Pentecost: How Long Does it Take?

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his disciples to ‘Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4 KJV). Drawing from these words, the practice of having “tarrying” services became a uniquely Pentecost ritual whereby believers actively lingered in Pentecostal services for the fullness of the Spirit. It was not uncommon for believer to come to revival services, Sunday Night services, or camp meetings, with the goal of “praying through” to the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In my own experiences praying with people to be filled with the Spirit, I never understood why “tarrying” was needed for some, but others received right away. I have agonized with precious friends who sought in service after service only to leave unfulfilled and disappointed. I have walked with many people through these experiences, including my own in which I prayed for over a year before I was filled with the Spirit. Because of this, I often wonder if it was easier for people in the early days of the revival at Azusa Street Mission than it is today? If we had a true revival like in those days, would our experience be different?

These questions led me in 2019 to a research project where I documented every testimony of Spirit-baptism in the 13 issues of the Apostolic Faith newspaper (1906-1909). I looked at the hundreds of testimonies in the Apostolic Faith and identified 80 testimonies that specifically mentioned the amount of time the subject ‘tarried’ or waited before receiving for the baptism.

This research led to an essay called “How Long Shall We Tarry” which was published in a volume I edited with Marty Mittelstadt and Rick Wadholm about Pentecostal Reception History in 2021. Because the essay is published, I can’t share the whole thing, but I did want to share ome of the interesting data that I found and what it means for those wondering how long does one have to wait before being filled with the Spirit.

Most Early Pentecostals Received within a Week

AF (Jan 1907)

When looking at early Pentecostal testimonies in the Apostolic Faith, I found that 62 out of 80 seekers (77.5%) reported receiving in about a week, about the same time as the apostles waited from Ascension to Pentecost Sunday. Like the Apostles, many early Pentecostal services were often held daily. So this means that people would have spent 7-10 successive days seeking the Spirit before they were baptized. There was an expectation of this among early Pentecostals, as one person wrote. M. L. Ryan notes, “I had my mind made up that I must seek for the Pentecostal Baptism at least one week before receiving it. To my utterable surprise and joy the power fell upon me at once.” (AF Nov 1906, p. 3).

Sometimes the person’s situation in life made a difference in how long they waited. For example, for unbelievers who were saved in the meetings, 77% were filled with the Spirit the same day, and 94.4% were filled by the end of the week, much higher than the entire sample. Those who were already Christians, 76% tarried under a week and only 48% received either immediately or the same day. So at least some time of waiting was the norm for half of all early Pentecostals. This also suggests that people coming to Christ had fewer barriers to being filled than those who were already Christians. It is not clear why, but I would guess those who were new to spiritual things would be much more open to the Spirit and hungry for whatever God has for them.

AF (Jan 1907)

Some at Azusa Struggled for Weeks or Months

I was quite surprised to find that about one quarter (24%) testified that they had an extended time of weeks or months before they received the Spirit baptism. Louis Osteberg described his nine months of tarrying as “torturous” because each service left him feeling “as far away as ever before.” Mrs. James Hebdon, who led the famed Hebdon Mission Revival in Canada, became discouraged to the point of almost giving up because “over fifty times I arose from the altar to face the world without my enduement of power.” J. G. Bourman described his struggle to receive as a two month battle. So even these early Pentecostals who came to Azusa to receive the Spirit had long periods of waiting, seeking and disappointment.

Testimony of J. G. Bourman, AF (Jan 1907)

It wasn’t just participants that had a variety of responses. Some of the earliest leaders had an easy path to Spirit-baptism, but that is not the case at all.

  • William Seymour held meetings for three days in Los Angeles where other people received the Spirit before he himself was a recipient.
  • J. H. King and C.H. Mason received the Spirit the first day at Azusa.
  • Glenn Cook sought for 5 weeks straight at Azusa
  • William Durham sought for two weeks at Azusa
  • E. N. Bell sought for over a year for the Holy Spirit

Finally, despite the effectiveness of the Azusa Street Mission in introducing the world to the Pentecostal experience, those who attended the services at the revival were not necessarily at a significant advantage to receiving the baptism in the Spirit. Of the 80 testimonies in the Apostolic Faith, less than half (35) were from Seymour’s Mission. Of these Azusa testimonies, 74% received in a week or less of seeking, which is 3% less than the average for the entire sample (77%). This suggests that visiting the Azusa Street Revival did not necessarily increase their likelihood of receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit without prolonged tarrying. 

People Receive the Spirit at Different Paces

There are many lessons that I bring out in the essay in the book. But my main point here is that tarrying is a normal part of the believer’s experience in seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Just like today, people who were part of those early days received the Spirit at different paces. Some early Pentecostals were filled right away. Some had to be persistent and fight off discouragement as they sought for extended times.

Reading these testimonies is a great comfort to me. If you are seeking the baptism in the Spirit, there is nothing wrong with you. Tarrying is a natural and normal part of the process for many people, both in history as it is today. God’s promise is that if you seek, you will find. It is Jesus’s gift that he promised to all of us. The Holy Spirit has not changed. If some had to wait, even at Azusa, it is part of the process still today. Some take more time than others. The important thing is the keep on seeking. As Seymour admonished those at Azusa, “He did not say how long they were to tarry, but he did say ‘until ye be endued.'”

William Seymour, AF (Dec 1906)

And to pastors out there, these testimonies demonstrate that if people are going to be Spirit filled in your congregation, time and space must be provided. Not everyone is filled in the one service or camp experience. The true power of the tarrying meetings for early Pentecostals was not the hallowed location or how long they waited, it was the hunger engendered within a supportive communal environment. There must be intentional times where churches to provide spaces for people to seek, to wait, and sometimes to “pray through” to Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will empower us for his kingdom.

If you want to read more, check out my essay in Receiving Scripture in the Pentecostal Tradition from CPT Press.

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