The Keys to A New Beginning (e)
James R. Davis
How many of us would like to have a new beginning? We may often dream about how we would do things differently if we had life to live over. We would want to make some crucial changes in hopes of a different life or a new beginning. As a matter of course, this only happens in our dreams. Although it is impossible to live life over, you can have a new beginning. A new beginning is our only hope, for life moves forward even when we look backwards. It is not what has happened, but what is about to happen that is all-important.
As the book of Acts opens, we find Jesus ministering to his disciples. He is helping them cope with their misunderstanding, failures and desertion. His post-resurrection ministry is for the sole purpose of giving them a new beginning. He is in the process of moving these weak, self-centered and disheartened disciples into becoming a new breed of believers. So he spends forty days encouraging them, teaching them and commissioning them. He is depending upon them to turn the world up side down with the message of salvation.
Too often, when I study the book of Acts, I only see the results. I lose sight of what is taking place. I see the results of the Spirit's coming. I see the results of Peter's sermon. I see 3,000 are baptized. I see the Lord adding to the church daily such as should be saved. Yet, too often, I fail to realize what made possible the power of the Holy Spirit and the earth shattering response by those who heard.
Let us look at the basic steps they took to have this powerful new beginning. Hopefully we will find the clues to a new beginning for our own lives.
Trusting In God's Plan
A new beginning is discovered as we trust the plan of God. It is not always easy to follow God's plan. At times our lack of understanding and unanswered questions holds us back. The fear of not knowing how God is going to work things out holds us back. At these crucial times we must have faith in God's plan.
So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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."
Jesus never told them when or how God would accomplish his purpose. He simply says you must go to Jerusalem. I am sure this plan wasn't all that exciting. Jerusalem was the place where Jesus was crucified and the people were hostile to the disciples. Remember how they were careful to lock the door when they gathered together in a room in Jerusalem? They were afraid of the people of Jerusalem and wanted to go back to Galilee. But Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem. Why? He wanted them to witness there. So they followed God's plan.
Jesus also told his disciples they must witness in Judea and Samaria. Now, that was another problem. Why? Jews despised Samaritans. They called them half-breeds. Not only that, Jesus said, his disciples must take the gospel to the end of the earth. This meant beyond the nation of Israel. This was really a problem for the Jewish disciples, who called Gentiles dogs.
The 11 disciples standing there on the Mount of Olives didn't have a backup plan. There was only one plan. It was absolutely essential that it be followed. It is no wonder they were asked, "Why are you standing here gazing up into the heavens?" God's plan needed to be put into action. Will Rogers once said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just stand there."
The first century disciples experienced renewal upon following God's plan. You can't go wrong if you seek to build your life upon his plans. It is his plans that give us a solid foundation upon which to build our lives.
Throughout Acts chapter one, we see the disciples seeking to follow God's plan. They return to Jerusalem according to Jesus' instructions. Upon their return they seek to further carry out God's plan as they seek to appoint someone to take Judas' place.
"For," said Peter, "it is written in the book of Psalms, "'May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,' and, "'May another take his place of leadership.' Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection." So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs." Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Nothing happens by chance. It is crucial for us to believe that God has a plan and it will succeed.They could look back to the resurrection, to his ascension into heaven to be at the right hand of God. They see the fulfillment of God's eternal plan. Now their faith can sustain them as they wait for the next act of God.
Paul found new direction from God by getting in tune with God's plan when he received the Macedonian call.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us.
If we follow God's plan, he can enable us to fulfill his plans according to his timetable. First century Christians got in tune to God's plan. If we are not discovering renewal, maybe it is time to evaluate our plan in light of God's plan. Maybe that brick wall God has put in our way is trying to tell us something. When we are just spinning our wheels, maybe we need to reevaluate our strategies.
Trusting In God's Timing
Listen to the last words spoken to the apostles by Jesus in answer to a question. "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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." (Acts 1:6-8)
These verses are perplexing. Jesus held a 40-day seminar after his resurrection to teach them about the kingdom (v. 3). Why do they still have questions? Jesus simply said, "It is not for you to know the times or the dates . . ." For most of us, that answer isn't sufficient. We don't like piece-meal revelation. But it is God's way of not burdening us with the tomorrows.
If they had known what God was about to do, they would have broken their necks trying to force it to happen according to their own plans. That was a burden that only God could bear. It was up to God to make it happen, at his timing. Jesus simply says, "Wait in Jerusalem until God empowers you from on high." How long would they have to wait? How would God make it happen? What would be required of them? They were simply told to wait in Jerusalem.
For many, waiting is a terrible thing. I remember my military years; we were always in a hurry to get to where we were going. Usually when we got there, we always had to stand around and wait. We always called it a game of "hurry up and wait." Most of us are not very good at waiting. We don't even like waiting in a fast food line at McDonalds. To most of us time is of the essence. Yet, we have no special place to be.
Waiting upon God is much different. With God a day can be like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. We may begin to think that the Lord is slack in his promises.(2 Peter 3:8-11) The event, which was about to take place in Jerusalem, had been planned in the mind of God before the world was created. The faithful of Israel had been waiting for thousands of years. Here in Acts the faithful are still waiting for God to manifest himself. Sometimes it is like this when we seek personal growth. We think that it will never come, it takes a lifetime.
Power comes to those who wait upon God's timing. "I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope." (Psalms 130:5) "For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth." (Psalms 37:9) "Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land . . . " (Ps 37:34) "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." (Psalms 27:14 "These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things." (Psalms 104:27)
The reason soldiers spend so much time "hurrying up and waiting" is because the generals have an overall battle plan that must be put in place. Assembling the forces to carry out the battle requires time. Each squadron or platoon must be put in its proper place before the overall battle plan will be effective. But when everything is in place, you move out. You may not know when you are moving out, but you trust those in charge. They didn't know exactly when or how God would put his plan into action, but they waited upon God to put his battle plan into action. God is waiting for Jews from every nation under heaven to gather on Pentecost. He is going to make his announcement at the proper time.
We can only wonder. How much easier would it have been to wait in Jerusalem, if they had understood, God had planned for them to be in that upper room before the world was created. It was foretold by Isaiah. (Isaiah 2:1-5) The details of what was happening in that room was planned long before any of them had set foot on earth.
How much easier would this make our waiting upon God? Of course, concepts like this we only debate. We seldom enjoy the reality of it all. God knows what my tomorrow holds in store. He is already there working out the details of my life. Renewal comes when I began to live in the reality of it all. Again the Psalmist writes, "O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress . . . " (Psalms 59:9)
Trusting In God Through Prayer
What do you do while you are waiting upon God? The time we spend in waiting upon the Lord is meant to be active times -- not passive times. It is a time where we work at what is at hand -- rather than that which is to come. When a soldier is waiting on the final order to enter battle, the soldier spends his/her time making sure that the weapons and machinery are in working order. They spend their time in immediate preparation.
So it was with the disciples, " . . . they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers." (Acts 1:12-14)
After the ascension of Jesus Christ, prayer is the very first thing the disciples engage in. In that three-quarter of a mile walk back to Jerusalem, they began to realize they would need God's help. God's plan has brought them to center stage. Now, "They all joined together constantly in prayer . . . " Here is a powerful message for a church seeking renewal. One version says they made prayers and supplication. They were asking God to supply their needs. They were relying upon God's power to fulfill God's plan. I can only wonder if the doors are still locked.
You can have a drawer full of blueprints, they may be great blueprints, but they are powerless to make anything happen. It takes more than a blueprint to make something happen.
They had the blueprint of God's kingdom. Jesus had been teaching them all about his kingdom during that forty-day period. They knew they had to be in Jerusalem. They knew that they had to pick someone to take Judas' place. They knew that they would have to be baptized by the Holy Spirit. They knew all about water baptism. They knew that one must obtain salvation through Jesus Christ. They knew all they needed to know, at the present, about the nature of the church. They were greatly anticipating how God was about to use them. But they also understood that God's blueprint would be powerless without prayer.
Prayer was an important part of Jesus' life. We find him praying through all the blood, sweat and tears. Prayer made his ultimate sacrifice possible. It was Jesus' prayers in his last hours on earth that makes the work of the disciples possible. Jesus had prayed that the world might believe on him through the words of the disciples. (John 17:20) In Acts, we see these prayers being answered. Then he prayed, "Father let this cup pass . . . but more importantly . . . let your will be done." Prayers seeking God's will to be done in our lives are always powerful and prevailing. Jesus discovered this power in prayer while others were sleeping.
Prayer gives us a new lease on life by directing our focus on fulfilling God's plan for our lives. Although we have no record of Jesus' disciples praying before Acts 1, we do know that Jesus taught them to pray. We are certainly not told the content of the prayer, but we can safely assume their prayers were directed toward the fulfillment of God's plan for this new beginning.
Immediately, when Peter arises from prayer, he says the scripture must be fulfilled concerning Judas. They must choose someone to take Judas' place. They understood that it was God's plan. It is hard for me to imagine them focusing on Judas' failure without being acutely aware of their own failure in the last hours of Jesus' life. As they come to God's throne in prayer, they are no doubt concerned about finding the power and wisdom through prayer to do what God asks of them in this new age. They have learned from experience that they can not run headlong in their own strength. Even though they have the blueprint for selecting someone to take Judas' place, they do it with a total reliance upon God. They cast the lots for God's approval. They confess their inability to choose the man with the best heart. They go as far as the blueprint will take them, then they put their success in the hands of God.
The Bible says that if "we ask anything according to His will," He hears us. The disciples had sought greatness all through Jesus' earthly ministry. Now they find themselves on center stage. I can only wonder, could the disciples identify with the lines I am about to read? They may define how they felt.
I asked God for strength that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for but everything I hoped for;
In spite of myself, my prayers were answered -
I am among all men most richly blest.
Breaking free from self is not difficult, it's impossible for Christians to do so without God's leading. Trusting in God's plan, trusting in God's timing and trusting in God through prayer are only possible when we know that apart from Jesus we can do nothing. It is only then that we can experience spiritual renewal.
C. S. Lewis said: "There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." I believe he is right.
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:16-19)