Summary: God does help those who can’t help themselves! We’re disabled by sin, yet God still loves us too much to leave us in the mess we’re in. Admitting our powerlessness is the first step on the road to recovery and to receiving power from Above.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations; for ever and ever! Amen.”
On July 13th 1977, I was having dinner in Little Italy, lower Manhattan, with two fellow Army Chaplains--a Methodist and a Catholic priest. As we were paying our bill, the lights went out. We figured it was something amiss with the building; but as we went outside, it became clear that the outage was widespread...in fact, it was city-wide. Yes, the infamous New York City blackout, and we were in the middle of it! We hailed a cab and went to a Catholic rectory where we could spend the night; getting back to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn wasn't an option. Passing the theater-district, our driver told us to shut the windows and lock the doors; a cab would be quite popular for a mob of people suddenly on the streets of Broadway. We saw looters, people directing traffic, and a carnival atmosphere. Long-story-short, we made it back to the Chaplain School the next day with a great tale of adventure...all because of a loss of power.
The early Christian church started life in the pagan, hostile, mighty Roman Empire. Rome appeared all-powerful, yet that empire is long gone and the church remains. I've been to Rome, and all that's left of the power of the mighty Caesars is ancient ruins. In verse 21, Paul declares that God's glory rests in His church. We serve a Kingdom that will know no end. In fact, the church is the only human institution that will last into eternity.
The Greek word for power Paul uses in his blessing is dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. The word means ability, efficiency, might. This is the power Jesus promised in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses.”
People and nations are motivated by power: It all started with muscle-power, then horsepower, the power of the sword, then of gunpowder, financial power, and we're now in an uneasy age of nuclear power. According to the latest issue of TIME, the next big power-source is fusion. But then there's the power of ideas, which shape how we think and act. Knowledge is power. Is morality a power? It's been noted, “Our basic problem is not knowing how to live; it's lacking the power to live as we ought” (Paul Little).
Paul gives his blessing to the church...from prison. Consider the circumstances--Paul was incarcerated and Christianity was being persecuted and treated as an insignificant sect. Yet Paul can express praise. He's where God wants him. Paul may have felt frustrated, but he knew God never is. Kings and kingdoms come and go. Our sovereign God has everything under control.
In his blessing, Paul coins a new word, translated “immeasurably.” This word means “super-abundantly above and beyond.” God provides for us miraculous resources. He will do the unexpected--more than we can imagine--and His might knows no limits. We're not the source of power, He is. God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called.
Sometimes we get answers to prayers we haven't asked. We're reluctant to pray for things we can't imagine getting. We doubt God would do it. So when God makes the impossible a reality--we guiltily thank Him for giving more than we dared to ask.
When we think of the word “power,” we often picture armies battling for conquest of land. Having been in war, I've seen such power. Power from Above is for big things, yet also for more everyday things: the power to overcome a bad habit, to live with disability, to get along with a neighbor, to help a child, to figure out what to do next.
Prayer is a power-source...and so is the Bible. A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t. The Bible is writing intended to empower us. J.I. Packer explains, “The Bible is the rope God throws us in order to ensure that we stay connected while the rescue is in progress.” And Eugene Peterson notes, “As God accomplished His purpose in the writers of Scripture, He can do the same in the readers of Scripture.” So get into God’s word and let His word get in you!
Perhaps we lack power because God knows what we'd do with it. Power can be a blessing or a curse. Some people are ruined by power, or they ruin others. The abuse of power can lead to all sorts of injustices. God gives us the freedom and responsibility to make choices. We have the power to live effectively and the freedom to ruin our lives.