How many buttons did you push this morning before you launched into the day? The alarm clock to turn off. The light to turn on, then the coffee maker to turn on. Or in my case, the coffee maker before the lights. (I have my priorities.) Check the weather on your phone or radio or television. Start the microwave. Water dispenser. Ice dispenser Did you check email, Facebook or twitter? Did you hit reply? Maybe an alarm pad to exit the house or open the garage door. And that’s just before you turned on the car.
We expect a lot of things to work immediately for us in our world. Push a button and things should happen. We count on it. Weather it’s the automatic door outside the building, the automatic soap dispenser, the passcode at our bank, an online registration system, the gas pump, the DVR, the call button in the hospital.
We expect things to happen when we want them to. High school teaches us to expect that the college courses we need to graduate should be available when we need them. Christian mingle tells us that if we want a partner, there should be someone available for us to love. Modern medicine makes us think that doctors can always supply us with something to make us feel better. The American dream led us to assume that if we want a job and more money some hard work will definitely produce it.
We are busy, productive, purposeful people. We don’t have time to waste. It seems only reasonable to expect that the world will accommodate our schedule so that we can get on with what we have to do.
In Luke- Acts, the risen Jesus seems to recognize that his disciples might be ready to start pushing buttons.
Wait! Jesus tells them. Jesus tells them to wait. At the end of Luke, he says “I am sending upon you what my Father promised. Stay in Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from on high.” At the beginning of Acts, we hear Jesus again telling the disciples to wait. In fact, it says that Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for inspiration.
Jesus’ last earthly teaching to his disciples makes it clear that waiting for God to show the way is essential, if the mission is to be successful. Taking action without inspiration is useless.
A lot of Christians move through life believing there are short cuts to faith and success in mission. We want to be able to push a button and have something happen – because, now, we are ready for this to happen. The homes of our neighborhoods, the cubicles of our workplaces and seats in our schools are littered with people who feel like God let them down completely because – when they were ready to make use of a little faith – they punched the button and nothing happened. They said a prayer – even a fervent prayer. They gave some money, maybe a lot of money. They read a devotional book – maybe even the bible. They were kind to someone – maybe even forgave them. And then, whatever they wanted to have happen didn’t occur. Their parent was still sick. Their partner still left. They were still angry. The job didn’t materialize. They couldn’t figure out how to change the world. So they gave up. What’s the point of this God stuff anyway – if it doesn’t get you what you are certain you need, when you need it?
We live in a push button world. It can be hard to learn to wait for inspiration, that a mission takes time and God’s will is often revealed through years, not days.
Churches, too, are always trying to push the right button. We know we have a mission to accomplish. If we have any energy, we are ready to get on it with. We’ve got the urgency and the excitement down, so, we want to get on with the business of being the church on our time schedule. Waiting on God can seem pretty out of control, even to a Christian church.
The disciples fell into this mistake and pushed a button too soon. When Jesus had ascended, they couldn’t quite wait for everything to happen, so they did what church people are prone to do: they formed a committee.
In the verses in Acts between the Ascension and Pentecost, the eleven remaining disciples decide that they need to replace Judas – the betrayer of Jesus, who is now dead. They pray, but they don’t really wait for inspiration. They cast lots and Matthias gets the short – or long– straw and is never heard of again in scripture.
That’s a pretty good portrayal of an uninspired decision. We think it needs to be made now, so we will make it now and nothing good comes of it.
In the church, we mash away repeatedly at buttons that have worked for some other congregation or some other time. There are a lot of pretty, nicely numbered buttons out there for us to push. Four steps for a successful Vacation Bible School that will attract young families. Five methods for building your budget. Ten ways to increase community impact. It makes us feel powerful and productive. But, it’s not necessarily inspired.
Everything we push around will be lifeless and powerless, unless it’s invested with the power of the Spirit. Mission – even the mission of the church – isn’t about being in a hurry or being efficient. And it sure isn’t about us being in control.
The waiting the disciples are called into is not empty time. To begin with, they are together as Jesus told them to be and they are where Jesus told them to be. Those are very important components of holy waiting.
They worshiped God together, telling and retelling the stories of salvation and the story of Jesus. They devoted themselves to prayer. They cared for one another, carrying on Jesus’ practice of making sure that the least, the lost, the hungry are remembered, tending to the children, the widowed, including those on the margins.
The time in Jerusalem before inspiration arrived, also, gave the disciples time to get to know that community. The original eleven disciples, at least, were village people, but they have been called to a large metropolitan city. A miracle of tongues on Pentecost allowed the good news of Jesus to be preached in a variety of languages, but connections must already have been made. While waiting, relationships were formed, understanding of the culture and context achieved – so that – when the time was right, the spirit could do its work.
Stop trying to push buttons. Wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit to show up. Like the disciples before us, we will find great joy in the work of waiting. Worship. Stay with believers. Pray. Care for one another. Get to know the people around you. You have been prepared for a great purpose. When inspiration comes, you will be ready.