Do you feel stuck? Are there times – maybe now – when it seems like you are chained to something (whether a job, a relationship, a responsibility, or a situation) and you just want to break free?
Let’s take a look at two people who had access to great power. In the first case, a man was being controlled by a demon:
When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. Whenever he was put into chains and shackles—as he often was—he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
Mark 5:2-5 NLT
While it might be liberating to think that we could have the strength to break the restraints that bind us, consider the rest of this man’s situation: When he wasn’t breaking things, he was separated from civilized people, harming his body, and running around naked (see Luke 8:27). When we wish that we had the power to do what we want, this is probably not the price that we want to pay for that strength. In addition, this man’s chains were likely meant to keep order and maybe even protect himself (as well as those who lived nearby).
Next, consider Paul and Silas, followers of Jesus who had been jailed for freeing a girl from demon-possession (not unlike how Jesus healed the tormented man described above; see Mark 5:1-20).
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!
Acts of the Apostles 16:25-26 NLT
Here, we find two other people who were chained. In this case, they were bound for doing a good thing, rather than for terrorizing people. Instead of trying to break their own chains, though, the Bible reports that they were talking and singing to God. The result was miraculous, and in the end, their chains were released – through God’s power and not their own. Furthermore, if we continue reading in Acts 16:25-40, we find that this event resulted in the jailer’s household believing in God, too.
Far greater things were accomplished in this latter situation, compared to what may have occurred if Paul and Silas had violently rebelled against God-established government (see Romans 13:1-5) using their own strength. The Bible doesn’t record that they were plotting an armed rebellion, or spouting abusive things about their accusers. Instead, they appear to have been trusting God, whether He rescued them or not (see Daniel 3:16-18).
Regrettably, I think that some people (including myself at times) desire the personal power of the man that met Jesus in the first account, above. No, we don’t want to be controlled by an evil spirit, but we still want the ability to remove whatever gets in our way. Like the fictional Hulk, we may wish that we should smash problems at work, break out of responsibilities that we do not enjoy, or crush the reputation and influence of people who frustrate us (whether those close to us, or those in the news that make us angry, like politicians or celebrities who abuse their own power). We wish that we could just do what we want, and free ourselves.
Consider the cost of getting our own power, though. For one thing, we lack the wisdom to wield it. This isn’t just limited to fictional universe-destroying objects, like the One Ring in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or Thanos’s use of the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In our finite capacity within the real world, we make short-sighted decisions and choose the wrong path because we cannot see where it ends. We suppress pain at the cost of missing out on the lessons of suffering. We take the easy way out because it is comfortable, yet it accomplishes less. We don’t have the ability to handle great power on our own, especially when that power actually comes from (and is still controlled by) the forces of evil. The cost to use power given by evil forces is far more awful than the temporary benefits it may provide.
Yes, I realize that some human beings make positive choices from time to time. Not every decision that we make is a bad one. Still, we are fallen, finite, and fallible, and seem to become even more so when we start to control more than we are capable of.
I suspect that the man who Jesus healed from many demons in Mark 5 no longer had the ability to break chains after the demons were cast out, yet he was so grateful to Jesus that he wanted to follow Him. The healed man didn’t want to go back to having great physical strength, if it meant being controlled by an evil power source.
Paul and Silas praised God, despite their chains, and let God’s power work mightily (in God’s timing, not their own). Whether God works directly in our lives, or leverages His power through us (as we allow Him), that is the power that achieves good things.
May we rest in God’s great power today, and not covet it – or any other power – for ourselves. His power, offered through His wisdom, is the strength that we ultimately need to change the world.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.