This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Waiting in prayer

From the editor

All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.—Acts 1:14
When you feel at a loss, unsure how to proceed or what will happen next, what do you do? For the early Christians, the answer was to pray.

In Acts 1, the apostles see the Risen Jesus leave. They had hoped he would return the kingdom to Israel, but Jesus said, “It’s not for you to know the times or periods” (verse 7).

The lesson here is to live without knowing some things. Instead Jesus promises them power from the Holy Spirit.

Because we’ve always lived with Jesus’ absence, i.e., his physical absence, it’s difficult to imagine how hard this must have been for them. They’d lived with Jesus for years. They’d seen him die, then come back to life. And suddenly he’s gone. This had to have crushed their spirits.

What do they do? They pray.

Alan Kreider, who teaches at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., is a specialist on the early church. He notes that much of the Christian art from the first several centuries of the church depicts a person standing with arms raised in a posture of prayer.

For the early Christians, prayer was a big deal.

In Acts 1, the apostles have been told to wait for the Spirit. They don’t even know what that means. But they know to pray. That’s how they are to wait.

This may be hard for us to imagine. When we feel at sea, unsure how to proceed, we may pray. But few of us, I imagine, constantly devote ourselves to prayer.

Waiting is difficult and may be seen as useless, simply allowing injustice to continue. We want to act, to do something. Patience is not only hard but may seem irresponsible.
In my book Present Tense (2011), I wrote: “Behind patience lies the theological truth, the belief, that our life—all life—is a gift of God and that we are not in charge.” We’d rather be in charge.

Those early disciples of Jesus prayed and held on to the promise that the Holy Spirit would come. And when that happened, they acted. A great change occurred. And that change brought both joy and suffering.

Mennonite Church USA is in a time of waiting. Praying may seem not only hard but useless. We want things settled, and they are not settled.

While we wait, some people are hurting. Others fear change. Nevertheless we can all pray, waiting for that wind and fire of the Spirit that is out of our control.
How might we pray? Here is one approach:

One of the tools that has helped people experience the divine is the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century. One of these exercises is called praying the Scriptures.

We do this by using our imaginations, placing ourselves in a biblical story, using our senses. For example, in the Acts 1 story, we can imagine smelling the olive trees, tasting the dust in the air, feeling the stony ground beneath our feet, hearing Jesus’ voice or seeing his face. Then we can imagine encountering Jesus or the Spirit and listen to what is said to us.

Having used this in church and personally, I’ve been amazed at what happens, at how people experience God’s presence.

“Let us pray” can be less a meaningless phrase than a call to a life-changing experience.

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