By Kim Longden
For the past several years we’ve had the tradition of getting away to a cabin on a lake for a few days before the busyness of fall kicks in. One morning on our little get-away this year, I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth and I noticed a plaque on the wall with a lighthouse and these words:
“Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt 5:16
“Hmmm,” I thought to myself as I brushed, “I wonder how I’ve been doing at that whole light-shining thing. I should work on that.” As I finished getting ready, a “light-shining” checklist of sorts started forming in my mind: “Be more friendly at the grocery store,” and “Be more patient with the kids,” and so on.
Later, after everyone finished breakfast and got settled into doing their own things, I pulled out the Bible study I had been working on and lo-and-behold the same “let your light shine” passage came up with these notes following it:
“Believers do not make God’s light shine; they let His light shine. Our intimacy with God and His Spirit’s work within us yields actions that please and give Him glory…”
I smiled at the Holy Spirit drawing me in again, and reminding me that everything begins from a starting point of relationship—of spending time with Jesus, of knowing and being known by Him.
My earlier light-shining checklist reminded me of a time in my life when God’s Word was mostly just a set of moral standards for me that were desirable for better living. I’d hear or read a snippet from the Bible that seemed like a good thing to do, write it on a sticky note, and then hang it somewhere I could see it often. It’s good to have God’s Word ever before us. But for me at that time, intimacy with God was missing. Apart from relationship these sticky notes became checklists I could never accomplish. I was burdened by my failure to keep up with them.
Over the years Jesus invited me to get to know Him better. This began with small steps like waking up a bit before everyone else each morning, closing the door to my room and spending time with Him in Word and prayer. As our relationship developed, the Spirit showed me that God’s Word is not a burdensome checklist or behavior modification program, but rather a way of becoming intimate with God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus also began to show me that a life oriented toward knowing Him will reflect His fullness and bring Him glory. Sounds a lot like letting your light shine! (Or letting God’s light shine; the Bible can say it both ways.)
The change from checklist to relationship didn’t happen overnight; in fact, many of those changes are still ongoing by degrees, but I am definitely more patient with my family today than I was years ago. I am less annoyed by people at the grocery store and even seek out ways to engage in conversation. I am by nature introverted (and self-centered—let’s be honest), so when I find myself genuinely interested in those around me—rather than viewing them as objects in my way—I know this is not from me, and it’s pretty exciting!
In short, these behaviors that I was trying to manufacture through checklists started coming from somewhere within. Intimacy with God and the Spirit working within me were bringing about the changes I so earnestly desired—from the inside out, not the other way around.
I was not wrong to think of action steps that day at the cabin. But sometimes I go back into checklist mode and miss the beauty: words like let your light shine can be an invitation to intimacy. Real change, real growth, and real fruit-bearing is grounded in that relationship.
When I only see a light-shining checklist, I start to feel burdened. But when my focus is on Jesus, I get excited about the power of the Spirit of the Living God within me, shaping me and causing me both to will and to do that which is pleasing in God’s sight. This is truly amazing and not my work—I know me too well. It is God working within me!
This realization makes following Jesus and letting my light shine become an adventure of seeing how the Spirit will let me reflect God’s light in diverse situations in my life. It’s also a way of seeing that this is real—God is real, God is intimate, and God is active in my life.
My checklists tended to result in only feigned patience with my children through clenched teeth and fake politeness at the store while loathing everyone’s existence. Being close to God has led to the beginnings of a true inward transformation (in process!)—not outward manufactured politeness.
If you are like me and sometimes take invitations and turn them into burdensome checklists, remember that the first invitation is to come to Jesus, even when you are weary or heavy burdened. The first invitation is to abide in Him; that’s when you start to bear fruit.
The Spirit consistently reminds me of this—like that day in the cabin when I started to get into checklist mode, and the same passage “just so happened” to come up in my Bible study. Jesus reminded me that relationship with Him yields the fruit I desire to produce. I’ve felt the weight of the checklist method for a long time, but now I’m experiencing that Jesus’ invitations are so much better.
Let your light shine. Come to Me. Abide. Bear fruit.
His ways are truly amazing!