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    I’m searching and praying and hoping for something
    I know I’m gon’ see it, I know that it’s coming
    Lord, Lord
    But what do you do when there’s no place to turn?
    I have no one, I’m lonely, my bridges have burnt down
    Lord, Lord

    J. Cole, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

    Have you ever felt this way?

    These lyrics from the song “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by J. Cole describe what it feels like to be lost in dark feelings of loneliness and hopelessness.

    We need only read the news to see evidence that this darkness has been increasing all around us during the pandemic:

    In the midst of all this and so much more, the world is in need of light. 

    You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

    Matthew 5:14-16 NIV  

    Jesus gives a solution to the world’s darkness: you and me. We are meant to be the light that shines for others, to help people see God and find love, peace, hope, and happiness in the midst of hopelessness. 

    But how do we become a light that shines brightly before others? The first step is making sure we choose not to live in darkness ourselves. Darkness can easily seep into our own lives and leave us no different from the world around us. 

    In this devotional, we will look at verses of the Bible that help us understand what darkness is so that we can recognize it when it tries to sneak into our own hearts, and choose to live a life full of light instead. 

    Recognizing the darkness

    Before we can be a light, we must first understand and recognize darkness.

    Darkness stops us from understanding Jesus

    Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

    John 1:3-5 NIV84

    In the Gospel of John, “light” refers to the revelation and salvation of Jesus. His life is our light and our guide. Darkness is a force that keeps us from understanding Jesus, believing in Jesus, or wanting to know God. We may blame people or past bad church experiences when we struggle to understand God, but the real truth is that when we allow the darkness of the world into our lives, it will blind our hearts from being able to understand both Jesus and the light.

    What does it look like to allow darkness into our lives? When the Bible talks about darkness, it’s talking about human rebellion against God and his ways. God is loving, truthful, forgiving, and so much more. Choosing darkness means choosing to handle life in ways that oppose God; for example, we choose darkness when we choose to be resentful instead of forgiving, or deceitful instead of truthful. 

     I’ve seen myself choose darkness in two main ways: 

    1. Hiding what I think and feel, 
    2. then running to something other than God to distract me so I don’t have to think about it. 

    Have you ever known that something was going on with you emotionally, but you didn’t want to figure out what it was? Maybe you were angry and didn’t know why, or you felt numb but didn’t know which emotions you were avoiding. Rather than digging to understand the truth of my heart, I find it so much easier to run to something else to distract me so I don’t have to think about the truth. But this affects my heart, my relationships, and my life. Jesus brings the truth, and though at first it may be scary, it is ultimately freeing.

    Throughout my teenage and college years I avoided telling the truth and being in the light. If there was anything I felt guilty about or anything I thought would make me look bad or create conflict between me and my parents or friends, I would hide it. I was popular, social, and had a lot of friends, but they didn’t really know me because I hid any pain I had, most emotions I felt, and any sin I turned to.

    Instead of turning to God and honesty, I turned more to using people for attention or pleasure, partying, or some form of sensuality. This resulted in loneliness, unhappiness, and feeling unfulfilled. I felt that there had to be more to life than what I was surrounding myself with. 

    Darkness cannot overcome the light

    Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    John 1:3-5 NIV

    The good news is that even if we have allowed darkness into our lives, the light is more powerful than the darkness. We simply need to choose the light.

    My senior year in college I began studying the Bible with some friends. Though I had gone to church before, these friends taught me how to apply the Bible to my life and begin living by it. They shared their lives with me and taught me how to be honest by bringing my life into the light. This inspired me to share with my parents and friends the pain, emotions, and sins I had hidden for years. 

    This was the beginning of me changing to follow Jesus and live in the light, and it was so freeing. For the first time in my life my family and friends knew everything about me and I felt closer to them all, unburdened, confident, and inspired. I realized that darkness had no power over me when I put my thoughts, feelings, and sins in the light. I was free to be me and was able to change anything. 

    Pause and reflect:

    • What are ways you choose darkness?
    • How do you feel about being in the light? Why?

    How do I choose the light instead of the darkness?

    Choose to be aware of the darkness

    The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.

    John 1:9-10 NIV

    One key reason we struggle to escape darkness is we don’t admit to ourselves that the world is dark. We don’t recognize the light that Jesus brings, and we think that the world will bring us the light we need. The first thing we can do to choose light instead of darkness is become aware of how the darkness has crept into our lives. 

    Chasing after things in the world (which the Bible calls “worldliness”) leads to more darkness; we become more selfish. Worldliness is destructive because it makes us use everyone around us to get what we want. We hope we will be happy, secure, and confident, but we end up using people and things to get security, comfort, or confidence. Here’s what that can look like for me:

    • Using friendships – My friendships become about how I can get attention or approval. I use people to get security. I also become critical of people when I feel insecure about myself; if I can make someone less in my mind then I can feel better about myself. 
    • Using dating and marriage – I lose sight of the fact that dating and marriage are about loving someone else. 
    • Using money/career/work – I can get so consumed with my job performance that I’m not present for God, my family, or my friends. My life becomes all about what I can achieve, get done, or do for myself. 
    • Using pleasure – I run to pleasure to cope with the stress or pain of life – this can be video games, sensuality, eating, vacation planning, buying the latest phone, shopping, or constantly running around from event to event, all because I’m too afraid to slow down and face reality. This leaves me tired and lonely. 

    Maybe you can relate to these examples, or have more of your own. All of these things make us more distant, guilty, unfulfilled and unhappy. These things (friendships, dating/marriage, money, or pleasure) are not inherently bad; it is when we use them to meet our needs and wants that they become dark and twisted. 

    Worldliness can be deceiving. The world tells us that if people like us, if we look a certain way, if we are wealthy, if we build a great company or have a great career, then we will be happy. But these things are deceiving; they do not bring the happiness, security, or confidence that they promise. 

    One of the ways we are most deceived is that many of these things I mentioned above are insidious. They creep in and slowly drive Jesus and the light out. We often are unaware darkness has its hold on us, and that it crowds out the light in our hearts. 

    Choose to live by the truth and be vulnerable

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    John 3:19-21 NIV

    We stop loving the darkness by exposing the darkness, which comes by telling the truth and being vulnerable.

    It’s easy to get addicted to darkness, hiding and lying to those around us like it’s second nature. But this drives us further into darkness, creating more insecurity, anxiety, anger, fear, and worry over being seen for who we really are.

    Breaking free from darkness changes and restores our joy, trust, and ability to love in relationships. It relieves anxiety and helps us be at peace.  

    We stop loving the darkness by exposing the darkness, which comes by telling the truth and being vulnerable.

    Choosing the light starts with honesty. This is how we stop loving darkness, experience the freedom and happiness that come from being in the light, and repairing broken and lost relationships. Choosing the light takes courage, but it’s the best decision we can make!

    At the end of my senior year, after I’d decided to turn to God and live in the light, I invited my friend to a barbeque. I picked him up to drive him there and, after enjoying some good food, drove him home. On our way home, we stopped off at 7/11 and I bought him a Slurpee. 

    He could tell something had changed in me because I was so selfish before I wouldn’t give people rides or buy them food. He asked what happened to me to spark this change. So I shared how studying the Bible changed my life and also shared with him all the sin, pain, and feelings I had hidden and how much I had been changing as a result of applying the Bible to my life.

    He was so inspired by my honesty and change that he began studying the Bible as well. He learned to walk in the light and changed his life. He was baptized at the end of that summer.

    What I learned from that is that when we are in the light, it inspires others to be in the light too. 

    Make two decisions:

    1. TALK: Talk with some spiritual friends about how you’ve seen the darkness affecting you. How can you choose the light together?
    2. LEARN: Find some scriptures to help you learn more about the effects of darkness and what the light can do in your heart.
    Share.

    Nick Straw is a Santa Clara University alum, and is passionate about ministry and community service work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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