I was thinking this week of some of the most irritating or annoying words in life.
- The Doctor will be with you shortly
- Please Hold
- Please use our automated menu to assist us in serving you better
- Road Construction Ahead
- Do you have a minute so I can tell you about an exciting new product?
The reason that these statements are so annoying is because most of us are not very patient when we have to wait. But let’s face it, these are little inconveniences. There are times in life when we are asked to wait that are much more difficult.
- Waiting for that special someone to come into our life
- Waiting for employment doors to open
- Waiting for direction in a life decision
- Waiting for the test results to say, “You’re pregnant!”
- Waiting for God to heal
- Waiting for God to meet a financial need
- Waiting to see whether there will be peace or war
Surprisingly, the end of Acts chapter one gives us some insight as to how to handle the times when we have to wait for God’s direction. If you remember, the disciples had been told by Jesus to stay in Jerusalem and to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Even though they only had to wait 10 days (Jesus was with the disciples for 40 days and died at Passover, and Pentecost was 50 days after Passover), they didn’t know how long they were going to have to wait. With their futures put on hold the time of waiting could have been quite stressful. Look at what they did during this time.
We are told that all the disciples (this is the last time they are all listed) went into Jerusalem and met in an upper room. It is quite possible that this was the same upper room where they had the Last Supper with Jesus and where Jesus first appeared to all of them together after the resurrection. Apparently, it was a large room because in verse 15 we are told that Peter spoke to 120 people!
Along with the disciples were many others. Among those gathered there were the brothers of Jesus who previously had not believed, his mother (who is not mentioned again after this) and of course the women who went to the tomb on Easter morning. There were others who had been transformed by the resurrection of the Lord.
In verse 14 we are told that they joined together constantly in prayer. Don’t you wish you knew what the content of their prayer was? Were they praying for the Holy Spirit to come? Were they seeking the Lord for strength and wisdom? Were they addressing the needs of their own hearts? Were they dealing with their own fears? We don’t know. I suspect if we did know what and how they prayed we would tend to make it into a “formula for effective praying”.
What we do know for sure is that they continued in prayer. They were persistent. In the time of waiting they did not give up. They continued to confess their sin, worship the Lord, and lay out their concerns before the Father. They kept at it.
The Bible is filled with examples of people who prayed and didn’t give up. Think about Abraham as he waited for the promised child, Moses as he wandered in the wilderness, Joseph as he we confined in prison, David as he evaded the pursuit of Saul, Job as he wrestled with the question “why?”, Habakkuk who sought the Lord when He did not understand, the exiles of Israel as they waited to return to their homeland.
Have you ever had someone come up to you and ask you a question and then walk away before you ever had a chance to answer? Sometimes you get the feeling that these people really weren’t talking to you at all. They were talking out loud to themselves. I wonder how often our prayers are like that to God. We ask Him for guidance and walk away before He can give it. We share with Him a struggle but leave His presence before He can extend His comfort. We ask Him to mold us into faithful followers, but we don’t listen to what it is He might want us to do.
When we are called to wait, we should turn to prayer. The Lord has the answers we are looking for. He has the strength we need. To turn away from prayer is like turning away from medical assistance when we are sick.
Notice also that they prayed together. Think about a time you were in a waiting room of a hospital, or sitting at a funeral home, or on a long bus ride somewhere. What helps you get through those times? A friend. In the times when we are in God’s waiting room it helps to have someone to pray with and talk to.
There is an uncommon strength that comes from praying with others. When we are together in heart and mind the power of God is released.
THEY SEARCHED THE SCRIPTURES
Nowhere in the text does it say that they searched the scriptures. But we come to that conclusion from verses 16 and 17. Peter rises to talk to the group and say,
“Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”
Peter quoted a verse from Psalm 69 and Psalm 129. He used these texts as his argument that they needed to replace Judas as one of the disciples. In the time of waiting they were listening for God’s voice in His word.
The Bible doesn’t speak to every issue directly but it does give us principles that can be applied to most every issue. In the times when we are forced to wait we should spend our time reading the Bible with focused attention eager for God to prepare our hearts as they need to be prepared.
Someone will ask, “What should I read?” I really don’t think it matters so much where in the Bible you read only THAT you read. When you are in the waiting room you might find the book of Psalms to be of great comfort just like the disciples. The Gospels is another good place to start.
THEY OBEYED THE LORD’S INSTRUCTIONS
They Stayed in Jerusalem
The great thing about these who gathered is that they did what the Lord told them to do. They believed. They never wavered. Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem and He would send the Holy Spirit and they waited expectantly in Jerusalem.
Remember, these guys were not all from Jerusalem. It would have been very natural to go home to Galilee and their other home towns. It would have been natural to go back to work (“a guy’s got to eat!”). It would have also been very natural for these guys to try to begin doing what Jesus told them to do: to begin to reach out to the world.
But the first thing He told them to do was to wait. They were to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit. And even though it would have been easier and more natural to do just about anything else . . . they waited.
That’s a good principle . . . there are many things that seem like good things to do. But the best thing to do is to do what God told you to do!
They selected a replacement for Judas
As we already mentioned, the disciples came to the conclusion that they were to find a replacement for Judas because he had denied the Lord. Luke gives us the details on what happened to Judas.
With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out.
19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) [Acts 1:18-19]
In Matthew 27:5 the story seems to be different. Matthew tells us Judas returned to the high priests,
“Threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.”
These “discrepancies are easy to reconcile. There are two possible answers. Judas went out to the potter’s field and hanged himself over a rocky area. When the weight of his body hit the branch of the tree, it broke and sent him down into a rocky ravine where his body broke open. The second possibility is that Judas hung from the tree long enough that his body became bloated with gases from the sun and when he was cut down his body burst open. Neither is pleasant to think about but the point is that the two accounts harmonize. Of course, Judas didn’t buy the field directly but the priests bought it with his money which means he bought it indirectly.
Anyway, the disciples believed that God wanted them to replace Judas. So, the first thing the disciples do is establish qualifications for the replacement disciple. They conclude that it is important that this person be an eyewitness. They should be someone who has followed Jesus from His baptism to His ascension and was an eyewitness of his resurrection. They must have an experience similar to the rest of the disciples. Two men seemed to fit the bill, Joseph and Matthias. Matthias is chosen.
Two questions are raised about the replacement of Judas. First, there is a question as to whether they made the right decision. Some argue that the disciples “jumped the gun.” They say the replacement disciple that God picked was Paul. Afterall, we never hear from Matthais again.
The second criticism is over the method they use to select the replacement. Casting lots was very similar to drawing straws or flipping a coin. Some say, how could a person resort to such measures of chance to make such a major decision?
The names of the candidates were written on stones; the stones were put into a vessel and the vessel was shaken until one stone fell out; and he whose name was on that stone was elected to office. [Barclay]
Let me respond in several ways.
- First, the fact that we don’t hear from Matthias again doesn’t mean that he was a wash out as an apostle. Tradition says that Matthias was beheaded because of his faith. Truthfully, most of the apostle’s are not mentioned at all after this first chapter!
- Second, Paul did not meet the requirements
- Third, this was not an arbitrary decision but a decision based on the careful study of scripture and prayer. These men were not hasty. They discussed the issue, prayed about the candidates and ultimately left the decision to the Lord.
- Finally, the casting of lots was something that was common practice and God ordained when seeking the direction of the Lord throughout the Old Testament.
We don’t cast lots today because we now have the Holy Spirit and the New Testament. If we pray and search the scriptures, God will guide us. It sounds like casting lots would be a whole lot easier doesn’t it? If you can decide on who to marry, flip a coin! If you don’t know which school to attend, flip a coin! If you aren’t sure who should be President of the United States, draw straws! (It would be a lot less expensive and aggravating!) But God is not interested in simply making things easier for us. He seldom brings the miraculous simply because we are too lazy to do what we are supposed to do.
The point I want you to see is that when we are in the waiting room, there may still be things God wants us to do. As we pray and study we need to listen for God’s instruction. When we hear, we should obey. Again, it’s a good principle: If you don’t know what to do, do what you know you should do. It may seem unrelated to your need . . . but it’s not. We don’t see the big picture . . . God does.
Let’s wrap things up. At one time or another we will all find ourselves in the waiting room of life. These are important times. How we handle the times in the waiting room will often be the key to how deep our faith goes.
From the disciples we learned several things,
- We should seek the Lord in prayer. Prayer prepares us to hear from God. It is like picking up the receiver to answer the phone. We can’t be half-hearted at these times.
- We should study the Scriptures. We can’t know what God wants us to do unless we are willing to listen to His Word.
- We must be willing to obey what God tells us to do. If we do what He tells us to do we are ALWAYS moving in the right direction.
These are simple instructions. Do you realize that the times of waiting are often the most difficult because we don’t do these things. When we face delays we may get mad at God. Some leave the church. Others leave their Bible on the shelf. People say they don’t “feel like praying”. But when we turn away from the Lord, we are moving in the wrong direction! We are making matters worse rather than better. God’s delays are always purposeful even though they are often aggravating.
Once again it comes down to a simple question: “Who do you trust?” Do you trust the Creator of the Universe, the One who sees all things and understands all things? Do you trust this one who took the form of a servant so He could give his life as payment for your sin? Do you trust the one who knows you and your needs better than anyone else?
If you trust Him you may still get irritated by road construction, telemarketers, and long lines; but in the things that matter you will discover that God will mold your character and to prepare your for blessings that are greater than you can currently imagine. But first, you have to be willing to wait on His timing.