- The abuse of power leads to the diminishing of others, preventing them from fulfilling their God-given purpose
- As disciples of Jesus, restored to our original created image-bearing capability, we are empowered for flourishing
“It seemed to me that there was a very fine line between those who have power and use it wisely, for the greater good, and those who attempt to destroy all competitors.”
Dr David Nott1
“I’ve banked your promises in the vault of my heart, so I won’t sin myself bankrupt. Be blessed, God; train me in your ways of wise living”.
Psalm 119 v 11 TPT
Power, the love of money and other ‘power-loving cousins’ such as celebrity buy us influence and help to connect us to people higher up the ladder of influence. Power-loving lures us to control and master others in order to hide the effects of our own inadequacies and lack of power by minimising the effects of their God given gift of power. Surely this is not how it is meant to be! Why are we drawn to such behaviour? We need to go back to the beginning.
God, the Trinity, is an amazing creator! I guess we’d all agree with that! And yet there are truths wrapped up in God’s creation of us as humankind that are often overlooked or unrealized – and these are really important to us in the way that we understand our own creativity and use of power. Imagine for a moment that you are God (crazy I know but bear with me…). You are all powerful and all knowing. Imagine that you want to create. What would it be? Don’t think small scale here. Take a moment and think what that would be? Why do you want to create that? Is it for your own good or for the common good? Is it so monumental that it’s crazy? Is it created out of your own desires? Now consider whether it is intrinsically very good, mediocre or just poor! How do you judge that?
The point I am exploring here is that God’s creation is authentically good because it was made by an entirely good God. He could have created what was nearly all good but then that would not be an accurate expression of who He is. How would our ‘creation’ be judged on the scales of ‘goodness’?
We are unique in creation being invested with power over creation
When we were made, we were not made with God saying, “Let there be…” but with a “Let us make…according to our likeness”. Thus, God decides as a Trinity to make us, and to make us as His image bearers. As a communal act we were made from perfect unity and community, not out of some mere exertion of power, but out of a deep longing for intimacy and communion. And our mandate as image bearers was to exert dominion, and to be fruitful and multiply. We are unique in creation being invested with power over creation. We became the people who could themselves say ‘let there be’ and ‘let us make’ in fulfilling our directive. Crouch says:
“On the very first page of the Bible, then, power, flourishing, and image bearing are connected. Power…..and image bearing….is for flourishing – teeming, fruitful, multiplying abundance. The image bearers do not exist for their own flourishing alone, but to bring the whole creation to its fulfilment.”2
We know that the beauty of this creation was messed up by our fall from this amazingly balanced order of creation. Indeed, all of creation is now groaning with the burden of carrying the imbalance that humankind brought about by disobedience (Romans 8 v 22-24). Now we not only have the capability to be imagers of God but also to be imagers of sin. Our humanity has become twisted. As Abraham Lincoln said:
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Unfortunately, now what comes to mind when we think of the use of power is what is often portrayed by the media as human failure, i.e. abuse. We can think of many examples of the seeming strong imposing their will upon the weak through violence and abuse in its variety of means – physical, psychological, sexual etc. And unfortunately, we can think of many examples of this expressed in the church of Jesus Christ. None of these are life-affirming or lead to personal or relational flourishing. They produce the opposite. You will see that the abuse of power is the antithesis of God’s power, the fruit of a broken humanity twisting our God-given ability to be creative. It leads to the diminishing and controlling of others, keeping them ‘under the thumb’, and preventing them from fulfilling their purpose through the fruitful use of their gifts. As Crouch says:
“idolatry is the biblical name for the human capacity for creative power run amok”2
and this idolatry leads to injustice.
We don’t want to embarrass the King through our poor use of power
My friend Stephen De Silva has a great parable to illustrate why we as Christians have abdicated our power-bearing purpose given us by God. He says that we are like food blenders without lids. We pack it with all sorts of good nutritious stuff that will do us good, such as gifts and fruits of the Spirit. We also place into the blender the ungodly lies that we learn, alongside the fruits of Spirit. We collect these things through life – by acts of betrayal, pain, mistrust and distrust and so on. We put the blender power on low and the processing begins. We want to further blend it, so we turn up the power as we grow in our career, in our relationships, in our positions in which we lead others etc. All of a sudden, with the power on high, the contents of the blender splash out onto the walls and floor of the kitchen! Now what we have is one big mess that needs clearing up. So, in one panic of a moment we turn the power down and quickly put a lid on our blender. As good Christians we don’t want to embarrass the King through our poor use of power. What started out as a joyful opportunity for wholesomeness and community flourishing turns into a mess where we isolate ourselves, turn down the power and spend our energies clearing up the mess.
As disciples of Jesus, restored to our original created image bearing capability, we are empowered for flourishing
The strategy to contain this is wrong. We should not be limiting God’s power delegated to us. It was not meant to be like this. To have power we think is ungodly. This is an error. We recoil when our old sinful nature pops us with such force to surprise us. God’s imagers on the planet are now disengaged and this creates a vacuum that the worldly system moves in to fill. This is not what we were made for. Remember, as disciples of Jesus, restored to our original created image bearing capability, we were empowered for flourishing – teeming, fruitful, multiplying abundance, to bring the whole creation to its fulfilment. What God wants is that when we grow more powerful, we are able to hold our capacity.
The issue is the preparation of the person to ensure that the expression is of good fruit
Power, influence and success cause suspicion for many and the church has questioned historically the integrity of those who are successful! It’s time to demolish this stronghold in ourselves, our business, church and national culture. Father God wants a people who can be trusted with power, influence, money and success. It is a lie to believe that there is anything inherently wrong or evil with any of these. Our thinking has developed this way because those who have failed and have been powerful and influential have hit the headlines and been the subject of gossip! We need to be bigger than this! The Old and New Testaments showcase many Godly men and women who were entrusted with His resources and huge responsibility, and who acted with integrity and faithfulness to bring great success. Think of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Esther, Elisha, David, Solomon, Daniel, Jesus, Paul, Lydia, Phoebe etc. – OK a few had their crises, but the impact of their whole lives was flourishing in the community. The issue is the preparation of the person to ensure that the expression is of good fruit. Would you or I rather be around a successful and just person or a person who fails to take responsibility for what God has given them to carry to extend His Kingdom? Bill Johnson has said,“those who shape culture are those who are wealthy in their hearts!”.
Honouring others means that I positively work to bring out the best in them
Father God made us in his image. As a result, we love, we love being loved and we build family in his love. His love for us is fearless and furious. He loves us with such an intense love that with our invitation he simply burns up what is not of love. Our internal drivers are to keep finding community with our heavenly Father and with each other. People seek to manipulate and control others by causing offence in order to keep them down. I believe that people do this because it validates their fears, insecurities etc, and gives purpose to their broken lives. Father God did not make us that way. Exercising control and manipulation of others does not honour them. It fails to consciously acknowledge their competencies and gifts and what they carry to bring to a situation or an organization. Honouring others means that I positively work to bring out the best in them. I’m not making myself look good by holding the others down. The real power in these relationships is demonstrated by the person who has been offended forgiving the offence. Recognising that an offence may be caused by an unintentional event, and putting that aside, the abuse of power over someone which leads to the offence is cancelled by the power of the offended person to forgive.
Taking on true power
Jesus, in his human form lacked no power, and yet there is no way that we could claim that he was on some ‘power trip’. The Apostle Paul describes Jesus as being meek (2 Corinthians 10 v 1). Matthew 5v5 states that “the meek will inherit the earth”! Psalm 37 v 11 says that “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity”! For a long time, I failed to understand what meekness means; I associated meekness with weakness. I struggled to rationalise how Jesus who came to the earth as 100% God, imbued with all power and yet 100% human, could be described as weak. This didn’t make sense. Then it was explained to me that meek means power under control. The meekness manifested by Jesus, and commended to followers of Jesus, is the fruit of power. He was meek because he had the infinite resources of God at his commend. This was so helpful. Jesus had the infinite resources of God his Father at his command, but he did not exert it in any way that could be described as abusive. What a beautiful picture of how it’s meant to be – full of Godly, supernatural power and yet having a mature character and understanding how this power is meant to be used and displayed. This riled the religious leaders of the day who seemed to govern mainly by using abuse. He failed to act according to the social norms of the culture of his day. Think how he respected and treated all people equitably, men, women, children, other ethnicities, sick and disabled, the demon possessed. But when he saw injustice, abuse of power and other acts of the devil he strongly brought to bear the power of God to confront and deal with the situation. He brought heaven to earth! If we are followers of Jesus, then we should also be described as meek.
Servanthood does not disempower us
Welby says that:
“When the one to whom all power was given knelt down to wash feet, God reversed the world order. Jesus showed us that power in this world is not really what you think. It’s not money, or status or beauty. True power lies in washing feet, in taking up the role of a servant”3.
I believe that there is another balancing truth to be learned here. Servanthood has a very bad press. That’s because historically in many nations’ consciousness, it’s been all about the abuse of power rather than the proper use of power. Servanthood does not disempower us. Jesus example of washing feet demonstrates that true humility is to honour and raise up others. He didn’t lose his power when he washed their feet – he demonstrated how to use power effectively and in love. And that is a truth that underpins so much of what I believe lies at the heart of a Kingdom entrepreneur.
How do we run a business, a church or an organisation according to its vision without the abuse of power and the resultant idolatry and injustice? How do I do this myself and what about other principals and senior managers? It follows that first and foremost we need to examine ourselves and to honestly come before God and ask him if we are faithfully and accurately exercising power according to his created order. There are some great tools to help to facilitate this. ‘Bethel Sozo’, ‘Financial Sozo’ and ‘Freedom in Christ’ are three with which I am well acquainted, but there will be others. As we restore ourselves by the grace of God to how we were meant to be then we can set culture in the organisation according to the truth of the Kingdom. We need to learn to step away from our preconceived mindsets and learn to think differently – to take on the mind of Christ and to reckon ourselves dead to sin and its effects, taking off our old coat that no longer fits us (the literal meaning of Ephesians 4v22 – the phrase ‘putting off’ means not wearing the old coat of sinful actions over the new self underneath. We do not say that the old coat still fits me). It’s about learning to live as the new being that Christ made us in his death and resurrection.
God intends to add more and more to our lives because he trusts us
God intends to add more and more to our lives because he trusts us. Stewardship, and everything else to which God calls us is all about partnership. God wants partners to be like him. He doesn’t call us to do something without showing us how to do it himself. He doesn’t simply ask me to trust him – he trusts me!! Many times, God has to dismantle lies that we believe about him and ourselves which shape our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes so that he can develop the pure gold that he has placed in our lives.
Capacity is breaking the cycle of lies and ungodly beliefs and learning to carry the power and influence that He gives us with integrity and honour.
“It is not wrong to want to ‘expand our territory’ (in the words of the Old Testament figure named Jabez). But the more our territory expands, the more we must embrace the disciplines that make room on the margins for others to also exercise their calling to image bearing”2.
“We are meant to pour out our power fearlessly, spend our privilege recklessly, and leave our status in the dust of the headlong pursuit of love”2.
What a privilege and what an honour!
- Nott, D. War Doctors: Surgery of the Front Line. Ricador 2019. ISBN: 978-1-5098-3702-1.
- Crouch, A. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. IVP Books 2013 ISBN 978-0-8308-3765-6.
- Welby, J. Dethroning Mammon – making money serve grace. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2016. ISBN 978-4729-2977-8.