Excerpted from ‘Redeeming Power’ (Baker Publishing)
By Diane Langberg
Godly power starts in the kingdom of our hearts, is expressed in the flesh, and then moves out into the world. We make the mistake of seeing power as an external force. But power is not about having rule over a church, or a parishioner, or an institution, or a country. It’s internal, not external. God’s kingdom is the kingdom of the heart, not the kingdom of our churches, institutions, missions, or schools. God is building his kingdom, not ours, and he does that by exercising authority over the human heart to the extent that it is filled with the Spirit of Christ. That is godly power. And when we are full of God’s power internally, we bring life and light and grace and truth and love into all our external enterprises, both great and small. God’s kingdom grows, and he is glorified.
Any time we use power to damage or use a person in a way that dishonors God, we fail in our handling of the gift he has given. Any time we use power to feed or elevate ourselves, we fail in our care of the gift. Our power is to be governed by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Any use that is not subject to the Word of God is a wrong use. Any use of power that is based on self-deception, when we have told ourselves that what God calls evil is instead good, is a wrong use. Remember, Adam and Eve, made in God’s likeness, sought to be like him by eating what he had forbidden. The exercise of power in the choice to “be like” God required disobedience to God. It was therefore a wrong use of power. The exercise of the power of position to drive ministry workers into the ground “for the sake of the gospel” is also a wrong use of power. Using emotional and verbal power to achieve our own glory when God says he will share his glory with no one is a wrong use of power. The power of success or financial knowledge used to achieve ministry ends without integrity is a wrong use of power. Using theological knowledge to manipulate people to achieve our own ends is a wrong use of power. Exploiting our position in the home or the church to get our own way, serve our own ends, crush others, silence them, and frighten them is a wrong use of power. Using our influence or our reputation to get others to further our own ends is a wrong use of power.
Withholding power in the face of sin, abuse, and tyranny is also a wrong use of power. It is sin against God—complicity with the evil he hates. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matt. 25:45). Silence in the face of such evil can be a kind of abuse of power, for in staying silent about someone else’s pain, we have nullified our God-given power to speak truth. God asks us to use our verbal power and to open our mouths for the mute, for those without such power. Complicity is a strangling of our God-given power meant to be active in this world on his behalf.
Godly power is derivative; it comes from a source outside us. It is always used under God’s authority and in likeness to his character. It is always exercised in humility, in love to God. We use it first as his servants and then, like him, as servants to others. It is always used for the end goal of bringing glory to God. God is pleased with his Son. That means our uses of power must look like Christ because he is the One who brings God glory. So how will we serve? Here are three true stories that taught me lasting lessons about the beauty of power rightly used.
The first story takes place in a tiny fishing village in Brazil. A pastor there told me that all, not some, of the men in his village were alcoholics, batterers, and incestuous. “There are no exceptions, Diane—not the police, not the judge, and not the pastors.” He asked me how he could help his people. I was initially speechless; his situation felt utterly hopeless. How does one shine light in such a place? And then I knew. I was standing with a man who carried the light of our God within. “I know it is overwhelming and feels hopeless,” I responded, “but God put you here because you know him, and no one in this village has ever seen a life like yours with your family. They do not even know there is another way. Walk with Christ, honor your wife, bless your children, and God will illuminate his ways through you and awaken hunger in others for the way that you live.” I didn’t want to suggest in any way that the work God had put before him would be easy. Hoping to encourage him, I continued, “The task will be hard, sacrificial, and very slow, but there is hope. It is not in you. That hope is Christ in you in this dark place. By the power of God in your life, you can demonstrate, in the flesh, the life of a man who does not abuse power. As you drink deeply of Christ, from you will flow his living water, which will eventually change the landscape of the town.”
The second story involves a conference for Arab women where we discussed trauma and its effects. Many of these women were victims of abusive power. At the end of my talk was a time for questions. One woman said this: “I was brought up in a Christian home. My father beat my mother and all his children horribly. Now I am married and have children. When we go to visit my parents and the children do something he does not like, my father beats them horribly. My husband and I do not believe that is of God, and we do not treat our children like that. Can you tell me what to do?”
Now, I am extremely cautious when I travel about sharing any negative thoughts I have regarding norms and practices in another culture. Even when asked direct questions, I’m careful in my responses. I asked this woman to give me a minute to think, because I knew if I spoke truth, it could result in violence against her. She and her family might be thrown out and disowned. I also knew that if I said nothing, I would encourage her to be complicit in the evil being done to her children—and she was clearly already convicted by God. And if I was silent, I would be complicit as well. So I paused momentarily to pray, and then I told her that I knew what I was about to say was difficult and potentially threatening to her. I agreed that her father was doing harm to her children, and it was not God’s way. To speak truth to him, respectfully, was to use her power to bring God’s light into the room, inviting her father to step into that light. To be silent was to teach her children that his behavior was right, rather than ungodly, and to model silence in the face of wrongdoing. It also meant being complicit in their harm. The room was very quiet. She was silent for a bit. Then she raised her head and said, “I will do what is right before God on one condition. I only ask that the women in this room commit to pray for me.” They understood the monumental step she was taking and let her know they would be praying. I continue to do so.
The third story involves a man of great power. Some years ago, our son worked in the Middle East for a prince, a member of the royal household. My husband and I were invited as the prince’s guests to see our son and visit the country.
We traveled on a fancy airline, with fancy seats and fancy food. Our son met us at the airport and whisked us away to the palace to meet the prince. I, a woman, would be walking into a room full of Arab men. I went over protocol carefully with our son. He instructed us to wait at the door to be greeted and not to speak first. The prince would remain seated. “Do not offer your hand,” he said. “Do not sit until directed, and sit where you are told.” To my son’s knowledge, no other female had been in that room. He spent almost every evening there, so he knew.
We arrived and were escorted into the palace and taken to the meeting place. The room contained about fifteen Arab men in full regalia. My husband and I waited at the entrance. When instructed, we walked in. No sooner had we done so than the prince stood, walked quickly over to us, and warmly extended his hand to me. He greeted me by name, introduced himself by his first name, and showed me to the seat at his right hand. All fifteen men followed his example. They did what their prince did. We were greatly honored and graciously welcomed.
This man would have been well within his rights to follow protocol. In fact, he risked criticism and the loss of respect for breaking the social rules. But he chose to gather up his power and use it to pour out blessing—which is what he continued to do the entire time we were there. He illustrates what a person of much power looks like when they do not clutch glory but rather seek to use that power to bless others.
These stories help us imagine how God would have us exercise our power. I believe that God would have us use our power as benediction, to bless, by way of sacrifice, by way of the cross.
The Brazilian pastor living sacrificially in that seacoast town—one man, one family, full of the light of the love of Christ, illuminating a very dark world—embodies in his life what Jesus did in his own life. The King of Kings became one man, finite, living in time and place. He was full of light and love, ministering one by one and always faithful to the Father.
The lovely Arab woman living sacrificially—bringing light and love by speaking truth to power, refusing complicity with evil done in the name of God—blesses her father with a firm but respectful invitation to the light. She blesses her children, for they will see and know a new way and come to understand that culture, even so-called Christian culture, often fails to follow Christ. She will look like Jesus, who spoke truth to the religious leaders and confronted those who crushed the little ones.
And the gracious sheikh who, for love of our son, blessed my husband and me—stepping across all those divides that protect his name and status, inviting us to sit at his right hand and be waited on and receive honor from the one we came to honor—gave us a small but rich taste of the Lord of heaven and earth seated on the throne. This earthly prince, who inspired awe in me by crossing over position, tradition, culture, gender, and training to greet me with his right hand, reminds me of the awe due to my true Lord, who at a cost beyond measure crosses over the barriers of highest position and of sin and death to welcome me at the right hand of the Father.
It is my prayer, as we think together about the power bestowed on us by God, that we will let his light shine in as we study and listen well. May we, his children, see clearly the truth about earthly power and not be seduced. May we not deceive ourselves or others regarding any use of power that is not under the authority of the One who holds all power. May we live in dark places, shining the light of Christ on the abuses around us, even when they are in our own circles. May we speak to those who are crushing God’s little ones or robbing the people in his churches. And may we, like our Lord, lay aside every bit of earthly power to cross divides, step out of high positions, and reach out with love to those who are vulnerable, whose power is little or trampled, bestowing benedictions as we go.
Excerpted from Redeeming Power by Diane Langberg, ©2020. Used by permission of Baker Publishing. BakerPublishingGroup.com.