Updated: May 23
For a number of years I helped run a community project called DadsWork. I co-founded it with a friend who was a community outreach worker and married to a Baptist pastor. Moira had a big heart for the lost and broken people in the community. She helped all kinds of people including anxious pregnant teenagers, drug addicts, and people on the poverty line. She noticed single dads were not tapping into the care services and it was effecting their mental health and obviously had a detrimental effect on the children. Fifteen years later that project is going strong because Moira stepped out of her comfort zone and into the world of people who needed support.
One of the dads I met was an electrician who took early retirement because his workplace closed down. His marriage was in a bad place and he had two teenage sons who were missing school and their behaviour at home was hard to handle. Everything went downhill descending to a place of darkness. The whole family was hit hard and my new dad came to DadsWork at the recommendation of his doctor. The short version is that this man gave his life to Christ because the light reached out to him in the darkness. Some time later his wife became a christian and I led a service for them to re-take their marriage vows. They are both still with me in the church that I planted. This man will tell you that if he had not reached a place of darkness he would never have seen the light.
There is a story in John 11 of a place of darkness that reveals one of the greatest revelations ever told. It is the story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. It becomes clear that Lazarus is very sick. His sisters, Martha and Mary, send a message for Jesus to come. However Lazarus died as Jesus travelled there. When Jesus arrived Martha said to him "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She trusted him even in death, even though her brother had been dead four days. I wonder how would I react in this situation. I may have been distraught, anxious, lacking hope.
I have found in my own life that dark places are necessary to reveal glimpses of light. They are like ropes in the darkness pulling me up to a new vantage point. Martha was clearly in mourning and Jesus was sensitive to this. Yet he pulled her up to a place of hope telling her "Your brother will rise again." His response in John 11:25-26 was "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
In the midst of darkness and of despair, one of the greatest revelations of hope in all of history came too light. My friend in DadsWork likewise found hope in the midst of despair, he discovered light in the darkness. Is this why Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead?
What does this mean for evangelists? Should our focus be on the broken, the distraught and those in darkness? In John 3:19 it says "Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." There are two ways to view this. Do we avoid the darkness? Or do we go deeper until we find that person looking for light? Our journey into darkness will always be resisted. Think of Jesus going into the desert/wilderness for forty days. He faced the Prince of Darkness and came out in the power of the Spirit.
The Matthew 4 version of the wilderness experience tells us in verse 16-17:
"the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
From that time on Jesus began to preach,“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Jesus went into the darkness. He faced temptations. He walked out in the power of the Spirit and shone "in the land of the shadow of death." The result is the message of the kingdom of heaven is heard. Disciples are called who went on to change the world.
Entering the darkness both personally and amongst others is part of the kingdom agenda. It seems to me that in order to see the light you have to face the darkness. In knowing the darkness you are then able to carry the light to others.
What practices might we adopt to embrace this principle?
- Face our own darkness (we all go into the wilderness to come out in the Spirit)
- Be aware of darkness in the people around us (go to places outside our comfort zones)
- Be clear about our message (Jesus is the Saviour - don't fall into a Messiah complex)
- Persevere, the light is often rejected until it finds good ground
- Make disciples of the light finders