I stepped out of the back door, flashlight in my hand. The barking of the backyard monsters was quickly silenced, but only momentarily. As I clicked on the large light source I held, the racket commenced anew. Observing the general area upon which the dogs were focusing their attention, I focused my light there also. The powerful three-cell light shone a bright beam, but I still could not see well at all. Passing through the gate while holding back the excited mutts, I turned and ambled across the street to get a better look at the object of their rancor. Finally, I saw two glittering spots of luminescence shining back at me from the darkness. Within seconds, I could make out the body of the cat-sized animal. I muttered a word of disgust and extinguished the light, bending to pick up a small stone and fling it toward the source of the erstwhile reflective eyes. The opossum sauntered away through the hedges, barely distressed by my missile.
I stood and looked at the flashlight I held. It is a good quality lantern, touted as one of the best on the market. Why did it not illuminate the repulsive creature from my original vantage point, saving me the trouble of moving near to it before identifying the culprit as just another nocturnal pest? Its brilliant beam is enough to temporarily blind anyone. Surely it should make the darkness as bright as day.
My mind went back to another era, many years in the past. One of my brothers was working as a roughneck, a laborer on an oil rig in the vast empty brush of rural south Texas. Miles away from any city, these oil rigs were once common sights in that part of the great state. He wanted to show me where he worked, so I accompanied him on a nighttime trek out into the countryside. We left the city lights far behind and after many miles, left the traffic of the highway behind also. We saw no homes along the way; didn’t even see another car after we turned off the highway. A cloudy, overcast night, there was not even a sliver of moon or the twinkle of stars above us. No lights were to be seen besides the headlights of our car. “Watch this,” he said suddenly, braking to a stop. He turned off the ignition and switched off the headlights of the car. Pitch black darkness fell. Amazed, we exited the car and stood near the front bumper. The darkness was profound. The only deeper darkness I can remember is what I have since experienced a time or two down below the earth while exploring caves. To me though, it was darker than I could recall ever having been in to that point in my life.
Suddenly, we heard a sound beside us not far away in the brush, and startled, I jumped for the car door. “Hold on,” whispered my roughneck brother, pulling a tiny flashlight from his pocket. In the light which shone from the interior of the car, the single AA cell light he brandished was hardly reassuring. What was he going to do with that? “Close the door,” he commanded. I was not without misgivings, but he seemed confident, so I complied. He flipped the switch on the flashlight and aimed it into the darkness. The result was nothing less than astonishing. In spite of the diminutive size of the light source, we could see every detail of the cactus and mesquite trees next to the dirt road, and then we also saw the two yellow eyes looking back at us for just a moment before the coyote turned tail and fled out of sight. He had been a little curious about the newcomers to his domain, but he wasn’t staying around with that blazing light focused in his face. We laughed and after another moment or two, hopped back into the old Ford and headed once again for the bright lights of home.
Back to the present, I stood and gazed disappointedly at my heavy-duty torch (as our British friends know it). I looked around me. Lights shone from the windows of my house. On the corner, a street light shone reassuringly. Beyond the place I had seen the opossum, the ambient light of a shopping center glowed warmly. I chuckled. There was too much light around for my super-duper flashlight to do much good! What a problem to have.
Tonight, I’m thinking about that again. You won’t need me to (if you’ll excuse the pun) shed much more light on this subject, will you? The realization that we must go to dark places so that our light can be seen will be fairly self-evident. If we stand in the blazing sunlight and shine our puny lights, not much is accomplished, is there? We have a light inside of us which was put there for two reasons. The first is to give us light to live by. King David reminds us that it is the Lord who keeps our lamp burning and turns our darkness into light (Psalm 18:28). But the second reason we possess light is to bring illumination to the darkness that surrounds us. Just because we live in a place full of light ourselves doesn’t mean that we get to stay there.
I remember a professor who, a number of years ago, spoke to me of the reason he was leaving his position at the local Christian university for the uncertainty of a job at a state university far away. “Here, I’m one of many who have a little impact on my students,” he explained. “There, I’ll be one of very few. Think of the great influence I can have in that place!” He died just a few years after going there, but I’m confident that he accomplished his goal of shining brightly in the darkness, even for that short time. Someday I’ll ask him.
So you see, there is a very good reason to open the gate and leave the safety of our own backyards. That light you hold was meant to shine in the darkness. I think I’m going to keep trekking out where it’s still dark. You?
“Take your candle. Run to the darkness. Go light your world.”*
“Let your light shine before men so that they will see the good that you do and glorify God in heaven.”
“Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining–they just shine.”
(Dwight L Moody~American evangelist~1837-1899)
* From “Go Light Your World” by Chris Rice. Copyright 1995 BMG Songs, Inc.
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.