[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, during worship on May 17.]
Everyone knows what it’s like to have to say goodbye to people we care about--friends, family members--even when we’re certain that we will be seeing each other again. In the days and times that follow our goodbyes, we wonder things like:
These questions and ones like them must have been rolling through the minds of the apostles, the twelve disciples Jesus had set aside to lead His Church, as they walked to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
- “Will our relationships remain strong?”
- “Will God help us to remain true to each other?”
- “Will I forget what makes my friend so special?”
- “Why can’t we just stay together?”
They had just come from saying goodbye to the risen Jesus. He had ascended to heaven after telling them that they would be His witnesses and that they were to go back to Jerusalem, the city that had seen Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come to them to enable them to be His witnesses.
As the eleven surviving disciples gathered in an upper room, along with Jesus’ mother and other followers, they must have all felt a bit like we do when we pass the empty guest room or the empty house of friends now gone.
But the disciples knew that they couldn’t afford to long indulge such feelings.
They had a job to do, a mission from Jesus. Just like we do.
The same mission we have.
To be witnesses for Christ.
To make disciples.
But before they began pursuing that mission...before they went off like half-cocked guns...before they had the first church potluck, church picnic, guest musicians, or any other first, they had to do what Jesus told them to do.
They had to wait.
As we begin this final message in our Easter season series on How to Be the Church, that, it seems, is the first and most important instruction we should draw from our first lesson for this morning, Acts 1:12-26:
Before we do anything as a Church, we need to wait.
And we need to do what the 120 followers of Jesus did in that Upper Room. Verse 14 says: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
The disciples seemed to know that if they were going to be effective in their mission, they needed to stop.
They needed to take the exit ramp off the rat race and intentionally be with God.
The English Standard Version translation of Isaiah 40:31 renders God’s word on this subject: “...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
There are a lot of busy people in this congregation.
And this is a busy congregation.
Maybe sometimes too busy.
The authors of the book Simple Church, which we retreated around in February, suggest that most churches are too busy. And much of their busy-ness has nothing to do with Jesus’ commands that we be His witnesses, that we make disciples.
Maybe before we take on the next project or the next new mission, we need to collectively stop and pray and ask God what He wants us to do.
Is there anything we’re doing right now that God wants us to stop doing?
Is there anything we need to do to become more faithful in being witnesses and making disciples?
And how about in our personal lives and in our family lives?
Do our daily activities align with our Sunday morning confessions?
Are we just too busy?
Are there things that need to be taken out of our lives?
Things we need to add?
Do we need more time to rest, relax, and chill?
Do we need to be more intentional about serving God and others?
To find the answers to those questions, we need to wait on the Lord.
We need to dig into a book of the Bible like John or Romans or Acts and, at a chapter at a time, reformulate what God is saying to us and how what He's saying might apply to our lives, then pray about it.
Mark 6:31 tells us about a frenzied time in Jesus’ and the disciples’ time together when, “...because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”
And Proverbs 3:5 tells us to get over thinking we have to do everything or really, do anything on our own steam: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart [it says] and lean not on your own understanding.”
If we’re ever going to conform to God’s design for our lives and fulfill the mission Christ has given to us, we must learn this lesson.
We must learn how to go away with Him and His Word, rest in His grace, and be empowered for what He wants us to do.
We need sabbath days. God built it into us to need them. That's why He commanded them.
And we need mini-sabbaths every day.
Otherwise, we will chase after every new thing that pops into our heads, wear ourselves out, and render ourselves less than useful to God and the people He has brought into our lives: our families, our friends, our unchurched acquaintances.
You should know that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to you this morning. This isn’t my standard operating procedure, but in the past two weeks, I haven’t taken an entire day off.
My time with God has been largely catch-as-catch-can.
And like many of you here this morning, I am exhausted.
I have been a poor Christian and a poor example to this congregation, for which I repent.
I ask God to help me do better today and in the week to come.
And I think that all of us should hold each other accountable not only for what we do to honor God in our daily lives, but also for the time we spend with Him quietly, reading His Word, waiting on the sense of His direction and empowerment for our days.
As we develop a disciple-making culture at Living Water with the help of Navigators and as we implement Simple Church, waiting and studying God’s Word and praying and doing only that which is necessary for our mission, will be central to our life as a congregation.
After the disciples spent their time in prayer, Peter felt moved by God to stand up and suggest the next thing they needed to do. They prayed and discerned who God wanted to take Judas’ place as an apostle. Later still, God sent His Holy Spirit and because the Church had prayed, they were ready for action.
In the Church, every action should be preceded by sustained and submissive prayer.
Jesus tells us in John 15:5, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
When the Church prays before it acts, when individual Christians pray before they act, amazing things happen.
Last month, you know, we welcomed Pastor Jean Marie from Haiti. After the Q-and-A we had with this amazing man, who, with his wife, pastors a congregation, oversees a number of other churches, and has a hand in the work of an orphanage, I spoke with Jeff Dahl, a board member of SMI Haiti (Sundouloi Mininstries, sundouloi being a Greek compound word that means, servants with). SMI is the stateside agency that works with Pastor Jean Marie and with Living Water and other congregations in Haiti.
Jeff told me about Jean Marie’s prayer life. “With all due respect, Pastor,” he said, “I doubt that you spend nearly the time in prayer that he does. His daughter has told me about finding him praying for hours at a time, often with tears, seeking God’s direction. And sometimes, when there’s a big issue, he’ll call a prayer meeting and the church will pray all night long.”
Can you imagine that?
Often, folks, it takes having nothing in this world for us to realize that the only thing we can have that matters is a solid, uninterrupted relationship with the King of the universe, the God Who can only be approached through Jesus Christ.
I can’t help but conclude that what God is accomplishing through Pastor Jean Marie and his becoming what Jeff Dahl calls “the go to guy” in his region of Haiti, directly correlates with the time He spends studying God’s Word and praying for God’s help.
May we who seek to be faithful to Christ be unencumbered by our things and our agendas, and instead, learn to bend to the will of God.
May we take the time to learn the wisdom of the apostles and the other disciples.
May we take time to delve into God’s amazing Word and time in prayer.
May we be like Martin Luther, who once told a friend, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours [each day] in prayer.”
Living Water is a great church.
I’m stunned by this congregation’s commitment to Jesus, to the Bible as God’s Word, to the mission of the Church, to loving one another.
But we will never be the greater Church that God intends for us to be, no matter how much we may grow numerically, until we learn to consistently separate the urgent from the critical, and then only do the critical.
We will never be what God intends us to be until we take the time to ask God, “Lord, what do You want us to do?”
We will never begin to truly fulfill our mission until we take the time to stop and let God power up our living.
We can be so much more and we can do such more if we will just do less out of our own thinking and power and let the God we know in Christ take the lead.
God’s Word tells us that to be the Church, to be a Christian, we must, like the first Christians, strive to put away everything from our lives that might prevent us from completely depending on Christ.
We need to stop, wait on the Lord, and pray.
We need to realize that to be the people God has redeemed us to be in Christ, Jesus Christ is all we need.
To live with complete dependence on Christ is how we are to live until that day when the risen Lord to Whom the first disciples said, “Goodbye,” greets us in eternity with the "Hello" that never ends.
This is how we are to be the Church. Amen