Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Command to Wait (Acts 1:1-11) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Several years ago, the London Transit Authority had a problem. Buses were zooming right past passengers who were waiting at bus stops to be picked up.  It didn't happen all the time, but enough that it  became a public issue as people watched helplessly as their bus sailed right past them. The London Transit Authority released a statement to explain their actions. The statement said it was impossible for them to maintain their tight schedules, if they always had to stop and pick up passengers.

The other day I  was in a bit of a hurry and called a company to ask a question.   Rule number one, don't call companies if you are in a hurry.  A robotic voice answered.  The voice then gave me some options, if you want this, press 1, if you want that, press 2, and so forth.  I said “Customer Service.”  The robotic voice said: “I can help you, please be more specific with your question.”  I repeated - “Customer Service.”  The voice again said: “O.K. You want customer service.  Please be more specific in your request for customer service, like if you need tech support, say tech support, if you need billing, say billing.”   I thought well, I don't need either one, but if it will get me in touch with a real person, I'll do it, so I said tech support.  The robotic voice immediately answered and said, “Oh I can help you with that, what is your question.”

No, in this fast paced society, with fast food, fast internet speeds, fast cash at the ATM and oil change businesses saying if it takes over 30 minutes for this service, the oil change is free,  we don't like to be kept waiting.  This attitude permeates our society.  We want instant gratification, instant solutions to our problems.  We get annoyed and irritable when we wait on the phone, on the internet, in line at the store, at the airport or on the freeway. 

Which takes us to our lesson from the book of Acts.  After Jesus' resurrection, he made appearances to the disciples for Forty days, to demonstrate by many convincing proofs, that that he was alive.   Jesus then commanded them not to leave the city, but to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father:  For you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.  Can't you hear one of the disciples.  “Jesus, sir, with all due respect,  please don't command us to wait, anything but that, I hate waiting.”  And then, the disciples witnessed Jesus being lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.  Here is the occasion of the ascension of Jesus  to heaven.

Do you like waiting?  Waiting is an inescapable aspect of life.  We usually look at it as an annoyance, an irritant, an obstacle, a barrier, a collosal  waste of time.  But is it always so?  Does waiting have any value?  Is waiting sometimes necessary?  Is getting speedy responses or making quick decisions always good?  Waiting can be a blessing in disguise.    Waiting can play a positive role in our lives.

Like when you say to your children: “Stop, wait, look both ways, before you cross the street.”  We wait for a response to job applications or college applications and the waiting can sometimes  lead us to change our minds, to go in a different direction, or open up a great job or school that we hadn't taken seriously, because we were in a hurry for our favorites.  We wait for the birth of a baby.  We want babies to go full term if possible for obvious reasons.   We wait for healing while recovering from surgery and in this process we learn about how our bodies heal and we learn to take responsibility for our recovery.   We wait for a time to get engaged.  You don't want to jump into a marriage without really getting to know the person, not a good idea.   We wait to hear the results of medical tests.  This is important.  The correct diagnosis is critical.  Tests and opinions and taking some time is essential.   I remember a friend telling me that one doctor told him he needed back surgery.  He decided to wait and went to a specialist to get a second opinion and learned the problem was steming from brain fluid draining and that a stint in the brain turned out to be the answer to his back pain.

I'm sure that like us, the disciples didn't like hearingJesus command to wait.  They were anxious to leave Jerusalem and to get on with their lives.  They knew Jesus’ enemies were still in the city and they wanted to leave ASAP before they were arrested. 

But rather than releasing the pent up energy and fears of his highly charged followers, Jesus harnessed it by commanding them to wait.  And so with mixed emotions, with joy and dismay, with elation and frustration, the disciples obeyed Jesus and remained in the Upper Room.

Why did Jesus command them to wait?   Because the disciples needed power and energy and preparation for their forthcoming mission.   It can be disaster if you are sent out on a mission and you are unprepared and ill-equipped.   Jesus wanted the disciples to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  The word power here in Greek is dunamis, a supernatural power greater than our own personal energy and vitality and personality.  Jesus knew the disciples needed such power to accomplish their future mission as “His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  And so reluctantly, the disciples obeyed Jesus and remained there in the city with him.

Why do we sometimes have to wait?  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  I have.  It’s a universal question.  The psalmist in psalm 13 cries out: “How long O Lord, will you forget me forever?  Look on me and answer O Lord my God; give light to my eyes.”  The psalmist in psalm 130 says: “I wait for the lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”   Perhaps you are in a waiting mode at this very moment.  

I don't believe there is only one answer to that question.  Our circumstances and situations vary.  Our state of mind varies at times.  And God’s purposes for our lives vary as well. Sometimes we don’t discover the answer of why we are waiting for a long time and sometimes we never get a satisfactory answer.  But the Bible isn’t silent on this question.  It speaks about what can happen inside of us when we wait.

Waiting can be a season in which God is seeking to reach you.  God wants you to open your heart and mind to his word.  God is trying to say something to you. God may be saying the time is not right.   God may be calling you to change, or learn, or grow, or listen or heal or forgive.  Waiting is one of God's means of grace through which He reaches out to us for His purpose for our lives. 

For instance, waiting renews our strength!  Isaiah 40:31 says: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint."   In such times when we are mentally and emotionally and spiritually a mess we must wait for the gift of renewal from the Lord.  Do you ever feel burned out emotionally, or intellectually or physically or spiritually?  God knows that at times we need a new infusion of strength.   Stopping what your doing, waiting for awhile, seeking help and guidance, this is one way that God renews us.  God knows that we aren’t ready to continue doing what we are doing, or we aren't ready for some change in our lives, and so God commands us to wait. 

Waiting is one way God recharges our soul.   Through prayer, reading the scriptures, talking with others, exercise, and meditation we find spiritual renewal.  Waiting forces you to stop, so that God can restore your strength, so you can once again mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.  

We read in the letter of Romans 5: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials; they help us learn to be patient and patience produces character in us and character produces hope.”  I remember a friend who used to say to me when I was grumbling about something: “Alan, this is another character building opportunity.”   Waiting can be an opportunity to open your eyes, to gain insight, to discover wisdom.  

God cares deeply about your and my character.  Patience produces character.  Waiting produces character.  God wants to develop our character and not just give us everything we want, when we want it.  God will not allow everything to come easy.   Why? I think of two brothers I know who have virtually no ambition or drive or goals.  The brothers inherited some money years ago, and gradually they lost their sense of pride and work ethic.   Both men are married, but only work occasionally and spend a lot of time watching TV or playing video games or golf.   Their wives work, care for the kids, and are extremely frustrated.  What we have here is a failure of character.   Why? Because we don't appreciate things which come too easily to us.  We take them for granted.

I'd like to develop my character without having to wait through trials, how about you?   But the Bible says that's not how God made us.   As the scriptures say: “You can't make steel without tempering it.  Iron sharpens iron.”  You can't develop character without going through times of waiting.  God knows that and that's why there are seasons of waiting in our lives. 

I think of the late Charles Colson, former legal counsel to President Richard Nixon, who spent 7 months incarcerated in a blistering Alabama prison cell over the Watergate scandal.  He eventually became a Christian in prison.  I wouldn't recommend it.   In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.  Colson has visited prisons throughout the US and the world and has built a movement working with more than 40,000 prison ministry volunteers in 100 countries.  Colson believes that reconciliation among offenders, victims, and their families, is part of the ministry of the Church.  God totally redirected Colson’s life; God completely turned it around, while he was doing time waiting in an Alabama prison cell.

Yes sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is to wait.  “I hear your prayer my child, but now is not the time.  Trust in me with all your heart.  I will make straight your paths.  But it is not the right time.”  And during that time you must remain energetic and faithful and disciplined and hopeful.  

No, I don't particularly like it, but like Jesus disciples, God sometimes commands us to wait.  Waiting in God's time is never passive.  Waiting means listen, pray, watch, talk to others, read your Bible, be discerning, be patient, don’t act impetuously or foolishly, wait and trust in Christ.  I close with these words from Psalm 37: “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act.”    Amen!

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