As I’ve been preparing a teaching on the subject of power encounters, I’ve had a pastoral concern: How to handle them in light of the inclination of some believers to drift away from genuine, credible gospel living into sensationalism. So I thought I’d write about it…
For those who might not be familiar with the term, a power encounter is a conflict – a clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, with Jesus always coming out the winner. The apostle John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devils work.”(1John 3:8) These power encounters occurred in many circumstances throughout Jesus’ ministry with the expulsion of demons being the most dramatic. They continued in the Book of Acts, and throughout church history. They continue today.
Before I go any further, let me state that I believe power encounters are real, even necessary. My call into the Vineyard movement and eventually to what I’m doing today with the Main & Plain is the result of more than one power encounter. So, I’m not a skeptic or in any way opposed to them. I believe power encounters play an important role in the advancing of God’s kingdom. They’re basic to what John Wimber, the founder of our movement called, “power evangelism”. When people have a power encounter or witness one, they are moved to a new level of awareness. God is present and they know it. Receptivity to the gospel increases. You might say power encounters are doorways to the kingdom of God.
However, should we expect dramatic, supernatural power encounters to become everyday occurrences? Listening to some of the stories told at conferences and reading some of the books on the subject can set up overblown expectations and give the impression that the Spirit-empowered life is one big Hollywood superhero action movie.
Without a doubt, power encounters are exciting experiences. But the danger is that occasionally they lead to spiritual pride in those who receive them. Being used by the power of God can be intoxicating. However, a preoccupation with miraculous power encounters, like amazing healings, or dramatic deliverances can turn us from the heart of the gospel and lead rather easily from biblical faith to superstition and exploitation.
The truth is that most of the Christian life is lived out in the ordinary and the unspectacular of daily living. The war goes on and the enemy’s activity is covert and subtle yet no less dangerous. This can become rather frustrating for someone always expecting fireworks. There’s the danger of “cheapening” miracles – everything becomes a miracle. It’s possible to want them to happen so badly that we dream them up or invent and making them up. In doing so God himself is cheapened, turning him into a genie in our lamp or becoming over-reliant on the power of the miraculous to produce and sustain our faith which is a losing proposition.
The gospel is more than instant victory. Its more than instant relief from the problems and pains of life. It absolutely does include God’s mysterious, providential care as well as his supernatural actions from time to time. But mostly it involves quiet, steady trust in the good news of Christ’s victory over all the effects of sin and evil, of reconciliation to God and all humans, the assurance that nothing can separate us from his love, the promise of a new world and new humanity.
There’s a spiritual war going on. A clash between two kingdoms over the control of and destinies of people. The enemy has already been defeated on the Cross but the fighting continues and you and I are living on the front lines. Christ’s mission always involves power encounters. I believe the Great Commission can only be fulfilled as we open our lives to God’s power. But the most important weapon we have in battling our spiritual enemy is not a proven collection of how-to’s or our own holiness, but a firm grasp of what it is we’ve been authorized to do by Jesus. When we act in obedience to his name the power and authority of God’s kingdom stands behind us. The enemy must surrender ground, whether it be forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, casting out demons. If we keep that in view we can count on the Holy Spirit to direct and empower our obedience whether it be some big dramatic, miraculous action or unspectacular, hidden acts of kindness, generosity or reconciliation. In fact, much of the challenge will be simply learning to “do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)I think the greatest power encounters take place when we resist the lure of materialism, act against injustice, and reject the gods of radical autonomy and consumerism in our everyday lives.