POWER OF THE LIGHT FOOTPRINT
Power is a funny thing. We usually imagine other people have it and we don’t, but it’s truer to say everyone exercises some kind of power. Why else would we talk about willpower? It is also fair to say that leaders usually have more power than others to shape their surrounds. And that Christian leaders are often ambivalent about this.
Those with secular power make decisions that materially affect the lives of others. They can do this with consent and sometimes without it. Too often, power is seen as bending people to your will. In fact, this is often believed to be the mark of a strong leader. But here is Jesus, saying that the greatest among us should become like a child, or as one who serves. His metaphor for leadership isn’t riding in the comfy back seat in the middle car of a long motorcade, but scooting around on a bike delivering takeaways to a long list of customers.
His call for humility in those who exercise leadership in the Church often means those leaders put thoughts of power to the back of their minds because it feels a bit grubby. But it is far healthier to face up to it and figure out how to use it in the service of God than to pretend it doesn’t exist and become unself-aware in how it’s used.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, chapter 1, St Paul says his prayer for them is that they may know the ‘immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe’. So, the creator of the universe and the conqueror of death is distributing that power to those who trust in him. If you find it hard to get your head round that, you are not alone. It is an intoxicating thought and there lies a risk, for some people become drunk on the exercise of spiritual power. And they do so because they misunderstand the nature of that power.
In Isaiah 42, the chosen servant has God’s spirit in him and presumably access to that immeasurable power St Paul speaks of. And this is how the power is expressed: he will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.
Strong leaders are presumed to speak loudly and to speak a lot. They dominate meetings, daring others to disagree with them. Yet here, Isaiah talks about the whispering Messiah whom you have to strain to listen to. He is not out there mansplaining the obvious to others; he is drawing people in by the power of his weakness.
Have you noticed how easy it is to extinguish a wick that’s nearly burnt out? You only have to walk too quickly past and the breeze will do for it. The Messiah treads lightly with us down the path we walk, especially when it feels like the valley of the shadow of death.
The immeasurable greatness of the power he has distributed to us searches for people who are understated, unobtrusive and give ground to others by listening to them before talking at them. Although the leadership God is looking for has a light footprint, it nevertheless gets stuff done. In Isaiah 42, this unassuming servant of the Lord opens the eyes that are blind and brings out the prisoners and those who sit in darkness. God’s work is done when people are set free from the things that assault their humanity and deprive them of knowing his love for them in Christ.
Flourishing churches are always on a mission of discovery, figuring out what’s next, and there is an undying truth to guide them. God is already out there, bringing his kingdom nearer. Our job is to find out where and join in. We can’t meet every need, and many churches post-Covid feel like a dimly burning wick. God knows this and he will sustain us. In listening carefully, we can work out who is languishing today, who is unfree and hemmed in by life, which hearts are open to receive the promise of everlasting love.
It is, after all, in giving our lives away in Jesus that we receive them back in spades. Where power is properly found and used.
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