by Matt Erickson
(Editor’s note: This is the 5th of a 9-post series on non-negotiables for authentically leading a church towards being more evangelistic.)
When the first followers of Jesus heard His instructions that we know as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:7-8), their immediate response was to wait in two distinct ways. Their waiting reminds us of two vital aspects of the vibrant ministry evangelism within our lives personally and for the local church.
The Importance of Waiting in Prayer
Returning from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension, the disciples gather together in the upper room. It is a different upper room gathering than Jesus’ instruction before His death. Instead, it is the upper room prayer gathering where “they all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14a). Before they went out to proclaim good news, and before they went to make disciples, and before they ever left Jerusalem in the concentric circles of widening missions, the disciples simply waited before God in prayer.
Without a doubt, there is something unique about the Pentecost moment for the disciples in Acts 1 and 2 that is not something we can recreate. Yet, while Pentecost is not reproducible in a historic way, the principle of prayer preceding evangelism is found throughout the story of Acts. Prayer precedes Peter’s open-air sermon in Acts 2. Prayer precedes the dramatic healing of a beggar and subsequent preaching in Acts 3-4. Prayer precedes the special empowerment of the believers as a response to persecution in Acts 4. Prayer precedes the great persecution that sends the church out to Samaria and the Gentile regions after Stephen’s sermon in Acts 6-7. Prayer, including an accompanying vision, precedes Peter’s evangelistic mission to Cornelius’ household in Acts 10.
As Christians, we are called to be active in our faith, including having an active proclamation of the good news in Jesus Christ. But for us today the principle is still the same: prayer precedes power in evangelism. Whether as individuals or as churches, the fuel for evangelism comes as we wait upon God in prayer.
The Importance of Waiting on the Holy Spirit
Along with waiting in prayer, the early believers leapt into action because they were filled with power from the Holy Spirit. This was, of course, Jesus’ instructions to them: “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The arrival of that promised power came on the day of Pentecost as “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). This was a fulfillment of prophecy in Joel and also a radical opening of God’s presence and power to all who will call out to Him (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:15-21).
Again, we know that Pentecost as a historical event has a special place as the birth of the Church and cannot be reproducible in exactly the same way. However, God’s call throughout scripture is for His people to yield to His Spirit, bearing the fruit of God’s character and the gifts of God’s mission (Eph. 5:18-20; Gal. 5:22-25; 1 Cor. 12:1-11). The principle here, too, is that fruitful evangelistic ministry arises from disciples and churches in whom the Holy Spirit’s presence and the power are freely at work. While we know that as followers of Jesus we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, there are different degrees in which we yield to His presence and power in our lives. F. B. Meyer once wrote, “There are three kinds of Christians out there. Christ’s Spirit is present in everybody who’s born again. Christ’s Spirit is prominent in some people. And Christ’s Spirit is preeminent in, alas, only a few.”
Whether as individuals or as churches, the fire for evangelism comes as we yield to God’s Spirit in our lives.
Only as we wait in prayer and wait upon the Holy Spirit will we have truly effective evangelistic ministry. Without prayer and the Holy Spirit, our best efforts will fall fruitless in the fields of the harvest.