The Takeaway - Power
Today we’ll be focusing on the power of God as fuel for our lives—and we’ll explore how we can tap into God’s power and harness it for ourselves. Spoiler alert: it’s not by taking charge in attempt to exert our own control. Listen in.
“A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.”
“Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.”
The words and melody were written by Martin Luther around 1529, based on the text of Psalm 46. Many consider this the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” Yet in an early copy of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” it was described as a “hymn of comfort.” Leaning into God’s strength does indeed give us comfort.
Remember the prayer “God is great and God is good” from your childhood? (Or from episode one of this season?) As in the prayer, God’s power, or greatness, is tightly linked to God’s goodness. Power and goodness together produce justice or righteousness. God’s power and goodness, and God’s justice and righteousness, are part of the givenness of God’s character.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines power as the ability to do or act; strength. In the Old Testament, the primary Hebrew word for power is koah, meaning strength, power, or capacity. And a related word for power is me’od, an adverb meaning many, much, or very. Me’od intensifies and strengthens the meaning of other words. And, finally, the Hebrew word for justice or righteousness is tsedekah, and is related to koah and me’od.
In the New Testament, the main Greek word for power is dunamis, meaning might, strength, force, ability, capacity. And a related Greek word to dunamis is basileas, the word for kingdom, the realm in which one’s power is exercised. And, finally, the Greek word for justice is dikaiosune, meaning righteousness, uprightness, equity, and justice.
What do the Scriptures say about God’s power?
In the Old Testament, God’s voice and God’s hand are instruments of God’s power.
In creation, God spoke the cosmos into being: “Then God said, let there be light, and there was light.” (Genesis 1.3) In the words of the Psalmist, “the voice of the Lord is powerful” (Psalm 29.4). The voice of God has power to create and recreate.
In deliverance, God’s hand frees Israel. In the words of the song of Moses in Exodus 15, the oldest text in the Bible: “your right hand is glorious in power” (Exodus 15.6).
In the person of Jesus, God’s power is fully revealed. Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit in his baptism (Luke 4.14). When Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue, the people wonder: “where did this man get this wisdom and deeds of power?” (Matthew 13.54). Jesus performs many “deeds of power” in his ministry, often healings or exorcisms. All the time, Jesus delivers people from illness, death, sin, or evil. And he gives his disciples the power to do the same. Before his ascension, Jesus promises his followers that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1.8).
In the New Testament, God’s power resides not only in the person of Jesus but in the gospel and the cross. In the words of the Apostle Paul: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, it is the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1.16).
The cross of Jesus is the ultimate “deed of power.” From death springs life. In baptism, we are united to Jesus and his suffering, death, and resurrection. Again, in the words of the Apostle Paul: “when you were
buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God” (Colossians 2.12).
There’s a specific theme running through the Old and New Testaments about power: there’s a qualitative difference between earthly power and God’s power. The power of God often threatens the power structures on earth. In Mary’s song, the Magnificat, she sings: “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1.52), drawing on Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. And the Apostle Paul describes the message he receives from God about his suffering: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12.9). And the cross itself, an instrument of capital punishment in the ancient world, is used by followers of Jesus as a sign of God’s victory—even to this day. God is in the business of turning our conception of power on its head.
So what? How can you and I participate in God’s power? How can we lean into it? How can we plug into it? How can we fill up with divine power in the fuel tanks of our lives?
Not by trying to exert control over situations or people. Not by taking charge of something in order to shape and bend it to your liking, or your standards. Not by trying to avoid being controlled. Not by increasing your intensity, through working harder, talking louder, or challenging more fiercely.
The quest to be in control is the quest of Enneagram eights, known as “The Challengers.” Recall that the enneagram is a personality model that describes how we see and interact with the world—and how we grow into our true selves and our true callings. The divine attribute that eights most reflect is God’s power and justice. The most common way they get sidetracked in life is their need to be in control, and to avoid being controlled. They get tripped up by their own intensity.
Eights are the most intense number on the enneagram. It’s no surprise that they have more energy than any other number. Alexander Hamilton must have been an eight. Though never president, he was a close advisor of George Washington’s. He established a strong national financial system—by consolidating state debts and collecting federal taxes. He accomplished
this by influencing Jefferson and Madison in the so-called “dinner table bargain” in the “the room where it happened.” Hamilton accomplished something the EU might never be able to fully do.
The way ahead for all of us in growing in power and justice, and not just for Enneagram eights, is to be tender, vulnerable. Becoming vulnerable—in body, mind, and heart—is the antidote to intensity.
In the words of Brene Brown: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
There are three dimensions of growing in tenderness and vulnerability, and therefore power: body, mind, and heart.
To become tender or vulnerable in your body, act tenderly towards your own body. Start paying attention to yourself. Tune into you. Turn down your dimmer switch of your intensity. Use just the energy that an action requires, not more. Channel your bonus energy into exercise—every day. Also, act tenderly towards other people. Use your finely tuned sense of justice for the good of all people.
To become tender or vulnerable in your mind, meditate on the mantra, “the Lord is my strength” (Exodus 15.2, Psalm 28.1). Recognize that you aren’t always right—maybe most of the time, but not always. Be curious about new ideas, instead of challenging them immediately. Say “no” less often.
Finally, to become tender or vulnerable in your heart—this is the hardest part—be tender towards yourself—especially your feelings. Instead of normalizing all feelings into one bucket of general “intensity” or anger—name and welcome each one, as a sign of your strength. Connect tenderly with your inner circle of loved ones. Connect tenderly with the vulnerable of the world through your eyes of compassion. In the words of Martin Luther King, who probably was an eight himself, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
These three paths towards power and justice in body, mind, and heart will lead you to your true self, you’ll be in control of yourself, and you will harness your intensity and sense of justice to make the world a more just place for all of us.
And then you can then begin to ask yourself the question: “how can I use my own power for good—for myself and for the world?” Growing in power or justice happens through the backdoor of becoming tender and vulnerable.
As we turn to God in prayer, let us pray with King David, his farewell prayer offered in the presence of God’s gathered people (1 Chronicles 29.10-13).
Let us pray.
Blessed are you, O LORD,
the God of our ancestor Israel, forever and ever.
Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory,
the victory, and the majesty;
for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours;
yours is the kingdom, O LORD,
and you are exalted as head above all.
Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.
In your hand are power and might;
and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all.
And now, our God, we give thanks to you and praise your glorious name.
Until next week,
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power (Ephesians 6.10).
Claim the power of Jesus’ resurrection for yourself (Philippians 3.10).
Stop guarding the tender places in your life—open them up to light and love of God and others.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15.13)
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, world without end, Amen.