Week of October 15

Tempered by Prayer for Effective Use

Read: Nehemiah 7-8; Acts 1
“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus,
and his brothers.”
Acts 1:14, ESV


F.B. Meyer once said, “Fall on your knees and grow there. There is no burden of the [human] spirit but is lighter by kneeling under it. Prayer means not always talking to Him, but waiting before Him till the dust settles and the stream runs clear.” The disciples modeled for the contemporary church the oft-overlooked pathway to making clear choices that bring God’s sure results—prayerful, patient dependence upon Him. Let’s learn the simple steps today to successful prayer.

The Meaning of the Text

Actively waiting on the Lord
Our focal passage provides us with an important birds-eye view into behind-the-scenes events between Christ’s resurrection-ascension and prior to Pentecost. If ever there was a time when the disciples could choose to slip back into their former way of conducting their spiritual lives, it would be now. However, something new has taken place in their lives and their behavior shows it. Rather than rushing headlong into a decision and/or clamoring over who would be in charge, they set an example for us that we would do well to heed and follow.
We all may learn from their example. As G. Campbell Morgan once said, “Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”
Key characteristics of fulfilling God’s will
First, there must be obedient waiting. The Lord gave a directive, based upon His authority, that the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until they had been clothed with power from the Holy Spirit (1:4). They were quite excited, no doubt, by His resurrection and were undoubtedly ready to carry out their mission. It may seem to be counterintuitive now to require them to wait.
“Strike while the iron is hot” may be the mantra of many organizations, but this approach builds a flaw into the final product. Once tempered, the tool is quite often brittle and breaks easily. The same holds true for ministry. Jesus knew they would fail in their mission unless He were with them in the Spirit to guide them. Sadly, we often do not know how to wait, nor do we know how to follow the Spirit. Our results are quite often meager in comparison to what He intended to achieve. There is more in our focal passage.
Secondly, we are to practice focused praying. The disciples set themselves to the task of prayer. The prayer meeting was ongoing as indicated by the participle that Luke uses to describe it (Acts 1:14). Notice this time that there is no word that they fell asleep like they did at critical times when Jesus walked among them (Luke 9:32; 22:45-46). We should also notice the centrality of the Scriptures in their prayerful preparations (Acts 1:16; Psalm 69:25). They began a process of calling to mind all that Jesus had taught and they made use of the Scriptures—aided by prayer—to come to their decisions.
Thirdly, we are to utilize faith-filled decision making. They cast lots, which means the disciples assigned lots to the two men they felt could take upon themselves the apostolic mantle. The qualifications were clear (Acts 1:20b-22). The person had to have been with Jesus from the beginning and had to have witnessed the resurrection. It was abundantly clear that this “eyewitness” office would expire when these twelve individuals passed from this life (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14). The number twelve must be kept because it corresponded to the restored twelve tribes of Israel, the people of God. The church is built upon this foundation, so it had to be completed before the coming of the Spirit and the “birth of the church” (cf. NAC).
Marked stones were placed in a jar and shaken out. The one whose stone fell out was chosen. Keep in mind that this was not a risky decision, because they had already deliberated and prayed and decided upon two qualified men. It was a randomized way to reach an impartial decision. This Old Testament practice would cease once the Holy Spirit came in fullness to direct the church. The disciples showed their profound faith in Christ’s leading through the tools they had at their disposal. God blessed!

The Message for Our Lives

One of the important lessons that I learned in 9th-grade metal shop class was that patient preparation leads to success, not to mention safety! I watched some of my classmates rush through the process of making chisels. They did not grind and shape and temper the metal properly. Our teacher would hold a large hammer well above his head and strike the newly made tool with full force. Very often the chisel would bend or snap under the pressure. He would look at the class, pause for effect, and then toss the useless tool into the trash container beside him. It was worthless.
Here is the point: Current decision-making failure often begins with the steps leading to the decision. Churches sometimes plan, fund, and only then pray before engaging in a ministry project. Patience is lacking, and prayer serves only as the icing on the proverbial cake. This flawed approach to ministry produces human results. We then find ourselves pointing the finger of blame at everything but the process that brought us to the failure! Successful Christians and churches get from “here to there” via a whole lot of prayer. Practice waiting upon the Lord for His guidance and provision.
In contrast, the early church leadership knew that hasty, ill-conceived, and Spirit-less leadership led to defeat. Their previous mentorship with Christ had shown this time and time again (cf. Luke 9:40, Matthew 14:22-33). The eternal consequences were not worth the risk, so they followed Christ’s instructions and leadership, and the rest is history. We may also say that the rest is our future, if we practice the same.

For Thought and Action

1. Call to mind a previous failed ministry attempt to serve the Lord. Examine it carefully to see what internal flaws may have led to the failed result. Follow the steps taken in Acts 1 and trust the Lord for His timing and results.
2. For Families: Next time your children are playing outside, invite them to a really hard challenge! This has a Bible message, too, that will help them grow to be like Jesus. What? There is a secret to this challenge. There are some simple rules to follow.

This is a race. Here are the rules:
1) They must line up on the same line.
2) They must get in position to race.
3) They must wait for the word, “Go!”
4) Then they must run for the finish line.

Simple, right? After everyone has understood the rules, have everyone line up on the starting line. Say, “On your mark.” Wait a bit. Then say, “Get Set.” Then wait a bit more. Extend your waiting for a while . . . then, suddenly, yell, “Go!” Watch them race to the finish line. Do this three or four times with varying wait times.

Then, ask them to gather round and share what they experienced. Was it hard to wait like that? How did their bodies feel as they strained to listen for the signal? Explain that, as they follow Jesus, they will need to learn how to wait for His direction to move ahead. We don’t make decisions about our lives without His say-so. We do everything we can to be ready, then we pray and wait for Him to give us the signal to move. Jesus cares about how we make decisions, and will help us to do the right thing.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock