A Guiding Light

photo of two lamps shining on a snowy night
Photo by Hide Obara

Last time we were together, we talked about Jesus’ teaching to be a light to the world, and we studied about the fact that we don’t shine our own lights. Instead, we reflect God’s brighter and purer light. It’s like what C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “…Just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.” We recognize that our lights are not our own.

Because our lights are not ours, they have a purpose. They have God’s purpose. Let’s look again at Matthew 5:14 – 16:

“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.”

Jesus speaks both of being a light and of being a city on a hill together. That’s because in His day, a city on a hill was a source of light to travelers. A modern equivalent might be a lighthouse or the lights on an airport runway. You were traveling over days and nights to reach your destination, and then you would see a light peeking over the horizon. Then you knew you reached not only a place where you could find food and rest, but you reached a place of safety and security. You were home.

Lights in the Darkness

As God’s lampposts in this world, that’s what we do. We show the way to rest. We show the way to safety and to security. We show the way home. There’s so much darkness in this world, but we walk in God’s light so that we may guide others to Him, and the great thing is this: the more people we bring to that light, the less the darkness affects us.

When John introduces us to Jesus in the beginning of his gospel, he describes Jesus as light in John 1:1 – 9.  John calls Jesus the true light that shines in the darkness and that cannot be overcome. Later in I John 1:7, he would write that walking in Christ’s light gives us fellowship with one another and that God is a light that contains no darkness. In chapter 2:10, we learn that the light in which we walk is characterized by love.

Think about all of the terrible things we hear about. Think about the things that make you fear, that make you feel insecure, that trouble your heart the most. What motivates those events? Whatever your answer, love is the opposite in every case, and the light of love can heal the scars left by darkness — no matter how big or small they are. Therefore, if we are going to guide people to God, we have to put away choices, words, and behaviors driven by dark feelings and motivations, and we must instead let our speech and conduct be guided by love in all of its forms.

The Small Steps

What can this look like in our daily lives? As with anything, the first steps are small and simple. They are the little things you can do to brighten someone else’s day. The thing is, they have to be intentional, and you have to be willing to extend these choices when you might not want to.

  • Tip your waiter or waitress more than you think they might deserve.
  • Pay for a stranger’s coffee.
  • Have an encouraging word for a cashier who’s obviously not enjoying their day.
  • Hold the door for someone who has their hands full, or offer to carry something for them.
  • Be the one who listens to that customer who talks everyone’s ear off.
  • Pray for someone who’s struggling.

Sometimes, your light can shine through what you choose not to do as well — choosing to not make that rude or impatient comment when someone in front of you is paying in change or food stamps, choosing to let it go when someone else is unkind to you, choosing to not make a huff if your bill is a couple dollars off. In these ways, we let others feel what it is to have the light of grace touch their lives. We have to be willing to follow Paul’s advice in Galatians 6:9:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Glowing Brighter

Of course, none of these actions in and of themselves will bring someone to God. In fact, often they may produce no results at all, but that’s no reason to stop trying. Think of how many times Jesus was rejected. Think of how many times Paul or one of the other apostles was rejected, but they kept at it. Occasionally, your light will spark something, and that brings you to the trickier part: forming a relationship. It doesn’t have to be immediately deep, but even the briefest of connections can open opportunities.

Think about the impression Jesus made on the woman at the well in John 4. How did their time together start? Jesus simply said, “Please give me a drink.” The exchange ended with the woman going to her friends and neighbors, proclaiming, “This is the Christ!” In the middle of all that, it looks like rejection is imminent when she questions His speaking to her and her evident disbelief, but Jesus does not grow weary in sharing His light with her. What started as a simple act of kindness — speaking to someone used to rejection — turned into many believing in Him.

This is where we can make the biggest impact. This is where shining His light reaches the most — when we make and build relationships. It starts with the light of graciousness, of kindness, and of love. It may end right there, or you might get a chance to form a relationship, and what did Jesus do once He had a relationship? What do we see Paul and Peter doing in similar circumstances? We see Jesus and His apostles then transferring the light of their conduct to teaching the light of the word. We see them pointing to God.

The Testimony of Light

Our words and our actions testify to the light that is within us. I John 2:8 – 9 reads:

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Also, Ephesians 5:8 – 10:

…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. 

Finally, Philippians 2:14 – 16 says:

Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 

All of these come down to our conduct and our willingness to then share Christ with others. Let our speech and conduct testify of the light in our lives. Rather than being harsh lights that make others want to turn away, let’s be warm, inviting lights that encourage building bridges and relationships. Form there, we can share the light of Christ’s gospel that brings them to the security and the safety of salvation.

Yes, bad things happen in this world. Yes, there is darkness all around us. But there is also you. You can be something brighter, something better. Don’t let the darkness define you. Shine the light that you have. Shine God’s light, and its simple message. This world is not your home. There is something better waiting for you. Please come home.

lesson by Robert Smelser