I've been convicted. No crime has been committed, but the conviction sticks. I'm guilty of letting prayer look and sound like it's second-rate in a relationship I say is first in my life. Something's got to change.
Here's where it started. This weekend's message was about dealing with uncertainty, when life's circumstances are up in the air. The truth of the message is still ringing with me: Do what you know to do until you know what else to do.
For the disciples, as Jesus was preparing to return to the Father, they were uncertain about the next part of the kingdom plan; Jesus' instruction was to return to Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit. (You can read the story at the end of Luke 24 and the beginning of Acts 1.) Stuck looking up into the sky as Jesus ascended into heaven, they got caught in their place of wondering until two angelic figures snapped them out of it. So the disciples did what they knew to do -- they went back to Jerusalem and waited for the Spirit. The results were as Jesus forecast; the Spirit broke through, and because the disciples waited on what was promised, they had what they needed for what came next -- an explosion of church growth in a very short time.
Left to their own devices, or armed with the knowledge this first-century mega church was about to blossom, the likely response would have been to sort out a plan based on their own strengths and weaknesses. Divide and conquer according to their natural talents. But none of what happened could have taken place without the infilling of the Holy Spirit -- who enabled Peter to preach to thousands gathered speaking in many different languages, who enabled the disciples to begin managing the exponential growth in a fraction of time, who enabled the listeners to hear a life-changing Gospel message all in their native tongues, but through one speaker (see Acts 2 for the details).
The secret of this story, though, is where the conviction comes for me. It's embedded in Luke's explanation in Acts 1; what the disciples did in their waiting. After returning to the city, the disciples and women who were followers of Jesus gathered together, all with one mind, "continually devoting themselves to prayer" (v 14). Even though the future was uncertain -- they didn't know when the Spirit would come, how it would come, or what would happen after the promise came -- as they began to do what they knew to do (go back and wait), they discovered they knew something else to do: PRAY.
In fact, it was the natural response for the disciples. There was no long waiting before the idea to pray broke through; it was an immediate response from those who were taught by Jesus himself how to pray. Luke doesn't tell us what they said specifically, if they were honest about their uncertainty or if they were boldly confident in God's promise. We just know they prayed. A lot. Continually. And it was their FIRST RESPONSE.
And here's the rub: why is prayer not always my first response? Why do I panic, wonder, doubt, question, lose my mind, make a list of all the things I can do in the situation? Do I not trust One who knows the plans He has for me, who orders my steps, who directs my paths? I once heard a preacher ask a group of people if God had seen them through rough waters before, and many hands raised in agreement. Then he posed the question, "How many of you panicked the next time crisis came?" Nods of affirmation replaced raised hands. He challenged his listeners (my paraphrase): "Isn't God the same God with the same ability as before? Why do we fret? Why don't we trust Him first?"
Why don't I? What keeps me from leaning back into the Strong Tower that God has been and continues to be? Better yet, when I talk about the challenges I'm facing, why don't I talk to Him first instead of after I've talked to my friends? Why does prayer become an afterthought? Why do I say to people, "Well, I'm praying, but what can I do? Isn't prayer exactly the only thing I can really do that makes the most impact? I might be able to give the gift of presence, or make a meal to relieve some responsibility, or a host of other things, but I can only do those things in the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit the disciples prayed to receive from the Father. Perhaps this is why Jesus wants to be our first response, not our last resort.
So the Spirit convicted me, in preparation for the message, and continually afterward. Why only choose to pray first in a time of crisis? Why not pray first all the time? I'm not naturally a morning person, but I see value in why Jesus got away early in the morning to meet with the Father. What better way to start a day than by talking to the One I say means more to me than anything? He already knows what I need for my day, how I need to handle it. When I don't have answers, I can go to the One who does. That my prayer life needs to look like the disciples, continually devoting myself to prayer.
I've witnessed the life of people who live this way. My grandmother, though her mind is failing, can still commune with the Lord and speak affirmation as others pray. My mom and dad, my go-to people for immediate intercession. My husband, whose ability to talk to his Heavenly Father was the way God confirmed that he was the one with whom I would partner and walk in the way God leads. So many precious friends and faithful believers who pray as though life depends on it... because it does. These lives reflect that prayer is not the next step, but the first step in living a life that pleases God.
The result for the disciples: the promised Holy Spirit. Exactly what they needed for what was next. The result for me: whatever it is, it will be worth the wait. And until I know what it is... I'll be praying if you need me.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.