By Steve Wyatt
Several years ago, talk show host Merv Griffin interviewed a group of bodybuilders. Merv, a soft and mushy kind of guy, found himself surrounded by six-pack stomachs, granite-like glutes, and biceps as big as tree trunks.
Impressed by their muscularity, Merv asked what at first seemed humorous, but eventually became a deeply revealing question: “What do you use all those muscles for?”
They responded by throwing a series of fierce poses.
Merv said, “No! What do you use ’em for?”
They flexed some more, shifting their stances and appearing very imposing.
But Merv persisted. “You don’t understand. What do you use all those muscles for?”
It was a good question, but Merv never got an answer. What good are all those impressive muscles, if you all use them for is to strike Schwarzenegger-like poses? What a shame—all those hours of lifting, all the strain and sweat and the grunting and groaning—and for what? To look good?
A Similar Error
An even greater shame is when those who claim to follow Christ make a similar mistake.
Most Christians work hard. We attend Bible studies, conferences, and retreats. We build spiritual muscle by doing small group, memorizing Scripture, and serving in the nursery. We conscientiously tone our spiritual beings into well-conditioned, totally ripped specimens of God’s amazing grace.
The trouble is, we seldom get around to actually using our impressive muscles for the purpose for which they were intended.
Oh, we look good. And can we strike a pose! But to what end? Do we study and serve and group and grow just so we can look nice and be nice? Is all this activity for no other reason than for the sake of the pose?
Recently our church studied John 1, where Jesus is called the “life [that] was the light of all mankind”(v. 4). His light shone with such brilliance that not even the darkest darkness could “overcome it” (v. 5). As I commented on the implications of that truth, I said,
Most of our crowd has stepped into that light. And we walk in his light, because he is our light. But what I’m learning from John 1 is that we didn’t just receive Jesus’ light so we could benefit from his light. Following Jesus means something more than no longer stumbling in darkness.
No, to truly follow Jesus is to display his light in my life so that through my life, his light can also push back someone else’s darkness. Don’t misunderstand. Jesus is still the light, but I’m the lamp he chooses to use in order to reclaim light from the strongholds of darkness.
Here’s the problem. Like the bodybuilders, if all we do is talk about light or muster yet another lively group discussion about light; and if we do that without bothering to shine as a part of that light, then all these spiritual muscles we’ve accumulated—muscles intended by God to actually push back darkness—remain unused.
The disconnect has left many believers bored. It’s also why our culture is largely unimpressed by our bright but “under a bowl” and virtually “hidden” light (see Matthew 5:14-16). Despite all our enthusiastic bodybuilding, we’ve become evaluators of light rather than doers of the light—even though Jesus said, “Let your light shine” so others may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.
Pushing Back the Darkness
Believing we are called to shine our light and overcome darkness, our church launched a ministry called OneDayServe. We decided to sacrifice one day during the busiest season of the year—Christmas—in service to others. Amazingly, 50 percent of our church went into our community to get close to someone’s darkness and bring light.
We identified families of need in the North Valley. We gathered lists of household repairs, overdue maintenance, and Home Owners Association infractions. We promised to wrap gifts for free at two local malls and provide comfort at assisted living locations. We offered to lend a hand to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and Teen Challenge.
We made so many promises it was hard not to wonder, “What if we have too many needs and not enough light?”
Shining Christ’s Light
Our desire to hold out light was even stronger than our fears. So we pressed forward—and God’s light shone!
One of our teams partnered with the under-funded maintenance staff at a local elementary school.
Our teens breathed light into nearly 400 homeless people by grilling hot dogs and offering a smile and sometimes, a hug.
Pierre, already serving, overheard a woman describing how her car had been vandalized. Without hesitation he said, “I can fix that!”
Another team helped a single mom. Afterward, she told how her recent divorce had left her jaded, concluding that people were mean and uncaring. Her daughter smiled at those who had helped and said, “You made my mommy cry.”
We received a note from a woman thanking our workers for patching holes in her walls. And they did it without judging.
As we painted and hammered and wired ceiling fans, we were pushing back the darkness in our world.
We didn’t cut brush to make Anthem a better place for ourselves and our children. We cut brush to put Christ’s light on vivid display. We improved landscaping, hoping that by renewing someone’s backyard we would have opportunity to hold out the light that can renew their lives.
Our teens fed the homeless, hoping their kindness would give them a platform to offer the “living bread” (see Matthew 5:14-16).
Breaking from the Huddle
Our world will not be changed if we huddle under our common bowl and quietly share our light with people who already have it. Nor will our world be transformed by dragging the occasional wandering soul in to watch the pros do a song and dance. Change takes place when the gospel penetrates the holders of light so we see the darkness like we’ve never seen it before.
That’s why our teens now conduct regular brown bag events aimed at feeding the homeless.
It’s why OneDayServe has spawned another movement
called AnyDayServe, which is now part of our community’s first-response team.
It’s why we’re engaged in ReadyChurch, a ministry seeking to enlist other churches to become first responders when natural disasters strike.
OneDayServe has been woven into the fabric of our church. What began as a top-down ministry is now organic, as self-appointed light-shiners find people who have been written off and love on them instead. Or they hear of a home where everybody else is walking out, but they walk in.
Serving with Joy
Our people are serving with joy. We’re rolling up our sleeves and tearing into the stench of lives encompassed by darkness. Yet it’s the easiest ministry we’ve ever launched because the strategy is simple: compassionately examine the darkness around you and ask, “What would this part of my world look like if just this slice belonged to God?”
Don’t wait for someone else. And stop complaining, “The church isn’t doing enough.” You are the church, so find a slice of darkness and push on it.
Hold out God’s light. It doesn’t have to be a big light. Even the lov-
ing gesture of a cup of water, if offered in Jesus’ name [and without strings], is all God needs to open shop in a warmed up heart.
That’s how God grows his kingdom. All he needs is your light. Because when you hold it out, he will shine.
The lifted up, held out, and undeniably bright light of Jesus is the most captivating influence in the world. It never has and it never will lose its irresistible appeal.
All you’ve got to do is hold it out.
Steve Wyatt is a freelance writer in Anthem, Arizona.
A Bold Light in the Tenderloin District
The Tenderloin District in San Francisco is just one square mile, but it’s home to 37,000 people, nearly all of whom live in the area’s 586 apartment buildings.
San Francisco City Impact and author and minister Francis Chan have what might sound like a downright crazy goal—to to plant a church in each one of those apartment buildings.
Through prayer and the efforts of discipleship teams they hope to find a leader in each building who can lead a church for the tenants. The ministry’s goals are to show interest in people’s lives, meet physical needs, pray for people, and make disciples based on the relationships they build.
Find out more about the movement in this video.