For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. – 1 Corinthians 4:20
Since childhood, we’ve been told a story about what power means. Powerful people can have whatever they want. Powerful people command respect. They sit at the head of the table. They chart the course. Power means having your way; the weak must pay the price.
This is a lie, of course. But such a lie, told often enough, takes on its own sort of reality. Most of us have heard this ancient lie so much that we no longer realize we ever heard it. It’s become obvious, unremarkable. Of course the powerful exploit the weak. That’s just the way life is.
Yet, there is an alternative to this culture of falsehood that we’ve been raised in. There is a definition of power that defies the seduction of domination. Hidden in the hearts of children and fools, there is a weakness that is stronger than human strength.
When we dwell in this weakness that overcomes the world, we suddenly see life as it truly is. Despite all odds, we discover that love triumphs over hate, truth over falsehood. We know in our bones that Jesus’ death on the cross was no accident. He demonstrates the greatest love, laying down his life for us, his friends.
The power of God undermines all our false systems of human power. The cross of Jesus exposes the structures that dictate who is the greatest, who commands the resources, who calls the shots.
To live in this subversive power, we must first acknowledge that we are not in control. We live in God’s power precisely because we are weak. By owning our frailty, by acknowledging our pain, we reach a rock bottom; we tap into a common well of authentic humanity that draws us repeatedly into the loving arms of the Spirit.
It is here at the bottom of our messy lives that we find our brother Jesus waiting for us. We instinctively recognize the marks on his hands and the wound in his side because we, too, have been pierced by this world. We discover that every trial we’ve endured is but an echo of his own suffering. We dwell in the life and power of Jesus because we are baptized into his cross.
This baptism of power brings us into direct conflict with the twisted powers-that-be. Like grass growing up through cracks in the pavement, Jesus’ way of humility and love emerges in conditions that are anything but ideal. War zones. Outbreaks of infectious disease. Oppression. Atmospheres of hatred, fear, and greed. The green shoots of true life are all the more brilliant as they emerge amidst the gray of concrete. And as we face the fury of this culture’s powers, we root ourselves ever deeper into the rich soil of Christ.
The kingdom of God does not consist in the empty words of politicians and magnates, seeking a veil for their selfish interests. It doesn’t emerge in the ways that our culture recognizes as significant. But for those with eyes to see, the kingdom of God has come near. This kingdom exists wherever the little ones of the earth speak the truth plainly, love the poor frankly, and announce the good news that the mighty ones have been toppled from their thrones.
This is the power that James Nayler knew when he said:
There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations.
As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; it takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind.
In God alone it can rejoice, though none else regard it, or can own its life. It is conceived in sorrow, and brought forth without any to pity it; nor doth it murmur at grief and oppression. It never rejoices but through sufferings; for with the world’s joy it is murdered. I found it alone, being forsaken. I have fellowship therein with them who lived in dens and desolate places of the earth, who through death obtained this resurrection and eternal holy life.
Is this the power that you live in?