I have recently been reading a book by Daniel Bagby, “The Church: The Power to Help and to Hurt.” What a great title! It is a book on pastoral care, and so emphasizes the fact that the church can be a place of holistic healing, but also a place that can destroy lives. This paradox is founded on the dual character of the church– it’s divine and human aspects.
And, one could add, its divine and human empowerment.
This has long been my problem with people in church (especially, although equally true of those outside of the church) who crave power, who pray for power, who joyously talk about how we all can, and should, have more power (whether that power is “spiritual,” material, or otherwise).
The basic problem is Power’s essential ambiguity.
- Power from a good source can be utilized by another for evil purpose.
- Power from a good source can be utilized by another for a good purpose.
- Power from a bad (or neutral source) can be used by another for evil purpose
- …and yes… Power from a bad (or neutral source) can be used by another for a good purpose (the crucifixion of Christ is an obvious example).
Having power, whether it be as a materially wealthy person, or as a person in political office, or as a preacher in church, or as an employer of others, is a great challenge and temptation to most. In fact, few people can handle responsibly the power they already have… to say nothing of handling more. The Spiderman dictum applies: “With great power comes great responsibility” or as Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Other variations on this theme is HERE)
Sometimes in missions, one has reflective moments: “What could I do, if I was donated a million dollars for ministry?” At times I had to admit that I did not know. At other times, I had clear ideas. But I also have to reflect on the very real possibility that such a gift would ruin my life. To handle what one is not ready to handle can lead to all sorts of problems: personal, relational, spiritual, legal.
It seems to me that it is good NOT to pray for power. Some may point out that Jabez (as in that Jabez associated with “The Prayer of Jabez”) asked to have his boundaries extended… a form of power. Presumably, he was deemed responsible by God to handle more power, or else that would have been a curse, not a blessing.
I would suggest then, “Don’t Pray for Power.” Rather, “Pray to Handle Rightly the Power One Already Has.”