My first lessons in power came from my parents and were backed up with the belt. For nineteen years, “The Persuader” was a constant threat to me when I complained about moving forty times or my lack of a high school education. The rule of family unity dictated that we never talk about our family outside of the family. Often we were not allowed to discuss issues within the family for fear of ruining the family peace. I wanted approval, so I did whatever they asked—which included lying to bill collectors and church members. As long as that belt threatened from the back of their bedroom door, I felt I had little choice.
When I left home and got out from under the belt, I was still subject to the silent treatment, criticism and family members talking about me, but at least l no longer had to stay in the room. I soon discovered the entire world operates on power and control–corporations, governments, schools and even churches. Like children throwing tantrums to impose their power, many adults never outgrow this stage. Every conflict is a power struggle that boils down to one thing—someone trying to get somebody else to do something they don’t want to do.
When I was younger, I didn’t expect pastors and elders to be abusive so I was shocked to find leaders with god-complexes demanding members to do things their way or find the highway.* When Dwight Nelson held the Next Millennium Seminar on satellite in 1999, my husband and I encouraged our small church to share it. We used our own money to buy supplies and pay for mailings. On the first night we had ten visitors, but our local pastor forbade us to visit them or contact them. The other members of the church were confused and intimidated. The pastor said he would visit them, but he never did.
When the ego of a minister stands in the way of sharing the gospel, it’s easy to wonder why some people even become pastors. Through the years we have moved several times allowing us to witness several misuses of power that have bordered from stupid to cruel. I hate to admit it, but I’ve become disillusioned by the failed justice of our church hierarchy, but I could never quite put my finger on the problem.
Then one day I went to a seminar about Jesus and discovered there is a litmus test to determine if leaders are following God. It’s in the Bible and it’s as simple as the steps of Jesus vs. the steps of Satan.
Isaiah 14 describes Satan’s desire to lift himself higher and higher so he could put himself above everyone–even God. Philippians 2 describes how Jesus made Himself lower and lower until He died the death of a common criminal. If I’m ever in doubt about spiritual leadership, I apply this litmus test and choose to walk away from abusers who raise themselves to control others.
The Bible is full of evidence showing us how God uses His power–
1. To Provide a Life
Most of us agree God uses His power to create life. We know God designed every beautiful and amazing thing on this earth, but even before this earth was created, God created angels. One angel wanted to be like God. Of course no angel or created being can become God, but this didn’t stop Lucifer from trying to make himself like God–
You said in your heart,
I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
above the stars of God.
When he couldn’t succeed with his plans, Lucifer began to whisper into the ears of other angels saying God is unfair. His gossip must have been convincing because he was able to get one third of the angels on his side.
2. To Grant Freedom
Along with life, God grants freedom to all of His creation—even the freedom to disagree with Him. At this stage, God had choices. He could have killed Lucifer on the spot for all the trouble he was causing, but He didn’t. There was no room in heaven for an angel with delusions about being God, so God came up with a way for Lucifer (who was now renamed Satan) to finish his experiment on earth.
God created a world full of freedom and gave Satan limited access through one tree. This probably kept Satan confined to one part of the garden so he couldn’t chase Adam and Eve all day and night. Sadly Eve fell into Satan’s trap and the rest is history.
The climax of creation week and the culmination of God’s power were to design a holiday on the seventh day of creation. By creating this holiday, God rested His case and gave the entire universe time to think about this war which had now come down to earth. No coercion, no lectures, no hoops to jump through, nothing to sign. God’s simple request is for everyone to stop working, enjoy life and contemplate why we are here. Such a gift of time reveals how much God values a relationship with us.
3. To Serve Others
Satan’s gossip continues to give God a bad reputation today. Many people are afraid God will destroy them if they break one of His rules. Of course if God is really that controlling, He would have killed Satan eons ago. It’s important to note that God didn’t snuff out His enemy’s life. That’s because God desires freedom more than conformity. And He won’t coerce us today because He wants every person to make up their own mind. When Jesus came down to live among us, He showed us how God uses His power–
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Jesus–not condemning or punishing, but bending down to write in the dust to prevent a guilty woman from being stoned. Jesus–not controlling or asserting His own authority, but bending down to wash the dirty feet of Peter and Judas–the very men who were about to betray Him. There is a consistent pattern throughout the Bible–when God uses His power, He bends down to meet people.
Understanding how God uses His power has given me a better marriage. My husband and I have become aware of the many ways even loving spouses might use their power on each other. We have given each other permission to call out such behavior because we are committed to a loving relationship based on mutual freedom without using power over each other.
Understanding how God uses His power has translated into better relationships. This knowledge has freed me to use boundaries for family members who want to ostracize, demonize and gossip about others. I no longer choose to be part of any tribe where people use mob tactics and uniformity over individual thinking. Of course I’ve lost some relationships because of my new understanding, but if people can’t be honest and think for themselves—there’s not much quality in those relationships.
Understanding how God uses His power under–instead of over, has shown me that not every church leader is doing things God’s way. If a leader uses his authority to force his personal beliefs on others, I have to question where his authority comes from. I can no longer rely on my family’s rules or a pastor’s dictates or even a conference president’s demand for uniformity. I now understand the secret of how God uses His power. When leaders threaten to use their power over us like the world does, if they continue to ignore those who are neglected or mistreated, then honest Christians have no choice but to obey God–rather than men.
Therefore if you have any encouragement
from being united with Christ,
if any comfort from his love,
if any common sharing in the Spirit,
if any tenderness and compassion,
then make my joy complete by being like-minded,
having the same love,
being one in spirit and of one mind.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.
*Just to be clear there are three wonderful pastors at my current church and they all seem to be loving servants of God and people. I am speaking of past experiences.