14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 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 (ESV)
Last weekend, we had the opportunity to celebrate 10 people who were making their decision to follow Christ public through the long-held practice of baptism. It’s not a magical event, but a practical one. It is the announcement that they are different and they see the world differently. They are set apart to know God and to make Him known in a very dark world.
Jesus is THE light in the darkness. He is the one who not only pushes back the darkness, but will totally eradicate it one day. Similarly, He said that all of His followers should push back the darkness in the lives of others.
Often, though, it seems that Christians struggle with their own darkness. Instead of being a beacon of light, we are trapped in the very darkness that should bow at our feet.
Martin Luther King saw this dynamic in all kinds of ways that we live our lives, but especially in the way to combat his greatest foe, racism and inequality.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King
With such a clear directive from Christ, I struggle with the reality that we often struggle to be the very light that supposedly now lives in us. Much of that struggle is a direct result from the reality that we often choose to wrap our lives in darkness instead of pushing it back.
When I was in seminary, a good friend and neighbor and I would occasionally take a break from our studies to play some online multiplayer games. Back then, there weren’t many options for our blazingly fast 56K dial-up modems but we had a couple of favorites. Eventually we stumbled on a game that is still popular in some circles called ‘DOOM’. The premise was easy, shoot the monsters before they mauled you.
Granted, in today’s VR and HD world, the graphics were pitiful, but there was something in those games that made us feel…well…weird, like something just wasn’t right. It may have been the imagery, but I think most of it was the constant feeling that we were entertaining ourselves with the demonic…something that we were very aware of in our daily seminary studies. Long story short, we both abandoned the game because we both believed it was having a tangible effect on us. We decided that we couldn’t be light if we were willingly letting in darkness for entertainment’s sake.
I think many people struggle with this same issue, though likely not ‘DOOM’. It is hard to find a movie or a TV show that doesn’t have some cringe factor for followers of Jesus. Video games often glorify behaviors that the Bible absolutely forbids, and books often swerve into the pornographic or celebration of something that God sees as total darkness.
Sometimes, our darkness comes from the people that we willingly surround ourselves with. We call them friends, but their effect on us is anything but friendly. We feel more judgemental of everyone after being around them, more permissive of things that are damaging to our souls, and more dismissive of God and His instructions to us.
Like a blanket shielding us from the cold, we often wrap ourselves in a blanket of darkness because it appeals to something deep within us that we often don’t even want to admit to ourselves but has a tangible effect on our souls, our sense of well being, and our faith in Christ.
What are the things that you accept in everyday life that is slowing depleting your light? Do you feel the subtly encroaching darkness when you are around certain people or while being entertained with imagery and content that you know is inappropriate?
Following Christ is not a simple formula where we just seclude ourselves from everything that is possibly bad. We can’t truly push back the darkness if we all stay huddled up together in ignorant bliss.
However, what we feed ourselves will determine what our lives look like.
Paul taught us to surround ourselves with the things that encourage our walk with Christ instead of our former way of life. In his letter to the Philippians, he also shared what I believe is one of the keys to maintaining our light and ensuring that we are constantly pushing back the darkness.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
As you assess what you willingly allow in your own life, remember that you are meant to be a light in the darkness.
What are you allowing in your life that keeping that from happening?
Perhaps it’s time to focus on the things that God says will bring life and light.