Overcoming Darkness

Her name was Bec. Small in stature, with shoulder-length, sandy hair, a face free of make-up and an unpretentious manner, there was nothing to give the impression of authority or passion as she took her place at the lectern. But when she opened her mouth, I realised she had the heart of a lion.

Bec had been living for several years in Cambodia, a nation where trafficking of women and children was common—and many nationals viewed it as a way to survive financially. Fathers sold their young daughters into prostitution. Some children were rescued and returned to their families, only to be sold again. The blindness and injustice of it made my stomach churn. Yet Bec’s tone held steady as she shared. How can she be so calm? I wondered.

After reading some sad statistics, Bec lifted her eyes to her listeners. ‘Because of this, many people view Cambodia as a very dark place. When we look at the darkness in our world, we can shake our heads in despair, fearing the darkness will grow so large that it snuffs out the light.’ Her voice grew louder. ‘But that’s because we have the wrong idea. We think darkness and light are equal and opposite forces. They’re not. Darkness isn’t a force at all. It doesn’t have a power of its own to do anything.

Darkness is just the absence of light. To overcome darkness, all we need to do is turn on the light. Even the tiniest flame can cut through it.’

I sat in my seat, stunned, as Bec’s words cut through the shadows in my mind.

She opened her bible and read from John chapter 1 verse 5. ‘”The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”’

Hope stirred inside me. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness—no matter how black it is—cannot overcome light.

Bec continued, ‘This principle is the foundation of our work in Cambodia. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”’ (Matthew 5: 14-15) She smiled. ‘To overcome darkness, we need to find the highest stand—the highest platform—we can and shine as brightly as we can, so our light reaches as many people as possible.’

Photo by Pezibear on Pixabay

For Bec and a team of Cambodian nationals, that meant working together to shine the brightest light they could into arenas which held the greatest sway over young people’s minds—music and media. The team formed a band, wrote music and worked with some media experts to produce albums and advertisements that challenged popular views on issues such as drink spiking, date rape, prostitution and trafficking. As they shone their light, they were changing mindsets, little by little.

It’s been fifteen years since I heard Bec speak, but her words have stayed with me—and they came up again a couple of months ago. In fact, I woke with them echoing through my mind.

It’s so easy for us to be overwhelmed by the darkness we see in our world, especially in this COVID season when there’s upheaval almost everywhere we look. Now, more than ever, we need to remember that we can overcome darkness—if only we’ll turn on the light.

So, how do we do that?  

We fix our eyes

First, we shift our gaze from the darkness—all the doom and gloom around us—to focus on God. The bible says He is light and darkness has no place in Him. It’s only through His light, His enabling, that we can overcome.  When we fix our eyes on the pure brightness of His light, everything else is put into perspective. He gives us hope. He exposes any darkness residing in our hearts, washing us clean and setting us free to move forward and live at peace with others.

‘If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.’ 1 John 1:7

We act in the opposite spirit

Darkness cannot be overcome by more darkness. Instead, we live in God’s light and let it shine through our lives.

Where there is hatred, we show love.

Where there is division, we build unity.

We offer hope in the face of doom, truth where there is deception, comfort where there is pain, peace amid turmoil, acceptance where there is rejection. Enabled by God’s overflowing love, we press forward, relying on the wisdom and power He offers.

‘Do not be overcome by evil,

but overcome evil with good.’ Romans 12:21

We let the Light guide our steps.

As we choose to walk with God, He shines His light on our path, revealing His specific purpose for each of us. As we give ourselves wholeheartedly to that purpose, His light emanates from our lives, dispelling the darkness around us.

He may lead us to do something as small as smiling at a neighbour who’s struggling, or as large as funding a programme to help those who are homeless. For each of us, the path will be different, but we all have a part to play.

‘A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.’ 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)

Our light may seem small to us. Insignificant, even. But think of a flickering candle. The tiniest flame still penetrates the darkness. And if we all shine together, think of how bright the light will be. Together we can overcome.  

Photo by Irina Anastasiu on Pexels

‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39  

Made Beautiful

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

Really.

Where does your wandering gaze land?

What emotions rise in your heart?

What thoughts run through your mind?

And where have they come from?

More than likely, they stem from the world you’re immersed in. The people you mix with—face to face and online. The celebrities you follow. The Instagram feeds you scroll through. The Netflix series you binge-watch. All the forms of media that spark comparison and whisper that you’re not enough. Too many times, you’re barely awake before discouragement kicks in. Sometimes even despair.

Please let me tell you a little story from an autumn morning a few weeks back. It might bring some fresh perspective.

There was a wintry chill in the air that day, so I pulled the covers higher on my waist and draped my dressing gown around my shoulders. My eyes, still blurry from sleep, narrowed to slits as I tried to make out the numbers on the clock in our bedroom. It was five past six—early for me. Still, I knew the next precious moments would be worth the sacrificed sleep.   

I needed to connect with my Maker before launching into the day. 

Yawning, I reached for my bible and journal in the bedside drawer, trying to sift through the fog in my mind and recall what I’d been reading the day before. It was something so intriguing, I’d wanted to study it further. I opened my bible, those strange words from the previous morning drifting through my mind like an echo. Grasping the wafer-thin pages in wads, I flipped towards the back till I reached Romans 8, then skimmed down to the verse I was after—number thirty. There, once again, I found the phrase that had me baffled.“. . . those he justified, he also glorified.”

My eyebrows rose as I read this. What on earth did that mean—God glorified us? Weren’t we supposed to glorify Him? There had to be more to this than I could understand.

I opened the lexicon on biblehub– an online tool I’d just discovered that unveils the meaning of words in their original language. Surely in this case ‘glorified’ meant something different to the way we usually understood it. Carefully, I pored over the detailed information the website provided about this confusing statement, taking note of key points and filling pages of my journal with my hurried scrawl. Before long, I was so engrossed, all sense of time and cold faded.  

Once I’d finished reading, I slumped back on my pillow, awe-struck.

Here’s what I learned. Those words about us being glorified by God? Their meaning in the original language was exactly the same as usual. God, our creator, glorifies us. And He does it willingly. When we put our faith in Jesus and surrender our lives to God, He doesn’t only forgive us and set us free from our past.

He honours us with dignity and worth.
He exalts us to a rank and condition far beyond what we deserve. That was certainly my story.
He imparts His own spectacular glory to us.
He declares us excellent and glorious,
adorns us with lustre (that’s shininess, in case you wondered)
and clothes us with splendour.

Yes, God glorifies us. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?  

I understood this a little. God had lifted me from the depths and given me a whole new life, with dignity and purpose.

But ‘glory’? That was so hard to fathom.

And what about that word, ‘splendour’—so unique and rich in imagery? In the Cambridge dictionary it’s described as ‘great beauty that attracts admiration and attention’. Again, the original language conveys the same meaning. The Hebrew word for splendour relates to ‘beautify’ and ‘glorify’. When God clothes us with splendour, He beautifies us. In that beauty, He glorifies us. That means, even on our frumpiest, very worst hair days, by God’s grace we are clothed with great beauty that attracts admiration and attention.  Imagine that!

When we focus solely on the image in our mirror, we are robbed. The pictures we’re swamped with every day narrow our view, convincing us our outward appearance is the only measure of our value. But God made us so much more. And this beauty He gives isn’t something we can attain through our own striving efforts.

It’s transcendent.

It begins in our spirit—where God comes to dwell by His Spirit. As He fills us with His beautiful presence, His splendour wells up and flows out of us . . . so clearly that others see it and marvel.

“Those who look to Him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.” Psalm 34:5

I stilled my pen and closed my eyes that morning, trying to grasp these ideas in their fullness.  A fresh sense of joy welled inside me as my perception of myself grew a little closer to God’s view. Every day, no matter how I look or feel, whether I’m upbeat or melancholy, conquering or struggling, I can walk with dignity, knowing God Himself has clothed me with His splendour. It can be the same for you too—if you put your hope in Him. Regardless of how anyone else may view us, the Creator and ultimate authority says we are His beloved, His treasured possession , wholly accepted.

Who would dare argue with Him?

It’s easy to wonder why we’ve been given such stand-out glory, such splendour. Is it intended to set us strutting, eager for everyone to notice how brightly we’re shining? In reality it’s not only about us.

Look at these words.  

“Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendour.”       (Isaiah 60:21)

“Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”  (Isaiah 55:5)

Even while He lavishes so much love and favour on us, God is also looking beyond us to those who don’t yet know Him. He’s pursuing others just as He pursued us, ready to lift them, too, out of their tangle of sin and shame and failure—and He wants our hearts to beat as strongly for them as His does.

We are like a myriad of precious, sparkling jewels—each unique in colour and cut, all reflecting the goodness of God to those around us. The attention and admiration sparked by our splendour is intended to point people to its source—the light—our gracious God.

Next time you stand in front of the mirror, pause and look beyond the outward. God loves you so much He offered His very best to rescue you. He wants to fill you with His goodness and lead you in His eternal purpose. Let that understanding propel you into your day with joy, your eyes looking right to the hearts of people around you, not merely their appearance. As you walk in step with God’s heartbeat, letting His glory shine through you, others will also be stirred to seek Him—the one who leads us into life in all its beautiful fullness.  

 

“She is clothed in strength and dignity;

She can laugh at the days to come.”

Proverbs 31:25

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Invitations

“Please come and visit before you go to sleep.” Scrawled in old-style cursive on a torn-off strip of paper, the note lay in my cabin. On my bed.

Minutes ticked by as questions swirled around inside me. Should I go? What does he want? Surely he’s safe – isn’t he? What will he do if I don’t come?

The chill of the night seeped through my skin, setting me shivering, as my feet crunched slowly along the path to his abode. There, shrouded in darkness, strong arms wrapped around me. Warm lips pressed against my hair, my neck while words of affection were softly muttered.

“She was a black-eyed beauty, like you,” he said. “We were lovers,” he said. “I’ve missed her terribly all these years.” Long and slowly he spoke, weaving his tale of endless grief, while I sat silent, immobilised by confusion.

“You remind me so much of her.” He shifted in his seat. Horror surged through my muscles and carried me, breathless, back to my room. Alone.

He was fifty. Married. A father of four. I was fifteen.

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“Come for a walk with me.” His strong, tanned hand tugged gently on my fingers. “It’s okay. I promise I won’t hurt you. I just want to talk.”

Hours earlier, his voice had beckoned. “You are beautiful. You are elegant.” Silky smooth, his words caressed me, quietly seeking to wrap themselves around my soul.

Caution snatched at my ankles as I followed him into the arching shadows of a garden. The moon stretched its glowing fingers between the branches, urging me to dash back into the light.

I stood in the shelter of the trees, tossing carefully-chosen phrases across the void I’d placed between us. Conversation meandered like a slow-flowing river. Philosophy and religion – our similarities, our differences.

Clouds drifted in front of the moon. Voices quieted. He opened his soul and spoke of desire.

My heart raged in fury, urging me away, back into the light.

He was thirty-five. My long-time teacher. I was seventeen . Fresh out of school.

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“Come to me,” he whispered. I recognised this voice – had known it all my life. He was the one Who loved me, the preacher said. The one Who died for me.

When I was tiny, He kept me safe at night. As a teenager, He called me closer, stirring up longings to know Him more.

Then darkness had entered my soul, slowly building a wall between us.

Surely I was unfit for his presence. I was the fearful one, shrivelled up and tormented, straining endlessly to whitewash the blackness away.

Still the stains seeped through.

His eyes gazed at me with fiery intensity. “I know it all,” He said. “I love you still. I’m not like the others. My love for you is pure. Complete.”

His arms stretched wide across the span of my life, covering all of my history and every moment yet to spring to life. “I gave Myself for you.” His voice was soft. “Stop striving. Come and let Me heal you. Let go of your past, of those who’ve wounded you. Trust Me and I’ll wipe away your pain.”

I lifted my head and staggered to Him, desperate. Tears streamed as shame and longing flowed freely from within me. He gathered me tenderly into His arms and held me close to His beating heart. Weathered hands wiped away my tears.

“You are the delight of My heart,” He said. “I’ll never, ever let you go.” Grace flooded over me, washing me through, replacing despair with hope and peace.

I was twenty-one. Anorexic. He was the Good Shepherd. The restorer of my soul.

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“My darling, I love you.” His gentle hands reached out to hold mine. “Will you marry me?”

I stared into his eyes, glistening pools of blue, my heart overflowing. This was the man I knew so well– the devoted, creative, handsome one who had my admiration from the moment we met. Far beyond my reach, I thought. Yet there he sat, smiling through the darkness while waves crashed on the beach below us.

The diamond ring sparkled in the moonlight as he slipped it on my finger. He held me close, his tenderness awakening the sleeping parts of my soul.

“You are so beautiful, inside and out. Let’s walk together through the rest of our days. Everything I have is yours.” His voice was soft with emotion. “I long to know you completely – with every part of my being. But I’ll wait…until the day. Be sure of this – already you have my heart. ”

He was twenty-eight. A lavish gift from God. I was twenty-seven. Blessed beyond words.

Healed and finally free to love.

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Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Related Scriptures

Jeremiah 31:3-4

1 John 3:16

Revelation 21:4

Isaiah 40:11

Zephaniah 3:17

Deuteronomy 31:6

 

 

 

Christmas Every Day

There’s going to be a pile of presents under our tree tonight. It’s Christmas Eve. For the first time, our four children have bought a gift for each family member. That means that before Mark and I even put our gifts out, there will be twenty presents filling the floor space around our bauble-laden evergreen.

Exciting!

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I love Christmas. I love presents – giving them, getting them, seeing the surprise on each one’s face as they discover what’s inside the colourful wrapping.

But long after all the paper is stashed in the recycling and the gifts are put away, I’ll still be celebrating the One we remember in this special season.

I’ve been pondering two verses in Isaiah chapter 9 of late, words which foretell the coming of Jesus. One particular phrase in verse 7 has stuck with me.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Yes, Jesus came as a beautiful, perfect baby. He was a real historical figure. He was born in a stable and was worshipped by shepherds and wise men alike. Isaiah 9: 6 speaks of that child.

But that exciting time was just the beginning.

Jesus didn’t come to the world just to delight everyone with his cuteness. He grew into a man and lived and loved people from all walks of life. He demonstrated His goodness and power in countless miracles – healings, provision, even raising the dead to life. He then laid down His life, taking the punishment for all the ways we’ve blown it and opening up the way for us to walk right into God’s presence (and live there).

Finally, He rose again (was seen by many witnesses) and still lives today. Best of all – He’s at work in our world.

He is the Wonderful Counsellor – the one who understands us completely and gives the best advice;

Mighty God – able to intervene in our lives and turn things around;

Everlasting Father – the faithful Dad who will never leave;

Prince of Peace – the one who remains steady at all times and invites us to walk with Him in that peace.

Our world is trying to push Jesus out, it seems. In America, use of the word ‘Christmas’ is being replaced by a more generic term.  In our own nation, Victorian public schools will no longer sing ‘religious’ carols at Christmas time as they may offend some students. There are countries where, for centuries, followers of Jesus have been ostracised, beaten, imprisoned and slaughtered, purely because of their devotion to Him.

Yet He continues to work.

Isaiah 9:7 reminds us that Jesus’ rule is spreading, even now, across the globe. Though we don’t hear about this in the mainstream media, He is reaching into the most unlikely places, touching the most unlikely people, bringing His counsel, His power, His beautiful Fatherly love and His perfect peace right into their midst.

Jesus’ rule isn’t one of domination or violence. He hasn’t raised up a terrifying army. He doesn’t force Himself upon us at all. No. He invites us to come to Him. He offers forgiveness, renewal, healing.

When we open our lives to Him, He fills us with His presence and begins to restore us, starting with all the broken places in our hearts.

It’s been thirty two years since I accepted His invitation. There’s not a moment in that time where I’ve regretted my decision. He has changed me more than I can find words to explain, bringing a love and peace that is beyond compare.

Knowing Him is cause for celebration every day.

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on His shoulders.

And He will be called

Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end…”

Isaiah 9:6-7a

The Beauty of Ordinary

A two minute chat with a couple of nine year olds left me unravelled.

My daughter’s class were bush dancing for their PE session. Their knees lifted high and their heads bobbed as they heel-toe, heel-toed back and forth in front of me. It looked like so much fun that I decided to join in. (The school encourages parent involvement). Bouncing along beside them, I locked eyes with different ones and grinned as I copied their movements.

When the music ended, the PE leaders moved to the stereo to restart the song. The students clustered together, panting steadily.

I stepped close to a huddle of girls. “Phew, that was hard work.” I patted my stomach. “Especially when you’ve just finished breakfast.”

One of the girls looked at me, her lovely eyes wide. “Have you only just eaten breakfast?”

“Ye-es.” My mind raced, clutching at a good excuse. “I do that last. Today I finished eating on the way here while my son drove.” That was fifteen minutes ago.

She looked at me blankly, seemingly shocked.

I make a habit of chatting to my daughter’s classmates each morning. Somehow I’d missed this one. Until today. Right at that moment she was forming her view of me. Probably not a good one.

“I’m not an early riser.” I smiled apologetically. “Do you get up early?”

She did.

My mind flitted back to some things I’d heard about their family lifestyle. This girl would have been up for hours. Breakfast, for her, was a distant memory. Unlike me.

Another girl – one I knew well – leaned forward, tilting her head while tiny furrows formed in her brow. I could almost hear the cogs turning as her deep blue eyes questioned me. “So, do you brush your teeth before breakfast?”

I paused and took a deep breath. “No, I haven’t brushed my teeth yet.”

I could almost hear their gasp.

“I’ll do them when I get home.”

My flustered thoughts were interrupted by another question from girl number one. “Do you go out to work?”

I pictured the way I was dressed. Black track pants, joggers and an ugly red polar fleece – unattractive but warm. Perfect for a day at home. Unimpressive compared to a working mum’s stylish garments.

“No, I’m a writer.” Well, technically that wasn’t true. “I stay at home and do writing.” My voice faded as I ran out of words.

The music began and I retreated from the group to watch. My mind was in a whirl, struggling with the desire to explain all the good things I did. All the ways I fit the ‘perfect mother’ mould.

Far out God, am I really that insecure?

It took a little while to shake off the sense of failure. I’m not like the mothers of those girls. I don’t get up early and dress smartly for work. I’m not so efficient with the morning routine. Some days I don’t finish my breakfast till after everyone’s gone to school.

But I am loved.

One thing I’ve learnt in the past few years is that God’s love for me isn’t dependent on my performance. Because of His character, that love is faithful and steady. Unchanging. Regardless of my failings.

I’ve found that the more I face up to my frailty, the more I feel His boundless love.

Even better, that love lives in me. Because I’ve invited Him to flood my life, I carry His presence within me. I may be inadequate. He is more than enough. I may be ordinary. He is extraordinary.

God loves to do the unexpected. He puts treasure in jars of clay. Gives beauty for ashes; joy for mourning. Pours His overcoming strength into those who have nothing left.

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I can identify with the clay jar – an ordinary, insignificant household item in Bible times – a bit chipped around the outside and able to be broken. It’s God’s constant, loving presence that gives me worth. Because of Him, I always have something to offer those around me. Even on the most ordinary days.

My worth comes not from myself but from the treasure I carry. And it seems the more cracks I let people see, the more His goodness is able to shine through.

When God is present, ordinary becomes something beautiful.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. ” 2 Corinthians 4: 7, 16.

(Photo taken from Homeschooling Against All Odds/Homeschool411.com)