Monday, August 31, 2015

Power and Authority

We are, in general, very sloppy with our language. We speak of power when what we really mean is authority. We speak of authority when what we mean is knowledge. We find someone convincing when they're really simply confident. So the question is: what do all these words really mean, and how do we recapture power, authority, and persuasion? 

This is an especially crucial distinction in our churches, where countless Christians are following these blurred lines into a lesser theology, and man is struggling to relate to God, who has all power and all authority and no, they are not the same thing.

One of the best images I've come up with to sort all these words out in my own head is the Scriptural idea of moving mountains. 

Power picks the mountain up and moves it. It doesn't have to ask permission. It doesn't have to devise a scheme. It just reaches out, grabs hold of the mountain, picks it up and puts it down somewhere else. This is real power.

Authority, on the other hand, commands the mountain to move and the mountain moves. Authority speaks boldly, knowing its own strength and knowing the possibilities. It believes not in itself, for then it is merely arrogance, but in the bigger thing. Faith is a type of authority. Faith does not believe in faith; it believes in God and speaks boldly, knowing both its strength and the possibilities. Faith speaks and the mountain moves. Even the Scriptures say that much.

Persuasion, and it must be included here, speaks more softly. Persuasion convinces the mountain to move itself. Persuasion speaks not with knowledge, but with wisdom. It is not convincing for its own sake, but for the sake of the one it is drawing near. Persuasion, used properly, is not for the one speaking but for the one spoken to. It speaks of what is right and pulls everyone else on board with the bigger plan by showing them that it is in their best interest. By convincing the mountain that it's better off over there than over here. 

And here's why all this matters: because when we get them confused, we lose sight of ourselves and our God. 

We think it's up to us to pick up mountains and move them, but we don't have power; we have authority. We think faith gives us the right to do whatever we want in the world by our own might, or subtly, we say, by the power of our faith. But faith is not a power. It never relies on its own strength. 

Or we think of God as all-powerful and start to feel meaningless before Him. Because we recognize that power means that God can simply reach down whenever He pleases and move things around like pieces on a chess board. Move us around like pieces on a chess board. So what are we believing for? What are we trusting for? What are we hoping for? We're just pawns. 

But the truth is that God uses His persuasion much more often than His power. He speaks softly, with grace, until we understand that it's in our best interest to move. And we start taking steps. And He uses His authority far more than both, speaking into the world and going back to the bigger thing, the grand design. So we need not fear the hand of God. 

Or we get wrapped up in false persuasion, and this is terribly dangerous. Here, we can fall prey either to man's false persuasion or God's. In either case, it is the idea that we're stuck doing something that is better for someone else. We're stuck doing what the preacher thinks is best, but it's really best for the preacher. Or what God thinks is best, but it's really just good for God. And in neither case does it feel so good for us. This is dangerous because it makes us feel bad about our faith. It makes us feel cheap. It makes us feel used and empty and hurt. This is the lie - that our entire purpose in life is to do what is best for God or for the church or for whomever.

God's story is not about what's best for God. If it were, I guarantee you it would not have a Cross in it. God's history of relation to His people has always been about what is good for them. In light of Him, sure, but good for them. How they are to relate to one another. How they are to relate to God. How they are to maintain faithfulness in difficult circumstances. Promises to hold onto. Prophecies to hope in. A Cross to cling to. An empty grave to explore. God doesn't need an empty grave. Man does, but God doesn't. God spends His entire story telling His people what's good for them, hoping they'll move. Hoping they'll take one more faithful step toward Him. And any good church, any good leader, will do the same. 

There's more to all this than merely faith and God. There's more to understanding power and authority and persuasion, but this first bit is absolutely foundational. Because if you don't learn how to draw these distinctions in God and in the church and in faith, then you'll never learn to draw them in yourself. And that's vital for whatever ministry God has given you in this world. More on that tomorrow. 

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