For me, there is almost no scarier thought: we are the light of the world.
God is the light. Jesus is the light. But me? No. Not me.
Except that Jesus said that I am.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world, he says.
But I don’t feel like the light. Not at all. I feel like something that should be hidden under a basket – something shameful, not fit for viewing in the light, never mind giving off light myself. And, truth be known, a big part of me wants nothing more than to hide away from the world. If I’m supposed to be the light, then I’ve been failing pretty miserably.
Being the Light: what does it mean?
We already know that Jesus loved to talk in metaphors. Thankfully, this one is pretty well spelled out for us.
…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works…Matthew 5:16
That, plus the fact that this passage comes right after the Beatitudes, in which Jesus lays out how his followers are to live out their lives, makes it pretty clear. We are the light of the world by following Jesus’ teachings.
When we practice righteousness so faithfully, it annoys others to the point that they persecute us for it.
Our good works make us shine. They point those around us to the one we follow – the only one who was perfectly good. And that brings glory to him.
It’s a lovely idea. So why is it so scary to me?
Hiding Under a Basket
There are 2 reasons I can think of that would cause one to hide under a basket, instead of shining for all to see: fear, or shame. Both of which I can relate to. And if your food addiction has driven you to extremes, I’m sure you know something about that, too.
Fear of Persecution
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the idea of persecution. I’m fascinated by it. And a lot of that fascination comes from a very deep-seated fear.
As a child, I read stories about martyrs that gave me nightmares about being sawed in half. They were terrifying. In my waking hours, I would imagine the possible tortures God could ask me to go through. Would I be able to endure it? I would come up with increasingly horrible scenarios, wondering at what point I would break.
Yeah. I was a morbid and imaginative kid.
Even today, the idea of persecution has a strong hold on me. I often wonder just how much I’ll be able to take. Because suffering and persecution are not some abstract ideas to me – they’re something I expect. This is the reality I believe I’m facing when I go out in the world. Which, not surprisingly, adds to my desire to hide from it.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.John 15:20b
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…2 Timothy 3:12
It’s out there. Waiting for me – if I manage to faithfully follow Christ, as I should. The nightmare from my childhood.
But as scared as I am by the possibility of martyrdom, I also long for it.
Again, this began at a young age, in me. I wanted to be one of those who could say their love for God had produced unwavering loyalty. I wanted to be tested. To see just how strong my faith really was. And I wanted to be considered worthy of suffering for Jesus.
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.Acts 5:40 & 41
Yes, the idea of persecution scares me. But the possibility of not being persecuted scares me even more. An easy life, free from scorn or hardship – to me, these are signs that my witness is sorely lacking. I don’t want that. This life is too temporary for me to trade a commendation in the next life for ease and comfort here.
And yet, I don’t know that I’ll ever deserve anything better. In order to be persecuted, you have to give the world a reason to hate you. You have to be shining bright enough to be noticed.
The Embarrassment of Shining Dimly
I’m a weak light.
That’s the plain truth of it. I am not what I should be. I claim to be a follower of Christ, but I’ve wasted years of my life going after something else: food.
I haven’t been poor in spirit. I’ve been proud, going my own way instead of submitting to God’s.
I haven’t mourned as I should. If my sin had bothered me more, I would have stopped. But I didn’t. Sometimes I mourned – but, I’m ashamed to admit, more over the consequences than over my actions themselves. Like a child who is mostly sorry for getting caught. Part of me wanted to stop – very much. But another part of me was enjoying my sin very much.
I didn’t mourn enough, because I didn’t have the hunger or thirst for righteousness that I should have. I longed for the fellowship with my Father that I used to enjoy, but I also hungered for other things. And I let that hunger take control, eclipsing my desire to obey God’s word.
When it came to mercy, I had a lot to learn.
My heart wasn’t pure. I kept parts of it hidden away from God’s purifying light. I clung to those dark spots, unwilling to give them up, no matter how much pain they caused me.
And how could I be a peacemaker? I was at war with myself. I had no peace. There was numbness, but no peace. Ever.
What kind of light is that to put on display for the world?
At my worst, I didn’t want anyone to know I was a Christian at all. I was no representative of the God of the universe. I was a failure. Looking to me as an example would only turn people away from the truth. People would see my pitiful little dying flame and doubt that my kind of faith was worthwhile.
I’m a little better, now. But the shame is still with me. The possibility that I will at some point return to my former ways is high. I’m an addict. Shining for all the world to see is not something I feel up to, at the moment.
It’s much safer to hide.
Not My Light
My Father would put all these fears in their place very simply. It’s not about you, he would say. And he would be right.
The light doesn’t come from me. The real light, of course, is God himself.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.John 1:1-9
We are not the true light. But there is a sense in which we become a light, when we bask in his light. Like the moon reflecting the light of the sun. We don’t have any light on our own, but he generously gives some of his light to us.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”John 8:12
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”John 12:35-36
But this reflection of light isn’t a completely passive process. It does seem to require something on our part. We have to follow him. We have to believe in him. We have to bear witness to him. The only way we reflect his light is by walking close enough to him.
for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.Ephesians 5:8-11
And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.Daniel 12:3
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.Matthew 13:43
And this is where my anxiety comes in. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes. Have I tried to follow him? Yes. But I’ve done it very poorly. So poorly, in fact, that I’m afraid the following verses describe me better than the ones above.
the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.John 3:19-21
So the question is: do I have any light at all? Is there any point in even trying to come out in the open?
The Moon is full of Craters
I am very easily discouraged by my own failures. They are many. And they are not inconsequential.
But when the thought of those failures tempts me to despair, or to hide my light until I get it right, that’s not the helpful conviction of the Holy Spirit. That’s Satan, the Accuser.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”Zecchariah 3:1-4
I may stand before God in filthy rags. But all my attempts at scrubbing them clean won’t make any difference. I just have to let him replace them with clean, new clothes.
Because he is the one who stands up for me. He is the one who defends me against Satan’s accusations – however accurate they might be.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”1 John 2:1
Paul had Christians killed.
Moses – who got to see and speak with God face to face – hit a rock with his staff instead of just speaking to it, as God instructed him.
David, with his hundreds of wives, stole one from someone else, and had her husband killed to cover it up.
The moon’s light isn’t very reliable. It’s dim. It waxes and wanes. And the imperfections on its surface can be clearly seen. And yet, somehow, it still shines in the darkness. It manages to stand out from the blackness of the night around it.
Maybe I can do that. I may sin, but I hate that same sin. Because I do belong to God. I live in this world, and sin very easily entangles. But I don’t rest easily in it. As often as I’ve fallen into bingeing on food, I’ve tried to fight my way out of it. I’ve cried out for help to get out of it.
Satan may trap me in his net, sometimes. But I don’t belong to him.
This Little Light of Mine
I’m gonna let it shine.
Funny, isn’t it, how those simple children’s songs can come back to you, after years of not thinking about them, and suddenly seem profound?
Like a candle, my light is weak. It’s dim. It’s little. But he tells me to let it shine. So I will. I don’t have to wait until I’m the perfect Christian to bring glory to God. My poor little flame will do. Somehow, he can use even it.