Today I've been reflecting on the realities of power and weakness.
The past few weeks have been awful concerning tragedy. Hundreds are shot in Las Vegas and we are grieved. Earthquakes have caused much damage and loss of life in Mexico. Hurricanes have ravaged Houston, Florida, and especially Puerto Rico. In the face of tragedy, it is inspiring to see first responders use their power to mobilize, sort through the damage, and save lives. Facebook and other organizations have created opportunities to donate toward the relief effort. Our church has put together several cleanup buckets to go to a disaster relief warehouse to do our part to help. Still, in Puerto Rico, thousands are without electricity and running water, and try as we might, we can't bring back the dead.
We Americans are quite accustomed to having power. We talk about what people should do. We organize, argue, demonstrate, vote, and spend money for our causes. Yet things that seem so right to me may not seem right to you. Politically, I'm a Christ follower who has issues with both the Republican and Democratic party platforms. The total package of my values seems just about absent in our current political discourse. Who do I vote for? Who represents my values? For all my thoughts and blogging and conversations and voting, my voice is fairly marginal. I live in the tension between power and weakness.
We all have power. We all have weaknesses. How do we handle both?
Paul was someone who learned how to embrace both power and weakness in his walk with Jesus. Paul knew the power of the Holy Spirit, yet he did not turn that power inward for selfish purposes, but rather used that power to serve God's purpose. God used Paul to heal people, cast out demons, convert people to faith in Jesus Christ, shape lives, inspire hope, and plant churches throughout the Roman empire. Yet Paul also knew heartbreaking moments of powerlessness. He was beaten, arrested, conspired against, abandoned by friends, shepherded erring churches, battled against despair, and had personal struggles he asked God to remove. In Paul's correspondence with the Corinthian church, he has piercing meditations on the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:18-31) and Christ's strength in our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:1-10), something that only could have been written by a person profoundly acquainted with powerlessness. For Paul, he had learned that when he was weak, it was not a time to give up hope or throw it all away. The crucified Jesus shows that there is a hidden strength at work even when it seems evil and suffering have the day. The crucified Christ displays the power of suffering love that can transform lives. Paul knew power. Paul knew weakness. And he could see God at work in both.
We need a Spirit-filled use of power and a Christlike embrace of loving powerlessness.
I find myself in this tension often. Sometimes I need to be reminded that even when I'm weak, Christ is strong through me, so stop trying to force it, carry the world on my shoulders, or pretend I'm invincible. Other times I need to be reminded that God and society have given me power, so stop acting like I don't have it and get out there and do what I can for God's good purpose.
We have power. Problems get solved. We overcome difficult odds. We beat the other team. Our candidate gets elected. Our influence changes someone's life. We rebuild after tragedy. We help those who are down and out. God shows up in an undeniable way.
We have weakness. There are many people whose mind we will not change. We can't enact our total vision for our church, community, state, country, and world. We struggle with personal faults we wish we didn't have. We can't fix everything and everyone. We have bouts with doubt.
The challenge is walking well with both power and weakness. You can use power for good or it can be your downfall. You can let weakness cripple you or you can embrace it as a means of God shaping you into Christlikeness. God uses both power and weakness to mold us into who he calls us to be.
Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer, popularized in AA and other twelve step programs, takes these realities and lifts them toward God in prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."