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Building up believers and the New Testament church

Waiting On God

The Early Believers

In the beginning we said that the term "waiting on God" was found mostly in the Old Testament and especially in the book of Psalms. What about the New Testament? Did the early church spend time waiting on God? If we look past the term "waiting on God" and see that it is expressed in various ways, we will see that the early Christians gave themselves to this all-important matter.

The first place that stands out is the command of Jesus before He departed. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, which," He said, "you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now" (Acts 1:4-5). In obedience to this command, the disciples gathered in the upper room for about 40 days, waiting on the Lord. We do not have a record of all that happened during those days, but we may surmise that they spent time in prayer, in searching the scriptures, in fellowship one with another, and in some of the basic needs of life (eating and sleeping). I would imagine they spent much time recounting to one another what Jesus said to them before He went to the cross, pondering over the meaning of His many words. The disciples who met Him on the Emmaus road must have shared all that Jesus spoke to them during that time. But the whole attitude that under-girded their time was "waiting for the Promise," and this finds its highest expression in waiting silently in prayer before the Lord.  Prayer is two-way communication. There is a time of interceding, of laying our petitions before the throne, and there is a time of listening. In general, our time of listening should be much greater than our time of speaking. We are dealing with God, and surely with Him we must be "quick to listen and slow to speak."

We may have the idea that after the Holy Spirit came, the time of waiting was over and now all that was required was to move in obedience. It is true that the Holy Spirit came one time, and that waiting never needs to be repeated again, for He has come to abide. But just because the Holy Spirit has come does not mean that we do not need to wait on God. Notice the account immediately following the day of Pentecost: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). "Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1). The whole church was giving itself to prayer. Peter and John went to pray in the middle of the afternoon. Prayer was central in the life of the early believers.

What were they waiting for, if the Holy Spirit had already come to abide? I believe one thing they waited on the Lord for was to grasp the full implications of what had happened on the day of Pentecost. This was an entirely new event, and it was not possible that they should comprehend immediately all that had happened. God had come to abide. Christ now dwelt within by the Holy Spirit. God was bringing people together in a oneness that was not possible before this time. These and many more things required revelation from God for understanding. If we read Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:15-21 and 3:14-20 in this light, I think we begin to see that only as we wait upon the Lord in prayer will we begin to comprehend the spiritual realities that have been made ours in our union with Christ Jesus. Paul knew that even though he was imparting all God had given him through ministry to others, he was on his knees in prayer because only God could reveal the truth of what he taught to the hearts and minds of believers.

Consider one more account from Acts 10: the visitation of the Holy Spirit on the household of Cornelius. The account begins with both Cornelius and Peter giving themselves to prayer. Cornelius did not know what he needed, and Peter did not know how his thinking needed to be changed. But God knew both, and in that place of prayer God spoke to each of them and initiated the events that followed. Can we learn something of the ways of God from this account? Cornelius was hungry for God, and his testimony was that "he prayed to God always." Peter was very active in the work God had called him to do, but even as a meal was being prepared, Peter was giving himself to prayer. May the Lord apply these things to our hearts in our situations.