You've probably done it, too. I've had it happen several times. I always feel a bit foolish when it happens. So, what is the "it"?
When changing rooms while running the vacuum cleaner, I quickly changed wall sockets, walked over to the vacuum, turned on the switch, and NOTHING. The vacuum cleaner refused to run. So, I went through all sorts of gyrations to try to discover what was wrong. I flipped the on/off switch several times rapidly. I used good ol' Texas engineering and banged on the obstinate machine several times! I checked the agitator to make sure it was not clogged or hung on some piece twine. Then, I punched all the adjustment buttons and flipped the on/off switch several times for good measure.
About this time, my wife, Donna, entered the room, noticed that the plug is loose in the wall socket, plugged it in more securely, and the infernal machine roared back to life, scaring me half to death while my fingers worked the agitator. Somehow, the plug had come loose in the socket. No connection, no power, and no running vacuum! Duh!!
What seems so apparent now was forgotten in the middle of my frustration: I needed to check to make sure the plug was securely in the outlet.
As followers of Jesus, we often suffer from a similar "no power" or "low power" frustration. We struggle with the apparent lack of the Holy Spirit's power in the life of Jesus' church and us, his disciples.
We craft mission statements.
We focus on excellent church communication.
We rally the troops for our good causes.
We print up banners with all sorts of cool and cute slogans.
We do everything in our power to pull off a new project, launch a new mission effort, or awaken our sagging morale. We do it all, trying to establish some fresh church momentum.
While some of those efforts can be effective, we often forget the most crucial part of the spiritual process: the Holy Spirit! We forget to seek the Holy Spirit's power to be released into the life of God's people to accomplish his work in our world.
Jesus' last words before ascending to the Father focused on the necessary release of God's power if the disciples' efforts were going to accomplish their mission:
"And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven" (Luke 24:49).
While waiting on the Lord is important, some churches have been waiting to do something for many years and end up doing nothing. We must notice that Jesus' command to wait — "stay in the city" — is a limited duration command. We know from other references that Jesus' followers devoted themselves to waiting in prayer with the expectation that the Lord would send the Spirit to empower them in a few days (Acts 1:1-14).
They followed Jesus' command, and the Lord was faithful to do what he promised (Acts 2:1-4)! Then, the Lord intervened with power again as they sought His help and power when facing a time of trial (Acts 4:1-31). The book of Acts is a repetition of this process again and again: challenge/threat/problem leads to prayer, which Jesus answers with power from the Spirit.
The apostle used this same approach with the church in Ephesus. Few people in Paul's time were as fascinated by spiritual power as the people of Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20). Paul wrote to help them face the challenges of their culture and to open their eyes to the source of real power:
- He prayed that the Lord would give them the Spirit of knowledge to know Him better (Ephesians 1:15-17).
- He also prayed that the Ephesians would experience the power that raised Jesus from the dead in their lives (Ephesians 1:18-22).
- He later prayed that God would strengthen them by the power of the Spirit in their inner being (Ephesians 3:16).
- Paul talked about worship and submitting to one another in terms of being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:15-21).
- He later challenged them to let the Spirit use God's word in their lives and encouraged them to "pray in the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17-19).
Paul was not giving us a cookbook formula for being filled with the Spirit, but he was demonstrating the importance of seeking God in prayer. He was showing us that prayer, worship, submission, and the word of God are crucial in releasing the Spirit's power in our lives.
I don't know about you, but this quick overview of the work of the Spirit in the early church is both encouraging and convicting. Too often, I fear, we leave out prayer, singing, rejoicing, and the power of the Holy Spirit from our plans. God longs to bless us with his power if we seek his help in prayer.
So, let's make a point to spend more time seeking God and asking for the release of His Spirit into our lives and the lives of others.
The following questions are for your reflection, and for sharing in a small group of friends, or for use in a home gathering:
Why do you think it is so hard for us to "wait" on the Lord in prayer, worship, and seeking His guidance?
What is the difference in praying and praying with the expectation that God is going to do something only He can do?
Paul uses the phrase "I eagerly expect and hope" to talk about God's work in life and death to bring Him glory and bring Paul deliverance (Philippians 1:19-25).
What difference does it make to approach God's promises with expectation and hope?
Paul expects God to act with power through his prayers for the Ephesians (see the Scriptures mentioned above) can we expect God to do the same for the people in our church?
Of course, Paul challenges the Ephesians to expect God to work and to submit their lives to God. How can we do this in our spiritual family?
Read through the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 again, and share some principles from this story that fit the theme of prayer and the release of God's power (Luke 9:10-17).