He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father. (Acts 1:4)
I remember the first time I ever saw a microwave oven.
It was astounding to my young mind that you could put cold food inside a cold metal box, press a button and voila! In no time at all, the food was hot!
Looking back, it was, to me at least, a pivotal moment – a switch from a delayed, to an instant world. From slow to fast. From later to now. From “eventually” to “immediately”.
Of course, on further reflection, I realise now that the microwave oven was simply one of many so-called time-saving devices that were symptomatic of a world that was speeding up. The transition from slow to fast was increasingly widespread, but perhaps what was most significant about the microwave oven was not that it saved time, but that it reduced waiting time.
Since then, we have seen the arrival of fast food and fast internet. We have come to expect instant news, instant response times and uber-quick delivery of whatever we require – all designed to reduce waiting time.
The allure of these developments is this: Waiting is not a practice we are comfortable with. It is something we prefer to avoid.
And waiting while engaging in ministry is no exception.
We want quick programme ideas, quick answers and quick results. Why? We say the answer is obvious: we want the Kingdom of God to grow quickly because time is short, and evil is on the rise. (And – if we are really honest – we want some quick reassurance that we as leaders are doing OK!)
No, we don’t like to wait.
In Acts 1 we read that Jesus instructed those early disciples to wait. I wonder if waiting was as difficult for them as it would have been for me. I would want to get started; plant a church in Jerusalem, and a few more in Judea and Samaria.
Waiting feels like wasting time, yet I am convinced that waiting is an essential part of doing God’s work! Here’s why…
Firstly, waiting teaches us humility. We often assume that ministry is all about us doing God’s work in our churches and our communities. It is, but it is also about God growing us, the ones who minister.
Waiting teaches us humility. It reminds us that this is God’s work and not everything depends on us. We all have a tendency, (leaders especially) to want to be in control. When we wait, we surrender that control back to God, where it belongs.
While we are waiting, we can be assured that He is not! He loves to humble us by doing things without our help, reminding us that our work with Him is a partnership – and we are the junior partner.
Secondly, waiting teaches us faith. When God commanded the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, He had good reasons for doing so. The Holy Spirit – so indispensable for ministry - would not be given until the Shavuot – the Feast of Pentecost.
In the meantime, unseen to the disciples, God was still at work, drawing people from far and wide into Jerusalem for the Feast, and preparing their hearts to hear and respond to His Word, preached through Peter.
Sometimes, it is clear to us what God is doing and why we must wait – other times it is not.
In the disciples’ case, it was the Holy Spirit. In our case, waiting may be required for a whole host of reasons: perhaps we too need to be filled with the Spirit, or maybe more information needs to be gathered before a decision is made and we can proceed. At times, our lack of peace may be because several factors need to align before we can act.
When I can’t wait to get started and make things happen, it requires faith to obey a sense that I am to “wait until…”
Thirdly, waiting slows our frantic activity down to God’s speed. In his book “The Three Mile an Hour God” the Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama wrote: “Love has its speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of life at 3 miles per hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.”
When we wait, we learn to walk with God and not ahead of Him. We slow our expectations down to walking pace and take the time to look for evidence of Him at work. We start to discern His agenda and His timetable, and we bring ourselves into line with what He is doing as He builds His Kingdom among us.
Reflection and discussion
In everyday life, how hard is it for you to wait? What are the situations you regularly face that cause you to be impatient?
Discuss the concept of the “three mile an hour God”. How might we practically slow down to match His pace in life and ministry?
Share a situation you faced in which you were forced to, or chose to, wait on God – and in hindsight, you were glad you did.
In what ways are you having to wait – or needing to wait – in your life or ministry right now? What do you sense God is saying to you during the waiting?
What is the most main insight you gained from reading this chapter, and from your reflection/discussion? What do you sense God is calling you to do?