The Paradox of Power

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Eugene was a big man who towered over me. He put one hand on my left shoulder, one on my right, looked me straight in the eye and said in a resonant voice that was heard throughout the room, “In my country, when they make you a king, they make you a slave.”

I had just been installed as senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Fairfield, Connecticut, and was at the reception following the service. In that congregation there was a wonderful extended family from Ghana in West Africa. Eugene was “head” of the family. He was a former officer in the Ghanaian army, and still stood straight and had a commanding presence.

His words echoed in my ears and went straight to my heart, “In my country, when they make you a king, they make you a slave.” Eugene continued his loving exhortation by saying that people need a leader who protects, provides and cares for them. “The good leader knows,” he said, “that the welfare of the people means his own security and well-being, too.”

I imagine you may find it a bit jarring to compare a pastor to a king, or hear an African speak openly about slavery. But Eugene’s point is clearly consistent with Jesus’ message. In John 13, just hours before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion, Jesus showed his disciples the way of power in God’s Kingdom.

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (John 13:12-17 New Living Translation).

Leaders need to understand the nature of power. Power is framed differently in God’s Kingdom as opposed to the world. In the world, power is a sign of prestige; in God’s Kingdom, power is vested in servants. In the world, power is a tool for self-gratification; in God’s Kingdom, power is a means to show love. In the world, power is often exercised through personal intimidation; in God’s Kingdom, power is dying to self.

A number of years ago, I developed the book TouchPoints for Leaders as part of the Tyndale House Publishers TouchPoints  series. It contains over 150 topics with Scriptures and comments I wrote applicable to leadership issues. Don’t let that word ‘leader’ throw you if you think, “I’m not a leader.” Leaders are, most simply, people with influence. This influence can be formal (like a teacher or a coach) or, more likely, informal (as in the influence you have with friends, colleagues, and family members). Here’s what I wrote as one of the entries under “Power:”

Leaders have the ability to influence others, to mobilize resources, and to get the attention of significant people or groups of people in society. They can make things happen– or keep things from happening. In short, they have power to control. This is the most seductive aspect of leadership– but is also at the heart of effectiveness. Ultimately, however, leaders in all walks of life are dependent on God’s power.

Many passages in Scripture remind us that us we are stewards, not originators, of power.

“…’It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6 NLT).

“…He [the Lord] did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy. Always remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you power to become rich” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NLT).

“…For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT).

“And who is adequate for such a task as this? . . . It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God” (2 Corinthians 2:16, 3:5 NLT).

“There are no ‘self-made’ people who have power in and of themselves. They cannot claim responsibility for their birth, their genetic makeup, nor the political, economic and social circumstances and times into which they were born. God allows us to live at the time and place of his choosing. Wise leaders continually remember where their power comes from so that they use it in accordance with God’s values and will.” (TouchPoints for Leaders, Wheaton, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, page 181).

The more you use power for self-advancement, the less you really have. Power used in selfless ways grows giving glory to God and blessing to others.

 

 

 

 

 

Being content when it doesn’t make sense

Even in the midst of dementia, my dad found contentment through God’s Word.

One of the saddest moments in my life was realizing my dad was suffering from dementia. The moment of that realization is another story. What stands out more than the sadness (and the fear that this dreaded condition may lie ahead for me), however, was a phrase my dad used frequently in the midst of his terrible confusion. He would often quote Philippians 4:11, King James Version, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Those words had a new depth of meaning coming from a man whose mind was betraying him.

It seems to me that contentment was, at some level beyond his compromised cognitive processes, dad’s defense against despair. This verse was the voice of his “inner coach” continually reminding him that God’s presence and care were his comfort and strength.

My experience with dad reinforced the fact that life-choices accumulate. The attitudes we nurture now will either help or hinder our adjustment to the challenges ahead. Beyond attitudes, our choice to soak, to marinate, in God’s Word reaches our hearts and minds in ways we may never fully appreciate. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (KJV). This verse has a broader application than keeping us from sin. God’s Word keeps us focused on the mind of Christ.

God’s Word had taken such deep root in my dad’s heart and spirit that even dementia couldn’t smother it. I realize this may not be a common experience for many in dementia, but it gives me hope– and a determination to continue to devote myself to hiding God’s Word in my heart.

I’m also cultivating contentment in a culture of discontent. Learning to be content today will pay rich dividends now and into the future.  Contentment appreciates what we have in life and in Christ. Contentment sees all things in the light of eternity. And above all, contentment trusts God’s wisdom and care, often in spite of appearances.

 

Tags dementia, Philippians 4:11 Psalms 119:11 1 Corinthians 2:16