Limitations Of Power Encounters
Updated: Oct 18
Have you ever wondered why some people seemed to be totally changed by an encounter with God? Even if the encounter did not seem to be dramatic? On the other hand, there are those who seem to experience even dramatic encounters with God, but there is little change in their lives? Have you ever wondered why prayers for some people to come to Christ or to experience God seem to bring about major effects upon their lives? While prayers for others seem to have little effect?
We all know that the Power of God is absolute. He can do anything and everything. His power can bring about changed lives. But is that always the case for everyone who encounters God? What about Pharaoh? He saw and experienced God's power through many miraculous signs and plagues, yet his heart remain hardened before God. Why did he not change? Wasn’t he supposed to be changed by the power of God as he had many undeniable encounters with the Almighty God?
In this article we will examine Exodus 8v20-32 and look at why sometimes power encounters or God-encounters work, and at times do not! A power encounter is a demonstration of power and authority. In this case, it is God's power. We will discover that power encounters have a limited ability to bring change. In fact, it does not lie with so much with God but actually, with us. God is sovereign but He has chosen to give us choice in our decisions, in order that we may be responsible for our choices.
I will also show how some insights of power encounters can be helpful for parenting situations. The context of Exodus 8 is Moses was called by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But Pharaoh refused to allow the Israelites to go worship God. So God began to inflict plagues upon the Egyptians. This was the fourth plague.
We examine 3 levels of possible change that can be effected by divine encounters, as well as its limitations.
IN DEALING WITH COURSE OF ACTIONS
When we examine the entire history of God's confrontation with Pharaoh, one key objective was to change Pharaoh's course of action. God wanted Pharaoh to release the Israelites. So power encounters can bring about a change in actions.
Exodus 8:25–28 (NIV) 25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” 26 But Moses said, “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the Lord our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us? 27 We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.” 28 Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to offer sacrifices to the Lord your God in the wilderness, but you must not go very far. Now pray for me.”
It can bring change in course of action
A God-encounter can reveal a better way, mission or vision.
A God-encounter can reveal a better way, mission or vision. God comes and it is revelation! It is like trying to build a little shack and God shows us a massive mansion! For example, Peter, James and John made a remarkable change in their course of action after having an amazing encounter with Jesus. They left everything behind and followed Jesus.
Luke 5:8-11 (NIV) 8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” 11So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Jesus promised that instead of catching fish they could be world changers. They could catch men. I used to dream about building massive engineering structures to my own sense of achievement and glory. But after encountering God, I realised that it is far better to build God's Kingdom to God's glory! So I gave up everything to follow Jesus!
Those who change in this way are often those who seek a better way. Such a God-encounter impacts greatly the achievers and visionaries. Some change their course of action because they are simply obedient. They may not understand but simply obey.
It may fail to bring change in course of action.
Some are stubborn and will only change their actions when the pain level exceeds their stubbornness level.
Yet some are so stubborn in certain behaviours, they refuse to change. Pharaoh refused to change his resistance against God despite the plagues. In such times, a God-encounter expresses His displeasure. It is stop or suffer! Yet some are dense or stubborn. They may be slow to realise the consequences of their actions. They just keep on doing the same things unless they are brought face to face with pain and suffering. Some are stubborn and will only change their actions when the pain level exceeds their stubbornness level.
An example is Jonah, who ran away from God's command to preach to the Ninevites. But while running away from God in a ship, God caused a whale to swallow him up. Imagine God kidnapping you while running away from His purposes. Finally, Jonah in fear of death cried out in Jonah 2:7 (NIV) “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah finally agreed to preach to the city of Nineveh.
Have you ever noticed that God uses both the carrot and stick approaches? In the Bible you find God challenging the Israelites with blessings and curses. Blessings if you obey and curses if they disobey. Rewards if we obey God and punishment if we don't? God's example teaches us an important way to deal with those who are immature in their thinking such as children. God disciplines those He loves because He does not want us to go the wrong way.
Deut 8:5 (NIV) Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.
Prov 3:11-12 (NIV) 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke,12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
When children are too young to understand, they need to grasp a few simple things. Who has authority, what the boundaries are and the consequences of crossing the boundaries.
In the same way, if parents truly love their children, they will discipline them. When parents fail to discipline their children properly, the children can become unruly and misbehave badly. This can get worse as they grow older. When children are too young to understand, they need to grasp a few simple things. Who has authority, what the boundaries are and the consequences of crossing the boundaries.
As a father, I am responsible to be a representative of God the Father to my children.
As a father, I am responsible to be a representative of God the Father to my children. My children will better understand God's authority when they first understand my authority. They will better understand about God's boundaries when first understand about my boundaries. They will better understand God's wrath and judgment when they first understand my wrath and judgment. They will better develop a healthy fear of God when they have a healthy fear of their father.
In the same way, they can better understand God's love, mercy, forgiveness, etc when they first learn it from their parents. How can our children learn about authority? When we exercise it consistently and firmly in a godly fashion, with grace, with justice. If we allow our children to step all over us, they will not understand nor appreciate authority. Parents should make the ultimate decisions in the home, not our children. Of course, we should consider our children's feelings, etc but we must make the family decisions.
As a father, I made my children understand when my boundaries have been crossed. I don't believe it is healthy for parents to be in a shouting match with the children. Children will stretch your boundaries to the limit all the time. If we only discipline them after screaming until we are red in the face, they will stretch us to that limit every time. When we discipline at that time, it is usually not healthy. We are upset and may over-discipline. Then discipline is not effective because our emotional outburst muddy the reasons for discipline.
When my children cross the boundaries I have set, I warn them nicely. If they still persist, I warn them again. Usually by the third time I use my stern voice. If they still persist, I discipline them. Whether by using a wooden spoon, of standing in a corner or staying in their room.
So they learn. Break my rules and they are disciplined. Break God's rules and they will be punished eventually. Some pain helps them understand about discipline and about things they should not do. Similarly, encounters with God are meant to change our actions. But the question is this: Will we allow it to change our actions? The next level of possible change lies in our understanding.
IN DEALING WITH UNDERSTANDING
Exodus 8:20–24 (NIV) 20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and confront Pharaoh as he goes to the river and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies; even the ground will be covered with them. 22 “ ‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. 23 I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’ ” 24 And the Lord did this. Dense swarms of flies poured into Pharaoh’s palace and into the houses of his officials; throughout Egypt the land was ruined by the flies.
God told Moses in v22 that, "I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so you will know I the Lord am in this land." In this passage, it is recorded for the first time that God made a distinction in the way He brought the plagues upon the land of Egypt. Plagues will come upon the whole of Egypt except in Goshen, where the Israelites dwelled.
We do not know for certain whether God made this distinction in the earlier plagues. Perhaps He did. But this is the first time that God emphasized it. God's objective is to reveal that God had come upon the land of Egypt. God was impressing upon Pharaoh that God's favour was upon His people the Israelites. And that His wrath was upon the Egyptians. God wanted to make Pharaoh understand that he was dealing with God Almighty. Power encounters can change our understanding of certain things.
It can bring change in understanding.
Paul's encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed his understanding about who the Messiah truly is. Acts 9:3-5 (NIV) 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Paul was against Jesus and His followers because he thought they were heretics. But suddenly everything changed when he encountered Jesus!
God-encounters can open closed minds. It enlarges our understanding of God.
God-encounters can open closed minds. It enlarges our understanding of God. How does it do this? It can help us realise that our view of God is too small. What we thought was impossible, suddenly dawns upon us, is possible in God. Perhaps our view of God is incorrect. A God-encounter can adjust a misconception of God. It can smash our framework of understanding of the purposes of God.
A God-encounter can adjust a misconception of God. It can smash our framework of understanding of the purposes of God.
Jack Deere was an associate professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, a bastion of conservative cessationist thinking. As far as he was concerned, spiritual gifts do not exist anymore after the apostles. God does not do many miracles anymore. God does not speak directly to believers. Until God turned his life around when he met John White, a famous Christian psychiatrist and writer. And when he experienced the power of God to heal and deliver from demons, it changed his thinking!
Matt 16:17-18 (NIV) 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Those who are open to learn. Who are honest and sincere in seeking God. Their minds are opened by God-encounters.
Those who are open to learn. Who are honest and sincere in seeking God. Their minds are opened by God-encounters. That is why we need to pray that we ourselves and others encounter God in ways that may enlarge our understanding of God and His purposes.
It may fail to bring change in understanding.
On the other hand, encounters with God does not guarantee a change in our understanding. Some may remain steadfast in refusing to change their understanding. Jesus observed in Matt 13:13-14 (GWT)13This is why I speak to them this way. They see, but they’re blind. They hear, but they don’t listen. They don’t even try to understand. 14So they make Isaiah’s prophecy come true: ‘You will hear clearly but never understand. You will see clearly but never comprehend.
Rigid perspectives, narrow-mindedness or sheer stubbornness. These cause a person to refuse to accept what they have experienced because it conflicts with their understanding.
Why is it some fail to change in their understanding? It is due to rigid perspectives, narrow-mindedness or sheer stubbornness. These cause a person to refuse to accept what they have experienced because it conflicts with their understanding. They filter out evidences that contradict their thinking. The Pharisees chose not to believe despite the miracles of Jesus. They refused to accept that Jesus is the Messiah.
A pastor friend shared a story of an elderly man who was diagnosed with brain tumour. The pastor was asked to pray for the elderly man, who was not a Christian. The pastor prayed for the man just before he was taken into the operating theatre. The surgeons did a last scan before they cut the man’s head open. To their shock they could not find the tumour except an empty space where it was in the brain. The man was miraculously healed. Most of the relatives who were there in hospital that day accepted Christ. But the elderly man but refused to believe in Christ.
Sadly, the most learned of people can suffer from this problem more than the unlearned. The issue is often pride. So beware if you think you know a lot. That is also why, we can pray for someone and God may actually be moving upon their lives to convict them about sin, but they still do not respond. Something has blinded them. It could be pride, fear of something different, spiritual blindness caused by their association with occultic practices. In such cases we need to seek God to ask specifically about the nature of the hindrances.
A God-encounter is meant to change our understanding. The question is this: Will we allow it to change our understanding?
IN DEALING WITH ATTITUDES
Exodus 8:29–32 (NIV) 29 Moses answered, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord, and tomorrow the flies will leave Pharaoh and his officials and his people. Only let Pharaoh be sure that he does not act deceitfully again by not letting the people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.” 30 Then Moses left Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord, 31 and the Lord did what Moses asked. The flies left Pharaoh and his officials and his people; not a fly remained. 32 But this time also Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go.
The deepest level of change is in our attitudes. Because attitudes reflect our character. Power encounters can change our attitudes.
In this passage, Moses reminded Pharaoh to change his attitude and not deal deceitfully with God and the Israelites. The deepest level of change is in our attitudes. Because attitudes reflect our character. Power encounters can change our attitudes.
It can bring change in attitudes.
How can a power encounter change our attitudes? It is the realisation that there is an alternative and better attitude we can have. A godly attitude. Those with sincere and soft hearts will more easily change their attitudes.
Peter was a Jew who had an attitude against the Gentiles. That God would not save them. But God intervened supernaturally to change his attitude. Acts 10:11-16 (NIV) 11He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12It contained all kinds of four–footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” 14“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” 15The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” 16This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
Immediately Cornelius' men arrived and brought Peter to the Gentile soldier's home. Peter was open to do so only because of the vision he had. At one point in my youth, it dawned on me that I was losing the battle by resisting my parents. That being rebellious and obstinate was not getting me anywhere except for a few extra stripes on my leg. So, I decided to change my attitude. I decided that I may as well learn to work with my parents.
In the same way, wise parents realise that authority encounters with their children can help change their attitudes. But it is not the total solution. It requires a combination of approaches. It involves discipline, instruction, modelling, encouragement, correction, loving patience, etc.
It may fail to bring change in attitudes.
Pharaoh chose not to change his attitude despite the encounter with God. He continued to harden his heart. He refused to change. Although God is Almighty and Sovereign, He has chosen that man should be responsible for his choices. God will not wave a wand to change man against man's will. But God chooses to work with man by persuading man.
However when there is pride in our hearts, it hinders God's efforts to change us in our attitudes. Psalms 10:4 (NIV) In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. The challenge is this: Will we allow the God-encounter to change our attitudes?
At the end of our lives, we will be held responsible for all our actions, and our attitudes. For we made our choices. For some the merest whisper, the slightest nudge of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts is enough to change our course of action, our understanding or attitudes. For some even the greatest divine miracles will not bend their hearts.
Our encounters with God are meant to change us. The question is: Will we allow the encounter to change us?
Copyright©️2023 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.