The Waiting Room

This is the sermon I preached on April 27. The assignment was to preach about the importance of Prayer using Acts 1:12-14 as the text. You can listen to the actual version (since I don’t read these once I write em) at http://www.woodburypres.com/sermons.html Just click on the sermon title.

12Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk 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.

This is one of those passages that seems like exposition… That’s the part of the story that moves the plot along and lets us know who’s involved. Oh, but in every good story, the exposition is there for a reason. It’s all in the context.

Last week, Pastor Rod took us through the verses leading into this passage last week, and he focused on verse 8 in particular…

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.”

When I looked back at my notes from the sermon, I had scribbled down these 3 P’s
God has a Plan, You will be my witnesses
Our response creates a Problem, who will go and tell? We are imperfect and scared.
God anticipates our weaknesses and has a solution.
You will receive Power. (The Holy Spirit)

If we back up a bit more to verses 4 and 5, Jesus sets the stage for where and how the disciples would receive this power.

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.”

From here, we see that they knew what was coming (the Holy Spirit). And they had a basic timetable (a few days). But they had to wait. Back to Jerusalem and into a room. A waiting room.

In our house, saying the word “Waiting Room” is likely to invoke laughter. This is because of a news report we caught once. Sally Kidd was doing one of those local “stand in front of a building in the dark” live remotes from ORMC. There had been an accident or something that affected a large family, and after the taped piece was shown they went back to Sally – who should NEVER improvise. Her now infamous close was something along the lines of:
“So now the family waits. In the waiting room. Waiting – in a waiting mode. Waiting for news of their loved ones.”

Well, my family spent no small amount of time in waiting rooms this past year. There were the planned visits to dentists, eye doctors, and family docs. But when you add a couple of broken arms, a squished thumb, and a couple of minor surgeries, a family can log some serious waiting room hours. Some were more comfortable than others, but I noticed a pattern as I people-watched… the primary activity was, as the name implies, waiting. Folks passed the time watching TV, reading ancient magazines, drinking coffee, pacing, talking about just about anything except whatever they were waiting on. I saw the occasional cat nap. Where you could have them on, people were texting or talking on the cell phone. I managed to find free wi-fi in a couple of places, so I could connect to the office or do my schoolwork. A waiting room is generally not a fun or productive place to be.

But back to that waiting room in Jerusalem. We can be fairly certain that Peter wasn’t surfing the web to check the local fishing report… So what were they doing? Since Acts isn’t a moment-by-moment report, but part of a narrative, we don’t know everything. The writer chose to include those bits of exposition were important for Theophilus and other readers to know. That Luke chose to include this one phrase… 14They all joined together constantly in prayer …has helped generations of readers understand the importance of prayer in the lives of followers of Christ.

They probably had some traditional prayers they would have used. After all, these men had grown up as practicing Jews. We also know Jesus taught them to pray… using the prayer that has come down to us as The Lord’s Prayer. They probably prayed together as a large group. They may have sung hymns together. They probably prayed alone and in small groups. It’s not hard to imagine that there were prayers whispered and lifted silently before falling asleep.

We’re really not unlike those men and women waiting in that room. Some of us have seen or heard about examples of God’s power in others’ lives. A few of us have personally experienced miracles. Many of us could name that moment in time when we really and truly recognized Jesus as the Son of God and the Lover of our Souls. Some of us here are still seeking answers to what Jesus means in our own lives, but are drawn to his teachings.

Wherever we are individually, as a church, we’ve come upon one of those seasons when it feels like we’re in the waiting room. We’re waiting for the next building to be built. We’re waiting for real and lasting change to come in our community. It seems like we’ve been here for a while now. We’ve had the coffee, read the magazines, people watched, cat-napped. The difference between this place and the waiting room at the eye doctor should be pretty obvious without corrective lenses… They all joined together constantly in prayer

When we agreed on this date for Pastor Rod to do a pulpit swap this week (he’s going to preach at Children’s Worship), he asked me to preach on why prayer is important. To be honest, Pastor Rod has preached so consistently and passionately about that over the years that I think we all know that prayer is the foundation on which the rest of our Spiritual lives are built. What I wonder is do we really understand the power of prayer?

In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, God tells Solomon:
13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Often we focus on the back end of that passage because it is a wonderful promise from an all-powerful God. That’s a “then statement” We’ve got to find the “if statement” that goes with it. Look again at the beginning of verse 14…

This passage gives us great insight into what God wants from us in our prayers…
If we give God… Adoration. Respect. Glory. Honor. Honesty. Repentance.

And it gives us insight into God’s response.
Then… God hears, forgives, and heals.

And it shows us that we are indeed part of God’s plan. We pray, not because God needs us to tell him what we what, what’s going on, what we need. God already knows that. Sometimes we need to formulate a prayer so that WE know that, but God’s already got it. God’s plan is to involve us in God’s plan.

God also desires fellowship with us. Strange as that seems, God has made Himself known to man time and time again, seeking the sort of relationship that was broken in the garden.

It’s easy for us to think of fellowship like a pot luck dinner… we come, bring something to add to the table, spend a little time chatting, clean up and go home. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Because of our relationship through Jesus, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are able to go much deeper in fellowship with our God.

In his book, Prayer in the Holy Spirit, John Bunyan defined prayer this way…
“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or, according to the Word, for the good of the Church, with submission, in Faith, to the will of God.”

In other words, prayer engages us fully –
Pray with all your Heart (affectionate), soul (sincere), mind (sensible) and strength (in the HS) –
Note that Bunyan doesn’t leave it with the asking, though. Those last few phrases are important… As we pray, we are submitting in faith to the will of God. To know the will of God, we must listen. We must invest the time it takes to HEAR what God would have us do, and then in fath, we must submit to the will of God.

And what do we pray for?
For the very things that God promises… for provision, healing, forgiveness, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

For the good of the Church
If we truly open the eyes of our hearts and seek God together, we can see God’s dreams and desires for us as a body of believers.

As part of our 10 days of prayer, we will be praying for those on our prayer lists in need of God’s grace, mercy, love and healing. We’ll be praying for our missionaries. We’ll be praying for the leaders and future leaders of our country and the world.

And we’ll be praying for our church. For our leaders, our volunteers, and for our programs. More importantly, we’ll be changing the possessive pronouns in that prayer. Hopefully you saw the email Pastor Rod sent out earlier this week, in which he shared the description the tradition among South African Presbyterian churches. The ten days leading into Pentecost are times of prayer and preparation for the “Birthday of the Church.” Each day they pray a prayer like this: “Lord, this is Your church. You are the head. You are Lord. If there is anything you want to change about the church, please show us, and give us the strength to obey.”

You see, as much as we like to claim membership, take ownership and call it ours.. This church isn’t ours. It’s not mine. It’s not Rod’s; it’s not Mike’s or Jean’s. It’s God’s. The building, the land, the books in the library, and more importantly the people. Those in the building today and those who have never stepped foot on our property. The world and everything in it belongs to God.

See, here is the reality. The Disciple’s prayers in the waiting room didn’t cause the HS to come. God was going to fulfill that promise.

But after 10 days of prayer, don’t you think they were better prepared for what was to come? That preparation is why, for the past couple of years, we’ve participated in the Global day of Prayer movement. And why the session has made prayer a priority. One of the goals is again this year is to “develop a culture of prayer.”

So what does a “culture of prayer look like?”
Prayer becomes an organic part of the way we interact.
If someone needs prayer, we drop what we’re doing and pray
At any given moment, someone is in prayer.
Every meeting, every gathering, every rehearsal, every meal… someone volunteers to open in prayer
It’s not unusual to see pockets of people praying before or after a service.

What does that require of us?
Community – taking the time to build relationships across the congregation
Teaching and modeling prayer to those who are younger in faith
Listening – to one another… listening to God.
Volunteering- to lead or host prayer gatherings, to pray with people at the pantry
Taking chances- praying boldly, praying out loud
Time – focused time on prayer means time not somewhere else.
Sacrifices – God may ask for something you don’t expect. Something hard.
Submission – answering those Holy Spirit nudges (or whacks, if you’re like me)
Praying – whenever and wherever the urge strikes.

God has been at work for 4 years globally, 2 going on 3 years locally through the Global Day of Prayer Movement. God doesn’t need us to do whatever He’s up to. This is the God who brought the universe into being!

But this is our God, who longs to see us fulfill our potential… to see us receive power… to see us be His witnesses… to see us on the knees of our hearts. Let’s pray.

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