“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
~Harry Dixon Loes
Last year, my pastor started a project – named “Project Light”– at our small country church to encourage us to bring things every month that could be donated somewhere in need. Each month we were encouraged to bring a different item, and those items included everything from shampoo and soap to socks and reading glasses. I still remember the look of surprise on the face of the cashier at a store when I rolled up with a full shopping cart of items that April. I was three months behind, and I wanted to make up for lost time.
I’m not telling this to pat myself on the back. It’s just that it was exciting for me to be able to afford to buy a cart full of things for someone else. You see, I had just started a new full-time job after having been a part-time worker for two years. While I had definitely learned how to live on a shoestring budget, I had been unable to buy much for other people over those two years. I went through that store grabbing all the things that we had chosen for the first few months of the year. I was excited about this project because, while I was still working up to having time to volunteer, I could at least help provide supplies where they were needed.
I wanted to inspire myself for the project so I grabbed a journal that a friend had given me two years prior for Christmas. This was one of those journals with a quote printed on the cover and individual Bible verses pre-printed at the bottom of each page. I opened it to the first page to begin recording Bible verses on light, and I was surprised to find that the verse printed at the bottom of the first page was Proverbs 4:18 (KJV): “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” I was pleasantly surprised, and I went ahead with my original plan to record inspiring verses on light. I turned the page and kept writing and then looked down at the bottom of the second page, and lo and behold, there was another pre-printed verse on light! Isaiah 60:1 (KJV): “Arise, shine; for they light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”
By this time, I was beginning to feel the occurrence of a “God-wink.” I don’t really believe in coincidences, but I do believe in the term coined by SQuire Rushnell called “God-winks.” In my definition, these are positive moments of God-influenced events that are like puzzle pieces falling into place. (As a side note, I recommend reading Rushnell’s books where he describes some of these moments in more detail. The one that inspired me was When God Winks at You.)
Being a person who loves the written word, these events really inspire me when God uses words unexpectedly to minister to my needs. At that moment, I was seeking inspiration for the project at church, and God used a two-year old journal to push it along. That unexpected but delightful moment helped keep my enthusiasm up the whole year for the project, and I was so pleased when our pastor, our youth leader, and our youth traveled to deliver all of our donated items.
The following Sunday, all five of them shared their perspective on the mission. Our pastor chose a church in our state that operated a food bank in a small town with a serious drug problem. The community had declined with the local industry, and the church had seen the negative effects as well. They were (and are) in the process of learning the “new normal” for their congregation that no longer consists of the cream of the town’s residents. Instead, they are finding that God has sent them an entirely different congregation to minister to by way of a hot meal and the food bank. Our small mission group each came back with a different observation.
Our pastor shared how she had doubted the whole day before the trip as to whether she had chosen the right church to help. She felt that she had prayed and chosen the right place, but she said, when they arrived at the nice church that was so much larger than our own, that she began to doubt that she had understood God correctly. However, once the true circumstances began to emerge, she knew that they were exactly where they needed to be. The nice building was a relic of the previous (wealthier) members that no longer attended. The now wealthier church across the street used the now empty parking spaces for their own overflow parking. (I couldn’t help but think what a pity it was that the churches couldn’t cross denominational lines to operate a food bank together.) Our little church hadn’t gathered a huge amount of stuff, but it was enough to help expand the food bank for that day. Apparently, the reading glasses were a huge hit because they had never been offered as an item before. I sat there thinking about the prescription glasses I wear every day and how much I pay for them and prescription sunglasses to wear while outdoors. The people entering the food bank were excited about inexpensive reading glasses, and it humbled me in that moment to realize how blessed I was and how a simple pair of reading glasses could be an inexpressible blessing to someone else.
All three of our youth reflected on how the people who entered the food bank were so appreciative to them. They were hugged and thanked as they oversaw the distribution of items. They were humbled themselves by the joy that simple things like shampoo, toilet paper, and canned food items could bring to people in such desperate need. In their own ways, all three of them said that the trip made them realize just how blessed their own lives were.
Our youth leader shared two stories in particular that have stayed with me. First, she told of a woman working the kitchen who had lost part of her leg which meant she used a wheelchair. In our youth leader’s words, this woman worked circles around everyone, and most beautifully, she knew the names of every person who entered the church for a hot meal that day. Second, (and this story squeezed my heart) she told of a tall, slender teenage boy who came in to eat. They were serving hot dogs, chili, chips, shredded cheese and other toppings, dessert, and drinks. This young man came through the line once and got one of everything including an entire bowl of shredded cheese. After a little while, he came back and asked if he could have a second serving, and he proceeded to eat the exact same meal all over again. Then he came back for a third round, but this time he decided to skip the chips. Working on a college campus, I often look out at the students, and I wonder how often some of them go without food just so they can pay for school. Her story about this young man suddenly made me so grateful for the life my parents worked so hard to provide. I never missed a meal as a teenager or college student unless I just forgot to eat. I was humbled again.
My two takeaways from this were the following: 1) None of the things were given to the people with a dose of religion to pound them over the head. There were no tracts or Bibles forced upon anyone. The hot meal and all the items from the food bank were simply delivered with love which, from my own perspective, is the greatest sermon one can give. 2) I know from personal experience how easy it is to become jaded when giving to other people only to find that they squandered what was given – be that money, goods, or even well-meant advice. However, we don’t give our time, money, or goods to see the end result the way we believe it should be. We give because it’s what we are called to do for others. What is done with it on the other end is often out of our control, but the intent is what we can control.
I can control whether I let my light shine brightly or dimly even if I can’t control how others receive or use that light. This day-mission trip for our youth inspired them and our church, and it reminded me one more time that even the smallest things can have the longest lasting influence.
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Here are some more of the verses that I used to inspire myself to be a light — especially on those days that I don’t feel like shining at all — and in parentheses are the pre-printed verses from my journal because some of them seemed to go hand-in-hand with the verses that I wrote in the journal. I prefer to use Bible Gateway to look up verses but whatever you prefer to use is awesome.
Isaiah 60:1-3 (Proverbs 4:18)
Matthew 5: 14-16 (Isaiah 60:1)
II Corinthians 4:6
Isaiah 42:6 (Proverbs 18:10)
Psalm 97:11 (Matthew 5:8)
Ecclesiastes 11:7 (I Peter 3:12)
Luke 11:33-36 (Psalm 128:1-2)
I Thessalonians 5:5 (Psalm 145:9)
I Peter 2:9 (Philippians 1:6)
My personal favorite is Psalm 119:105 (KJV): “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
What I’m reading right now: Winter by Marissa Meyer, The Power of Kindness (10th Anniversary edition) by Piero Ferrucci, Simon Peter by Adam Hamilton, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: Expanded Edition by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Books of the Bible I’m currently reading/studying: Isaiah and I Samuel