Do I live an empow­ered life?

That was the ques­tion that seized me one recent morn­ing as I taught at a retreat center.

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.

Many farm­ers whole­heart­ed­ly embraced the intro­duc­tion of elec­tri­cal pow­er, rev­el­ing 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 minus­cule 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.

Shared with the author’s per­mis­sion from car​olynarends​.com. Orig­i­nal­ly shared through Car­olyn Arends’ Go With God” col­umn for Faith Today (www​.faith​to​day​.ca).

Art­work: Joy” from the book On the Night You Were Born by artist Nan­cy Till­man. Shared with the artist’s permission.

Text First Published September 2021 · Last Featured on June 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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