Tarrying for the Spirit

Prior to his ascension, Jesus told his disciples to “tarry” or wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. In some churches, this command has become a doctrine applicable to all or most Christians – that the believer must “tarry” before the Lord for extended periods in prayer and even fasting until his or her mind or spirit enters a stage more conducive to God’s Spirit before receiving the gift of the Spirit.

Prayer Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
[Prayer Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash]

In Luke’s account, the Greek term rendered “
tarry” in many English translations represents the verb kathizô, which means simply to “sit down, set; to wait.” It is the same verb used in the second chapter of Acts for the tongues of fire that “sat” on each of the 120 disciples. There is no sense of meditating or struggling with internal conflicts inherent in the word itself.

The English term “tarry” captures the real sense since it means to “wait, linger, to stay” in a particular place or state. In short, Jesus told his followers to WAIT in the city “UNTIL you are clothed with power from on high” – (Luke 24:49).

Likewise, in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus told his disciples that they would “be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.” And this empowering gift would set them apart to become “my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

He said nothing about the disciples engaging in extended prayer, soul-searching, contemplation, etc. It was simply a matter of time before the Spirit was poured out – “until,” “not many days hence.”


We certainly do find the disciples engaged in prayer and other spiritual endeavors between the ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Spirit. And 120 disciples were assembled in prayer when the Spirit fell. Considering all that had transpired since the death of Jesus, time spent in prayer was appropriate and expected.

But the Spirit was poured out at once “when the day of Pentecost had fully come.” That is, the arrival of the gift marked the fulfillment of what the original feast day had foreshadowed. The prophetic moment had arrived; therefore, the new people of God experienced the promised gift of the Spirit – (Acts 2:1-4).

Moreover, all 120 disciples received the same gift characterized by the same supernatural phenomena at the same moment. This was a COLLECTIVE EVENT, and it is difficult to imagine how all 120 penitent believers achieved the right spiritual state at the same moment in time, assuming that it was necessary to do so before they could receive the Holy Spirit.

At the end of his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter exhorted the crowd to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.” Everyone who did so would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Peter did not indicate that some individuals must first spend time in meditation and personal reflection, or that they needed to enter a state of mind more open to the Spirit before they received the gift – (Acts 2:38).


At the house of Cornelius, while Peter was still preaching, the Spirit fell on the Gentiles in his audience, and they ALL began to “speak in tongues and magnify God.” According to the Apostle, they had “received the Spirit the same as us,” namely, as the disciples did on the Day of Pentecost – (Acts 10:44-48).

Again, Cornelius and his family received the gift while Peter was speaking. This description allows no time for extended prayer sessions or serious soul-searching before the outpouring of the Spirit. It happened spontaneously, and presumably, at the prompting of the Spirit of God.

Likewise, in Ephesus, the Spirit “came upon” the twelve disciples of John when Paul laid hands on them, and they “spoke in tongues and prophesied.” The Spirit responded to the Apostle’s prayer, and nothing is said concerning these men first spending time in extended prayer or of their need to purge certain sins from their lives before they could receive the Spirit.

The event in Ephesus happened as the result of Paul’s prayer and actions, the laying on of hands, and not due to any preparatory effort by the disciples of John – (Acts 19:3-7).

And in his epistles, while Paul certainly talks about believers having the Spirit of God, he does not discuss how they first received it, though in places he seems to link the receipt of the gift to their initial conversion – (e.g., Romans 8:15, 1 Corinthians 2:12, Galatians 4:5-7, 2 Timothy 1:7).

God is sovereign and can do whatever He pleases. And there may be cases when He requires an individual to undergo expended repentance and prayer before He grants them the gift of the Spirit.

Nevertheless, the requirement to engage in such things, to “tarry” in earnest before the Lord for extended periods, is not discussed in Scripture.

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