Light of the world

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8th September 2013

In a country where Christian church buildings are so conspicuous, our time in Malawi is giving us a real insight into the ongoing need for the gospel in the country.

As you drive at night through the Malawi countryside you are immediately struck by the physical darkness of the place as so many struggle with the expense of providing lighting for their home, and the government struggles with the expense of lighting the streets. And certainly during our trip we also had to get used to repeated daily power outages that too often plunge everybody into deep black from 6 pm to 6 am.

However when you talk to the people of the countryside you understand – beyond their physical need for light – their far greater need for the spiritual light that only the Holy Spirit can bring.

This was emphasized to us on Sunday morning when Ruth and I had the privilege – with Michael Berry, another ZM visitor – to visit and worship with a small ZEC church a few miles outside Blantyre.

It was certainly a contrast with the previous Sunday when Ruth and I had worshiped in a big Pentecostal church in Nairobi with a full band playing western electronic instruments, and an approach to the service that while still very definitely African would nevertheless have felt very familiar to someone from a US or UK church. Instead, this Sunday we were warmly welcomed by the simpler and very pleasing sound of unaccompanied African voices in full rhythmic song in the sort of simple brick walled and concrete floored structure that had become very familiar to us.

I had been invited to preach, and not knowing anything of the situation of the church I chose to speak on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16 (“You are the light of the world”) and encourage the fellowship in the function of the Christian’s light (to expose, warn, and show the way), the focus of the Christian’s light (Jesus not self), and the fuel of the Christian’s light (not our own strength but the continual indwelling of the Holy Spirit). The whole experience was enhanced by the partnership with my interpreter, Anthony, a wonderful young assistant pastor. He seemed so in tune with the message as he interpreted both words, gestures and energy from English to Chichewa.

It was only afterwards that he explained how apt the message had been to this fellowship who, unknown to me, live and worship in a spiritually dark community that sits on a major trading route and is rife with prostitution and drug abuse. Daily the Christians experience the challenges of being living witnesses to the God who is light (1 John 1:5) in a world that loves darkness (John 3:19).

It seems to be a consistent lesson for us on this trip; that no matter how different the culture and circumstances of people in the UK, Malawi or Kenya the fundamental spiritual need of people is the same – to find the true “light of the world” Jesus (John 8:12) – and the fundamental challenge to Christ’s followers is the same –  to let Jesus’ light that is within them shine before others wherever they live (Matt 5:16).

Friends, please pray with us for this little church as they struggle to be a “light on a stand” for their Saviour; that they will do so with wisdom, humility and integrity. And pray for Ruth and I that we will also understand better where and how we can best serve Christ’s people in that struggle.

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

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