“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
This week as I was reading and praying in the morning, I looked up to see the sun breaking through the branches of the Crape Myrtle tree in our front yard. It was so beautiful and refreshing. The sunlight energized me, catalyzing my mind and body to action. My thoughts drifted back to my childhood when I first saw someone focus the sunlight through a prism. In one side goes bright white light and out of the other side comes a brilliant rainbow spectrum of colored light. I was mesmerized by how natural light could be transformed by a little glass prism into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. I bet you just did the Roy G. Biv thing in your head, didn’t you? There is no shame in that.
This is such a good metaphor for our relationship with God. We are the prism, and he is the light. Sure, prisms can be used for a variety of purposes. You can use them as a paperweight, a decoration, a weapon, or a bookend, but none of those utilize the prism’s purpose quite like letting the light shine through it.
In much the same way, we can live our life according to our own ambitions, desires, and plans. We can use our hearts, minds, bodies, and talents to pursue all of the things this world tells us will bring happiness. We can use sex as a casual fun fest with whoever will consent. We can get degrees, careers, and promotions until we reach “success.” We can do whatever it takes to make as much money as possible without considering integrity, balance, or those less fortunate than us. We can keep our nose to the grindstone during the week and live for the weekend parties and events. We can earn a reputation for excellence, diligence, intelligence, and creativity. When we spend several years unfruitfully pursuing these goals, and find ourselves depressed by the lack of sustainable fulfillment they bring, we can numb our pain with substance or activity that best suits our tastes. When it comes to these false pursuits of happiness, I have been swept up multiple times.
Unlike the prism, God has placed within all of us a hunger and thirst that can only be satiated with a personal relationship with him. So when we choose to use our lives for purposes other than loving God and loving others, there is a part of us that is left empty. When we allow God’s light to shine through us, it can be utterly surprising what comes out the other side.
While Jillian and I served in Uganda, one of the places that our organization would go minister was a juvenile detention center called the Remand Home where boys ranging from 13 to 18 were sent after committing serious crimes. During one of our planning sessions, it was decided that someone needed to volunteer as the speaker at the Remand Home for that week. Typically Ivan or Jonah, both Ugandans, were the ones to share a message there because few of the boys spoke English, and many of us were intimidated to speak to such a rough crowd (at least I was). Sometimes Kyle Wenokur would speak because he was super passionate, plus he went hard in the paint when it came to sharing the Gospel with people who were struggling and hurting. For whatever reason, they could not share this time.
Immediately, God laid it upon my heart to volunteer. At this point, I was well accustomed to God’s figurative voice because I had felt it so strongly when he told me that Jillian was my future wife when he called me to Africa, and when he gave me peace on my first day in Uganda (see previous post here for more details). Just like Moses and Gideon, I tried to convince God that I was not the man for the job. The most I could do at Remand was lead the small group Bible study sessions, play soccer (albeit poorly), and compete in the dance-offs. I always made it to the finals of the dance-offs, but I suspect it was because of how entertaining it was for the audience to witness my awkward gyrations and spastic contortions to African beats. While great dancers like Abigail Dempsey and many of the Ugandan teenagers earned roaring applause from the crowd with moves rivaling Shakira and Chris Brown, I was shouted on to the finals for comedy’s sake. Anyway, God persisted in his urging me to share, so I surrendered and penciled in my name as the Remand Home speaker.
Thursday came quickly as my feelings of inadequacy to this task increased. I did not know what to say to these unfortunate young men, but God laid a message on my heart. As my fellow missionaries and I walked through the entrance, we were punched in the face with the stench of fish from lunch and teenage boy body odor. The facilities we used were open air, so the heat was pretty intense as well. Between these factors, my anxiety, and the fact that I had to pause every few seconds while translators converted my words into Luganda, it seemed like there was no way this message could be effective. The amazing thing was that the message didn’t matter because the light was allowed to shine through the prism. God spoke through me, and then through a translator, to inform the young inmates that Earthly fathers and Earthly families can fail, but there is a Heavenly Father that will never fail them. Along with this father comes an incredible family of Christians who are all sinners, all screwed up, and all ashamed of something in their past, but they join together to love God, love each other, and love those who have no one else to love them.
After I spoke, I asked the guys to come up to the front if they would like to join a family and meet the father who would never forsake them. I was shocked to see over half of the teenagers stand up, walk to the front, and smile through teary eyes. At that point, I understood so many things that I had merely read about before then. For starters, I learned that THIS is why we share the Gospel. It is not to simply get as many people as possible to come to church and live as nominal Christians. It is because humanity aches and groans without the love of Christ. We can share this good news with them so they can experience forgiveness, peace, and grace too. Additionally, no one in the crowd that day came up to pray with me or the other missionaries because of me or my words. I was only a yellow-bellied, sweaty, nervous prism who was one rotten seafood and armpit whiff away from vomiting all over the concrete. Those young men came to the front because they saw the light and love of God refracted and dispersed through me in a beautiful array of colors that brought meaning and hope back into their lives. I had a sinewy young man tell me that his parents disowned him, but now he had a new family that understood his situation and loved him anyway. Nothing within me could stop the tears from pouring down my cheeks. We had both seen the light, and it was life-changing.
If we reject God and refuse to allow his light to shine through our prism, our lives are left slightly or even fully empty. The tragic thing is that so many others are prevented from seeing how beautiful life can be when the light of God radiates through his creation. Our lives can serve as a conduit for God’s light through acts of kindness, encouraging words, selflessness, and the use of our talents to further his kingdom. Are you rainbowing it up for all to see, or are you simply the equivalent of a prism being used as a paperweight?