The task seemed insurmountable. As a matter of fact, the task, when only observed from the perspective of human ingenuity and ability, WAS insurmountable. How could one be expected to rebuild a temple, religion, city, kingdom, and ethnic identity after years of captivity and under such extreme adversity? The prophet Zechariah recognizes the enormity of the issue and speaks God-ordained, life-giving encouragement into the situation as he declares to Governor Zerrubabel, “It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Zerrubabel’s focus was being directed to a loftier vantage point and deeper source of strength for this assignment demanding far more than natural, man-concocted solutions could provide. Zerrubabel’s dilemma/solution is not an isolated situation.
Fast-forward over five centuries. Men and women are waiting in Jerusalem for a promise to be fulfilled (Acts 1). These people had been commissioned with the seemingly insurmountable task of taking the message of the Kingdom of God to a world characterized by religious pluralism, harsh political dominance, and moral decadence. No doubt there was much excitement in the air as they had actually received these instructions from the resurrected Jesus! No doubt there was much intrinsic motivation connected to this excitement as they desired to be an active part of the Kingdom expansion being proposed by the King Himself! The strange thing, however, is that even though commissioned, excited, and motivated, the King knew his messengers would face obstacles and challenges far beyond the capacities of temporary excitement and fluctuating motivation to overcome. The mission was clear but power for the purpose was yet to be delivered. Jesus COMMANDED them to wait for proper equipment before setting out on the adventure knowing that even a well-defined mission without sufficient empowerment becomes “mission impossible”.
Jesus COMMANDED them to wait.
While studying Acts 1 recently, it became obvious to me how much “church stuff” can actually take place without the promised Pentecostal empowerment insisted upon by Jesus. BEFORE the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit in Acts 2 the disciples were anticipating the second coming of Jesus (1:11), exercising obedience (1:12), assembling together for prayer (1:13-14a), gathering together in unity (1:14a), creating an culture of racial and gender equality (1:14b), conducting business (1:15-22), reflecting on the scriptures (1:16,20), electing/appointing leaders (1:21-26), and recognizing the centrality of the resurrection (1:22b). It is truly remarkable to realize all of these things were taking place prior to the promise of power for the proposed purpose being poured out on these people! Could we even fathom this group looking around at all the systems in place and saying, “We’re doing pretty well as is; maybe waiting and dependence on the promise of the Spirit is not that big of a deal?”
Let’s fast-forward once again to a time more than twenty-five hundred years beyond Zerubbabel and two millennia after Acts 1 and the disciples-in-waiting. We perceive a similar call of mammoth proportions but also seemingly insurmountable odds. The 21st century church is commissioned to reach its world with the transformational gospel of the Risen Christ in the midst of rampant relativism, constant social and political unrest, unnerving economic downturns and vocational uncertainties, extreme dangers from organized terrorist groups and “lone wolf” murderers, unending attacks on the Christian faith, and many other manifestations of latter-time, “perilous” surroundings (2 Timothy 3:1-5). May I suggest that the same solution given to Zerrubabel and the first century church is also the God-ordained answer for provision needed for the 21st century task of “making disciples of all people’ (Matthew 28:19-20)?
Could it be that God’s solution remains a lack of dependence on human expertise, trends of excitement, and cleverly devised motivational tactics? Could it be that the proliferation of humanism of recent decades has so infiltrated the church that we find ourselves succumbing to the tendency to trust in our abilities, education, talent, models, and experience MORE THAN an ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18)? If so, we must vigorously resist this rip current of compromise dragging us into deeper depths of ineffectiveness while lost, hurting people in need of Christ are perishing without ever knowing His love!
With the desire at the forefront to be filled with the Holy Spirit in both training institutions and local church contexts, the following question becomes central: “What can be done in practical, boots-on-the-ground ways to renew a sense of dependence on and desperation for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and ministries?”
Three suggestions may be a good starting point in this endeavor:
First, preachers and teachers should realistically evaluate message emphases and salient points to assess how much they are encouraging constituents to seek initial and continual infillings of the Holy Spirit. In other words, is the doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit simply an espoused value with little real-life application or is this a true value presented as essential equipment for the effective believer and church leader?
Second, individuals should honestly evaluate how many of their life-decisions are made under the invited supervision of the Spirit rather than through trial-and-error, personal preference, or the advice of others. While these three “alternatives” are not invalid, true Spirit-dependence always places them as subservient to His influence and direction.
Finally, power for purpose not only refers to mission and task, but is first manifested in the lifestyle and attitude exemplified. Developing character and fruit along with gifts is essential for message validation and true influence!
As I write these words from inside a Christ-centered, Pentecostal university setting, I am grateful for the incredible giftedness and potential that surrounds us. My heart’s cry is that this potential would find full actualization as we understand our attempts to posture for God’s appointments are first and foremost a matter of seeking the Spirit-anointing that serves as the fountainhead for all other efforts of preparation.