Note: This article is excerpted from Luminous.
Jesus was what I call a "person of contrast." He stood out in a crowd. We are to be transformed more and more into people who shine against a dark backdrop. We too easily settle into a pattern of living for Jesus by relying on what we know or do, to the point that we lose a deep connection with God. But knowledge and action have their place. The truth is, if we want to grow spiritually and make a difference in the world, what we know and what we do are critically important. We must embrace knowledge and action but set them within our calling to shine with the presence of Jesus. As we do, we will be people who see the light, follow the light, and shine with the light.
See the Light
To see the light is to gain knowledge about Jesus. Knowledge can be life changing. I can think back over my life to several occasions when a key insight about God or myself really hit home. For instance, at one point while I was in seminary, it struck me that all my efforts to manage my sin weren't that impressive to God. Jesus said what matters most is love. The Pharisees were more interested in managing sin than in loving. Jesus was all about awakening people's hearts to love, and within that context sin would be managed. I realized that if I loved God and people, my sin levels would decrease dramatically. That one insight has brought an incredible amount of growth in my life. In the matter of sin management and love, I can say that I "saw the light."
The incarnation story is often misunderstood and is seldom absorbed at any deep personal level. However, it can be like a rich vein of precious ore. When we mine it and bring it to the surface, it can be of great value. In fact, the incarnation story contains major building blocks of the Christian life. Maybe you are a person who wants to grow as a disciple of Jesus and be transformed. Maybe you have heard of the incarnation and think it is important but are not quite sure what to do with it. Maybe you have never felt that you could grasp why people worship Jesus. Or maybe you are fed up with being a Christian who lives for Jesus and not with him. If you are in one or more of these camps, the incarnation story is for you.
Insights happen as we reflect on God's truth and the Holy Spirit brings it home to our hearts. Are you hungry for insight about Jesus and how to live with him? Whether this hunger is strong or faint, take a few minutes to feel it. Express that feeling to God. Use your own words or borrow some from Scripture (like Psalm 42:1-2). After you have felt and expressed your God-hunger for a few minutes, make a vow to allow your hunger to impel you to pursue God today and in the future.
Follow the Light
If seeing the light is about knowledge, following the light is about action. To follow the light is to act in such a way that we imitate Jesus. Paul urged the Corinthians, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). People who shine are active people. Mother Teresa is a great example. She was known to be a tireless worker, and she expected a lot from her followers. In the same way, we must put the ways of Jesus into practice. This is where the rubber meets the road. Day in and day out. Good times or bad times. Busy or taking leisure. Sunday or Monday. Alone or with others. Those who shine most brightly are the ones who practice living with Jesus at this level.
Imitating Jesus is life-changing. We find ourselves doing things and going places we would never have imagined. We are suddenly making a difference in the world we would have never thought possible. But we don't stop at imitating Jesus. God wants to take us further. He wants Jesus to live through us. Over time, if we practice living with Jesus habitually, we will be people who shine brightly and consistently.
Consider these two groups of people: There are some who say "Leave us alone! We have no desire to learn your ways" (Job 21:14). And there are others who say, "Show me your ways, Lord. Teach me your paths" (Psalm 25:4). If your desire is to be in the latter group, how many of your actions place you there, and how many would place you in the former group? Talk about this with God.
Shine with the Light
It is possible to imitate Jesus from a distance, but we can shine with his presence only when he lives in and through us. This is a great mystery. We can explain how to understand Jesus and imitate his deeds. We can exercise a lot of control over those processes. However, living in Jesus' presence is something transcendent that we cannot force or generate. What we can do is put ourselves into the position of allowing God's presence to flow through us. Seeing the light (knowing) and following the light (doing) are building blocks. If we are to shine with the light, we must open ourselves to the presence of the Spirit.
When Jesus shines in us, he does so through the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that he would not leave us alone but would send the Spirit of God to his disciples, and that the Spirit would teach about and bear witness to Jesus (John 15:26). When Jesus appeared to the disciples on Easter, he breathed the Holy Spirit on them (John 20:22). It is God's intention to shine through us, and he has provided all the necessary means. Shining is a fresh flow of God's presence, power, and peace, and God has made his dwelling within us.
Shining comes not through achievement, production, control, and winning, but through surrender, prayer, and other-centered love. It is a path of giving ourselves more and more deeply to the Spirit's work within us. Often shining is a matter of being ready for the Spirit to move at any point in the day and being open to what the Spirit might want to do. The Spirit might direct us to listen to a person when we don't have time. Or pray for someone instead of enjoying music while we drive. Or rejoice in the midst of suffering. The point is that the Spirit is a living and active presence, and we don't know in advance what he has in mind.
The indwelling Spirit is the agent of transformation in our lives. God wants to take us from a state of spiritual immaturity, where we sporadically radiate Jesus' presence, to a state of spiritual maturity, where we are ready-made vessels of his grace, love, and truth. When we progress along a path of radiating and becoming like Jesus, it is because there is less of us and more of him, so to speak. Progress means that the moments of radiating Christ are sought, recognized, celebrated, and multiplied. We can appreciate the moments when we are aware that Jesus is living through us and ask God to multiply them. The good news is that we do not have to have "arrived" at a certain level of Christlikeness to enjoy Jesus' living through us. It can happen now and increase each day.
The Holy Spirit is a living and active presence. And the Spirit is with you right now. The Spirit gives you the ability to worship, pray, love, show compassion, forgive, liberate, and so on. Take a moment to make yourself ready for the movements of the Spirit in your life today. Open your heart to whatever the Spirit might want you to do, even if it is inconvenient, frightening, or surprising. Tell God that you want him to do his will through you today.
1. On a regular basis, am I living more for Christ or with Christ?
2. How well do I shine Jesus to those I come into contact with each day?
3. How might my ministry be better if I were ministering alongside the Spirit more?