Sometimes it’s better to just wait.
I learned that the hard way on our 25th Anniversary trip. We were there because I had told Karen “For our 25th Anniversary I’ll take you to eat anywhere you want to go.” Usually we drive a few miles to our favorite Mexican restaurant no matter what. I thought it was a safe offer. She said, “OK. I want to go to Rome.”
Many flight miles later we had landed. Our cab driver took us near our rental apartment. He couldn’t quite find it. When you are in a foreign country and your cab driver looks at you for directions it’s not a good sign. Understand, this was before we had Google maps on our phone. So he dropped us close and we followed a paper map until we found our place.
When we got there, no one else was there. No landlord. No tenants. Karen called the landlord and through his broken English and her adding an “a” or an “o” to her English to make like an Italian—“We need-a to-a get into-a our apart-ment-o”—we found he was only two doors down.
We also found out he wanted cash. He seemed to want the cash for payment before we could get into the apartment. He motioned quickly to where I could find a “bank-o” and off I went.
That’s when it would have been better to wait. I had no phone. I had no map. I didn’t even know the address where we were staying since Karen had made that reservation. After two turns and a piazza later I had no idea where I was. I tried not to look like a lost foreigner so I did what everyone else was doing. I kept walking.
By the luck of the Irish (which I’m not and don’t know if it works in Italy anyway), I found an ATM. I got a wad of cash, stuffed it in my money belt, and began walking in the direction I knew I had come from.
Along the way I found a gelateria. I went straight to the counter with all the flavors like we do here but found it would have been better to wait and watch. Instead of getting your gelato and then paying for it, in Italy you go to the cashier and pay first. After the fifth customer got their gelato ahead of me, I figured out the order of things.
I went to the cashier and since I wanted a cone with one scoop I held up my index finger and used Karen’s approach and asked for a “cone-o.” Don’t laugh. Turns out that’s how you say it in Italian. They gave me my receipt, I took it to the gelato scooper, and walked away with a treat.
I went out into the piazza, sat down, and thought about how much more sense it made to pay for the gelato first than after you get it and have to try not to drip or drop your cono. Then I thought about how lost I was. So I waited. For Karen to come find me.
Sometimes it’s better to just wait. Especially when you are entering into a new land with unfamiliar customs and ways. That’s where the first disciples found themselves. They were about to embark into an entirely new world. Luke records the scene for us.
I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up, after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After he had suffered, he also presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Acts 1:1-3
Luke’s first “narrative” is called Luke. Only fitting since he wrote it. But the second “narrative” we’re reading is called Acts, or The Acts of the Apostles. It tells us what happened next. In the world of sequels where most are flops, this one is dynamic. It snaps with action. It crackles with intrigue. It pops with purpose.
But before the apostles got to acting, they thought it better to wait. Especially when Jesus tells you to. Luke continues:
While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “Which,” he said, “you have heard me speak about; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.” Acts 1:4-5
Tell your child to “wait” and you’ll likely hear: “What for?” “Why?” “How long?”
Jesus tells them “what for”: the Father’s promise of the Spirit.
Jesus then tells them the “why”: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
But he doesn’t tell them the “how long.” Only that they are to wait until the Holy Spirit comes on them. Now we know how long they waited. They waited ten days. We know this because Luke gives us a timeline. Jesus appeared to them for forty days and then he told them to wait.
We turn to the next chapter and we find that the Holy Spirit does show up on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost means “fiftieth” and refers to the fiftieth day after Passover. Subtract from that the forty days Jesus appeared to the disciples after the Passover and his resurrection and they waited about ten days.
For most of us ten days is about 9 days, 23 hours, fifty-nine minutes, and 52 seconds too long. One study states that the average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015. That’s less than the attention span of a goldfish which is 9 seconds if you care to know.
We have a difficult time waiting. We’re told “Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.” Watch yourself next time you have to wait on a website to load. Or you have to wait at the grocery store check-out. Or when you are waiting on traffic to move. Or your phone to charge. Or you have to wait for a sermon to end.
As a whole we as a species do not like to wait. We don’t like to be still. As one wise sage has said: “Life moves pretty fast…” And we’ve become accustomed to fastness. When we’re fast we don’t have to think much. We don’t have to be purposeful, we can just react. We don’t have to listen.
Jesus sent 120 followers who probably had a longer attention span then than we do now into the city to wait. That city, Jerusalem, swelled during this time. Life there was moving fast. Most archaeologists think Jerusalem contained 100,000 people. During the weekend of Pentecost, it would swell to a million inhabitants—ten times its size. 300 square acres would be busting at the seams with men and women from every nation. The streets were teeming with people with all shades of skin. From dark Ethiopian to light skinned Roman. Dozens of dialects bounced off the stone walls.
Jesus chose to send his disciples into this busy city on the busiest week of the year. He could have told them to go to the desert to pray. He could have told them to go up on the mountain and take a break. But he didn’t. He sent them into the middle of the city and told them to wait.
The Greek word for “wait” is perimenō. It is a compound word made up of “peri” or “around” (as in perimeter) and “meno” or “remain.” “Meno” is the word Jesus uses when he says we are to “abide” in his word (cf. John 8:31). Put “peri” and “meno” together and we get “remain around.” You might say “hang out.” Jesus told his disciples to just “hang out.”
We don’t like to wait or just hang out because we think we need to be doing something. And that’s the point that Jesus is making. It is when we aren’t doing anything that he can do something. A lot can happen when we wait. When we wait, God works.
When we wait, God builds our commitment. The disciples knew the game plan: be witnesses in the entire world. Maybe that scared them. Maybe they were champing at the bit to get busy. But if Jesus was their Lord, then they would be committed to doing what he said to do. So they waited.
How committed are we to wait when God asks us to?
- You want the new house but don’t have the money. He says to not go into debt and wait. Will you?
- You want to do big things for God but don’t know what that is. Will you rush out and do whatever catches your attention or will you wait for direction?
You get the idea. When we don’t know the “when” it is safe to reason that God is calling us to wait. Waiting is a sign that we are committed to doing the things God would do in his time, not ours.
When we wait, God creates expectation in us. Waiting is difficult, but waiting can be exciting. If you’ve ever waited on a child to be born you understand. Nine months of planning. Nine months of craving crazy foods. Nine months of a love developing between you and a little human being that you haven’t even met. Nine months of waiting expectantly.
When we wait, God wants us to move into a posture of expectation, excited to see what he will do next. We get expectant about the next big blockbuster. We get expectant about the next model car. We get expectant about the next restaurant opening. Waiting, however, creates an expectation for the next thing God is about to do.
When we wait, God builds our character. He did with Moses. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness. Forty quiet years. His main companions were sheep. Forty unrecognized years. No fanfare. No awards. Not one Facebook like or friend. Not one Tweet or Selfie posted.
When he emerged from waiting he was ready. Ready to lead God’s people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. And when you and I emerge from waiting, we will be ready to take on whatever assignment God has given us.
We will be ready because when we wait, our intimacy and dependence on God grows. We slowly stop looking at our mobile device every few seconds. We turn off the noise. We begin to listen for God. We begin to look for Him. We don’t know where to go so we just sit and wait until we get some direction from him about why he wanted us to wait and what for and how long.
We’re not very good at waiting. And yet one of the last commands Jesus gave his disciples before he ascended into heaven was to wait. If he wanted them to learn how to wait then, you can expect that he wants us to learn how to wait now.
When we landed in Italy we had to learn new ways of life: The Italian way. It’s different than the American way. At first it was confusing. At first it did not feel right. But after time we have come to discern that in many ways it is a better way of life. A slower pace. A relaxed approach. And piazzas where people can go and just “hang out.”
Like I did. Karen never came to find me. But after I waited awhile I started to remember some landmarks along the way from our apartment. I realized the piazza I was sitting in was the first one I had walked through. I recognized something about the church and knew it was the one near where we were staying. I remembered the church appeared on my right as I entered the piazza. I faced it and walked down the street that came down its right side. As I walked down the street something started to feel right. So I made another turn to my right. And then I saw an angel coming to my rescue. The angel looked a lot like Karen. And I waited again. I waited until we got inside the apartment before I cried.
Maybe it’s time for the church to learn to wait. Can you do that? Can you be committed to waiting for the next ten days as they did? Can we wait for even ten minutes each day for the next ten days and see what God will do? You can wait longer than that. But we will give you something to wait on and ask God for direction on for each of the ten days.
As the wise sage also said: “…If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” If we don’t wait once in a while we can miss what God wants to do.
Sometimes it’s better to just wait.
 See Luke 24:49.