I remember looking back at major events in history and wondering what it was like to live through them. It’s the same impulse that makes period dramas and movies about past wars so popular. After the past few years, however, I’ve lost that desire. In fact, I would love to have a few months without anything memorable happening, whether on a local, national, or global scale. We’ve experienced plenty of “unprecedented” history.
A pandemic, division, death, and war surround us—clear reminders that our world is dark. The last few years have led many to think about Revelation and its imagery. There’s nothing new about what’s happening around us, but our eyes have been reopened to humanity’s depravity and the brokenness of all creation that groans and longs for the day of its redemption (Rom. 8:20–25). Revelation shows the darkness of this world and the human condition even as it anticipates the Lamb renewing and restoring all things.
How Do We Shine?
For Christians, the surrounding darkness shouldn’t be surprising or intimidating. Scripture is clear that forces of darkness and wickedness are everywhere, and we have a triumphant Savior. And yet, the light of the gospel can be hard enough to cling to individually, let alone lead others into.
This is especially true when the people God has called together in our churches all have their own doubts, insecurities, fears, and anger. On top of that, they often have wildly variant takes on what’s happening around us and what the solutions ought to be. In this tension, how can we help the church fulfill her calling to be the light of the world, shining that light “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)? The only real hope we have for bringing light into darkness is to reflect Jesus with ever-increasing clarity and beauty. Click To Tweet
1. Acknowledge Darkness
Darkness is real. Hiding from it by not acknowledging it or simply sharing Christian platitudes won’t help anyone. As a pastor or ministry leader, the most powerful help you may be able to provide someone overwhelmed by the surrounding darkness is to pray the words of lament they don’t know how—or are too afraid—to pray. The Psalms show us how to come to God openly with all our fears, doubts, anger, and frustration while trusting that he is powerfully able and willing to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
2. Point to Hope
Hope is also real. Christians who suffer and experience the deep darkness of the valley of the shadow of death don’t spend much time debating the particulars of eschatology. Suffering clarifies life and priorities for us. It’s enough to know that Jesus is coming back; the darkness of sin, suffering, and death will be washed out in the light of God’s glory (Rev. 21:23).
3. Keep Jesus at the Center
People will make all kinds of demands about what churches and leaders ought to address, focus on, call out, and avoid. That only gets further complicated by our individual humanity and the issues that hit our hearts most deeply. Don’t ever forget that Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). His light broke into the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5). Before the call to do good works, Jesus reminds us what we are in him—the light of the world (Matt. 5:14).
As we seek to bring light into darkness, our hope cannot be centered on the light we’re able to produce on our own. The only real hope we have for bringing light into darkness is to reflect Jesus with ever-increasing clarity and beauty. The more consumed by the light of Christ we become, the bolder we will be in the face of despair and darkness. Click To Tweet
4. Embrace the Light
Those of us who preach and teach the Bible are forever tempted to quickly see how the text can speak into the lives of those we teach while bypassing the impact it has on our own hearts. You can write pithy, clever teaching while becoming personally numb to the warmth and light you’re inviting others into. Over time, that will destroy you. Your heart will grow increasingly cold and distant.
If you’ve ever had someone flip the lights on when you’re happily asleep, you know it can be painful to come into the light. It’s jarring and uncomfortable. James was right when he said that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). The more you embrace the light of Christ in your life, allowing and inviting the Spirit to illuminate and warm your heart, the more prepared you will be to offer the same light to others.
Don’t give up. It’s been a hard road, and leaders bear the extra burden of those they lead. But God has not left us to stumble around in the darkness alone. The more consumed by the light of Christ we become, the bolder we will be in the face of despair and darkness. We don’t need to run from the reality of this broken world or minimize suffering, but we also don’t need to be consumed by it. The light of a new day has dawned. Everything is coming to the light and all things are being made new (Rev. 21:5). Keep on shining in the darkness.