What Aquinas spoke eight centuries ago is still true today. In contrast to the powerlessness of the modern church, Paul declared that his preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power (see 1 Cor. 2:4). People not only heard Paul's message, but they also saw the power of God confirm it.
As it was in the 13th century, the power crisis in the church today is not due to a lack of resources but an abundance of pride. In true ministry, the power of God and the pride of man cannot coexist. Any attempt to combine the two results in a tawdry imitation of what God intends to be authentically real.
We may hide from this truth--but the fact remains unchanged: Twice, the New Testament says that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (see James 4:6 and 1 Pet. 5:5). Always, pride is the systematic killer of power.
There is no problem in getting power in us. Jesus said that everyone who asks receives. In fact, the problem is getting power out of us. Jesus said again, " 'How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?' " (John 5:44, NKJV)
Ultimately, pride insulates us like rubber encases an electric wire. Power may be present in us but our egos prevent it from reaching others.
In ancient times, the priest was privileged to see the shekinah glory, "a visible manifestation of the presence of God," in the holy of holies only because he had first seen death in the outer court. The blood which gave him admission into the presence of God was the final offering of a life that existed no more.
So it is with us. We who would minister in the power of God must be willing to lay down our lives and crawl under the veil with the proof of death in our hands--or we dare not enter at all.
My 55 years of ministry can be divided almost equally into two parts: One without the power of God--the other with it. In the first half of my ministry I never saw a single alcoholic, drug addict, suicidal person or anyone else with life-crushing problems be miraculously delivered by the Holy Spirit.
Then, when my own crisis came--my wife's disastrous automobile wreck--I faced the stark reality that I had a form of godliness but denied its power (see 2 Tim. 3:5). Hopelessness hovered over me for months while God dealt with my pride, my soulishness and lack of power.
He did not cause the wreck, but He seized its opportunity to pry open the lock on my closed mind. Finally, in the darkest hour of my life, I found myself kneeling before a young Spirit-filled prisoner in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
Pride, ego, resistance, lay dead at my feet. In the visitor's room, with Mafia inmates and their wives looking on, he laid hands on me, praying that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit and experience the power of God. The effects were phenomenal: anger, pain, depression and wrong attitudes that had stockpiled in me since boyhood were suddenly gone.
It was then that I was filled with the Holy Spirit. Not only was it the most awesome day of my life, but it was also the beginning of a new, anointed ministry.
The word which Paul uses for servant is an extraordinary word, huperetes, and means "under-oarsman." The apostle's analogy is in reference to ancient warships that were propelled by muscular men chained to their oars below deck.
In their part of the ship one hears groaning, men laboring at the oars. It is not like the upper deck, wind-swept, sunlit and fragrant with ocean breeze. Those below deck typify intercessors, men and women who are unseen, without applause and who are dying to self.
At the oar, one truly learns to pray. Here, the priorities of life are established. Spiritual values are clarified. This is the killing ground of ego. Self-centeredness dies at the oar. Pride perishes in the pain. It is also here, as huperetes, that one moves into power as a steward of the mysteries of God (see Col. 4:1-3).
This death to self that Scripture demands is achieved by surrendering the ego to God. Undergoing tragedy is not necessary to experience this blessed death; self-surrender is necessary.
If you want power in your ministry, seek the same death for which Paul shouted his joy: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
May you find yourself on the upper deck, dressed in the humility of Jesus, swept by the wind of the Holy Spirit and able to impart the glory of God.