Who defines the light?

Jen Bradbury
Aug 19 · 5 min read

Like so many church kids, I associate the word light with songs.

First, it was “This Little Light of Mine”. Thanks to this song, even as a young child I knew I was supposed to let my light shine rather than hide it under a bushel or let Satan blow it out.

This idea was further reinforced in high school thanks to a song from the quirky musical, Godspell, which we did my junior year. The Act I finale in this show is called Light of the World. It repeatedly says, “You are the light of the world. But if that light's under a bushel, it's lost something kind of crucial. You've got to stay bright to be the light of the world.”

Ironically, even though I knew I was supposed to be the light of the world from an early age, it really wasn't until college (during a 2nd production of Godspell) that I realized it was Jesus who first said this: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, 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 in heaven.”

Though I'd known for years that I was supposed to be the light of the world, no one ever taught me what a light actually did or why I was supposed to be a light.

Jesus' words finally explained that to me. We are to be lights so that others may see our good works and, in turn, give glory to God.

You see, by illuminating something, light makes it possible for us to see something. Thus, when we're called to be the light of the world, our job isn't to make people see us; It's to help people see Jesus. When we're called to be the light of the world, we're supposed to use our actions and our words – our very lives – to point people toward Jesus and in so doing, better illuminate him.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of Christians forget this. As a result, we boldly let our lights shine but we do so in a way that showcases us, not Christ. When that happens, our light stops being good news to others.

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago during our summer mission trip with our junior high students. Night after night, someone would wake up in the middle of the night to use the restroom. Not wanting to wake others, they'd grab their flashlight, turn it on, and shine it wildly around, frantically searching for a safe path to our sleeping room door. Inevitably, they'd shine their light directly into the eyes of a sleeping person (usually me), who'd then wake up, startled and confused. For that sleeping person, such a light wasn't helpful, it was obnoxious. 

So it is, I think, with far too many of our attempts to be the light of the world. Knowing we're called to be the light of the world, we grab our flashlight and frantically shine it all around us, completely oblivious to the fact that in the process, sometimes we're being obnoxious rather than helpful; Sometimes we're actually hurting rather than helping the cause of Christ.

Earlier this summer, a proposed TIF district threatened an apartment complex in my neighborhood that's home to many refugees. As word spread about this, my colleagues and I were talking about it. One of my colleagues, a community organizer, said how her organization would gladly get involved if that's what the refugee community wanted from them. Yet, she was careful to say, “It's their fight.”

To be honest, my colleague's comment annoyed me at the time. As a community member who's also passionate about refugee ministry, I thought, “No. It's our fight, too. We need to be involved.”

In the weeks since, what I've come to realize is my colleague was right.

She wasn't saying we shouldn't stand with the refugee community.

She wasn't saying we shouldn't support them.

She wasn't saying we shouldn't love them.

She was simply saying that no matter how good other people's intentions are, ultimately, it's up to those who live in this complex to decide what to do.

So it is with darkness and light. 

Those who live in darkness – whatever kind of darkness that is - always define the light.

They determine what's helpful. They determine what's right. They determine what's good news.

May we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see what is light, not just in our estimation but in theirs.

May we have the courage to truly be a light that shines before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.