In the Bible, we encounter individuals who receive life-changing visions from God only to be followed by years of waiting before the holy vision becomes a tangible reality. Abraham was seventy-five when God told him that he would be a “great nation” and all the nations of the world would be “blessed through him.” (Genesis 12:4) At the age of 100, the promise was finally fulfilled and Isaac was born. Sometimes, the wait can be years, as in the lives of Abraham, Moses and David; in others, a matter of just days, weeks and months. God is the source of new life. In our spiritual journey of knowing, trusting and loving God, birth is experienced through the reception of faith, hope and vision. Whether it is a man or woman coming to new life in Christ, a tired disciple experiencing hope and renewal or a depleted leader receiving new vision – like it or not, waiting is a requirement of the birthing process. During our periods of waiting, we should avoid the temptation to engineer or “push the process along” through self- effort, networking and promotion. Instead, we must learn to pray as led by the Holy Spirit and wait patiently for God’s timing, power and provision to see the birthing vision fulfilled.
In the New Testament, thirty-three years transpire from the birth of Christ until His passion, death and resurrection. In this way, the messianic prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and others are fulfilled hundreds of years after their original utterance. From this point on, “waiting” in the New Testament context appears to move from years to days and months. For our purposes, I would like to take a closer look at the disciples who waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension of Christ.
“And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8, ESV).
For the first disciples, the waiting period ended up being ten days between the Ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. These ten days may not seem like much compared to the years of “waiting” in the Old Testament accounts, but for these disciples who witnessed the brutal death of Jesus, we can only imagine the doubt, fears and intense hours of prayer in the Upper Room until the “promise of the Father” finally did come upon them in flames of fire and the supernatural ability to preach the Gospel in unlearned languages to those gathered in Jerusalem from many nations for the Feast of Weeks.
This intense ten day waiting period between the Ascension and Pentecost culminated in the explosive birth of the Church. For those in the Upper Room – it was a matter of days, for the Hebrew prophets – centuries. But ultimately, the waiting ended and the promise was fulfilled! In Acts Chapter 2, the Apostle Peter preaches and three thousand come to faith and are baptized in one day. Imagine the joy Peter and the other disciples experienced when the promise came in the great outpouring of God’s Spirit. They were privileged to witness and participate in the birth of Christ’s Church.
This incredible birthing of the Church has never stopped but continues to multiply each day in every nation of the world. In February of 2013, I had the privilege of training Anglican pastors in South Sudan, the newest political nation on the face of the earth. Now in 2014, South Sudan has been experiencing turmoil and fighting between political factions, yet the Church is strong and growing. In parts of the US, Europe and other nations, church attendance may be in decline as compared to previous decades. This is the shift in the distribution of the world’s Christian population from the “Global North” to the “Global South” as noted in a study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life released in December, 2011. However, even in these places often referred to as “post-Christian,” the Holy Spirit continues to birth vibrant, new Christian communities through the renewal efforts of traditional denominations as well as new church-planting movements.
The Pew study titled “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population” shows the number of Christians worldwide nearly quadrupled from about 600 million in 1910 to more than 2 billion in 2010.[i] Dan Meyer, in his book “Witness Essentials,” claims that followers of Jesus are increasing by more than eighty thousand per day and that 510 new churches form every day. He writes, “The irony is that, except for the Middle East (where Christianity was born) and Europe and America (to whose civilization it gave birth), Christianity is expanding everywhere today.” [ii]
Last year, my family and I experienced a birthing process both spiritually and physically. In March of 2014, we returned to Tokyo, Japan as international mission workers after an eight year absence. In 2006, God called us to leave Tokyo for Los Angeles, CA where I worked as the National Coordinator of Multicultural Alpha for Alpha USA while based at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Through this work, I witnessed and helped encourage the growth of immigrant congregations throughout the United States with the evangelism tool of The Alpha Course in many language translations including Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic. Through our ministry at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Hollywood, we also witnessed and participated in the growth of the Christian community throughout the media industry. Then, after two years in Montreat, North Carolina, forming a non-profit ministry called Global Leadership Dynamics, we received a surprising call to return to Japan! We had no plans to return to Japan but God had other plans. After leaving Tokyo with two little girls in 2006, we returned in 2014 with three little girls and a little boy named Isaiah! Three months after landing at Narita airport, our fourth daughter Abigail Grace Zebley was born at a birth clinic in Tokyo on June 10. The past year of transition has been an amazing process of trusting God through the birthing process on several levels! Along the way prayer and worship has sustained us through the stressful adventure of mission service with a large family plus having a child in a foreign culture. Praise God, the food is simply delicious in Japan with natural weight-loss included!
One observation I have made is that waiting can become more difficult the closer you near the birth promise. These are the moments when we need to trust God through prayer and worship not increased activity! The problem for the modern wired disciple, however, is that we have a huge temptation to engineer things or analyze the process via the internet and the connectivity of social media. These activities can make us feel secure and confident at first but they actually fall short in bringing us the real confidence and trust that only comes from prayer. In prayer, we are reminded that the One who began the birthing process of the vision is also the engineer who will see it through to completion.
Two days before the birth, my wife and I became a bit frantic trying to monitor her contractions through an internet app on my smartphone to guarantee that we would be an easy driving distance to the birth house. Traffic jams are common in Tokyo driving. The result of our efforts that Saturday afternoon in June led to a hectic day including the unnecessary cost of a hotel adjacent to the birth house. The next morning, we returned to our home with no choice but to simply trust God we would have enough time to get to the birth house when labor commenced. On Monday evening, labor began easily and we arrived with plenty of time to spare. Abigail, whose name means “my father’s joy” in Hebrew, arrived safely into the arms of her waiting parents. Our local church in Tokyo had been praying for several weeks at our request that we would have enough time to arrive safely at the birth house. In all of our frantic efforts, we forgot that those prayers were being heard and answered.
Perhaps, you are in the birthing process of a holy vision. Remember then, that the timing, power and provision all belong to God. Prayer is the real work you are called to in the waiting process. Technology tries to convince us otherwise each day, but as modern disciples, we do have much in common with the early disciples gathered before the Holy Spirit’s outpouring. The work of prayer allows us to partner with God in the birthing process. Simultaneously, it prepares our hearts to receive with great joy the fulfillment of the vision.
Rev. Christian Zebley lives in Tokyo, Japan with his wife Kay and their five children. Together, they seek to share the love of God in Jesus Christ through daily living and the ministry of Global Leadership Dynamics. www.globalleading.org Christian is the Founder and Executive Director of Global Leadership Dynamics. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister. From 1998-2006, Christian and Kay served in Japan as missionaries of the Presbyterian Church USA, building a national network of youth ministry leaders within the largest Protestant denomination in Japan – the Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan. GLD is a ministry to and for leaders, specializing in leadership training, coaching and assessment. GLD works in cities and nations worldwide for prayer mobilization and strategic partnerships to advance the Kingdom of Christ. www.globalleading.org
Christian is a graduate of Swarthmore College BA, Princeton Theological Seminary MDiv, and currently is completing a Doctor of Ministry in Leadership. www.christianzebley.wordpress.com He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or skype: revzeb
[i] http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/ Accessed on September 4, 2014.
[ii] Daniel Meyer, Witness Essentials (InterVarsity Press, 2012), pp. 32-33.