Harry Houdini the great escape artist earned his fame by escaping handcuffs, prison cells, and all manner of contraptions designed to confine him. He boasted on numerous occasions that no jail cell could hold him. He had never failed. He always escaped.
Well, almost always.
Urban legend says that on one occasion Houdini entered a cell as he usually did, wearing his street clothes. The authorities shut the jail cell behind him and left him. Alone, he did what he had done so many times before: he pulled a thin but strong piece of metal from his belt, he began working the lock. But this time the cell wouldn’t open. The lock would not yield. He worked feverishly, applying his amazing knowledge of locks and their mechanisms to the task. Two hours later, in frustration and failure, he gave up. The lock simply would not yield. The Great Houdini had finally failed.
Why? What went wrong?
The guards had forgotten to lock the cell.
All he needed to do was to push open the cell door. The only place the door had been locked was in Houdini’s mind.
Sound familiar? Think of those trying so hard to find the power of God for their lives; seeking method after method for unleashing God’s power but never quite able to pick the lock behind which the power of God must surely reside. Finally, in frustration they quit, assuming that somehow the power is too elusive, meant for some select few, or for people in the distant past, or only accessed through some method they cannot figure out.
It is no small thing for disciples of Jesus to admit that they do not experience the power of God in their lives. It is, in a way, humiliating. Yet, promises of power are woven inextricably throughout the New Testament, reminding us of the resource God has provided every Christian—the one resource necessary to live victoriously.
Many of the common perceptions of power will do little more than confuse us as we search for God’s power. Human ideas of power almost exclusively deal with physical strength, physical resources, or demonstrations of explosive potential. When we think of power, it is most often power used in some way to achieve one’s own desires, whether it’s a bully flexing his muscles, a professor flexing her knowledge, or a businessman flexing his wallet.
God’s power has often been misunderstood because we tend to think of it in those ways. In other words, we tend to think of God’s power in terms of physical strength, omniscient knowledge, or as a wealth of resources at His disposal. But the power of God is demonstrated by His ability to accomplish His will in every situation, both real and potential, through any means He chooses in order to glorify Himself. God’s power is centered on His will and His glory. We just need to know where to look.
His transformative power. The New Testament is itself an anthology of change—change in people and ultimately change in culture. Christianity didn’t begin with powerful people. In the early years of the church, Christians were unpopular, persecuted, and maligned. Yet, 300 years later the official religion of the Roman Empire was Christianity. If we don’t see the power of God here, we are missing it in one of its greatest forms. The power of God poured out on the human heart is an amazing thing to amazing thing to watch.
His power to protect and enable His people to do the impossible. Remember Daniel? The lions’ den was not the only place where his weakness showed the power of God. Daniel was not born with the ability to interpret dreams, but when the time came and the need arose, God displayed His power in giving Daniel an ability that was not natural (daniel 2).
How did Peter walk on water with Jesus? Against every law of nature we know, Peter walked on water for a period of time until his faith faltered (matthew 14:22–33). Every one of the apostles of Christ was able to do miracles, which are supernatural events, through the power of Christ in them.
Resurrection! There is no greater display of power than to bring back someone who has breathed their last and been buried for days. To say your final goodbyes to a loved one and then to see them come forth not only into life, but newness of life, glorious life, is power beyond imagination.
God’s power is shown in a variety of ways. He still works supernaturally; He still changes lives dramatically and permanently, and He influences events to accomplish what we never could on our own. So why aren’t we seeing and experiencing more of God’s power in our own lives?
One important reason is that God uses His power on our behalf to accomplish His perfect will. If we are honest, we are not always open to that particular option. We can’t order God’s power in our life like a sandwich at a café. His power is ultimately a reflection of His will, so seeking His power in our lives is really seeking His perfect will. We ask Him to intervene in our lives in powerful ways when we encounter obstacles to accomplishing His will. Only through Christ is our greatest weakness the gateway to God’s greatest demonstration of power in our lives.
Discovering God’s Power Points
If we are going to seek God’s power in our lives, we first need to understand why He has promised to give us power and for what purpose.
To glorify God: Actually, it is God’s will for every person who ever lived, and for all of creation, to glorify Him. Everything that was made was made for the glory of God. Every other aspect of God’s will flows out of this great and divine purpose. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him” (colossians 1:16). Everything God created, including us, was designed to declare His glory.
Our personal transformation and holiness: One of the saddest things in the world is a Christian who is convinced that he or she will never change. Our sin nature is powerful, and it takes nothing short of God’s power in our lives to gain the victory. It requires nothing less than the resurrection power of Christ. But because transformation is God’s will for us, He will provide the power if we ask for it (romans 8:18–30; 1 corinthians 15:35–50; 2 corinthians 3:7–18).
We cannot be perfect; and He is not calling us to be perfect, but to be holy. Yet it remains a scriptural pillar that God desires that we be like Him—holy! Does it not make sense that God wants His power in our lives to give us victory over sin? (see 1 corinthians 10:1–13). Isn’t this one of the truly great and tangible results of the power of God in lives? (see romans 6). Aren’t we amazed when people who were powerless victims of sin, and whose lives were literally destroyed by sin, are suddenly and powerfully transformed into holy people? And be honest, don’t you wish you were like them?
Power for witness: Jesus said that we would receive power. I think for many years I felt Acts 1:8 should read, “And you will feel powerful when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and thus it will be easy and natural to be My witnesses.” When the feelings of power didn’t come, I thought that I had an excuse to be absent. I was waiting for a feeling of certainty that God had never promised. Yet frequently in my uncertainty (and very often to my complete surprise), He used me to lead someone to Him. His power was obviously at work.
Growing Faith: Our faith in God is strengthened when we can unmistakably see His work in our lives. Furthermore, we need to see works that are so demonstrably powerful that we recognize them as His work. God wants our faith in Him to grow exponentially. He is fully prepared to demonstrate His power to confirm our faith in both His character and His strength (ephesians 4:7–16; philippians 1:3–8; colossians 2:6–7).
Strength in times of difficulty: There are those moments in life when everything seems to be against us. All our efforts to fix the problem have failed, solutions elude us, resources are unavailable, and we get one closed door after another. Finally, we realize that our human resources have failed us and that nothing short of God’s intervention will sustain us. It is God’s strength that holds us up when we can barely stand (psalm 3:5; 41:3; 55:22).
Faithfulness to the end: In each of our lives there are times when we’re not sure we can continue on in our walk with Christ. We have grown so weary, so discouraged, so hopeless of any real lasting change that we can’t bring ourselves to try anymore. In these moments we most need to know that being faithful to the end is God’s will for each of us, and as such, that He promises to bring us the power to finish our race (philippians 1:6; 1 thessalonians 5:23; james 1:4).
Contrary to what you might believe, you have experienced God’s power in many ways in your own life—whether you believe in God or not. But because God provides for us without sending a text or leaving a voicemail telling us so, we don’t often recognize His provision when it comes.
First of all, if you are a follower of Christ, God displayed His power in your salvation. In 1 Corinthians 1:18–19, Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’” No one is saved because he figures out God. We are saved because God interrupts our blind wanderings, even our antagonism toward Him, and draws us to Himself.
God works in powerful ways: an answered prayer, provision, giving us what we desperately needed, direction, healing, or hope when we were hopeless. We rejoice at what we received—but we must be careful to remember from whom it came. An observant Christian becomes a grateful Christian, and a grateful Christian becomes an even more observant Christian, for they have learned how intimately God is involved in their lives. When a person finally learns how intimately God is involved in their lives, gratitude is the only appropriate response.
Accept your weakness! That is where God’s power will be most visible in your life. Remember those things for which God promises His power; ask Him to demonstrate His power in your weakness, and then wait for God to show His power. Do it frequently. Make it a habit. Learn to rest in His power. And when you begin to see and experience it—give Him the glory.
This isn’t just a new idea; it is a new way of living. Hopefully you’ll see it’s the life God has always wanted you to live—a life of dependence.
Embracing our weakness. Finally, it makes sense.