“The Exchange – From Powerless to Empowered”

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series: “The Exchange.”  Rick Shurtz shared about an exchange from powerless to empowered at the McNeil campus.  You can watch or listen to Rick’s message at www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.

I shared at the South Campus with a special update on our search for a new South Campus location at the very end of the audio. You can listen to my message here:

Here are some resources for this series:

Sept 7 | From Death to Life – (Next Steps) (Leader’s Guide)
(What’s Next If I Want To Follow Jesus?)
Sept 14 | From Despair to Hope  (Next Steps) (Leader’s Guide)
Sept 21 | From Lonely to Never Alone (Next Steps) (Leader’s Guide)
Sept 28 | From Striving to Satisfied (Next Steps) (Leader’s Guide)
Oct 5 | From Guilty to Blameless (Next Steps) (Leader’s Guide)
Oct 12 | From Powerless to Empowered (Next Steps)


If you’re not connected with a Life Group, now is a great time to jump in as we head into the Fall. Our Life Groups will dive deeper into this profound transformation God offers us and discuss the practical difference such change makes in our every day life.

Here are thoughts we shared:

In our final installment of The Exchange series, we’re addressing the exchange of powerless to empowered.

How do we break out of situations where we seem powerless?

How do we lead empowered lives?

  • What’s it take to live the life we know is available to us?
  • What’s it take to break out of destructive patterns?
  • What’s it take to not sell ourselves short?
  • What’s it take to no longer be a shadow of who we know we could be, but to break out and truly be who we were created to be?

The ‘Sin’ Category – this is that powerless state of being that we experience when it comes to temptation.

  • There are habits in our lives.
  • There are patterns.
  • There are destructive behaviors.

And it’s not that we don’t have the intellectual perspective that knows we need to change these patterns. We do have that. We know when we do things that are destructive in our lives.

We just seem powerless to break out of them.

The Opportunity Category (the category of calling) – this is that deep sense that we have that we know we’re supposed to step out and do something. We know we’re supposed to be something. We know we’re capable of doing greater good in this world than we’re doing today, but we’re not yet doing it. Rather than stepping out, we stay stuck in our old ways, our old BUT SAFE routines.

This, too, is an expression of powerlessness.

We don’t think of this as sin, although it certainly can be.

  • We think of this as maximizing our potential.
  • And all too often, we idle back.
  • We hold back from going for the life that’s available to us, maybe even that is a calling for us.
  • We don’t go after the opportunities.
  • We play it safe.

Three questions

What do I need to stop doing?

What do I need to start doing?

What holds me back?

  • I’m here.
  • I need to get here.
  • What gets in my way?

Above Ground / Below Ground

To get after this, I have two categories I want us to consider – above ground and below ground realities.

Below ground represents where we get our STRENGTH – where we get our power, where we get our perspective. It’s what we have our lives planted into.

Above ground represents OUR ACTIONS. It’s our daily practices, the steps we take, the things we do.

I’m convinced that empowered living has both above ground and below ground realities.

To truly live an empowered life, we must be a people who have deeply rooted lives, we must know where to find true and abiding strength.

  • We must be people of action above the ground.
  • We must do things.
  • We must engage.
  • We need wisdom.
  • We need strategy.
  • We must take steps.

I’m also convinced, having watched countless people, including myself, that most all of us have a tendency to embrace one of these at the expense of the other.

To address all of this, though, we’re going to dig into the life of Gideon.

Gideon was an Israelite in a day when the Israelites felt forgotten. Due to their own rebellion against God, God granted their wish. He allowed them to go their own way without him.

God is respectful in that sense. If we want nothing to do with him, then he let’s us go our own way.

As they went their own way, and as they left God behind, trouble came upon them. The Midanites, a neighboring tribe, came down heavily on them.

Scripture describes their lives like this…

Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoplesinvaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels;they invaded the land to ravage it. – Judges 6:3-5

Israel’s response to the Midianites was one of retreat.

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. – Judges 6:2

They’re lives are made miserable due to an oppressive enemy.

This barrier, this blockade between the life they had and the life they wanted, it was the power of Midian. The Midianites were strong, they were powerful, they were so powerful that the Israelites ran and hid.

What’s my Midian? What’s oppressing me?

What is it that you look at and go, “I just can’t beat that. I know I should be bolder or stronger or more committed than I am, but not this time. I just can’t beat that.”

With that in mind, hear carefully how God addresses Gideon when he’s stuck and seemingly powerless.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you,mighty warrior.” – Judges 6:12

Gideon is sitting over here, licking his wounds, feeling low about his life and his circumstances, and God steps into his life, and says, “The Lord is with you mighty warrior.”

Gideon’s response is predictable.

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”  – Judges 6:13

God’s response is to nearly ignore Gideon’s question…

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” – Judges 6:14

Gideon then expounds on his insecurities…

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” – Judges 6:15

Which raises an important question for us over here.

What excuses do I make?

What are we believing about ourselves, perspectives that are not based in truth? What are we projecting on ourselves, convictions that are simply not reality?

We box ourselves in based on our self-perceptions, and God comes along beside us, sits down, and greets us: “Hello, Mighty warrior.”

God’s response to Gideon’s hemming and hawing is profound.

“I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites.” –  Judges 6:16

In other words: “When I’m with you, there’s power on your side…incalculable power.”

Below Ground

God comes along and tells Gideon to deliver his people from the Midianites.

What’s Gideon do? What’s his first step of action?

Hear carefully how God leads him:

The Lord said to Gideon, “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. – Judges 6:25-26

God finally convinces Gideon to take action against the Midianites, but his first action is a bit unexpected. God doesn’t instruct him to go out and fight the Midianites. Instead of taking action against the Midianites, raising up an army, and marching out against them, Gideon first addresses the Israelite’s below ground realities.

The Israelites had abandoned God and were worshipping Baal, a false God. Below the ground, they were seeking to get strength from Baal rather than God himself.

Gideon does exactly what God tells him to do in spite of his fear.  Before heading out into battle, before taking on this barrier, Gideon got himself and his people right with God.

Ask yourself: what’s my source of strength?

What are we trusting in, resting in, drawing upon to give us strength to get through that barrier?

  • Below ground realities matter.
  • Before we take on this barrier…
  • Before we head off into battle…
  • Let’s be sure we have our lives rooted in a power that is truly a power.
  • Let’s be sure we are not trusting in something that is ultimately unable to even defend itself.
  • Let’s be certain we’re living with a power that is a power and a strength and a might.
  • We’ll get after the above ground strategies in due course, but let’s get the basis of our strength resolved first and foremost.

Which leads to another question:

What false gods need to be torn down from my life?

What do we look to and think to ourselves, “That’s what’s going to do it for me…That’s what’s going to get me through this barrier.”

  • That job…
  • That relationship…
  • That connection…
  • That program…
  • That perspective…

Often times, we embrace above-ground realities as if they are below ground realities and the strength that will get us through.

You may have it planted below the ground as the source of your strength, when it’s actually more of an above the ground strategy.

Having a position, or money in our pocket, or a golden idea and strategy, these are all good things, but if we’re looking to them as if they are our below ground god, then we have something we need to sneak out at night, like Gideon, and do business with.

Above Ground

Gideon recruited an army of 32,000 men. A whole bunch of warriors. God, though, surprises Gideon, and says this to him.

“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’” – Judges 7:2

Talk about counterintuitive. They go through a process of whittling down the army from 32,000 to 300. Now what’s often missed in this story, though, is the truly brilliant strategy Gideon and these 300 warriors implement.

Gideon gives each of the 300 warriors three things: trumpets, empty jars, and torches.

This is how the Midianites are jolted out of bed.

  • 300 trumpets.
  • And 300 jars with flames in them smashing around them.

These 300 warriors so startled the Midianites, so confused them, that the Midianites turned on each other and ran for their lives.

Gideon and his warriors, then pursue them to great victory.

…he and the 300 men who were with him were exhausted yet pursuing. – Judges 8:4

The Israelites, they had strategy, and they had intense effort.

Consider these two verses from Proverbs:

Proverbs 15:22 – Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Scripture advises thoughtful plans, thoughtful strategies, thoughtful advice.

Proverbs 14:23 – All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Scripture advises …hard work…the kind of work that left Gideon and his men exhausted.

Both Below and Above Ground

Scripture does not allow for either of the extremes – the spiritualist who focuses only below ground and ignores above ground realities or the secularist who only focuses on the above ground realities.

Scripture calls us to be a people deeply rooted in the Spirit of God, and then that Spirit of God calls us to action, to wisdom, to shrewdness, to do things.

  • The spiritualist hides in his spirituality.
  • The secularist hides in his strategies.
  • Both are leading timid lives.
  • One is fearful of this world.
  • The other is fearful of the unseen world.
  • One fails because he’s so heavenly minded he’s no earthly good.
  • The other fails because he effectively worships his own hands and his own skills.

The person who sees that God is God of all of this -that’s the person who leads an empowered life. That’s the person who advances.

Scripture tells us:

” in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37

Through God, and by God, we can live empowered lives. We can take on our Midianite armies, and by his power and by his plans, we can overcome.


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