‘Tis the season for richly adorned catalogs. Each day, our mailbox is stuffed with brightly-colored photographs of blenders and comforters and baubles and cookies and sweaters and tinsel and, always, “Top Ten” lists for dads (which without fail beg the question, “Would you actually buy that?!”). These glossies give little fingers trouble as they work hard to wrestle weighty, slick pages from the box. Some I wrench from those fingers before begging blue eyes might glimpse their covers, ever aware of a world that seeks to invite my children to define treasure as something other than God’s purity. The messages are subtle and effective: “You deserve it.” “Just do it.” And, most recently, “Power to the she.”
It was this latest promise, accompanied by models promoting a fit and, apparently, effortless lifestyle that gave me pause and not only for the poor grammar. It was hard not to be compelled by the message. An alluring word, power implied a mastery, in this case, of womanhood. By the look of it, this was to be achieved by wearing vibrant spandex and striking a variety of adventuresome poses. No exertion implied, nor risk or heartache. It would seem powerful womanhood comes by equipping oneself with good fashion to achieve a happy freedom, our best selves fully actualized for the knock-out punch we’ve given all our adversaries like poorly-designed undergarments and stifling shortcomings and bothersome insecurities and burdensome boyfriends and trivial housework and dreadful duty and the glass ceiling.
Perhaps we can see this particular marketing implication for what it is, but the thirst for mastery often remains. The alternative – being mastered – feels so undesirable. We have all endured the humiliation of poorly-asserted influence; its pain doesn’t encourage us to allow that sense of inferiority to repeat itself. Whether motivated by fear or greed, the deep-rooted pursuit to defeat weakness can consume us. But, what is power and how does one wield it?
Is power the control to master, manipulate, subdue, occupy? Is it authority to govern, rule, judge, convict? Is it strength to overcome, lift, endure, wrestle, win? Or, is it knowledge to know, experience, answer, aspire? Good or sad, it can be any of these things. Then, the better question might be how does one best invest his or her influence, regardless of size, to move beyond its title or platform or brand to effectively combat obstacles and
realize our full potential?
Might wisdom be the catalyst to provide deeper insight into how we receive and exercise power? If so, where do we find it? History’s wisest and, for a time, most powerful human, King Solomon, reflected that wisdom begins with a thirst for God and grows as we know him: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10)
Solomon also observed that “I set out to be wise, but it was beyond me, far beyond me – and deep – oh so deep! Does anyone ever find it? I concentrated with all my might, studying and exploring and seeking the meaning of life. I also wanted to identify evil and stupidity, foolishness and craziness…But the wisdom I’ve looked for I haven’t found. I didn’t find one man or woman in a thousand worth my while. Yet I did spot one ray of light in this murk: God made men and women true and upright; we’re the ones who’ve made a mess of things.” (Ecc 7:23-29, MSG)
That Solomon’s search to deeply know would arrive at the shore of profound mystery and his kingly position eventually breached – as is every earthly power, if nothing else, by death – testifies to a long-hidden secret: truest power is not an actualization of ourselves but the receipt of risen Word-made-flesh, an ancient and forever Wisdom that seeks not to master but adopt those who desire him, an authority that frees us from captivity to our sin-selves, a whisper that breathes, “Come, drink from my cup and be fully satisfied.”
The apostle Paul said it this way:
“For God [sent me] to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Cor 1:17, 2:2,4-7,10,12)
To invest in Christ is to be fully empowered even over the dust from whence we came; his Spirit gives us the insight to wield our power effectively, saying “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:15). It is precisely here, within the nucleus of each moment, that we must choose to help ourselves or accompany Jesus, to rise up for “the she” or walk with him. The difference is dependence; alone we merely inflate our perceived position while remaining in him elevates us to greater levels of effectiveness not to embody Wonder Woman (or Superman for the menfolk) but to employ our intended purpose as fiercely tender, enduring and innovative light to young and dim and distant hearts.
This privilege requires and inspires surrender which is always and only a deepening trust. It is not a greater burden of obligation nor a greater risk of being used up nor a greater sense of failure, all of which are lies the Accuser prefers to use when wielding its own limited influence.
Surrender is a changing perspective of our current work and an uncomfortable degree of letting go its outcome. It is a growing awareness of the Kingdom in each moment and a willingness to dwell there rather than the frantic worldly pursuit of a linear timeline. It is a relentless release of anxiety for peace defined by stillness, wholeness and care-less (undivided) devotion.
It is a joyful humility to esteem the broken, discarded, dirty and offensive in humanity’s dumpster. It is a bold movement toward the people and places God calls us. It is a confidence to stand firm in the gap between need declared and met. It is a gracious patience in the face of disdain, insult and ingratitude. It is a preference for eternal treasure at the expense of this earth’s gold. It is an awestruck display of miracles and wonders.
Not that these things are always easy, but they are possible. When we set aside the search for superiority to rely on the power of heaven, we engage the greatest gift of the cross and our most captivating adornment, the glory of his ever-presence.
“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:7-8,11,13,16,18)
“The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of doubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.” (Rom 8:4, MSG)
“Such confidence as this is ours through Jesus Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Cor 3:4-5)
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world was crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)