I’m not sure our hyper-individualized faith understands the immensity of what happened at Pentecost. Yes, we know the Holy Spirit rested over the disciples. We say that was the moment the church was born.
I’m convinced it’s something much greater.
For the last several weeks, I’ve been reflecting on the ascension of Jesus. In particular, how Luke describes what happened has caught my attention. According to Luke, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem. We know now that is where they would experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit as the people of God celebrated Pentecost.
But it’s what Jesus told them to wait for that strikes me.
Many translations depict Jesus’ words to be something like, “Remain in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” That makes me think of how Colossians 3 encourages believers to “clothe” themselves in love. It’s not an outfit, of course. It’s an inherited quality.
As much as love defines who we are to be as the body of Christ, Jesus wanted his disciples to know the power they would inherit, too.
That’s what makes what happened at Pentecost so important. The church wasn’t formed at that moment. It was fully clothed, empowered and fully equipped to begin its work without Jesus. Now, most of us are okay with that so far.
I’m just not convinced we’re convinced enough. I’ll sum up my reason in two words: spiritual gifts.
If I had to put an order to my priorities as a pastor, my list would go like this: prayer, studying scripture and spiritual gifts. To be clear, I mean prioritizing these ideas as foundational to congregational living. I’ve talked, preached and written ad nauseam about prayer and Bible study. So, today, a focus on our spiritual gifts is in order.
In all honesty, I’ve struggled to get people excited about their spiritual gifts. I’ve done studies, sermons and Sunday school classes about what they are and why they’re important. For the most part, I can’t say many people have let our discussions take root.
I have two ideas why that may be the case.
First, as I said in the beginning, a hyper-individualized faith doesn’t need spiritual gifts. And it doesn’t have room for them. I need Jesus to comfort me and I want the Lord to bless my life. Those aren’t bad prayers, mind you. They’re just not full, mature prayers. Diluting the Christian faith to be only about you and Jesus misses the beauty God first inspired the church to know.
Second, I imagine there have been preachers and leaders that have overemphasized “helping the church.” This is when the pastor wants you to serve on some committee or cook something for an upcoming event. Without getting too longwinded about it, this is the busy-ful model of doing church.
When the Holy Spirit empowered the church at Pentecost, it was not to help the church. It was to share the good news of Jesus. That’s the first thing that happened as a result. Likewise, the spiritual gifts given to every believer are not to merely help. As empowered people, our spiritual gifts allow us all the opportunities to continue the outpouring that happened at Pentecost.
Every one of us has a spiritual gift. That gift is from God and is part of what we should experience at Pentecost even today.
It never fails. You can always count on a good chuckle from the congregation when we read from Acts 2.
Specifically, it comes when we read Peter’s opening defense of what has happened at Pentecost. You’ll recall that the 120 disciples began to speak in foreign languages. People from all over the world who had come to the Temple heard them speaking in their native tongue.
In amazement, many asked, “What does this mean?”
Others weren’t as impressed. They laughed at the whole display and figured the disciples had too much wine.
Here comes the funny part for most churchgoers.
Peter assured onlookers that the disciples weren’t drunk. It was, after all, only nine o’clock in the morning. I can hear the church chuckle now.
We tend to laugh because it sounds absurd. Being drunk isn’t funny, but being drunk at 9am? My assumption is alcoholics don’t laugh at that verse. It’s not out of the realm of possibility for drinkers to get started early. Especially if there are more than one hundred of them together. The prophet Isaiah once gave this warning, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger into the evening, to be inflamed by wine” (Isaiah 5:11).
To me, Peter uses the time excuse on purpose. At least for us, it is a reminder of the 9am prayer time everyone would have been aware of. See? Another connection between prayer and the power of God.
Remember, the disciples gathered in Acts 1 in pursuit of God. That is, they gathered upstairs and joined in prayer.
I’m not going to give up on that.
God things happen to a church that prays together. Stop assuming your church is praying. Let’s encourage one another to actually sit down with each other and pray.
I don’t mean to suggest we can have our own Pentecost reenactment. That’s not the point of reading from Acts 2. We aren’t trying to make what happened then happen now. But we do want to understand and experience the grace and power of God. Our desire is to know Christ.
Since we’ve already reiterated the importance of corporate prayer, let’s consider Peter’s next defense. He used the Bible to interpret what happened that morning. Can you imagine the amount of wine that would have been poured out to get more than one hundred people drunk? You would need a lot.
Because he knew the promise spoken of from the prophet Joel, Peter understood God was pouring out an abundance of the Spirit upon all people right before their eyes. Taken together, the amazement and scoffing spoken of in Acts 2 shows us just how much the whole event was for everyone to take in. The events of that day were what God had planned all along. The time for that outpouring had finally come.
Whatever outpouring we experience I believe will come from our willingness to gather in prayer together. The power of God is already known. The Spirit will awaken the church as we seek God together through prayer.
If the church is to reimagine a shared, dynamic prayer life it will not be by accident. We’ll need to develop and endorse such a shift in priorities. I’m willing to do that. Are you ready?