This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let it Shine
As children we learned to sing in Sunday School, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine . . . ” We did not know what it meant but we thought we were little candles burning bright in the darkness.
As adults, we are far more ambivalent about being lights. We live in a dark world where truth is hard to find. The press lies to us, politicians lie to us, and even men and women of God lie to us through faulty doctrine and exaggerations. We all have wrinkled, dried out souls because we live confused and starving for truth, love, and life. It is rare to find anyone in authority who seems to understand the subjects of modern society and how to deal with them. We sigh and move on like broken beings among the rubble.
The truth starts with us and individual Christians. We are not supposed to be so attached to authorities and institutions that we forget how to live and think and love. Letting our lights shine is far more significant than just being a little child’s song. It is, in fact, one of the most vital thoughts we can contemplate and one sorely needed in our age.
We need to rediscover Jesus and his words of life that he gave for our benefit. We need to stop living by denominational slogans and by popular metaphors of the Christian life and go directly to the source of our faith. What did Jesus say? What did he mean and how did he intend us to live?
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. (Matt. 5:15-16 ESV)
I recently read some comments on these verses and it is amazing, probably intentional, how much it is misunderstood. One kept saying that it made no sense because a lamp would burn the basket. I guess he had in mind a large blazing torch and he missed the point of it completely.
When Jesus talking about being the light of the world, he was not talking about a bright, modern search light or even a large, flaming torch of that day. He was talking about a small clay lamp that was a common household item. It could fit in the palm of your hand. You filled it with oil, inserted a small wick, and it burned, a small, flickering flame. In a world that was dark, no street lights, not lights burning on utility buildings and barns off at a distance, no homes warmly lit by the electric lights, a little oil lamp produced a glorious small light.
Perhaps we are still perplexed. How could such a light make a difference? How could such a small light illuminate the world? It should be obvious that if we hide the light, it will not illuminate anything. Lights are meant to shine and light the world around us. If we hide the light, the of course the world will remain dark.
But if we let our light shine, it can, at least illuminate the world around us. It may be a small world, but the light gives vision and clarity in our own little space.
Our light is our good works, our behavior. In our world, it is hard to be good. If you drive on the streets for any length of time, the insane drivers will try to extinguish our little lamps. Dealing with people every day can kill our joy. It is our choice when we allow others to dictate our behavior. If we are Christians, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, whether we like it or not. Our calling is not to allow the world to blow our our lamp but to allow the Holy Spirit to shine through.
It is obvious, because of the way Jesus instructs us, being a light is a willful act. It does not happen by living on autopilot. And I do not think that it is a grim task that is laid before us. It is a matter of living joyfully in the grace that God has given us. Of course, there are days when horrible things happen to us, but even in those times we can still act graciously to others. Even in our suffering, it is not all about us.
And what if we miss the mark? One of the hardest phrases for me to say is, “I’m sorry.” Not only is it necessary, I think that apologizing for our blunders is a form of letting our light shine. letting our light shine means that we are not the center of the universe, God is. Our morals, ethics, and spiritual life require us to cut thought the noise of the age and realize the priority of God in our lives. The impact of one life, whose light shines, can be massive.
When we live consciously that we belong to God and our light shines before others, we cut a wide path of glory in our little world. Being godly does not mean that we lecture everyone about being saved, it means that we act like we are saved. How do we treat the woman who takes our money at the quick stop when we buy gas? How do we respond when the checkout line is long and slow? How do you tip the waitress or waiter who is having a bad day and gives you poor service? Do we respond by what we think others deserve or do we respond with grace, the same grace that God has given us?
Confession time. I have stared at my computer screen and refused to write this for weeks because I’m a grumpy kind of guy. It is hard to address myself when I am not being light. I fight this every day. My ego wants to be served and treated with respect, perhaps with privilege. I must deliberately live as light in the world. It is constant, no matter what age I am or you are, we fight ourselves to overcome the old ego and let Christ shine through us. But dear Christian that is what we are called to do. Our basic call is to live as lights in a world of darkness.
But, I despair, how can one man or one woman make much of an impact in our destructive world? We need to see the genius of God at work. We are not lone oil lamps barely shining in the darkness, we are a massive collection of lamps call the church. If we are vital and healthy as individuals, should not our churches be places of brilliance?
It seems, at this moment in time, that the church has lost its shine. We get tangled up in complexities that distract us. We forget the basics: we are citizens of heaven, we belong to Christ and not this world, we abide by his standards of living, we obey his commands. Sometimes, just as individuals must stop and find our way back to Jesus, so do churches. No program can make a church shine. No, slogan or feigned friendly atmosphere can match the real thing.
God’s plan is so simple but we always try to complicate it because we really don’t want to make the effort to overcome our egocentric natures, our prejudices, and our place in secular society. We really like being in the image of our worldly culture. We like dressing and talking the way the world dresses and talks. We like treating each other the way the world teats us. We live the culture’s values instead of the values of Jesus. We don’t want to give up our worldliness, so our lights do not shine. We allow the second rate to cover up our lights. And isn’t it sad to look around our world and instead of seeing the bright flames of faith shining from our churches in our world, we see blotches of darkness? But thankfully, we can look outside our western world and see the lights of Christ burning brightly in some very difficult places. We could learn a lot from them.
As Christians and as churches, we must respond to the command of Jesus, let our lights shine, don’t cover it up. Instead of complaining about how bad our society is becoming, maybe it is time for us to respond through our good works, our Christlike deeds, and our kingdom attitudes. Our goal should always be, “this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”
The picture of the lamp is from, http://galleryhip.com/ancient-oil-lamp.html They grant permission to use their images.