A Journey Thru Acts 3a: The Holy Spirit (2:1-13)
In this post we will dig into Scripture to look at some of the ways that some Christians grieve the Holy Spirit by ignoring Him, making too little of Him, not going far enough in regards to Him.
In the next post we will dig into Scripture to look at some of the ways that some Christians grieve the Holy Spirit by over-emphasing Him, making too much of Him (outside of the beautiful boundaries of the Bible), going too far in regards to Him.
As we continue in our journey through the book of Acts, for the next two posts we will focus on the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 we see the early Christians waiting for His power & presence before they get busy with the overwhelming mission that the Lord Jesus has just given them in Acts 1. For nearly a year now, I’ve been praying for the Holy Spirit’s power, specific power to help us have an intense focus on our mission, on our purpose for being on earth: knowing God, sacrificial love for other Christians, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of grace & Truth to non-Christians. Oh how we need to repent, Christians…
In either extreme—either just popping in & out of church when we can and not getting plugged in neck deep in Bible study & serving, or in our flurry of activities where we work work work as Christians but don’t know how to be still & know that He is God—there is a deep lack of calling & waiting on the Holy Spirit’s power through prayer, not I-squeeze-in-prayer-where-I-can-in-my-busy-schedule (prayer on the GO!) but prayer that is I-squeeze-in-my-daily-activities-where-I-can-in-my-lifestyle-of-prayer (prayer on the SLOW!):
- Does anyone today pray for hours at a time anymore? Ah, but we don’t have the attention span anymore for praying like that. Really? We do other things for hours at a time!! We watch movies/t.v. for hours (2 or more hours in one sitting), we run/exercise for an hour or more at a time (multiple times per week!), we gossip with friends for hours at a time, we complain about stuff we don’t like for hours at a time, we are on Facebook/Pinterest/social media for hours at a time, we watch sports for hours at a time, etc.
So back to my original question: does anyone today pray, cry out to God, wait for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom & power through Bible reading & prayer, for hours at a time? We often don’t, loved ones…please let’s just be honest, stop justifying/rationalizing, and let’s just confess to God that we don’t…the early church did, but we don’t…and as long as we’re being honest, many of us don’t even want to learn from God how to be that devoted in prayer, in quiet stillness, in waiting on the LORD for wisdom & power.
The Lord Jesus often went [withdrew] to lonely places and prayed (Luke 5:16)…
It takes a long time to GET to lonely places (and back again), let alone to then pray once Jesus got there. The Lord Jesus, quite possibly the busiest Person in history (what a mission HE had/has!)…often prayed like this. He didn’t make time for prayer in His full schedule, He had to make time for His schedule in His full praying. Jesus had a lot to do…He was too busy not to pray, and pray for long stretches, even sacrificing sleep (which of course He also needed physically, just like we do) in order to pray. (Matthew 14:22-25; Luke 6:12).
I bring this up because I’ve been especially burdened about this over the last few years, this lack of power in His people, this lack of prayer & waiting on the LORD, this doing nothing as the church or trying to do anything apart from His Holy Spirit’s power…this is foundational to this local church, loved ones…
- A number of years ago I walked up to a church building, after an intense thunderstorm, and there was a hand-written sign on the door that said, “The church has no power.” It literally took my breath away. The sign meant electricity, but I think it meant much more than that. We have no power, loved ones…we have no power…
John the Baptizer said that he would baptize people with water but Jesus would baptize people “with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE” (Matthew 3:11), fire to discipline us & humble us & refine us, to break us down & build us up again, to empty us of the self-esteem that the American culture has worked so hard to puff us up with and to fill us with the God-esteem that we must have, fire to make us holy not make us happy. Where’s our FIRE, Christians? Where’s the Holy Spirit’s POWER? Have we been baptized with blessing & comfort or with the Holy Spirit & with FIRE!?
Acts 2:42-47: how did the early church GET to be so close to each other? How were they able to elevate God, community and others so powerfully, so sacrificially, so consistently, so beautifully?
- many of them spoke different languages
- many of them were from other countries/cultures
- many of them just met each other!
- we know from Acts 7 that there were a substantial number of widows among them, so we can infer that the early Christians were made up of people of different ages as well!
- most of them were new Christians! They hadn’t spent years maturing! But look at how they treated each other!
Now of course they had issues, they still needed to grow in character & love; much of the New Testament is written to teach and correct and discipline the early Christians. They got much wrong as newer Christians, but by God’s grace look at what they got RIGHT!!!
Many American Christians are starving and hungering for this kind of Acts 2 purpose and fellowship, and we either do nothing (we expect people to come up to us and start talking to us) or we try to do everything (setting up activity after activity to build community without spending any or just a little time crying out to the Holy Spirit for power to create true Christian community as only He can).
Why are we here on earth?
- Elevate God—KNOW HIM! We need power from the Holy Spirit to KNOW THE LORD!
Ephesians 1:17: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
Ephesians 3:16-17: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:17-19: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
- Elevate (Biblical) Community: REAL FELLOWSHIP with other Christians, not just a social club! Non-Christians get together and laugh and listen and serve and have fun together! But the church has something that non-Christians cannot have—Holy Spirit-powered FELLOWSHIP, a knitting together of our hearts and souls as the family of God, forgiven of our sins thorugh the blood of our risen God and Savior Jesus Christ!
Acts 2:1-4,17-18,38: It was the Holy Spirit that empowered the early church to be so close to each other even though they were mostly inexperienced Christians, even though they came from different cultures and spoke different languages and didn’t know each other very well!
- Elevate others (non-Christians): not just serving their earthly needs but also introducing them to Jesus who wants to take care of their eternal needs as well!
It was the Holy Spirit who in just a few days turned the early church from fearful/hiding people to boldly proclaiming the Gospel to all and rejoicing even though they suffered and were persecuted! THIS is the main role of the church—proclaim the Good News of Jesus’ blood, His cross, and His empty tomb! The early church focused on this while in smaller ways met earthly needs; we have flipped this today and we focus on earthly needs and in smaller ways (if at all!) share the Gospel with our words. But most of us don’t NEED the Holy Spirit to help us meet the earthly needs of others a few times per year; we can do that on our own power! Thus we don’t HAVE the Holy Spirit’s power because we don’t need it or ask for it, we don’t want to do the scary elevating of others—proclaiming the Gospel—that requires the Holy Spirit’s power.
Acts 5:41-42: They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go (they didn’t order the disciples to stop SERVING people; they ordered them to stop EVANGELISING people, because that’s what the early church primarily was doing!). 41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Acts 1:8: “But 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.”
In all three of our main purposes for being on earth, the Holy Spirit’s power is essential…He is not the icing on the cake but the flour in the cake…
Two Big Picture/Foundational Steps We Need To Take
We need to repent that we either think that church is all about working hard without much prayer for the Holy Spirit’s power or that church is just 75 minutes per week where we get in and get out and don’t get connected with deeply knowing God, with deep Bible study & serving each other, with knowing others & being known through the Holy Spirit’s power.
- If you’ve been attending here for 6 months or longer, are you getting to know anyone new in that time? Or do you talk to the same people each Sunday, do you hang out with the same people during the week? Cliques, like weeds, can form without us trying to plant them, even with the best of intentions…
We need to cry out for the power of the Holy Spirit every moment…and we need to learn to stop doing other things so that we can cry out to and wait on the Holy Spirit for His power, waiting with open Bibles & open hands…
- Again, one extreme is to do nothing and just say that the Holy Spirit will make us into a community of fellowship while we sleep, like people who used to think that you could listen to an audio recording of your college professor while you slept and it would soak into your mind. Nonsense!
- Look at all the VERBS in Acts 2:42-47—the Holy Spirit powered/fueled/guided the early church, but they made choices, they did actions in their partnership with the Holy Spirit: were devoted to the Bible, fellowship & prayer; were together, had everything in common, sold and gave, continued to meet, ate meals together, praised God, enjoyed favor, were filled with awe, etc.
- These are verbs that the early church did, and they had the same amount of time per week that we do—being devoted in these ways meant that there were other hobbies/goals/dreams/recreations/ activities to which they could NOT be devoted, which they did not have time to do. They had a reformation and restructuring of their time commitments; we need to the same. And so we Christians need to repent for the ways that we have let other earthly aspects of life crowd out our eternal mission.
- God did provide manna on the ground each morning for His people to gather while they were wandering in the desert (that is how many want God to provide for us today—just wake up and BOOM we are spiritually fed, BOOM our problems are taken care, BOOM we are closer to Him, BOOM we are maturing as Christians); but the moment they got to the Promised Land God stopped sending the manna because now His people were able to plant, were able to grow and cultivate and harvest crops. The manna was only temporary; the planting & harvesting would be needed continuously…
But again, the other extreme is getting busy busy busy being the church with activity after activity after activity, where prayer is simply the hood ornament on the car: nice to look at but not needed to drive, where the Holy Spirit is merely the earrings or watch on our wardrobe: nice to have but not necessary to go out into the world each day. In this extreme the church is people rowing furiously in different directions which causes the rowboat to go in circles, to get nowhere. We are often impressed with local churches like this, we often admire the tightness and consistency of their circles that they make in the water…but we fail to realize that Biblically, according to the pattern we see in the early church in Acts, such a local church goes nowhere—they don’t look like the church did in Acts! The devil is equally happy with a rowboat that never leaves the beach and a rowboat that only goes in circles out in the water—both fail at our Jesus-given mission/purpose.
- As I think back to the Olympics last summer, rowing is a very cool event. Very strong men and women work hard for four years at rowing, pushing through the pain/tiredness/soreness. It is beautiful and mesmerizing to watch a rowboat with 8-10 people rowing hard, gliding smoothly and quickly across the water…but note the importance of the coxswain, a member of the team who doesn’t have big muscles and who doesn’t row at all! This person is usually small so as to not slow the boat down too much, on one hand this person doesn’t pull their own weight—they don’t row at all! But their role is crucial: they set the rythym of the rowers so that they row in unison with each other, so that they row at the same pace and at the same time, so that even their strokes, the amount of time that their paddles are in the water, are almost precisely the same stroke after srtoke. Without the coxswain, the rowboat will simply go in circles, even theough the rowers are strong and work hard.
This is one (very imperfect) way to look at the power of the Holy Spirit, this is one way to look at prayer within the local church as we learn to sit in silence and quiet and reflection on the Word of God and listen to the Holy Spirit setting the rhythm, the rowing, the mission of the local church, to rely on Him to enable us to elevate God, community and others. Without learning to listen to and be empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit through Bible reading & prayer, we will row in circles, we will go nowhere (or we will get out of the rowboat and relax on the beach). We must pray, or our efforts will be in vain, even if other Christians are impressed by all our activity, all our circles…
In James 2:14-17, he addresses the Christians who were hiding behind faith (perhaps we can substitute prayer in here) & only verbally blessing others when they had the God-given ability to do more as their excuse to not row, to not help another Christian practically (e.g. with food & clothing) even though God had provided them with practical ways to help other Christians. This of course is a serious problem…hiding behind verbal help only, hiding behind prayer.
But I wonder if nowadays we hide behind rowing as an excuse not to pray! We focus so much on the little our hands can provide that we rarely/never lift up other Christians to the much that only God’s hands can provide! This is a serious problem too!
- I wonder if many U.S. Christians don’t truly spend hours per week living out our mission from the Lord Jesus; I wonder if most of us think we don’t have time to be with God, to elevate community with other Christians, to elevate non-Christians by proclaiming to them the Truth & grace of Jesus through our words and actions. We’re like birds that somehow don’t have time to fly, to do what we were made to do!!!
But even those who do spend hours doing these things, don’t we usually spend only minutes in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to empower us? If we want the LORD to disciple us at all, don’t we want discipleship on the go–drve-thru–instead of discipleship on the slow–go in and sit down? Don’t we want microwave discipleship from God instead of Crock-Pot? We just get busy rowing and every once in a while glance at the coxswain in the rowboat, the “little” person without human muscle who we think is not as important as getting high-horsepower/”talented” people to row row row as much as possible.
Loved ones, there are even Christians who bounce from one Bible study as a task to another but never just sit with God as a treat! They study a lot, which is good, but even the study becomes another chore, another work for God, another item on the checklist…there’s no relationship or romance with the LORD because we have reduced ourselves to only clinically studying Him. The devil knows the Bible (though of course not the heart of Scripture)! But he doesn’t know the LORD as Papa…
We must repent of this, loved ones…not repent for deeply studying Scripture, but repent for turning our relationship with the LORD into only a class, into a chore, into a task with bullet points and checkboxes, a mere list. It is sheer laziness on one extreme—leaving the rowboat on the beach and expecting the Holy Spirit to do everything for us—and it is sheer arrogance on the other extreme to row row row and make no time for quiet prayer, for stillness in crying out to the Holy Spirit for power, for sipping the Bible, to row for hours per week and pray for minutes.
- Let’s try an experiment for one year: switch it—pray for hours per week and row for minutes and let’s see how God uses us then, just like He reduced Gideon’s army from 30,000 to 300 and defeated/routed the enemy army though the 300 only had pots, torches, and trumpets…
Because of this post some may resolve to pray like this…maybe half of us will actually do something today in response to this message…and then tomorrow about half again will continue to cry out to the Holy Spirit for power…until by the end of this week 99.9% are back to our old habits, chillin on the beach or rowing in circles.
How do you know if you are still on the beach or are rowing in circles?
Over the last year:
Are you being transformed by God to grow closer to Him as a Person? Are you knowing Him Biblically or just about Him culturally (your own opinions)? Is He only a 2D encyclopedia entry in your mind, or is He your 4D heavenly Father?
Are you being transformed by God to sacrificially love other Christians & be knitted together with them, knowing them & being known, not just hanging out but digging into Scripture together and praising God together, eating meals together, sacrificially giving to other Christians in need, being vulnerable and sharing your burdens and then bearing (carrying) them together? Are different Christians being added to your circle? Is it a circle (closed) or a horseshoe (open for others to enter)?
Are you boldly proclaiming to non-Christians the Truth & grace of Jesus? Are you using your words to do this? Are good deeds the only way you proclaim the Gospel? Faith in Jesus comes from hearing the Word about Jesus…not just seeing it lived out (Romans 10:17)?
(Now of course we do go through seasons of dryness, seasons of spiritual drought where there isn’t much growth, where there isn’t much evidence listed above, and sometimes those seasons last months or longer! But look back over the past three years, five years–has there EVER been this kind of growth in holiness in your life? If not, cry out to the Lord Jesus to show you your need of Him, ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you have actually received the Lord Jesus as your Savior & King or if He is simply an acquaintance in your life when you are in a jam)
Now you might be thinking, “This is too much—on some level deep down I don’t want just stay on the beach as a Christian and I don’t want to just row in circles, I want to have real Christian fellowship that only the power of the Holy Spirit can give, I do want to learn how to be relationally risky and learn how to sacrificially love & be loved by other Christians though so many have hurt me in the past, I really do want to know God deeply, I really do want to boldy share the Gospel with non-Christians…but this is all too big, too much. I’m just too busy, it’s just too big of a task. It’s overwhelming; I feel hopeless. I can barely get my laundry done each week and get the garbage on the curb each Tuesday.”
Yes it is impossible for us…alone! But not impossible for God. This must be done on His power alone; we must get on our knees—ALL OF US—like we have never done before. Most of us are tired, but some of us, by God’s grace, are SO TIRED of just playing church (the 21st century suburban American version of it) that we are willing to get crazy and radical–that is, Biblical!–so that Holy Spirit can empower us to BE the church (the 1st century Biblical version of it). It’s not a question of IF you are tired…but WHAT are you tired of…and HOW tired are you to cry out to God for Him to make the painful but necessary changes in your soul, mind, body, time, wallet and life.
- Do you really want to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire? Fire NEVER leaves something the same–it always changes it, and fire is often painful for whatever it is changing. The power of the Holy Spirit is not just magic so you can see some cool special effects in the movie that is your life; the power of the Holy Spirit throws out and rewrites the script we have been living out–chasing our dreams, making an idol out of personal happiness–and replaces it with the script of the Bible–Script-ure, God’s will and goals; the fire of the Holy Spirit is not just turning the movie of your life from 720p to 1080p–the fire of the Holy Spirit takes us from the leading role (or the director!) in our lives and puts us down as one of the grips or assistants to the Leading Man–Jesus Christ. Please let’s not just say we want more fire from the Holy Spirit without realizing that it will cost us much and be very painful in the short-run (though totally worth it in the long run!).
Not by might, or by power, but by My Spirit…Zechariah 4:6
Unless the LORD builds the house, the workers labor in vain…Psalm 127:1
Ephesians 3:20-21: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
- Now to Him (focus on GOD, not ourselves/our methods/our techniques!)
- Who is able (WE are unable to do this but GOD ALONE is able!)
- To do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (God will show us a fellowship with other Christians, an intimacy with Himself, and a boldness to proclaim to others His grace & Truth that we can’t even imagine, that goes beyond what we even THINK that we want or are willing to have! But we must cry out for and wait on His power through reading the Bible & praying)
- According to His power (NOT our horsepower but HIS Holy Spirit power!)
- That is at work within us (IN US, not just topically applied externally on us or just worn like wardrobe accessories; His power IN US; wave a cup under a kitchen faucet and it will get a few drops (on the GO!); KEEP a cup under a kitchen faucet and it will get FILLED (on the SLOW!). (Have you surrendered to Jesus as Savior & King, have you cried out to Him for mercy, forgiveness, & new life as your Master, King, Savior and God, to pay the penalty for your awful sinfulness? Is Jesus sleeping on the couch or in the Master bedroom? Is Jesus around you…or IN you?)
- To Him be glory (HE gets the fame and honor as we begin to live on His power! His name is at the top in the credits of the movie of history–HIS-story–and our names are graciously and humbly and rightfully at the very bottom of the credits)
- In the church and in Christ Jesus (WOW! God the Father is glorified through Jesus AND us, sinners like you & me! Wow! What an undeserved privilege!)
- Throughout all generations (God can be glorified/honored through the 21st century American church JUST as He was glorified/honored through the 1st century Judean church! Acts 2 can be true of us just as it was true of them!!!!!)
- Amen (let it be SO!)…