Introductory Note:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. —2 Corinthians 12:9-10

An always timely reflection from Richard Foster on the immense power hidden in the seeming weakness of those who remain faithful to God.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from The Challenge of the Disciplined Life

There is a power that destroys. There is also a power that creates. The power that creates gives life and joy and peace. It is freedom and not bondage, life and not death, transformation and not coercion. The power that creates restores relationship and gives the gift of wholeness to all. The power that creates is spiritual power, the power that proceeds from God.

Creative Power Restores Relationships

What does the power that creates look like? Think of Joseph sold into slavery, thrown into prison without hope but later rising to a position of great power and influence in the mightiest nation of the time. What a pilgrimage! In this position Joseph was able to combine spiritual discernment with political clout to avert a disastrous famine. Then the fateful day arrived when his brothers — the very ones who had sold him into slavery — came seeking famine relief. Joseph was faced with the great test of power. It would have been a perfect opportunity for revenge, but instead he chose to use his power for reconciliation. Scripture tells us that Joseph was overcome with emotion and compassion for his brothers. Joseph could not control himself” and wept aloud,” and finally he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them” (Genesis 45:1 – 15 NRSV). This is a beautiful story of relationships restored by the exercise of creative power.

The power that creates is the power that restores relationships. William Wilberforce was a Christian politician who used the power of his position to help abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. The good of his prolonged efforts is beyond calculation. Families throughout Africa remained together because the gruesome British slave trade had been stopped. Talk about preserving relationships! And this is a story that could be repeated many times over as faithful believers have sought to apply God-given power creatively in the arena of politics and business.

The use of power to restore relationships is also a part of our personal, everyday world. The mother who rights a wrong between children is using her authority to restore broken relationships. The school principal who changes soul-destroying rules in the school system is breathing life into the hearts of students. The pastor who helps feuding committee members settle their differences is using power for healing in the community of faith. The company president who corrects the cost overruns of the project manager is using power to restore integrity and wholeness to the world of business. All of us in daily life encounter thousands of opportunities to enlist power in the service of reconciliation.

Creative Power Sets People Free

What does the power that creates look like? Think of Moses, who understood as few did the might and power of Egypt and who was forced to flee that power. In the desert he came to experience a new kind of power, the power of Yahweh. By the time Moses returned to face down the power of Egypt, he was a different person. Gone was the old arrogance; in its place was a new combination of meekness and confidence. The strong imperative Let my people go” was backed up by the mighty acts of God, which brought even mighty Pharaoh to his knees. The result was the most dramatic release of captives ever known in human history.

Creative power sets people free. When Martin Luther King, Jr., stood firm against America’s racism, millions were set free. When teachers unlock the joy of discovery in the minds of students, they are using the power of their position to liberate. When an older brother uses his superior status to build the self-esteem of younger siblings, he is using power to set them free. When the old destructive habit patterns of depression or fear are transformed by the power of God, the result is liberation.

What does the power that creates look like? Think of Jeremiah, who remained true to the word of God in the most discouraging of circumstances. We call him the weeping prophet and for good reason. In a day when the religious leaders were catering their message to fit the prevailing political winds, Jeremiah spoke the Dabar Yahweh, the word of the Lord. That word was a discouraging one at best, a word of defeat and not of victory. And the people rejected Jeremiah’s word of warning and even persecuted him. At one point he was thrown down a cistern and left to die. We are told that Jeremiah sank in the mire” (Jeremiah 38:6 NRSV). In many ways this simple statement is a good description of Jeremiah’s entire ministry. He had to watch his beloved country overthrown and ravaged and his own people deported as spoils of war.

But it was the teaching of Jeremiah — the very teaching that the people had rejected — that enabled Judah to hold onto faith in Yahweh throughout the long years of exile. You see, the people had elevated their belief in the invincibility of Zion into a cardinal doctrine of their faith. And when Zion was destroyed, their whole belief system came crashing down. Hadn’t God promised them Jerusalem would not fall? Where was God when the Babylonian hoards ravaged their land?

But Jeremiah had insisted over and over that Zion’s invincibility was predicated upon obedience to the Mosaic Covenant, and because they had disobeyed the covenant, Zion would fall. God had not failed them by allowing Jerusalem to fall; they had failed God by disobeying his covenant. Finally, Jeremiah spoke the words of hope and restoration and pointed to a new covenant, a covenant written not on tablets of stone but on the fleshy tablets of their hearts. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33 NRSV). It was Jeremiah’s tenacity to the truth of Yahweh that enabled the people of Judah to keep faith in God when all the confident words of the false prophets were revealed as spurious.

Jeremiah reminds us that spiritual power sometimes looks like weakness. Faithfulness is more important than success, and the power to remain faithful is a great treasure indeed. Perhaps Jeremiah’s word to his servant Baruch is good counsel for us today, And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not” (Jeremiah 45:5 NRSV).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew the power of God that looks like weakness to the world. When Christ calls a man,” he said, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer knew what it meant to die; he died to self, he died to all his hopes and dreams, and he died at the hands of Hitler’s SS Black Guards. But as the Scripture reminds us, a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies bears much fruit (John 12:24 NRSV). The fruit of Bonhoeffer’s life and death is beyond calculation. We are all in his debt. As G. Leibholz has said, Bonhoeffer’s life and death has given us great hope for the future… The victory which he has won was a victory for us all, a conquest never to be undone, of love, light and liberty.”

Creative Power Unites and Heals

What does the power that creates look like? Think of the early church gathered at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15 NRSV). They had gathered to answer a momentous question: Can Gentiles have genuine faith in Christ without conformity to Jewish religious culture? It was an issue that could have easily split the Christian fellowship right down the middle. Yet as they gathered, as they talked, as they listened, the power of God broke through in a Spirit-led unity of heart and mind. Miraculously they saw that Gentiles could live faithfully before God within the context of their own culture and that Jews could do likewise. So the cultural captivity of the Church was broken, and believers everywhere could receive one another without needing to proselytize for their own culture. They experienced the power of unity in the Holy Spirit.

The power that creates produces unity. When John Woolman stood before the annual conference of the Quakers in 1758 and delivered his moving plea against slavery, the entire body, without spoken dissent, agreed to remove slavery from its midst. This unity of heart and mind is not easy to come by, but it is worth the effort. If we would learn to listen to the Lord together in our homes, in our churches, and in our businesses, we would see more of this unity of the Spirit. The family is the best place to begin. Father and mother can do much by leading the way in these matters.

What does the power that creates look like? Think of Jesus and his ministry of teaching and healing. Here we find the perfect display of perfect power. Everywhere he went, the powers of darkness were defeated, people were healed, relationships were restored. People came alive to God and alive to each other through the life-giving ministry of Jesus.

In the crucifixion the power that creates reached its apex. At the cross Satan sought to use all the power at his disposal to destroy Christ, but God turned it into the ultimate act of creative power. The penalty for sin was paid; the justice of God was satisfied. Through the cross of Christ, you and I can receive forgiveness and know the restoring of our relationship to God. Christ died for our sins, and in that death we see the power that creates.

Our response to this supreme act of power is gratitude. It is love divine, all loves excelling.” We can never hope or want to duplicate this act of power. We simply thank God for what he has done. Real forgiveness brings doxology. To know that God truly forgives all our sins and welcomes us into his presence is joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Doxology itself is power. As we live thankfully for God’s great gift, others are drawn to know this joy of the Lord that overcomes all things.

Excerpted from Chapter 11 of The Challenge of the Disciplined Life, Creative Power,” pp. 198 – 199.

Foster, Richard J. 1985. The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power. New York: HarperOne. 

Image Credit: By Michelangelo — Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain,…