12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. 14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
Imagine the scene.
The disciples’ truest friend and greatest teacher had miraculously lifted up from the ground next to them. Jesus rose higher and higher, His body appearing smaller and smaller until it faded completely into cloud and sky. It was an incredible sight to behold, and their minds must have been reeling as they struggled to comprehend what they had just seen. As they continued staring into the sky, their hearts began to ache. Jesus was gone, and it felt like He left too soon. God’s world was still broken, God’s enemies were still in power, and so many of God’s people still doubted Jesus’ resurrection. Why would He leave us?
Into the disciples’ motionless confusion, two angels appeared. They rebuked the disciples saying, “Why do you stand looking into heaven (Acts 1:11)?” What was wrong with standing and looking? It was the opposite of what Jesus had charged them to do: “You will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” By calling them, “My witnesses,” Jesus clarified their identity and mission; they were to be His witnesses, witnessing about Him. Jesus had called them to go and proclaim, not to stand and look. Now roused and reminded of their commission, the disciples returned to Jerusalem with worship and joy (Luke 24:23-24). New life and energy surged through them, and a new and massive responsibility lay before them.
With all of this momentum pushing them into the world, their first act seems incredibly strange. They did not rush to the temple to preach and heal, nor did they burst into conversations about recruitment, strategy, and theology. Those things would come soon enough. Instead, their first act was to retreat together and pray. To many of us, prayer feels like a delay of progress at best, and an enemy of progress at worst. In a collection of essays entitled, How Prayer Impacts Lives, Heather Holdsworth expresses this reluctance by saying, “[Prayer] seems a call to inaction. ‘Be still.’ ‘Wait.’ ‘Abide.’ The instructed pause on our lives of purpose; can we seriously afford the time?” Despite such nagging doubts, the disciples committed themselves to pray together before anything else. And it was to prayer that they returned time after time throughout the book of Acts, whether in preparing themselves for ministry (Acts 1:12-14), making strategic ministry decisions (Acts 1:24), celebrating God’s mighty deeds (Acts 4:31), planting new churches (Acts 14:23), seeking hope in times of persecution (Acts 16:25), or seeking rescue in times of danger (Acts 27:29).
Like the disciples, God has called us into the great identity and mission of being His witnesses. And like the disciples, God brings all kinds of decisions, triumphs, sorrows, and adventures into our lives. In the midst of these things, we are called to think and to act. But before anything else, like the disciples and Jesus before them, we are called to retreat together and pray. May God give us the grace, wisdom, and faith to see that it is through prayer that the great work of the Great Commission moves on, and the great life of discipleship grows up.