When We Are Called To Fail

Achieving the wrong goals can never be considered a good thing. To win the wrong prize is to lose.

For thousands of years the universal church has been trying to win the war of power. For the past 200 years the overwhelming majority of the American Restoration Movement has been engaged in winning that battle as well. (We have had our cultural non-conformists, but they have always been pushed to the periphery and ignored.) Today the war trumpets are at full blast – lose the presidency and we lose the Supreme Court and if we lose the Supreme Court we lose . . . power.

Power. It’s all about power. Preachers want to increase the church attendance so the budget can go up so a bigger building can be built so that they can receive greater and greater accolades and . . . more power. University presidents want their endowments to increase so they can build more and bigger buildings and fund more competitive athletic teams so they can bring in even more money and . . . more power. If the American system of economics or justice or education or religion any other topic can be summarized in one word it would be the acquisition of power.

How tragic, then, when we use the name and sacrifice of Jesus to gain that power. Jesus was not just the picture of refusing worldly power, he literally incarnated it. It was Jesus’s kenosis, his self-emptying of all heavenly power, that was the force behind the explosive growth of the church in the first 300 years of its existence. In a paradox that defies all human explanation – and in a refutation of every secular growth strategy – the church grew the fastest and had the greatest impact on vastly different cultures precisely when it was the weakest.

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

If the apostle Paul were preaching today, he would be considered delusional.

If that is considered delusional, then count me in too. I am growing more and more convinced that in order for God to preserve his church he is going to have to drive it into cultural bankruptcy. That is to say the church will have to once again assume its position of secular powerlessness and irrelevancy. Then, having reached the bottom of what the world would consider to be power, we can be open to receive the limitless and irrepressible power of God’s Holy Spirit. Then, maybe we can be to American hubris what the first disciples of Christ were to Caesar.

Label me a heretic if you will, but I am not too terribly concerned that the church grows. I am vitally concerned that church leaders create, and re-create, faithful disciples of Christ. If our numbers decrease, but our faith and commitment deepens, we will have won a great victory. I do not want more and more of the shallow pew sitters we have been satisfied with over the past 50-100 years. I want men and women who are so committed to their Lord that they would gladly forfeit everything to be known as one of Christ’s disciples.

The church must once again reject pursuits of what the world falsely labels as power. There is a biblical power to be sure – a power of service, a power of selflessness, a power that surrenders all power to the Holy Spirit. We need more of that power! But we must no longer submit our goals and aspirations to the vision of power that is nothing more than satanic.

We get blinded when look at the brightness of the characters in the Bible that God raised to secular power. We see Joseph as second-in-command to Pharaoh. We see Esther and David and Hezekiah and Josiah. But, let me ask a question: compared to the millions and millions of faithful, spiritual men and women who walked with God – what are these few but a drop in the vast ocean of faithfulness? If God chooses to place someone in a position of secular power, so be it. His ways are past our understanding. My grasp of biblical history is that we should fear such appointments rather than seek them, however. One of the greatest temptations our Lord had to reject was the satanic gift of power.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. . . Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:7, 12)

It is a paradox, or an irony, that the more we relinquish our human power, the more we surrender that which we think makes us strong, then God provides us with a true and unquenchable power. It is the power of the wash basin and the towel, of the cross. It is the power of viewing ourselves as nothing more than seed sowers and plant waterers. It is the power that only comes when we have the power to say, “I am nothing.”

God has called us to this “no-thing-ness.” When we submit to that call, when we wear the mantle of God’s disciple, we must surrender our most treasured possession – our will to power. As long as we hold onto the drive for power we remain unable to accept God’s most precious gift: the gift of the blood of his Son which was offered during the scene of the greatest example of weakness overcoming power – the cross.

If our baptism does not change our perception of the world and of its lies, then what good does it do to get wet?

There are ways to achieve goals that are not worth fighting for. We can obtain power by using the tricks and manipulations of Satan’s world. But the question I want to ask is why would we want to? If achieving that goal further’s Satan’s kingdom, wouldn’t it be better to fail?

Let us ascend by climbing lower.

Author: Paul Smith

Paul Smith was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He holds the Bachelor of Science in Youth Ministry, Master of Biblical Studies and Master of Divinity, all from Abilene Christian University; and the Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Paul's passion is in teaching and preaching the gospel. Beyond the study of the Bible, his main academic interest is in the life and theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is an unashamed mountain-goat, and longs to spend his time with his feet in a cold trout stream.

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