By Edwin Crayton/Opinion
Some street drugs can make an honest person steal. Some street drugs can turn a brilliantly rational person into a crazed, homicidal lunatic. Some street drugs can make a decent woman sell her body. Some street drugs can turn powerful executives into the weakest of beings. Some street drugs can turn a respected pastor into a greedy scoundrel who lies and deceives like the demons he preaches against. But I know of only one drug that is potent enough to make a person do all of that: power.
It is not that having power is bad. But rather, it is the addiction to power or the abuse of it that causes the real damage. And today, this addiction is spreading because unlike addictions to Opioids, Cocaine or Crystal Meth, an addiction to power is more likely to go undetected and therefore remain undiagnosed and untreated. All of us have at least once been intoxicated by it. I plead guilty. We may not be addicts, but we’ve indulged and gone mad under its influence at least once or twice. That’s because, every time we sin, we wrestle control from God—it’s really a power grab. The Bible teaches, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). And the results are never good. In fact, mankind’s first sin involved a grab for power. A pusher named Satan, approached the first man and woman and told them if they bit a piece of fruit, they would be like God. They were seduced by the thought of having that kind of power and they bought it. Their first hit was devastating. It made sin, death and hell a reality for all mankind. What an overdose.
Like street drugs, power distorts reality. It can cause the user to hallucinate or imagine things that are not really happening. It also distorts our personalities, causing us to have a higher opinion of ourselves than we should have. That’s why we have phrases like “power tripping”, or “ego tripping”. A dose of power and some people can start to believe that they are indispensable or superior. That is why dictators have no problem violating the rights of others or doing anything to remain in power. They believe they are entitled to rights above what other people have. Power tripping (and a dose of ego) can make an executive deceive herself into believing she is the only one who can run an organization. I remember reading a study in which they removed such “indispensable” leaders for a short time. The researchers found that their coworkers did fine without these “super executives”. What happened was, once they stepped aside, others stepped up.
The trouble is, we don’t know what real power is. It’s not pushing others around or having tons of money. Jesus taught that real power comes from humility, prayer and most important of all, loving and serving others. Truth is, only God has power. We humans only have access to his power when we submit to him in humility, obedience and prayer. Jesus said, the greatest among us would be the one who serves (Matthew 23:11-12). But you know what? I honestly don’t think many of us really believe him. Our actions seem to indicate otherwise. We honor power and wealth and look down our noses at servanthood. We publish lists celebrating the 100 richest people. We gulp Powerade drinks and socialize with power couples—we call the richer nations superpowers. Even some in the church play up to powerful people or powerful movements. It’s why some churches are unwisely accepting biblically incorrect immorality. Evidently, this habit of playing up to the rich and powerful has been around a long time, because in the Book of James, we who claim Christ are warned not to give special honor and privileges to the rich (James 2:1-9).
Yet, I believe most of us know deep down that Jesus was right when he taught that serving others is what determines true greatness (Matthew 23:11-12). Isn’t it interesting that we don’t usually willingly erect monuments to selfish people? Aggressive moguls usually actually have to buy their monuments one way or the other. By contrast, people are willing to pay to create monuments honoring those who serve selflessly and some of these servants were either penniless or close to it. In fact, many churches are named after a messiah who had to borrow a denarius coin to make a point about money and power (Mark 12:15-17). Our schools are named for men like Abraham Lincoln, who dedicated himself to setting slaves free. We name our children Mary, Joshua or Ruth to honor selfless Biblical heroes. But who names their child Hitler? And have you ever heard of a church named after Pontius Pilate? Yet they were once among earth’s most powerful men. Indeed, God teaches us that humbling ourselves under his mighty hand is how we receive lasting power. Power of this kind comes by allowing the Holy Spirit of God into our hearts. It does not come from conquering, but rather, from surrendering to God 100%. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourself in the sight of God and he will lift you up.” Earthly power is tempting. But the truth is, it simply does not last. And when we lust for it, or obtain it the wrong way, it costs more than it is worth. Jesus himself warned us of what it can cost in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.” Not long ago there was a popular saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” An able pastor honestly answered that boast by simply responding, “He who dies with the most toys is still dead.”