On October 5-7, we hosted some 1,400 people in OKC at the Convergence Conference where we focused on the passionate pursuit of both Word and Spirit in the Christian life and in the local church. My first message was on the power of God. I’m not talking about God’s omnipotence, what he is in himself, but rather the power of the Spirit that he has imparted to us for the work of the ministry. Here are ten things we should all know about this power.
(1) God’s power, the sort of power that dwells within every born-again believer and energizes his/her life and ministry is not the sort of “thing” that you can touch or contain in a bottle. It is the very energy of the life of God himself. It is the supernatural energy that emanates from God’s being.
(2) This supernatural and divine energy or power quite literally fills and indwells the bodies and souls of every born-again believer. God does not call upon us to speculate about the nature of this power. He does not want us to envision it merely as an idea. His desire is that we avail ourselves of it to partner with him in his purposes on the earth. His desire is that we cry out to him that he might intensify and expand and increase and deepen the manifestation of this power through us in ever more demonstrative and tangible ways in our lives.
(3) In Philippians 3:8-11 Paul speaks of his urgent desire to know Christ “and the power of his resurrection.” He isn’t asking God for more theoretical knowledge about the resurrection of Jesus or the powerful means by which he was brought back to life. He isn’t saying, “Lord, I need to know how you pulled it off.” He isn’t asking that he be provided with more arguments to prove to unbelievers that Jesus came back to life. He is asking God that he might personally experience the very supernatural power that was exerted by the Holy Spirit that prevented the decomposition of the body of Jesus, the supernatural energy that restored life to a corpse, the supernatural energy that overcame and reversed the entropy and decay to which the body of Jesus would otherwise be subjected.
(4) The power that indwells every born-again believer is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to the right hand of the Father. This very power that raised Jesus from the dead abides and dwells in you right now precisely so that you might transcend the limitations of your finite existence and perform supernatural deeds like those performed by Jesus? On what basis do I say this? In his prayer in Ephesians 1:17-21 Paul prays that we might know
“what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
It isn’t merely “power” that he has in view. It is God’s power. But look at how he describes God’s power. It is the “greatness” of this power that occupies his attention. No, no, there is more. It is the “immeasurable” greatness of his power, which is to say that this power is without limit. It is infinite. It never falls short of accomplishing what God has designed for it. And if that were not enough, this immeasurably great power that lives and abides and pulsates inside the soul of the believer, this power that raised Jesus from the dead, did so as an expression of the “working of his great might.” The most literal rendering of this phrase would be: “according to the energizing of the might of his strength.”
Paul reiterates this point in his prayer in Ephesians 3, where he asks that God would “grant you [and me] to be strengthened with power [not merely with ideas or exhortations or steroid injections; no, with supernatural energy] through his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). Observe closely where this power abides and operates. It is in “your inner being” that the Spirit operates in this powerful manner. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, Paul concludes this prayer with these famous but all-too-often neglected words:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power [written about in theology textbooks; well, no; talked about at Christian conferences; well, no; this power is] at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ through all generations, forever and ever, Amen” (Eph. 3:20-21).
Again I ask, where is it that God does all such things? Through what means? It is by means of or in accordance with his supernatural power. Yes, but where does this supernatural power reside? Where does it do its work? Paul says it is “within us”! It is inside and through Christians like you and me.
(5) Consider the words of Peter: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). Whatever deficiency you may experience in your Christian “life” and your pursuit of “godliness” can be overcome and richly and abundantly supplied to you through God’s power.
(6) The power of God is essential for every facet of Christian living. When Paul explained to the Colossian Christians how he managed to persevere in his ministry, this is how he said it: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:29). God infuses his very own supernatural energy into his servants. This energy, says Paul, works “within” us powerfully. Could it possibly be that the reason so many pastors “burn out” in ministry is because they are toiling and struggling with no more than the human energy that they can muster based on their education and intellect and personal skills? The “energy” that God “powerfully works within” you is limitless and endlessly abundant. What might our ministries and churches and personal lives look like if we consciously embraced and availed ourselves of this divine and supernatural energy?
Experiencing the power of God the Holy Spirit is not an exceptional, rare, or sporadic phenomenon but is intended by God to be the routine, ordinary, daily reality in the life of every believer, regardless of their education, social standing, financial status, or role in the church. This power isn’t merely available to you this week or next year. God intends for you to live in it and draw from it every moment of every day.
Paul says in Romans 15:13 that it is only through the “power” of the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to “abound in hope”. He says in Colossians 1:11 that it is only when we are “strengthened with power” that we can endure and remain patient and do it with joy! He again says in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 that “every resolve for good and every work of faith” that you and I accomplish is by means of his “power.” Power is the energy or working of God by which we are saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 1:18, 24). And if that were not enough to convince you, the very kingdom of God in its essence consists not “in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). If you only had one word to describe the vast topic of the kingdom of God, it would be power!
(7) We often mistakenly think that the only individuals in the church who are recipients of God’s power are Apostles or Elders or Pastors or those with a seminary degree who can read Greek and Hebrew. But consider Stephen, neither an apostle or an elder or a pastor, who is described as “full of grace and power” as a result of which he did “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). Stephen was one of the first seven deacons. He was assigned “to serve tables” (Acts 6:2) so that the Apostles could devote themselves to preaching the Word and to prayer. The only thing that set him apart is that he was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
Stephen, a deacon, was full of the same Spirit that filled and empowered Paul. It wasn’t a junior varsity Holy Spirit, a secondary, lesser version of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit that filled and empowered Stephen wasn’t a subset or smaller percentage of the Spirit that filled Paul and the apostles. The “power” that filled Stephen was precisely the same power that filled Paul, the same power that is available to work through you and me today. The Holy Spirit that was in Jesus, the Holy Spirit that was in Paul, is the Holy Spirit that was in Stephen and is in you and me.
(8) This “power” is something not only that God has but something that he generously and abundantly gives to us. This is what we mean by the word impartation. We’ve already seen in Ephesians 1 and 3 that this power is given to us, dwells inside us, and works within us. But we see this in numerous other places as well:
“And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1-2).
“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
And what was this “power” to which Jesus refers and promises will be ours? It is the same “power” of the Holy Spirit on which he himself consciously depended and employed to heal the sick.
“On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal” (Luke 5:17).
This is only one of several texts that tell us that even Jesus was the recipient of the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled him to do everything in his ministry.
“You yourselves know . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
On several occasions we read in the gospels that “power” goes out of Jesus. It is transferable. His power is imparted to others merely by touch:
Jesus felt the power of the Holy Spirit go out of him and the woman felt the power of the Holy Spirit enter into her body. Indeed, we read in Luke 6:19 that “all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.”
(9) When I speak of God’s power I’m not talking about fleshly triumphalism in which we live above and immune to weakness or frailty or rejection or loss. There are people in the charismatic community who understand God’s power to be a ticket out of trial and tribulation. Power, to them, is the mechanism by which God intends to deliver them from weakness and persecution and financial pressure. But a consistent theme in Scripture is that the power of God is most clearly in evidence when it is seen in contrast with our weakness, indeed, when it is displayed and manifested precisely through and in the full light of our weakness.
For example, when Paul visited Corinth he declared that it was “in weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). His eloquence wasn’t nearly up to the standards of his opponents. “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom.” No, my entire presence and ministry among you came “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5). Far from proving to be a hindrance to supernatural and divine power, Paul’s weakness was the platform on which it was gloriously displayed. On this point see also 2 Cor. 4:7; 6:4; 12:9-10;
(10) I’ll conclude by directing your attention to a familiar passage, Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Luke, who wrote both the gospel that bears his name and the book of Acts, uses the word “power” (dunamis) 25x. In twenty of those twenty-five occasions it describes what God does either through Jesus (10x) or through ordinary Christians (10x). In eight of the ten verses where “power” refers to what God does through Jesus (Luke 4:14; 4:36; 5:1; 6:19; 8:46; 10:13; 19:37; 21:27; Acts 2:22; 10:38) it has reference to his miracles, his signs and wonders.
In nine of the verses that the word “power” is used to describe what God does through believers it is with reference to miracles or signs and wonders (Luke 1:15-17 [power of Elijah in preaching]; 9:1-2; 24:49; Acts 3:12; 4:7; 4:32-33; 6:8; 8:13; 19:11). Do you know what the tenth and final verse is where “power” is used? It is Acts 1:8! Acts 1:8 structures and governs what will unfold in the book and in the experience of the church. If in the other 9x where Luke uses “power” it always refers to the working of miracles, it seems reasonable to conclude that this is precisely what he means in Acts 1:8! Power for working miracles was to be an essential and expected element in the work of the ministry, together with power for preaching and witnessing.