On today’s podcast, I want to talk about “power.” And by power, I don’t mean the stuff that turns on your lightbulbs at night. I’m talking about the power that men have over others.
At its core, “power” is the ability to freely exercise your will with little to no restraint. Conversely, when we say someone is “powerless” we mean that, try they might, they lack the ability to stop someone from exercising their will.
I Was Completely Helpless
For example, a number of years ago my younger brother served in the army as an infantryman. At one point I asked him to show me some fighting techniques he learned in boot camp. While we were rehearsing the moves he learned, he showed me this one hold that if you put someone in, they will have the complete inability to resist.
And sure enough, he demonstrated this maneuver on me with amazing success. Even though I had about 50 lbs on my younger brother, he was able to grip me in such a way so as to make me feel like a rag doll in his hands. No matter what I did, I couldn’t resist the power he exercised over me in that moment. I was completely helpless. Had my brother decided to kill me, I would not have been able to stop him. Thankfully, he’s a nice guy and didn’t do that. Instead, he almost accidentally threw me thru the wall in my apartment.
We Crave Power
Given such a scenario, it’s understandable why we crave power. Power is something very primal in nature. Without it, our very lives are at risk and we could potentially die. As a result, mankind has always had this quest for power. We want to have power over the elements of our planet, over the beasts of the field, and even over other individuals.
So in some ways, power can be a good thing. But at the same time, power can get kinda sticky, especially when it comes to our social interactions with others. There’s something about our desire for power that we just can’t switch off in our brain. As a result, we crave the ability to exercise power over others even when we aren’t faced with a life and death scenario.
There are a variety of ways to do this. Sometimes we gain power over others by simple brute force. Others do it through their good looks, the sway of a charming personality, or the thickness of their billfold. Yet others do it by climbing certain social hierarchies, whether it be in academics, business, politics, or religion. And of course none of these things are isolated from each other. Power in one arena often has a way of spilling over into other arenas. And if men ever discover a power vacuum somewhere, they can’t help but quickly fill it.
Once we have power, we usually are not content with what we have, as that power begins to have a corrupting influence on us. Lord Acton famously said, “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Left unchecked, we begin craving power for the sake of power alone, and we find ourselves in some sort of Lord Of The Rings type situations.
Alexander the Great had this problem. He conquered until there was nothing left to conquer, and then is rumored to have wept over there being nothing left in the world to conquer. Nor was it enough for Hitler and Stalin to rule their countries, they had to find some other nations to rule as well.
Our politicians in America do this too. Individuals start off as someone on the town council, then they become the mayor, then they want to become a senator or governor, and then one day, they finally pursue the presidency of the United States. And along the way they attempt to expand the authority and power with whatever branch of government they are in. As a result, one branch of the government is always fighting with another branch of the government over the extent of the reach of their power, which causes all the branches to ultimately get bigger.
We see this in corporate America. People pursue promotion after promotion, and attempt to climb higher and higher up the proverbial ladder. Most people do this simply to better their lives financially so they can provide for their family. But there comes a point where most people become content with their career and financial status, and they lose the desire to climb any higher. Yet others find the need to pursue more, and climbing higher and higher no longer becomes about the money, but simply the game of obtaining more and more power.
This exists in the church as well. Youth pastors eventually feel the need to become associate pastors, who then feel the need to become senior pastors. Small church pastors often feel the need to grow their church into a bigger church. Then once that church gets big enough, it becomes a mini-denomination with multiple satellite campuses spread across a large geographic area. If they are lucky enough, they’ll build a religious empire.
Turning Power Upside Down
Such is the way of the world, and it seems so common that it’s a wonder I’ve even bothered to explain it all to you. But I felt it necessary to elaborate on the way things are in order to show you the way of Jesus.
You see, Jesus taught us in the gospels that He came to turn our concepts of power upside down. Jesus said in the kingdom of God that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And instead of leaders being power hungry individuals that exploit others for their own personal gain, Jesus said the leaders in the kingdom of God would be the servants of all.
And in establishing His kingdom in this world, Jesus didn’t establish His kingdom by the violent conquests of individuals like Alexander the Great. Jesus didn’t form coalitions of political power infused with rich and wealthy businessmen, or from the mob of some democracy.
Instead, Jesus conquered the world through the power of His cross, wherein He voluntarily laid down His life in order to establish a new way of life for all humanity. And in flipping the tables of power over, He established a kingdom in which the lame, the poor, the weak, and those on the margins would not only be welcomed, but the center of everything. The kingdom that Jesus established is not one that triumphs through might, but finds power in weakness. It’s a kingdom that rules not by being devouring others, but through continually emptying itself in the ways of love.
So, where do we go from here?
If you buy into what I’ve said, that’s going to be something you are going to have to work out in your own life. But one thing is for sure, the way you approach life, church, work, and politics can never be the same. And if you find this way of thinking foreign to you, I promise that it’ll probably be foreign to everyone around you, even sadly, in the church.
Let me know what you think. How can we apply this upside down approach to power? How different should that make the way we live our lives and all the spheres of influence we might find ourselves in. I’d love to hear from you.