos

Do the disciples realise how weak they are?

How totally dependent upon Jesus they are?

Do they know how utterly different the ways of the Lord is from the ways of the world?

Eugene Peterson insights is spot on. He said:

“ Jesus is talking about waiting until they are immersed in God’s presence, which will be Jesus’ presence in their lives, so that they will be able to continue what he had begun in them”.

Peterson went on to say :

The ‘when’ question was none of the disciples’ business. They were not competent for kingdom work as they were; receiving the Holy Spirit was their sole business at this time.

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