What do you do after you have experienced an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit?
I don’t know how many reading this post have had experience of a powerful move of God. Many, perhaps most or even all, have been in meetings where God has been powerfully at work. Or even seasons when God has been powerfully at work. But what do you do next?
The early church found itself in that position on the day after the day of Pentecost. One hundred and twenty previously fearful believers had been impacted by the Spirit in a way that was as public as it was powerful. And the church had three thousand new believers.
Now it was Pentecost plus one. What was next?
Perhaps what they didn’t do is as instructive as what they did do.
They didn’t try to revisit the events of the day before. No retreat to the upper room to wait for the rushing wind and tongues of fire. They weren’t looking for a repeat performance. They didn’t turn the life that they had experienced into a liturgy – a mistake sometimes made in the Pentecostal / charismatic world. We experience the Spirit moving in a particular way and then try to revisit the experience again and again. We use particular songs and even phraseology that “gets a response”.
God, because He is gracious, does meet us. The tendency is, however, to become “stuck” in a way of doing things, impeding the church’s further progress.
So what did the church do on Pentecost plus one?
Firstly, it developed a shape of corporate life.
That’s a fancy way of saying that the church gathered together at certain times, and it gathered together to do certain things.
Acts 2 .42 explains that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Putting that in more contemporary terms, they prioritised learning (apostles’ teaching), spending meaningful time together (fellowship), worship (breaking of bread) and prayer (prayer!).
I recently attended the annual conference of a church denomination in the developing world. In its own country it has seen extraordinary growth. Miracles are not uncommon. Yet one of the major concerns was that they had seen a slight decline at their mid-week prayer gatherings.
Impressive enough was the fact that they knew how many attended mid-week prayer throughout their denomination. Their urgency in addressing the matter was even more revealing. They made the connection between maintaining the flow of the Spirit and the shape of their corporate life.
Churches that want to stay Spirit-filled must develop a Spirit-shaped corporate life that revolves around engaging with the practices of teaching, fellowship, worship and prayer.
Secondly, they were open to the Spirit moving in fresh ways.
There were no recorded miracles or healings on the day of Pentecost. The only miracles were miracles of salvation.
That changed the day after. Acts 2.43 highlights the fresh move of the Spirit:
Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
Notice a couple of things here.
Firstly, it was different to what happened the day before. Nothing like this had happened on the day of Pentecost.
Secondly, this was not a sovereign move of God as had happened on the day of Pentecost. It was more a case of God responding to the apostles’ faith.
Pentecost plus one teaches us to be ready for different.
It is also a reminder not to be waiting passively for God to do something. We can spend all our time waiting for Him, when all the time He’s waiting for us.
Finally, this was a church that was seen.
We know that they met publicly – in the temple courts (Acts 2.46) and they enjoyed the favour of all the people (v.47). It was a high profile church, certainly not a private club.
It is so easy for the church to resemble the latter. It’s a more comfortable existence; high profile churches attract favour and criticism.
I once heard someone say that a church can be internationally famous, yet locally anonymous. That has never been more possible than it is today. Our social networks and social media can lead us to the most exotic places without us ever having to confront the challenges on our own door step.
A church that is impacted by the Spirit will be visible locally, however visible or not it is internationally.
Pentecost plus one must have been a challenge for the early church with its three thousand new believers. But they rose to the challenge. And we can too. After all, it is the same Holy Spirit, is it not?