Maybe you’ve heard Christians talk about being the light of the world, but you’re not sure what it means. Or maybe you’re trying your hardest to let your light shine for others, but you’re not sure if you’re actually doing it. So, what does it mean? Let me start with a story.
My wife Kirsten and I were sound asleep in bed when a storm rolled through. I vaguely remember the thunder and lightning, but I definitely remember the children coming into our room to climb into bed with us for comfort. When this happens, if I am coherent enough, I try to carry them back to their own bed, but most of the time, I just ignore their tentacle-like appendages and the extra 1,000 degrees they add to our bed and fall back asleep.
That particular night, I got up to carry one of the littles back to their room. But when I stood up, I realized something was different than normal. Our room—and the entire house—was completely pitch black. I’m talking a cloudy, moonless, no-light-anywhere kind of dark—not the typical household darkness where the main lights are off but there’s subtle illumination from cable boxes, digital clocks, televisions, night lights, telephones, etc.
And it freaked me out. I know how to semi-consciously navigate my home in a sleepy stupor at 3:00am, but this level of darkness was disorienting and disturbing. I quickly grabbed my phone and turned on its flashlight to help me clumsily carry my limp, sleeping child back to bed, and then returned to my own warm spot next to Kirsten. When I got back in bed, I clicked off the light and contemplated the depth of the darkness that was enveloping me.
Even now, remembering that story, I am amazed at how powerful, how impactful, and how helpful that small light on my phone had been at that moment. When I was disturbed, it provided me peace. When I was disoriented, it provided me context and direction—a small light piercing into the darkness.
Sometimes, the world we live in can feel that way. Dark. Deep. Disorienting. Even though it is the world we know, at times it can feel darker. We experience this darkness ourselves and see it on the faces of those around us.
The question is, are we letting that darkness envelop us, consume us, and disorient us? Or are we pushing back against it and shining our light? How do you let your light shine? Some of us might feel that we are a light in a dark world—but do we have the humility to look in the mirror and ask ourselves tough questions about that? Sometimes we might need to ask those closest to us to find true answers.
Try carrying out an audit to find out whether your life is already shining some light. If you have the courage to try, start with these questions.
1. Do you stand in clear contrast to the world around you?
One of the defining qualities of light is that it appears in crystal-clear, definitive contrast to the darkness around it. Contrast makes all the difference in photography. To be a light in a dark world, you’ll need to be different from those around you. You’ll be counter-cultural, and you’ll stand out from the crowd (see Romans 12:2).
Your light can shine in a variety of ways. In a world that prioritizes possessions, you may choose a debt-free life, drive an older vehicle, and play the disciplined, long financial game. In a hostile world that berates others when they have different views, you may choose to consistently honor those on the other side of a topic (even while disagreeing with them).
2. Can others see their own life more clearly after being near you?
Another quality of light is that it provides clarity to surroundings. Just as I was able to find my way on that pitch-black night the moment I turned on my flashlight, if you choose to be the light in a dark world, other people close to you will begin to see their own life, calling, and purpose more clearly.
Now, let’s be clear. Being a light doesn’t mean defining anyone’s journey or purpose for them, because that isn’t what light does. Light doesn’t define its surroundings. Light illuminates its surroundings. Just as a surgeon adjusts an operating room light throughout a procedure to ensure it is providing the best clarity to treat a patient, our light should provide clarity for others.
Because you influence those around you, you are a leader. People desperately want leaders who consistently, patiently, and passionately cast vision for where they’re taking people. Do you challenge assumptions in others’ lives? Do you share your experiences, both wins and losses, to equip them on their journey?
A leader doesn’t always says how they are going to accomplish the mission. The best leaders allow their team to use their individual skills, experiences, and perspectives to create the strategy to achieve the end goal. But the leader’s role is to constantly clarify the mission. That’s being a light in leadership—illuminating the goal along with potential obstacles and opportunities along the way.
Great leaders constantly remind their team why they’re doing what they do, spotlighting where they’re going together—while trusting their team to move toward the destination, even if it’s in a different way than the leader might have approached it. If you choose to be the light in a dark world, your life will provide clarity and vision to those you encounter.
3. Are people drawn to you?
Another quality of light is its power to draw people out of the darkness toward it. Our eyes are naturally drawn to light. We do not keep our focus on the vast darkness; rather, we are drawn to the singular light starkly standing out. If you choose to let your light shine and stand in contrast to the dark world around you, people will naturally be drawn to you.
The attractiveness of light can seem mysterious at first. Others may try to explain why they want to be near you, but it can feel undefinable. When you let your light shine, other people will notice and want what you have.
These questions are a good starting point to grow in awareness of how brightly our lights are shining. It’s a worthwhile exercise to evaluate honestly whether the life we’re living is making an impact.
So, what does it mean to let your light shine? It’s living in a way that’s different, bringing clarity out of darkness, and drawing others toward the hope you have. But, truthfully, none of us can actually be the light. Just as the moon can only reflect the sun’s light to brighten up a dark night, we too can only reflect the light of the Son, Jesus, to this dark world. The most important light we can shine is the good news, truth, and love of Jesus! As we invite people to come follow Jesus alongside us, they have a chance to see His bright light and be attracted to Him.
Here are a few verses to help you remember to let your light shine:
- “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 5:16 ESV
- Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 ESV
- … for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light … Ephesians 5:8 ESV
- Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lᴏʀᴅ has risen upon you. Isaiah 60:1 ESV
- The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:12 ESV
- “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Acts 13:47 ESV
- And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:23 ESV
- For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. Psalm 36:9 ESV
- For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV