Pastor Sean Palmer continues our series exploring the lives and wisdom of important figures in Christian history, sharing what he has learned from the example of Henri Nouwen as he examines our relationship to power. Power sought or abused will never satisfy. It is in giving up our love of power, and taking on the power of love, that we become people that humbly give and receive rather than those who tirelessly grasp.
Matthew 20: 20-24
There is one thing to watch out for in all of this, though. While having power can make you happier, seeking power does not make you happier. There is quite a bit of evidence that people who spend their lives seeking power do not focus on the intrinsic joy of life. So, people who seek power are actually less happy than those who do not.”
— Psychology Today, April 2014
“It takes me about an hour and a half to wake Adam up, give him his medication, carry him into his bath, wash him, shave him, clean his teeth, dress him, walk him to the kitchen, give him his breakfast, put him in his wheelchair and bring him to the place where he spends most of the day with therapeutic exercises. He does not cry or laugh. Only occasionally does he make eye contact. His back is distorted. His arm and leg movements are twisted. He suffers from severe epilepsy and, despite heavy medication, sees few days without grand-mal seizures. Sometimes, as he grows suddenly rigid, he utters a howling groan. On a few occasions I’ve seen one big tear roll down his cheek.”
— Henri Nouwen (from World Vision magazine), writing of his time at L’Arche
“You all know what the third temptation of Jesus was. It was the temptation of power. “I will give you all the kingdoms of this world in their splendor,” the demon said to Jesus. When I ask myself the main reason for so many people having left the Church during the past decades in France, Germany, Holland, and also in Canada and America, the word “power” easily comes to mind… One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation to power – political power, military power, economic power, or moral and spiritual power – even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but emptied himself and became as we are. What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love…
It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. One thing is clear to me: the temptation of power is greatest when intimacy is a threat. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. Many Christian empire-builders have been people unable to give and receive love.”
— Henri Nouwen, Three Temptations of a Christian Leader
REFLECTION & PRACTICE
Consider the times in which you perhaps have used your own power thoughtlessly, carelessly, or even maliciously over another (or others). What might confession, repentance, and repair look like in those places?
Is there an instance in which you can recall gaining the power that you were seeking? Was it everything you had hoped? Why, or why not?
How might you lay down your own power for the good of another this week?
Hail To The Lord’s Anointed
Justice Will Roll Down
How Deep The Father’s Love For Us
Gravity Of Love
So Will I (100 Billion X)
Rock Of Ages (When The Day Seems Long)