The lamp is pretty tattered. Lighting it has been a part of my daily quiet time for years. It came from Israel. It’s a replica of a first century oil lamp. It’s a pretty simple source of light… a clay vessel with a modest design, a few ounces of olive oil and a wick. The vessel isn’t too stable, to be honest. It’s so saturated with oil, the oil seeps through and onto any surface it touches. It’s charred in the area closest to the flame marking the times it was used to light without enough oil. And it is completely dependent on the wick for light. Olive oil only burns on the wick. It cannot be burned without one.
Jesus’ parable of the farmer scattering seed is pretty common one. It’s in three of the four gospels and it talks about how the Word of God (the seed) is scattered among people and the different ways it takes root. For some it never takes root because Satan snatches it from their hearts before it has a chance to take root. For some, they take it in immediately and joyfully but as soon as temptation hits the roots die and they forget the good news they once knew. For others, the distractions and circumstances of life choke out the good news that they heard like weeds around a healthy plant. They can see nothing beyond their circumstances and they never grow in their faith. And then there are those who hear the Word, cling to it, and the roots of what they hear grow deep and strong. Over time a great harvest is produced. What was once a few seeds, becomes a harvest of good fruit.
What is interesting to me is in both Luke and Mark, Jesus follows up the telling of this parable with the parable of the lamp. He says, “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all. So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” Luke 8:16-18
I guess I always thought of this parable like I did the song I learned as a child in Sunday school, “This little gospel light of mine, I’m going to let it shine… let it shine, let it shine, all the time, let it shine.” I always thought that meant to be a good example. To do the right thing. To be a “light” meant to me that I needed to be Christ-like in what I did. I still think it means that. But, when I read this parable in the context of the scattering seed parable I think it means much more.
I believe the parable of the lamp is especially for that last group of seed-receivers, the ones whose roots have grown deep in God’s word and through whom God is producing a harvest. I believe God is saying, “I have filled you and will continue to fill you with the ‘oil’ of my Word. I have placed in you the ‘wick’ of my Holy Spirit that I will light in you. Now… you can’t help but to be LIGHT in the places I put you. Pay attention to what you hear. Let my Word penetrate you. Don’t quench my Spirit that is in you. Shine in the darkness that I place you in.”
More than being a good example and a witness to my faith, I need to be aware of the fact that I am the vessel God is using to shine light into darkness. He doesn’t want me to hide what I know of Him or what I learn from His Word. He has given that oil to me in order that it may seep out. In order that everything I touch would be left with a residue of Him on it. Just as I am filled with His love so that I can love others, I am also filled with His Word in order to share it with others. That doesn’t mean I think He wants us to quote Bible verses with everyone we meet on the street. Who did the apostle John identify as “The Word?’ JESUS! It is Jesus that needs to seep from within us.
Like my clay lamp we are fragile. We could no more produce light on our own than a lump of clay could. It is His Spirit within us that produces the light. We are not the light. We are only the vessels used to carry His light. And if we try to be “lights” without being filled with Him and the oil of His Word we will be scorched, charred, and leave a residue of soot and smoke in our wake. We must draw upon that daily filling of His “oil” and we must go boldly into the darkness that He places us in.
What God taught me from this parable created a huge shift in mindset. This isn’t about me “being good.” This isn’t about just being a good example to others or a good witness for Him. Our purpose as lights is much greater than carrying oil, and a wick, and occasionally being lit when we hear a good message at church or read a good devotional. He wants to fill us up daily so He can use us daily to shine His light into the dark hearts of the people He puts in our paths. How else will they see His light if we are not the vessel? This isn’t about me… it’s about THEM! It’s about shining light in places that are dark, hidden, and painful. (And we all have those places in our lives.) It’s about seeping with His love and with His Word. It’s about listening carefully and learning from the Spirit that is within us and willing to teach us each time we open His Word. The more we take in the more we will be given. The more we crave that oil, the more He will fill us up.
Lord, fill us to overflowing with Your Word. Help us to listen carefully. Teach us so that we can be used by You to shine Your light in the dark places. Make us vessels that are useful to you. Make us aware of the fact that you have a purpose for us, a place for us to shine everyday and with every person we encounter. Thank you for the gift of Your Light, Jesus, that saved us. May we help You deliver that same Light to others who need it, who need Him. In His precious name, amen.