POWER part 1
What is power?
“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.”
What is power? Power is often defined as strength in action. It is not just strength in the sense of having someone who is strong but someone who is able to continue in strength and in doing so is powerful.
God is the All-Powerful One and as David writes in the Psalms (Ps 90:2), “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” The term ‘everlasting to everlasting’ speaks of ‘that which is beyond the horizon’ and speaks of God’s greatness and power which is immeasurable.
God wants to be known
God is far beyond all things and totally unbound by human limitations. Yet God, our heavenly Father, is willing to share His strength and power with us and help us find forgiveness and reconciliation through His Son Jesus Christ. God, the All –Compassionate One, reaches out to us so that we can become all that we should be as His sons and daughters (Is 40:31, Zech 4:6, Acts 2, Eph 1:3). We were created to know God and so the whole being of man is to reflect the character of God (Gen 1:27) because we have been made with a purpose: to know, experience and reflect His amazing love. In His essential being God is totally immeasurable and unknowable and lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). He is the All-Powerful Holy One yet is also the One who desires to share His love and has created man in His image to know this love in this world that He has created for us.
Throughout the scriptures we find God revealing something of His localised presence in this world. For example, His localised presence was known in the Garden of Eden, Tabernacle and the Temple, which was to be a house of prayer for all the nations (Is 56:7, Lk 19:46). Ultimately God is known through Jesus who said that those who had seen Him had seen the Father (John 14:6)
God is not only the One who creates and provides all good things; He is also the one who reaches out to us: who seeks to rescue fallen man (John 3:16-17) and shape and mould His wayward people. In doing this He does not remove our true identity, but removes what we have become by way of the fall, and helps us grow in grace and mature through the indwelling and leading of the Holy Spirit..
“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
God knows how all things fit together
As the One who knows all things, God is the true Lawgiver (clearly seen in the law of love: Luke 10:27). He alone knows how all things fit together (as the true Judge 2 Cor 5:10) and reaches out to both challenge and support man.
It is God’s power that brought Israel out of Egypt and it is His power that then took the Egyptian mind-set out of Israel. It was also His power that made Gideon a mighty warrior (Jud 6:12), allowed Elijah to demonstrate His power on Carmel (1 Kings 18:21f) and ended the reign of the Babylonian Empire exactly when He wanted it to end (Daniel 5). It is also His presence and power that encouraged both Daniel and Ezekiel through visions revealing very clearly that He is the All-Powerful One and master of history.
"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14
“Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” Ezekiel 1:26-8
Imagery associated with God.
Whilst God is the Holy and unapproachable One in His essential being, He is known by His words and actions and is often likened to that which can be easily understood by those who sought to engage with Him.
For example, God is spoken of as the eagle who encourages its young to fly and who catches them when they fall (Deut 32:10-12). He is spoken of as bringing His people out of Egypt as on the wings of an eagle (Ex 19:4) and who renews His people’s strength so that they soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).
“Let me praise the LORD! Let everything deep inside me praise God’s holy name! Let me praise the LORD and not neglect or forget all the times God has come through – the LORD God! Who mercifully forgives all of a man or woman’s guilt, who heals you in all your weaknesses, keeps your life safe from the grave! Who puts wreaths of long-range promises and gentle love around your neck, who quiets your deep desires again and again with good things so that the young strength in you is quickened to soar like an eagle.”
Psalm 103:1-5 C. Seerveld translation.
God is also likened to the Lion who guards against all who would attack (Is 31:4) and as One who went before Israel as a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night (Ex 13:21-22).
“So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. For our God is indeed a devouring fire.” Hebrews 2:28-20
God is also spoken of as both the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5) and the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:12), this speaking of the power and sacrificial love which undergirds this world (Rev 13:8).
God is powerful
In the Hebrew mind-set the word ‘God’ refers to the Creator as the One who is strong and powerful like an Ox. To capture something of this imagery, think of trying to turn the soil in a field in the heart of summer and of how hard the soil would be. Next imagine the ease at which a pair of Oxen ploughs the field. God is like the strong Ox who leads teaches and empowers the weaker Ox with his own strength. That is why Jesus could say…
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
In the Hebrew mind-set the word ‘God’ also conjures up the picture of a Shepherd who has all authority and who guides and protects and in Numbers 6:24 we read of the Shepherd as One who “blesses you and keeps you.”
The word, ‘keep’ speaks of being hedged in, like protecting a flock with a fence, and also speaks of watching over. In Job 1:10 we see that God hedged in Job, so to speak –thus protecting his life.
Now think about some of the difficult situations that you have faced or are facing. Capture the essence of the pictures above and remember afresh how willing God is to help His people. He is, “The God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:14). He knows the stars by nature and composition (Ps 147:4), and the number of hairs on your head (Mt 10:30) and rejoices over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:32). In Jesus we see that God is the Good Shepherd – the One true covenant-keeping Shepherd who looks after His sheep (Joh 10:10-11).
In the Hebrew mind-set the word ‘God’ also speaks of the One who is the true Judge. A Judge has all power and authority and yet God’s justice is not primarily going into a court and being sentenced or acquitted. Instead God’s justice speaks of knowing what is right and, in great power and authority, being able to put together that which is out of place. The true Judge will one day bring everything into shalom-harmony. In the Hebrew mind-set God is also our Father: - “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land (Ps 68:5-6). Paul picks up on the fatherhood of God in his letter to the Galatians where he writes…..
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:6-7
The imagery behind the word, ‘Abba’ speaks of God being the strength of the family and His strength and power is with us because of His immeasurable sacrificial love.
In 2011 Japan experienced what turned out to be one of the top five largest earthquakes in the world since seismological record-keeping began. After the earthquake had subsided rescuers reached the ruins of a young woman’s house and saw her body through the cracks. Her pose was strange as if she was kneeling forward like a person praying. The rescue team leader put his hand through the crack and found her body to be cold and stiff, so he went on to the next house. However, he felt compelled to go back and placed his hands in the space under the dead woman. To his surprise he found a baby and eventually the three month old boy in a flower blanket was rescued. His mother had shielded his body and in doing so saved his life. A medical doctor opened the blanket to examine the boy and found a cell phone inside the blanket. There was a text message on the screen which said, “If you can survive, you must remember that I love you.” In this true story we capture a glimpse of what the power of God’s love is like. It is a sacrificial love that gives everything; a powerful love that seeks to protect, uplift and build us up and encourage us in all ways.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18-21
God is the powerful Creator – more powerful than an Ox or any living creature and with the authority and compassion of a Shepherd who leads, guides and feeds His Sheep.
God knows exactly what we have become by way of sin and knows exactly how to put our broken-damaged lives back together again. Yet Christianity is not just about finding wholeness and healing; it is about moving forward in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit; learning new ways, growing in amazing grace and reaching out to others in the wisdom, knowledge, understanding and power of God. Jesus is the light of the world and in His light there is hope restoration and incredible growth. We were made to receive from the soil of His promises and, as roots grow deeper into Him, grow in to maturity as Oaks of righteousness (Isaiah 61:3)
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
God’s love and power is the life-giving, sin-destroying, Spirit enabling power of His presence that enables us to become those who are mentally, physically and spiritually able to walk in the resources, gifts and presence of One who is the embodiment of amazing grace.
In total contrast to the power and presence of God, we have the strength and power of man. Fallen man does not like the idea of being dependent on anyone for help and this is where our problem begins, because denying our need of God is a denial of our true identity. We are awesomely and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), yet often live as if this world is nothing but an accident and as if we are those who have to carve out our own existence.
The powerful weakness of man
In 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, set the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol and a server via the Internet and in doing so created the World Wide Web which has brought about such a massive change to the world that no part of our lives remains untouched.
Something else that touches the lives of everyone on our planet in one way or another is power. All across our world there are power structures put in place to help people live in freedom, or put in place to control others.
“Power structures society and helps govern relationships and orchestrate the interaction between people and within and among communities and nations. Power plays out in every field in which we contend, compete or organise: international politics and war, domestic politics, business, scientific enquiry, religion, social action such as philanthropy and activism, and social and cultural relations of all kinds…..Power is the ability to direct or prevent the current or future actions of other groups and individuals.”
M.Naim in, ‘The End of Power’ p 16 & 23.
When we look around the world, we see that man is more powerful now than at any other time in history, but at the same time displays great weakness. For example, as Gary Haugen writes in his book, ‘The Locust Effect’ (p68), whilst around eleven million slaves were taken from Africa during the four-hundred-years of the slave trade, this is still a little under half of the number of people held in slavery in our world this year (2014). In his inaugural address on January 20th 1961 President J.F. Kennedy said, “The world is very different now, for man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” J.F. Kennedy spoke these words whilst being part of a society which segregated black and white people; where black people were only allowed to sit at the back of a bus and where many seats in parks were ‘white only’. In this, we clearly see man’s inhumanity to fellow man: man’s power and yet his lack of power to do what is right.
Our inhumanity towards fellow man is see across history whether in the atrocities that occurred in Soweto in S. Africa, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, N. Korea or the family down the road where children live in fear of an abusive parent.
In our modern world we also have a greater ability to harness nature and produce food than ever before, yet people still starve to death or die from easily preventable diseases. We are powerful, yet misuse power, however it is not power that corrupts us. As one of the well-known novelists of the 20th century (William Gaddis) once said, “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power."
We have invented powerful weapons to defend ourselves with or use to destroy perceived enemies, yet we seem unable to stop families crumbling or prevent thousands upon thousands of children going to bed thinking there is no one out there who loves them. Ultimately most nations crumble from within with the breakdown of morality and family values. Yet it does not have to be so.
In turning to God there is the entrance into a new family and growing understanding that someone out there notices us and that we are important to Him regardless of background, ability or achievements. We find that we, the person we often wrongly perceive as unlovable are greatly loved by the One who is the master of all situations (Rev 22:13).
The power of God’s love and presence is not quenched by the power of man’s sinfulness, yet in our sinfulness we forgo the presence, power and support of the Shepherd King. We forgo the compassion, care, concern and challenge of the One who, in Christ, ‘spent’ His power on entering our place of rebellion and suffering the penalty of our sin so that He could offer us life in a way that does not compromise holiness. Our world is undergoing partial judgement as God allows us to reap what we sow, but it does not have to be this way. We can, in turning to Him, reap the harvest provided by another. God is love (1 John 4:8) without compromising holiness and holiness without compromising love and this world continues to exist because of His grace and mercy, not our expertise and power.
God’s grace and power in us
We reap what we sow, yet God is in overall control and often reaches in, in extraordinary ways, revealing that nothing is out of His realm of operation as scripture clearly reveals. He does not do this because we are worthy of His help, or deserve it in any way. He does it because God is love and everything that He brings about in our lives is because of His grace.
It is because of God’s grace, for example, that an 80-year-old failed deliverer-of-his-people (Moses) who had lived in the backside of the desert despite having a superabundant start to life, is called by God. It is also because of God’s grace that a disciple who denied Christ three times was the one who preaches the first message recorded in the book of Acts.
It’s never been about us
Many Christians know something about the power of God but allow their failings or inadequacies to blind them to a simple truth: God wants to reveal His power through their lives.
God does not overlook our failings and scripture continually reveals the flaws and failings of all, yet God still works with flawed people. Look at how He worked with Moses, Peter and so many others who did not get it right all the time. Confess weakness, accept responsibility for your own actions and move in the power, presence and anointing of the Holy Spirit.
A contrast: Man’s abuse of power and God’s gift of power
A phrase I recently came across which is used to speak of the abuse of power is the ‘Imelda Marcos Syndrome’ which says, “Because I’m in this position, I have a right to whatever I want, with total selfishness and disregard for others.” The phrase, ‘Imelda Marcos Syndrome’ came from the lifestyle of the wife of a Philippine President.
Imelda Marcos used to be a singer and model in Manila, the Philippines. She eventually married Ferdinand Marcos who became President. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972 and his wife started travelling the world, buying up artwork and property whilst so many in her country died of malnutrition.
Along with her husband, Imelda siphoned off money from the Philippine treasury into personal bank accounts in Switzerland. She also built a collection of over 3000 pairs of shoes. After a revolution she was exiled to Hawaii but was later given amnesty and has, in recent years, been elected into the House of Representatives in 2010.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,” and in Imelda Marcos and the rise to power of so many leaders across history we see exactly what fallen man is like.
Now contrast the ‘Imelda Marcos Syndrome’ which speaks of the abuse of power, with the actions of the all-powerful One. We will make the contrast by looking at an event that occurred in the Philippines at the same time that Imelda was grabbing whatever she could with no regard to others.
“On February 24th 1986, the history of the Filipino people recorded a cry of desperation. Eight hundred soldiers were open targets before President Ferdinant Marcos’ air force. Nervously they stood watching the aircraft hover over them and knowing that their attempt at a peaceful revolution could end in moments with their small army being blown apart. But they were not just standing there; they were being led in Scripture reading and prayer. Sure that that the end was near, General Honesto Islera was reading to them from Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust…”” Even as they heard the Word of the Lord being read to them, the whirring of the encroaching aircraft overhead grew louder. But something was happening of which they were not aware. As the planes came closer, instead of wiping out this meagre handful on the ground, one by one the pilots defected and landed. That story of the “Bloodless Revolution” is now history too.”
Ravi Zacharias in ‘Cries of the Heart p4-5.’
Another story from the Philippines which speaks to me of the amazing power and grace of God in a very difficult situation came from a missionary who spoke to me and other students one Friday afternoon many years ago. This missionary to the Philippines told us that during the first two years of his ministry in the rubbish tips, no one came to Christ. His small son then became ill and died and he and his wife left to go on furlough. He said that it was hard for his family to return to Manila, but they did return and a church was soon established. Years later he was talking to a local convert and said he could not understand why people had rejected the gospel in the first couple of years. In reply, the man told him that many missionaries from the west came and lived with them but they knew they could go home if there was trouble. They were with them, but not like them. When the missionary had come back with his family after the death of their son, the rubbish-tip community realised that these people really cared for them and started to realise that the love and compassion they were seeing was because of Jesus Christ. As Mahatma Ghandi once said…
“A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
The abuse of power on a personal and local level
We have seen something of the great gulf between man’s abuse of power and God’s use of His power. Before moving on to look at the power of sacrificial love we now look at the abuse of power on a more local level. Take, for example, the power of advertising.
When an advertiser persuades us that a want (e.g. a luxury sports’ car) is a need, we are in trouble. We need air to breathe but we don’t need a luxury sports car in order to live. However if we think we need a sports car in order to feel good, or prove our self-worth, then we’re going to go out of our way to try and get one. There are many people in debt because they have been persuaded to purchase things that are not really needed in order to make them feel better about themselves. Now let’s turn to look at the power of words.
We live in a society where so many young people have been crippled by the words of others, even their own parents who have failed to encourage them and continuously told them they are not going to amount to much in life. In the effect that words have on our lives we see that the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a downright lie.
Perhaps you are carrying the damaging effect of words others have spoken over you in your life today, but don’t really realise it? Perhaps you are still living under the power of the world in this area, rather than in the power of the One who uplifts? Perhaps you need to reconnect with God and recognise afresh that you are amazingly created and loved? After all, you were made for a relationship with a heavenly Father who crossed the Universe through the smashed body of his son, to reach with life and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t struggle under the power of man: walk in the power of God
In so many churches up and down this country and across our world there are people who struggle under the power of man rather than in the power of God. If you don’t think this is true then why do many Christians say, “God is love” whilst deep down they believe that God does not really care for them? Why do so many Christians feel they have not been forgiven or as if God is far away?
God loves us, God has come for us, God is with us and God is going to bring us home. And yet we can still end up living with the most ridiculous thoughts going on in our minds because we are more rooted in the experiences of the world than in the experience and presence of God. We need to see God, self and the world around us through His Word and not through our past experiences.
Projecting our past onto those around us
At St Paul’s Cathedral in London you can climb 257 steps to the Whispering gallery which runs around the interior of the dome. The Whispering gallery gets its name from the fact that a whisper against its walls on one side is audible on the opposite side. So, in one sense, it is as if you are able to stand in two places at once and you could gossip about yourself, hearing your words come back to you from a completely different direction. You could even look across the gallery at someone else and, in a way, put your words in their mouth as the echo of your words emanates from their direction. In a sense we could call this the echo of your mind through someone else. Now think of it like this…
Imagine a girl, called Jane, who has had a run of bad experiences with dentists – so much so that she has a real dislike and resentment for anything to do with dentistry. One day Jane’s flatmate introduces Jane to her new boyfriend and guess what – he’s a dentist!
As the weeks go by Jane has nothing good to say about her friend’s new boyfriend and continually pulls him down. Jane thinks it is because he’s not really a nice guy, but the truth is that it is because he is a dentist. Although Jane may not acknowledge it, her wrong thinking is bouncing back off her friend’s boyfriend every time she sees or hears about him.
Sometimes the way we feel and act towards people has very little to do with them, but tells us more about our damaged hearts and emotions than anything else. So how do we view those we find it difficult to get along with and what does it reveal in our own hearts? Whether we like it or not, difficulty with others often reveals more about the power of our heart than the heart of those we struggle with. I was reminded of this recently with the death of Andrew, a friend of mine.
Andrew went home to his heavenly Father during the early part of this week. Despite having been a Christian for many years, it was only in recent months that Andrew began to learn how to take his walls down and accept God’s love and the love of others. Before that, he would fall out with people more often because of his heart and not theirs and his walls of self-protection would soon go up like the drawbridge in an ancient castle.
Andrew would project his hurts onto the lives of those around him and then make wrong judgements and reach wrong conclusions about them. Yet there was never a day when God’s love was not there for Andrew and finally he began to understand this, find healing in his heart and mind and take hold of the love that was actually holding him – the love of God.
Where does the power that shapes and controls our lives come from? Is it from our past experiences, self, or the One who gave His life so that we could find freedom in Him.
In looking at Jesus and His ministry, we clearly see the sacrificial heart of the One who reaches out to all people. He is the One who, “…gave himself to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4), the One who “…loved us and gave Himself” (Eph 5:2). Jesus is the One who gave Himself as a ransom for many (1 Tim 2:6); He gave Himself to redeem us (Titus 2:1-4).
What does the power of God look like?
What does the power of God look like? It looks like Jesus who gets alongside all people. It looks like Jesus who came and showed us exactly what God is like and through whom we see that this Universe is built on the power of sacrificial and unconditional love.
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
1 Peter 1:18-20
Perhaps we have lost sight of His powerful love because we have been living in our own power for too long, or letting the accuser (John 8:44) persuade us that we are not important and that God is a far off person who doesn’t really love us as much as others.
Perhaps it is time to recognise afresh that you are a son or daughter of the living God; to recognise that because of God’s grace and mercy you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). To recognise that you have been brought into the kingdom (rule and reign) of a compassionate and loving Father (Luke 15:20, Mat 20:1f). Through the work of Jesus you are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:3; He is a deposit guaranteeing the things that God is going to give you (Eph 1:14, 2 Cor 5:5). You are a much-loved son or daughter and part of a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2:9-10). You are one of the most forgiven people on earth (Rom 6:23) and are to view yourself in the light of what He has to say, and not through the events of this world that have tried to define you and shape your life in different ways.
God has the only real blueprint to our lives and certainly knows what we have become by way of the world – and He says that you are His. You are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and the old does not have the power to define you unless you are going to let it. No matter how strong the power of the old may seem at times, it has been broken by Jesus. You have been adopted into God’s family (Eph 1:5) and your past will never be counted against you (1 Cor 5:5).
Now we may say, “But I still feel so powerless.” In addressing this problem, perhaps there is the need to remember that we live from the truth of God’s word and not the thinking of the world. Apart from this, perhaps we have forgotten that we are in a two-way relationship with God. Perhaps we have forgotten that the Holy Spirit came into our lives when we accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour, but to really know the power of the Spirit speaks of an on-going relationship.
We have been given strength and power in the Lord, yet this is not our natural right and we cannot take and run with His power as we please. The Holy Spirit is not some sort of abstract force like electricity. He is the third Person of the Trinity and He is here right now. Let us pray that we do not lose sight of what this means for us. Let us not lose sight of just how concerned Jesus is about our lives, the lives of those around us, the lost in our world and even our enemies. In the ups and downs of life it can be easy to forget that God is kind to us and that He is concerned for us. The fact that we lose sight of this is evident in the many parables Jesus told people about God’s love and concern for all.
Amazing stories of God’s power with His people
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
Over eighty years ago, a Christian doctor spent years in China building a hospital to help the local people. However when the nationalist army under Chiang Kai-Shek arrived, all of that changed. His hospital was looted as the Nationalist army swept northwards and nothing of value was left behind. Amazingly, the doctor packed his bags, followed the army and started attending to the sick and wounded. General Chiang Kai-Shek asked his Christian wife, “What makes this foreign doctor tend to the sick and wounded when these very men destroyed his hospital?” In reply she said, “It is Christianity,” and this proved to be part of his journey to Christ.
In March 1937 after another incident (known as the Xi’an Incident), General Chiang Kai Shek was discussing what to do with Zhang Xueliang, who had been defeated. He said, “I will follow the Lord Jesus in forgiving people seventy-seven times, and will give him a chance to renew himself.” There are those who would challenge whether Chang Kai-Shek ever made a genuine profession of faith, but the power of the gospel reaching out to him is evident at various times in his life.
Another story that I will never forget is recounted by Oz Guinness and shows the amazing sustaining power of God in the middle of great tragedy.
In his book ‘Unspeakable, Facing Up to the Challenge of Evil (p159-60), Prof Oz Guinness writes about Baroness Cox, the deputy speaker of the House of Lords and a nurse and scientist who worked among the oppressed of the world. On one occasion Baroness Cox was asked to relate her worst moment and her best moment during the many years she had served.
The worst moment, she said, was on entering a Dinka village after Sudanese soldiers had just left it. Over 100 people were dead and many men, women and children had been taken into slavery. Crops had been destroyed and straw huts burnt down. All that were left were some of the women, many of whom had been raped and whose husbands had been killed, and children kidnapped.
Baroness Cox then went on to speak about one of the best moments she had experienced, which occurred shortly after the worst. She saw the women in the Dinka villages making crosses and placing them in the ground; not as grave markers, but as symbols. They were acts of faith and the women who followed Jesus Christ knew they served a God, whom they believed knew pain as they knew pain. They knew there was still someone there; someone who cared.
In another book, this time by Ravi Zacharias (The Grand Weaver), we read the story of a young woman who arrived on the doorstep of a minister and asked him if he would bury her baby who had died suddenly. She found people who listened to her, and soon opened up about the troubles she had brought upon herself. At the funeral there were just three people – the minister, his wife and the grieving mother. Over the next few years the young woman became one of the most regular attenders of the church and Ravi Zacharias poses the question: Why? He then goes on to say, “Surely it was because it was there that her baby was received and treasured. In a sense it became here new home, through the death of a beloved little one. It was the place where arms opened to her and became wrapped around her. It was the place where she felt loved and forgiven”.
Another story of God’s power at work amidst the heartache and difficulty of life comes from Daniel Freeman.
Daniel Freeman was a Christian doctor at Vanga Hospital in the Congo for many years. He was there during an Aids pandemic which was ‘helped along’ so to speak, by men who slept around, leaving their wives and many others HIV positive. I remember reading about a similar situation occurring in India a few years ago, where long-distance lorry drivers slept with prostitutes and then infected their wives.
During his time in the clinic, Dr Freeman, along with a church minister, developed programmes for the healing of the whole person. One of the reasons this was done was because he found so many betrayed women and young people battling with anger and hatred.mThe programme he ran dealt with hurt, pain and learning the ability to forgive. Through the studies, many women forgave their husbands and he noticed that they lived longer, and were at peace. During the courses no pressure was put on the counselees to accept Christ and there was no manipulation. As Dr Freeman points out in his studies, Christ is available to all who want Him, but it is a personal choice that we have to make.
His power is with us
With all the suffering and heartache that goes on in our world, we need to recognise that Christians are not immune to suffering but can still speak of the power of God. Power, for the Christian, does not mean worldly victory as if the God of all comfort has to remove every hindrance to our lives. Power speaks of overcoming things the right way and the presence of the God of comfort in our suffering. This power is the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Enabler – and is not automatic. Instead it is relational. It is the man or woman that is yielded to God and communicates with God who is then able to walk in in the power of the Spirit, no matter the opposition.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8
The Holy Spirit is from everlasting to everlasting; He is the immeasurable One who is ‘far beyond the horizon.’ He was present at the foundation of the world (Gen 1:2) and likened to the wind or breath, speaking of action. He lives with us (Rom 8:11) and helps us as we learn to live the right way.
All life belongs to God; we are the stewards of our lives rather than the owners. In recognising this we living accordingly, we move in the power of the Spirit whose work is also captured in the imagery of a dove (Mk 1:10; Mt 3:16-17), speaking of being the bringer of peace and anointing-strength.
In the beginning of Acts we see the arrival of the Holy Spirit being accompanied by what looked like ‘tongues of fire’ (Acts 2:3) on the day of Pentecost. Elsewhere, in 1 Thes 5:19, Paul tells his readers not to put out the Spirit’s fire. The power of the Spirit is also seen in the fruit of the Spirit, as God supernaturally enables us to live as Kingdom sons and daughters.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
Fredrick Coplestone was a friend to me. I first met Fred when he was in his mid-eighties and travelled a few hundred miles to see him. During that first journey I had wondered what I would say to an old pastor and scholar who had been teaching decades before I had been born. I soon came up with the answer: say nothing - just listen.
Fred and I became good friends; I helped him with his writing and publishing, and was able to edit, add chapters, and expand one of the books that went out across the world to reach Muslims.
In Fred, I found a man who still gave out to others in amazing ways, despite his age. Shortly before I had met him, Fred had sold his house and moved into a small flat in order to finance his work for Christ. He was, right up until Jesus came to take him home, a man fired up by the Holy Spirit.
Take a look at the real Jesus
Take a look at the real Jesus and we see the One who beckons to all who are weary and burdened (Mat 11:28-9). Take a look at those who came to Him and you may be surprised because it was not often the clean or well versed, religiously polished people of the day. Instead, it was the prostitute who washed his feet (Mat 26:7), the leper who received his touch (Mat 8:3), the blind and the lame who found healing in an upturned Temple courtyard (Mat 21:13-16), and a Centurion (Mat 8:13). It was often the broken or marginalised people that came to Jesus, and He turned none of them away. He has come for us, He is with us and He calls us to live in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
When we really look at God, we find that sacrificial love (shown by one so holy that we couldn’t stand in His presence for a second with our own merits), has always been there for us. For the unseen cross – that incredible supreme sacrifice made by the perfect One – was already in the heart of God from the beginning, as angels looked on in amazement at the creation of a world; the world where we live. We also find that the person present at creation, and at Calvary, will be there at the end for us and is here with us right now by the Holy Spirit. He reveals Himself to us through His word and leads us by the Spirit, we can realise yet again that this amazing person is not some sort of imposition on our lives, or a curtailer of our freedom. Instead, He is at the very heart of life because He is life: He is the Holy One who never gets it wrong.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” John 14:16-17