Flashlight or Flamethrower?


(Originally published on my first blog, Camped Out On Mt. Never-Rest, on February 5, 2018)

Nearing the end of my hubby’s twenty-year career with the Army, we purchased a home outside of the city limits where we could be comfortable. Living in military housing in urban areas had worn on us, and the idea of having corn, cotton, and cows for neighbors after spending so much time around interstates and airports was a breath of fresh air–quite literally, in fact.

Our first night in our new home was an adventure. We made everyone pallets on the floor, ate a picnic supper in the living room, and bedded down with the anticipation of getting settled into a new life of freedom in the peace and quiet.

And then we turned out the lights.

When you spend your entire life surrounded by bright lights and the glow of cities, that first taste of true darkness hits you right in the face. Or maybe that was just the wall I walked into, I’m not completely sure. Either way, flipping that switch and attempting to walk across the house to my bedroom stopped me in my tracks. Sure, I was used to having to adjust to the [relative] darkness as a brightly-lit room gave way to the dull glow of street lights that provided enough light for me to walk through the house without running into furniture or stepping on the dog. This, however … this was a new sensation. The nearest street light is half a mile away. We are far enough out of town that the mountain blocks the glow of the city lights. When there is no moon and those house lights go out, it gets DARK. Can’t see your hand in front of your face, dark. I froze. My brain locked up, unable to recall where a single wall was in relation to my current location. We laughed about it and still do, but being immersed in the suffocating shadow of the earth, apart from any of the sun’s light was an experience that stuck with me.

Being in true darkness, in the absence of any hint of light at all, is a strange experience. There is an odd sense of false security in not being able to see any of the things that “go bump in the night”, but it’s the type of security that causes you to stop and measure your steps with anxious care because you just don’t know if you’re going to step barefoot on a Lego or if a bloodthirsty monster is going to leap out of the abyss and tear you limb from limb. The darkness takes on a strange life of its own; you can almost feel it surrounding you.

We humans crave light. Unlike some animals who were created with eyesight that can amplify even the smallest bit of ambient light to allow them to navigate the nocturnal world, we need it to be able to survive in this world full of dangers and obstacles. If we lose our ability to see, we require outside assistance to help us function.

I am so thankful that Jesus used lessons that we can visualize to help us understand His will and our purpose in this life and the next. Darkness and light are concepts that we can comprehend even from a very young age; in fact, the unknown terror in the dark is the first true fear that most people have. Jesus never sugar-coated evil; He likened it to the paralyzing darkness that is found in the absence of light–and seeing the truth of the Gospel as the illuminating light in the darkness is a very clear word picture that anyone can understand.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16)

Can we talk just for a minute about HOW we’re supposed to shine that light? I don’t know if it’s because I’m one of those weird people who have major sensitivities to light or not, but have you ever noticed how it feels to be faced with those high-intensity headlights as an oncoming vehicle crests a hill? How about having someone turn on a bedroom light when you’re struggling to wake up? Ever have an insensitive camper shine an LED flashlight right in your face while you’re looking for something at a dark campsite?

It hurts.

There are a lot of people in this world who are trying to feel their way around in a spiritual void. We know, because we’re IN Christ, that they need the Light of the world to give them direction, security, and peace. However, we have a bad habit of shining our light–our high-definition, super-refined, LED light–directly into their eyes, and then we wonder why on earth they turn away and don’t want to hear another word. Or maybe they try to humor us, but it’s just too much for them to deal with? Are our well-intentioned efforts unwittingly blinding them?

During a power outage, we use flashlights to get us around until we can get to matches and candles. When we camp, we use campfires and torch-lanterns to illuminate our base camp, but we use flashlight and headlamps to navigate from place to place. Have you ever thought about why? Why is it that our tiny little portable light sources aren’t enough?

Natural light is always a superior source of both light and heat. No one needs to turn on a table lamp in a room with lots of windows during the daytime. Unless you’re a kid who doesn’t care about wasting batteries, we all turn off our flashlights when we sit around a campfire. Being in direct sunlight, even when it’s cold outside, is the best way to get warm–with a wood fire being the next-best thing.

We all know that Christ is the Light of the world. He said so in John 8:12 when He told us that anyone who follows Him will not walk in darkness but have the light of life. As followers of Jesus, we bear that light, with the dual purpose of bringing glory to the Father and drawing others out of the darkness. We can visualize His church, our fellow laborers, as that campfire that radiates the light and warmth when we gather around it. Staying near the source is necessary for us, but of course, we have to carry our light into the darkness of this world to hopefully help others find their way to God. We’re just tiny little flashlights!

Brethren, when you use a flashlight, you don’t shine it in someone’s eyes. You cast the light at the path they need to follow, so they can see where they need to go. We walk beside them, so they can visualize every step. If we cast the beam too far ahead, they could trip and fall on something that’s right under their feet. Those we are trying to show the way need to see that we are willing to walk with them, and that their eternal safety and security are most important to us, but also that we care deeply about every dangerous step they are taking! We may know the way, we may understand the path, but not everyone does. We would be wise to tread carefully around those who are taking those first steps!

Perhaps the most dangerous thing we could do is to think that since a little light illuminates the path enough to take a step here and a step there, that bringing a flamethrower to them to blaze a fiery trail would be better. After all, faith is the most important thing, so wouldn’t a scorched-earth method work exceptionally well to burn the bridges we know they need to leave behind? Shouldn’t we show them just how brightly we can shine as God’s chosen people? Shouldn’t our fires be so hot that we melt every trace of evil we come in contact with?

Brothers and sisters, flamethrowers are destructive weapons. They may emit both light and heat, but they burn up everything in their path. God forbid we leave a trail of destruction in our wake in the name of “shining the light”. We should take special care with those who are struggling to adjust to getting a glimpse of the light in this dark world. We can easily cause more harm than good if we are reckless. Don’t throw flames. Be a flashlight. Walk with those who are fearful of the dark until they are comfortable carrying lights of their own. Give comfort; share warmth.

Shine.

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