I have a weakness that can get me into trouble from time to time. When I see something broken, I want to fix it. When I see a broken hinge or door knob, or malfunctioning kitchen appliance or something wrong on a car engine, I impulsively dive in and start taking things apart. The screws start flying off and parts are carelessly scattered on the floor or kitchen table as I hack away at a solution. Sometimes I fix things, and sometimes I make them worse.
Over time I have learned that it is best to think things through and come up with a plan before diving in. I usually make it worse when I don't pause and think about what to do before I do it. So now I will watch a repair video on YouTube, or call computer savvy or mechanically inclined friend before starting out on a repair. I will anticipate what tools I need and lay them out on the table, I might even get a sandwich bag for the screws and take photos of each thing I take apart before I proceed. Each pause I take increases the likelihood that I will fix the problem.
Pause to Succeed
Something like what I am explaining is going on in the biblical book of Acts. The book starts as Jesus is preparing to ascend to heaven. It is a time of extreme disruption for the disciples of Jesus, they have seen Jesus arrested, tried, crucified and risen. Now he starts to speak of ascending. The disciples wanting to fix things and move out of the place of uncertainty ask. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6
Jesus responds by telling them this knowledge is above their pay grade. After Jesus ascends the angels from the Easter tomb reappear to tell them to stop looking up, basically implying for them to get back to their appointed mission. The mission as Jesus explained it to them is "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”Acts 1:8
The next thing the disciples do is gather together and pray. That's it. That's all. "All these (disciples) were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. Acts 1:14. Prayer in the book of Acts is an action of anticipation of the activity of God. It is also a time to clear one's head and get ready for the next thing. When something big is coming up it is the best thing we can do. The pause of prayer increases the likelihood that we will fulfill what we are called to do.
This is why when Luke writes in Acts about how the church works best he describes that They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42. This means that the church fulfills its mission best when it pauses to listen to voice of God, hears the witnesses of the entire community, actively remembers what it is really all about, effectively gathers resources and rests up for the mission ahead.
Unfortunately the church today does not do this enough. We seem to be caught between the polarities of doing nothing or acting without thinking. Those who argue for action, discount the church's active waiting as doing nothing, while those who are afraid to act criticize the work of discernment as disruptive to the status quo, not realizing that the disruption is already going on. Both fail to realize the true virtue of active waiting, which to arrive at a vision.
A Vision for Action
We need vision in order to effectively act. This is why the book of Acts is structured the way it is. It sets forth a vision of what the church could be, one that welcomes those like eunuch from Ethiopia as well as a jailer from Greece, a church that stands for justice like when a young slave girl is exploited by her owners, while recognizing those in power are not monsters, but people. This vision is continually adapted as God does new things and the church takes the time to worship, pray, reflect, think and plan for the next phase of the mission.