The Issue with Wanting Power Apart from Jesus
“Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity”’ (Acts 8:14-23, ESV)
This weekend, I ran across a video from Jackie Hill Perry, an author, poet, and awesome teacher of the Word.
She posted a live video in her car talking about the dangers of how we, as Christians, crave the power of God.
Now it’s important to preface this whole devotion with this: asking God for His power is not bad in the slightest– something Jackie made overly clear as she was speaking. There is nothing wrong in asking God for the power to confront something, to overcome something, or so that He can receive the glory and honor from it. I guarantee, that’s something we’ve all done.
But I’ve found– especially in a generation where YouTube super-churches like Bethel, Hillsong, and Transformation set the supposed standard for what a move of the Spirit should look like– that there are times that asking God to pour out his power becomes more like a proverbial arm wrestling match between congregation and the Holy Spirit.
If you’re familiar with online worship videos, then you probably know what I’m talking about, because the content is endless. I’m talking about worship teams that beat the floor, convulse, and generally over-perform to make it seem like worship always needs to be this strategically curated show for God. And because humans are creatures of imitation, because we intake this superficial picture of “glorifying God,” we mimic it in our own Sunday services. And it’s not just worship ministry that can do this– that’s just the most obvious example– it can be any of them from teaching in the pulpit to youth group and Sunday school.
And because the modern Church is currently so caught up in how something looks, suddenly Sunday mornings are rated more on the things we can physically see and experience rather than things unseen, namely God Himself. What does that mean? It means that today’s Church is falling into the trap that we have some sort of control over whether God shows up and how much of Himself He pours out on us, His people. It means that some Christians have this idea that we can somehow manipulate God’s response to us, and that God’s presence is rewarded through some of us being more “powerful” than others.
And so we pray for power. We read about all the cool things the early Church was able to experience because of God’s power and we want it for ourselves, but we’re not acknowledging the reason the power was given to us in the first place; which is Jesus.
And that’s basically the crux of what Jackie Hill Perry’s video was about, but this is the part that got me: She said, “I just kept thinking about this idea of wanting power apart from Jesus– of just wanting the power itself– and I was like, huh, how does that make us any different from witches? How does that make us any different from a soothsayer? How does that make us any different from the people that function in the demonic if we only want God’s power without God Himself?”
And when I tell you that this statement convicted my own socks off, I’m not kidding. Because I’m guilty of this, too. I can’t sit here and tell you that as a worship leader or a teacher, that I never wanted to perform well for my own glory. I can’t tell you that I never wanted the Spirit to fall during a worship service so that I could have the satisfaction of knowing I was the one leading worship when that happened. And that’s 100% vulnerability. Because I’m human and I’m living in a culture and a world that is obsessed with looking impressive.
I have fallen into the trap. I have treated church like some secret equation that I was better at solving than the people in the pew. I’ve forgotten at times that God’s presence has nothing to do with my talent for words or music or public speaking. It’s not cast like a spell. He’s not conjured by rituals.
The difference is wanting God’s power or presence or comfort or peace because you want more of God Himself.
In the story that frames today’s devotion, there is a man named Simon, who was known in his town to be a powerful sorcerer. When the gospel came to his area, the people were converted and baptized, including Simon. When Peter and John heard that Samaria was responding to the gospel, they traveled there to pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit. The passage shows evidence that when the Holy Spirit came onto the people, the reaction must have been strong; so strong, in fact, that Simon offered Peter and John money to be infilled with the same power of the Holy Spirit. He wanted the ability to give that power to anyone he laid hands on.
Peter delivers a strong rebuke to Simon, and understandably so. A request such as this implies that Simon didn’t want the Holy Spirit for the sheer desire to be filled with God, but he wanted it so that he could be seen as a spiritual authority to others. Peter tells Simon that his money can perish in Hell with him. God’s power cannot be bought, and this simple act of trying to do so shows that Simon’s heart is not right before God. The only way to be saved would be to repent and ask God to forgive the heart-issue that caused his error.
You see, all too often, we are Simon. We desire God’s power, prosperity, blessing, comfort, and peace without ever wanting God Himself. We have a heart issue to deal with. We think that cool music, vast resources, and a propensity to outperform other Christians and churches can convince God to give us more reasons to look impressive and push our own agenda. But if that’s true, what makes our worship different from witchcraft? Don’t forget: Pharaoh's sorcerers had the ability to mimic God’s power to try and fool the people. Power doesn’t come from God alone.
So if we desire power without turning to the almighty God, then we are simply bowing to something else that is only bound to lead us into death. If we want His power without His person, then we are in sin. Your relationship with God isn’t about performing well or impressing others. It’s about pleasing Him above all else. That’s our aim, that is what we should long for.