Power and How to Use It
Perhaps you know the Peter Parker Principle from Stan Lee’s Spiderman comic books: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s a variation of Jesus’ words, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”
I got to know Stan Lee, and I invited him to have breakfast with me in the West Wing of the White House when I was a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. We talked about the Peter Parker Principle, and I lauded him for smuggling into popular entertainment such an important idea.
James Baker, former White House Chief of Staff, tells the story of being chauffeured to the White House with his security detail and seeing a former Chief of Staff standing alone on a Washington street corner. Baker was struck by the same thing that never ceases to fascinate me: power is fleeting.
For me, power presents a constant temptation to use it to exalt myself, my reputation, my kingdom, my legacy – things that will mean nothing after I’m dead and forgotten. And when I stand before God and am called to account for how I used the power I was given, I don’t want to be ashamed. I want to use it well, advocating for those without power -- the poor, the oppressed, and the voiceless.
I have less power now than I did in the White House – a lot less. But how ever small our power is, it’s on loan to us to use it wisely. Every day brings new opportunities to faithfully use our power well. A smile, a soft response to an angry person, a word of affirmation – all of it is meant to serve others. Little things matter. In a way, there are no little things if God has called you to do them. We are foolish to plan for how we can serve God tomorrow in some big and flashy way if we neglect the things He wants us to do today.
You may have a lot less power than you’d like to have. You may be unemployed or under-employed, shunted aside in your workplace, sidelined by illness, or facing the realization that the dreams of your youth aren’t going to happen. Disappointment is hard, but it doesn’t mean we’re worthless. Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
In God’s economy, what matters is being faithful with what we’ve been given, great or small. God has a plan for the world that includes you, where you are today. Every day that we humbly submit to God and seek to serve him, he uses us. He’s not too busy to use our “little” acts of kindness, regardless of whether or not others notice.
The author Mary Ann Evans (pen name was George Eliot) wrote that goodness in the world “is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
I don’t know if anyone will visit my grave, and frankly, I won’t know or care if they do. I will get zero satisfaction for how I’m remembered. But there is an Audience of One for whom I will care in eternity, and I want to play to Him.
God cares no less about what I do now than He did when I was advising the President. In God’s economy, the Oval Office and the back office are equally important. The nineteenth-century Dutch Prime Minister and theologian Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
Seeing power for what it is requires developing eyes that see the unseen. That’s hard when the seen seems so compelling. But pecking orders don’t impress God. Faithfulness does impress Him.
Once, while Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden, he was asked, “What would you do if you suddenly learned that you were to die at sunset today?” He replied, “I would finish hoeing my garden.” God cares about today’s hoeing. Do it well.