“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16 (NASB)
If you grew up in church, your brain probably tuned out automatically at the mention of this verse. That’s because you’ve heard countless sermons and Bible studies about this. But please let me present a rather fresh approach on this passage.
We usually read this and consider the word “shine” as the point of action for Christians. We think that Jesus is commanding us to be stars in the context of pop culture. We feel the need to perform and all our actions scream, “Look at me!” Thus, Christians who are up onstage with the spotlight on them feel like they have to stay in the limelight and those who are in the background either claw their way to get to that spot or stay in the dark secretly hating the “famous ones.”
But if you know your English and your God, you’d know that the action point is not “shine,” but “let.” Shining is not about stardom. It’s about letting the light that you already have shine through.
What’s the difference between shining and stardom? Let’s break it down.
1. You have to reach the top to be a star. You can shine right where you are.
I remember a famous Filipino columnist say that, “Everyone’s an actress, but not everybody can be a star.” He then went on to discuss how being a star entails peer recognition and, preferably, international awards. You have to be way ahead of the competition to be a star. That’s the reason why churches develop this sense of competition about who’s the top singer, musician, and speaker in the bunch and sideline all the “others” whose spiritual gifts are not as spectacular as the others. Is this what God wants for us?
No! The beauty about letting our light shine is that (in my Home Shopping Network voice) you can shine whenever and wherever you are! Yes, there are lampposts and lighthouses, but there also are fireplaces and furnaces. You don’t have to be up onstage to bring glory to God.
In my personal experience, the people who stood out most for me were VERY rarely onstage. I’m touched by how they stay motivated to work without the affirmation that is readily available for the famous ministry posts. I mean, if you sing well, people come up to you to tell you how great you are. They clap for God and you can’t help but feel that you were a part of that. When you speak and people laugh at your jokes, you feel good. But no one asks around to find out who fixed the chairs to compliment them about how straight the rows were. Their reward is in heaven.
2. Stars burn up. Lamps burn out.
Britney Spears. Lindsay Lohan. Whitney Houston. The list goes on and on.
We’ve seen people reach the top and turn into a supernova of self-destructive behavior. That’s mainly because being in the limelight can be very demanding. I’ve had my little share of “fame” by being part of the worship team for almost 10 years now. And if I can say that playing once a week can push you to your limits, I can only imagine what it’s like for people who go on tours.
When you’re up onstage, there’s always this pressure to perform well. There’s the pressure to stay in the limelight as long as you can.
Just like actual stars, the pressure eventually causes them to collapse. They destroy themselves and scatter debris everywhere. It’s a good thing that we were not likened to stars, but to lamps.
Lamps can burn their wicks out, but that only happens if the oil stops flowing. The key to prevent burn out is to let Christ refill you.
Remember that Jesus’ command was for us to let the light shine and not shine by ourselves, there is absolutely no pressure to turn yourself into a combustible celestial being. God already gave us our light. Our main task is to just uncover that light and let others see it.
Don’t be a star. Be a lamp.
Shine anywhere and everywhere you are.
And that’s my two cents on that.