There is a famous quotation (often misquoted) that runs: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Rather less well known is its author, one Lord Acton (1834 – 1902) who was an adviser to Willliam Gladstone, four times prime minister of Great Britain after 1868. With the British Empire at its height, Gladstone was certainly a powerful man (perhaps the most powerful man in the World as PM at that time), and Acton wielded great power as his adviser. However the quotation actually comes from a letter that Acton (a Roman Catholic) wrote to an Anglican bishop, in which he took the papacy to task for past corrupt behaviour.

We might well agree with the sentiments of this quotation, for as we look around us it does seem as if there are many who misuse the power that they have. We might suggest certain World leaders, past and present, or note how power can affect people in lesser positions: bosses, parking attendants, taxmen even, if we are feeling particularly indignant. So, seen in this light, and when we think of Christians being a “People of Power”, as a well-known worship song suggests, we might feel that there power has some dubious connotations. But is this always the case?

Power means much more than temporal power or authority. In my Concise Oxford English Dictionary, there are no fewer than 18 different definitions of the word Power, including such diverse things as physical faculties (such as the power of speech), the public supply of electricity, the measure of energy output, the effectiveness of a glass lens, mechanical force applied through a lever and the capacity to do this (the latter is often measured in terms of horse power); besides military power, authority, government and having charge of something.

Interestingly the first definition given is the ability to do or act with specific reference to making change, because having power or the power to do something means being able to affect or change something. Indeed, whilst there are those who take on responsibilities and jobs because they want power and kudos that comes with it, there are many who take on power because they want to make a difference. It is easy to be cynical about politicians and those who go into politics, and ignore the concept that making positive changes for the better is an important motivating force, and something that comes from having power. And not just in politics, but in other jobs and responsibilities. One of the better head teachers that I worked for told me that she became a head teacher because she wanted to make a difference, to make positive changes, to do things for others. Indeed she had not actively sought the job, but found it suddenly came her way after her predecessor was taken ill. Power and the use of it can therefore be a positive thing.

So what of God’s power? Well, quite emphatically this is not corrupt or subject to limitation. Yes it is power that means authority, and we acknowledge this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory”, and this aspect is seen in the Resurrection, where it is shown that God has authority over all things, including over the power of nature and the laws of physics. God has full power and authority over nature and the natural World – after all as the one who determines the laws by which they operate, He has the power to further alter them as He wishes.

However the Resurrection is far more than an event to demonstrate God’s power over nature. It is about the power of change. The Resurrection Power means that those who put their faith in God will themselves have new life with Him, life that begins here and continues after the physical death of our present bodies, in new bodies, living with God. This is a profound change to the accepted order of things. It challenges the greatest intellects even now, and there are many who go to great lengths to deny it. More than that, God’s Resurrection Power empowers others. The first disciples were witnesses to it and were to be agents for change. Just as they had seen Jesus at work, ministering to others, demonstrating what God’s Kingdom is like, so they were sent out to go and do the same. God’s power is not restricted then, it is enabling countless others to live with Him. More than that, God’s power is spread out, in and through those people who work for Him.

Acts 3, verses 12 to 19 shows us the consequences of God’s Power at work. This reading comes at the point after the day of Pentecost where the lame man begging at the temple is healed after Peter says “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!” which the man does, having been healed by God. Peter uses the occasion to explain why this has happened, and to make it quite clear that it has not been done on his authority, but by God’s. Quite clearly God’s power is seen at work, through people. And just as the first disciples were agents for the change that God was bringing about, then so are we. God’s power can work through us. Indeed God wants to work through us. And this is where we find it profoundly challenging. As people we like to know where we are going and what God is doing, and yet God’s power is not limited, it cannot be

restricted. It follows then that if we submit to God’s power in us then He will take us to places that we would not choose to go on our own. We have to change our priorities. This is the reality that the disciples were only just starting to grasp as Jesus spoke with them that Easter day, and the reality that we have to face too. We spend much time trying to stop it happening, and yet we need to submit to his will, if he is to use us properly, and if we are to feel that power fully at work in us.

So can we see God’s power at work here amongst us at Isaac Watts Memorial Church? Well yes we can: because God’s power is not just at work in big dramatic things, but also in the everyday aspects of life, because caring and reaching out to others is a visible demonstration of God’s power reaching out through us. Whenever we care for one another we show that power at work. Moreover, wherever service is given to others, and for the greater good of others, in particular aspects of our life, as well as at home, then God’s power is working through us. God starts with us where we are. However we need to be prepared for the dramatic too, and to take risks also, because God calls us to leave the proverbial comfort zone, and go with Him to catch and follow His vision, and to support and encourage others where we see God working through them.

As ever, prayer remains the vital ingredient to help us to do this, and I will shamelessly plug our monthly prayer meeting here. Prayer is cathartic, cleansing, by unburdening ourselves to God. However it also enables our God to talk to us, to refill us, and to re-energise us. By opening our minds and hearts to the needs of others, as well as confessing our own, and asking for help, God prepares a way to enable us to do useful things for Him. If we want to succeed we must pray about it, and not be afraid to bring the big things as well as the little, God delights in us talking with and consulting Him.  

It is by being open to our Lord that we truly become a People of Power, a Power that does not corrupt or decay as does earthly authority, but which constantly regenerates, invigorates and calls us on, coming as it does not from man but from the One who Was, who Is, and who Is Yet to Come.

Chris Noyce