Editor's 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, https://​com​mons​.wiki​me​dia​.org/…

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