I stood watching little children play in one of those indoor playgrounds with obstacle courses worthy of the military. The kids squealed with delight at climbing over and under, swinging from ropes and jumping over barricades. One little girl was lording it over them all. She cut the lines with a smirk, going from play equipment to play equipment, never waiting her turn. The fascinating thing is that she developed a small entourage. A few children followed her lead, hanging out with her and thereby getting to cut in line too. They recognized in her some power and they wanted in.
We do that as adults too. We seek after power. Initially we work to pay for shelter and food but once that is taken care of, we seek power. Power helps us cut the line, get what we want, makes our life easier and others beholden to us. We snub or we use those with less power than we have and we seek to be close to those who have more power than us, hoping that some of theirs may rub off on us.
Proximity to power is a goal that can lead to ruin.
It sets us on a path that is circular; offering just enough hope that each bend will lead us to the next level where we will find enough power to stay ahead of the pack. The reality is that the desire for power (its’ form takes many shapes) is a path on which we endlessly strive but never arrive. Power is a false god, a torturous god whose goal is to lead us away from the truth.
Jesus, the very personification of Omnipotence, both shows and tells us the truth about power.
God with us, Immanuel, chose to be with us in the most humble of ways. He could have been with us from a palace, from the home of a tech billionaire or from high office. Instead, he avoided the privilege of the powerful and became Immanuel within a poor family from a nowhere village. He did not seek the power this world has to offer. His coming, including the way he chose for his coming, compels us to reconsider the assumptions about how the world is organized. The power of first, of most, of biggest is more suited to Herod in his palace than Jesus in his manger.
The mother of two sons wanted her boys to be at the center of power. She asked Jesus to put them on each side of him, to rule with him when his kingdom comes. His other disciples, when they heard of this, were outraged because they too wanted proximity to power. We know how Jesus responded.
He gathered his disciples close to him and he spoke to them about the false god of power. He spoke of the way power is used to lord it over others, how power is used to manipulate people – ensuring that others submit to the powerbroker’s way of doing things. To this, Jesus spoke strong words.
Not so among you!
Instead, he said, use any power you have to serve others. If you’re going to fight over the right to be great then find that greatness in serving others. If you have any power, use it to make their lives easier. Relieve their burdens.
Any time we use what power we have accumulated or what power has been bestowed on us to manipulate others, we are following the false god of power. Every time we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves either ahead or lacking, we are following the false god of power. Let us beware of this all-consuming false god.
Any time we use what power we have to relieve someone of a burden, to make their task easier, to serve them in some way, we are following the True Power – the All Mighty who laid down his power in order to take up our burden.
As the New Year approaches, I ask that each one of us examine what power we have. Truly examine it. Quantify it. Understand it.
Then, when you understand your power – however large or small – I have one request to ask of you.
Would you, this New Year, resolve to use your power to make one person’s burden lighter as the year begins? Stop. Think. How and for whom can you do this? Let the power of Love lead the way.
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10