Despite the many abuses of power documented throughout history as well as in the Bible, power itself is not inherently bad. If we do not name the good meaning of power, we will most likely become resigned to the bad. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is described as dynamis, which means power (Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 2:5). Jesus tells his disciples before his Ascension that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. Then you will be my witnesses to the very ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8). If the Holy Spirit is power, then power can be good, loving, and empowering, not simply something that is the result of ambition or need to control. In fact, a truly Holy Spirit empowered woman or man, is a very powerful person.
Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, we become living examples of true, humble, and confident power. We no longer need to seek Power Over others, because we have discovered the Power Within and know it is shared with all of humanity. Paul states this divine intention in Romans 8:16: “God’s Spirit and our spirit bear common witness that we are indeed children of God.” If we have not been in touch with our true power, the Indwelling Holy Spirit, we will seek power in all the wrong places. When we haven’t experienced Power Within, we tend to exert too much of it over others. What if we actually surrendered to the Power Within and let it be our primary teacher and guide? I believe that our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is always top down, would completely change.
The Power of Powerlessness
Dominating hierarchies of Power Over, in our culture, as well as our churches, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to understand that there is another way. Only those who are in touch with the Power Within can come to a selfless use of power, the sharing of power or the benevolent use of power, much less the willingness to become powerless. The Bible consistently critiques the power of domination and teaches us another kind of power: powerlessness. Throughout Holy Scripture God uses unlikely figures who in one way or another are inept, unqualified, unprepared, or incapable. The common denominator is that they are all powerless in some way. Powerlessness seems to be God’s starting place for true leadership. Maybe it is because the so-called “little ones” (Matthew 18:6) or the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), as Jesus calls them, are the only really teachable ones.
Power Through Powerlessness
I close with a brief but astute observation about power through powerlessness by Henri Nouwen:
The movement from power through strength to power through powerlessness is our call. As fearful, anxious, insecure, and wounded people we are tempted constantly to grab a little bit of power that the world around us offers, left and right, here and there, now and then. These bits of power make us little puppets jerked up and down on strings until we are dead. But insofar as we dare to be baptized in powerlessness, always moving toward the poor who do not have such power, we are plunged right into the heart of God’s endless mercy. We are free to reenter our world with the same divine power with which Jesus came, and we are able to walk in the valley of darkness and tears, unceasingly in communion with God, with our heads erect, confidently standing under the cross of our life.
It is this power that engenders leaders for our communities, women and men who dare to take risks and take new initiatives. It is this power that enables us to be not only gentle as doves, but also as clever as serpents in our dealings with governments and church agencies. It is this power that enables us to talk straight and without hesitation about sharing money with those who have financial resources, to call men and women to radical service, to challenge people to make long-term commitments in the world of human services, and to keep announcing the good news everywhere at all times. It is this divine power that makes us saints—fearless—who can make all things new—Henri Nouwen
Posted on October 12, 2021