Learning to be open to God’s power
o I live an empowered life?
That was the question that seized me one recent morning as I taught at a retreat centre.
I’d asked my audience to consider the way Jesus described His gospel. I’d pointed out that in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus consistently claimed He had come to both announce and embody the availability of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15–16; Luke 4:42–43). In the Gospel of John, Jesus expressed this same reality as the availability of a different kind of life (John 10:10; 14:6).
As we allow the Kingdom of God to break into our own existence, I argued, we can expect our lives to become qualitatively different.
In the middle of my talk, as I reminded my audience that the Apostle Paul claimed, "The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power" (1 Corinthians 4:20), a question bubbled up within me.
Do I live an empowered life?
It’s tricky to have a soul-searching inner dialogue while simultaneously leading a session for others. Of course, I live an empowered life, I told myself. The Holy Spirit lives within me and any good I do is by His power.
But as I’ve pondered the question since, I’ve realized that, while I instinctually emphasize the possibility of intimacy and abiding peace with God, I tend to shy away from explorations of the availability of His power.
I suspect there are a few reasons for my power aversion.
Temperamentally, I prefer predictability and control. The Holy Spirit – the member of the Trinity most associated with spiritual empowerment – tends to be unpredictable and disruptive. Celtic Christians have long symbolized the Spirit not as a gentle dove, but as a wild goose. I’ve been reluctant to go on any wild goose chases – or perhaps more accurately, to let the Wild Goose chase me.
Historically, I’ve had a few negative experiences in charismatic communities that have seemed overly focused on experiencing God’s power primarily through flashy signs and wonders. Although I should know better than to think abuse of a thing invalidates the thing itself, my experiences have made me wary.
Culturally, observing the corrupting potential of human power, it’s been tempting to avoid explorations of power altogether – even though I know the crucified Christ offers us a profoundly countercultural picture of God’s power in action.
For these reasons and more, my openness to the flow of God’s power in my life has been intermittent at best. I do believe the Kingdom of God is at hand, and I believe it is a Kingdom of power. But I often feel safer talking about it than plugging into the current.
In his book Power Lines, the late Anglican priest David Adam reports that when electricity first became available in Northern England in the 1920s, residents responded in a variety of ways.
I reach for God’s power when things are particularly dark and desperate, but as soon as the crisis is averted I’m back to my own resources again.
Many farmers wholeheartedly embraced the introduction of electrical power, revelling in the unprecedented light it afforded. Others were skeptical and steadfastly refused to have the power lines installed on their property.
One elderly resident enthusiastically welcomed the power lines, yet only used a miniscule amount of electricity each month. Baffled, local utility officials visited her. Electricity, the woman exclaimed, was wonderful. Whenever it got dark, she could switch it on long enough to find her matches and light her candles, and then she could switch it back off.
Spiritually speaking, I have so much in common with her. I reach for God’s power when things are particularly dark and desperate, but as soon as the crisis is averted I’m back to my own resources again.
This system has worked reasonably well for me, in its own predictable, limited way. In fact, I may have been able to operate this way indefinitely, if it weren’t for a disruptive, insistent, still small voice:
Do you want to live an empowered life?
I thought I was the one asking the question. But it’s been the Holy Spirit all along. And by the Spirit’s power, I am beginning to find the courage to say yes.
Carolyn Arends (www.CarolynArends.com) is a recording artist, author and director of education for Renovaré. Find more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/GoWithGod.