Change The World
I confess I would like to change the world. Ever since watching the movie West Side Story as a ten-year-old, I’ve wanted to help people love and respect each other. Passing laws may change behavior, but that doesn’t change hearts. People still mistrust and degrade each other, but they’re careful to do it legally.
Several years ago, a passing phrase in The Divine Conspiracy struck me. As Dallas Willard was writing about a more comprehensive topic, he compared it to this phenomenon: “the presence of a good person touches, influences, and may even govern people nearby through the respect inspired in their hearts . . .” I thought, Yes, the example and presence of a moral hero changes people’s hearts!
The presence on earth of people like Mother Teresa has caused people to change their hearts toward the dying poor. The social consensus—what most people think is right—was that these people weren’t worth helping. Yet social consensus was blown apart by a few good women who stood against the prevailing norms of that society and become moral heroes. This also happens in a family or a classroom or a church. One minute it’s OK to make fun of someone but then a “good person” (a grandparent, a teacher, a mentor) enters the room. Their very presence opens people up to having a better heart and better behavior.
This is what Jesus meant, I think, by our being the light of the world. As we seek to truly follow Jesus, we won’t even have to try to be that light. It will just happen because we are full of God. The result is that Christianity will be a “program of attraction,” as 12-step groups put it. Churches filled with such light don’t need to promote themselves.
So what do I do about this? First, we don’t go try to be the “light of the world.” That would be our own effort and people would choke on our self-righteousness. Instead, we read the gospels and become enthralled with this Jesus who loved deeply and lived deeply. We keep our eyes on and become inspired by the ones full of Jesus’ goodness and light who do not promote themselves. We read biographies of selfless ones and learn from them what it looks like to live “in Christ” on this planet (Augustine, Jeanne Guyon, John Woolman, George MacDonald, the anonymous Russian pilgrim in The Way of the Pilgrim, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, Amy Carmichael, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henrietta Mears, Mother Teresa). We also look around us to discern ordinary living saints who exude this quiet light of the kingdom: love, joy and peace. They often have no flash about them—no self-promotion. They love us when we don’t deserve it, they go the extra mile to welcome strangers, they tell the truth when it would be more beneficial to lie.
Make no mistake. If you live and breathe in God and God’s kingdom, the light will flow out of you. You won’t know it, which is good. Those around you will have experienced a little of the presence of the very best person, Jesus. They will never be the same after that influence. Their world may even be changed.
Grace and peace,
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