The realisation of what darkness really is has become much more real for me the last five years. It was five years ago Maggie and I moved into the countryside after 35 years living in two of our greatest cities: London and Bristol. These days, if I take something to put on my compost heap at the back of our garden after dark, I can only do so by feeling my way in the darkness to find the gravel path. Unless there’s a decent moon and a clear sky (in the West Country that’s not an assumption you can make most nights), or I take a torch, it’s impossible to see more than an arms’ length in front. If we go anywhere in our village, which has no street lighting, we have to put on a head-torch if we want to arrive in the right place.

Alongside realising how dark the darkness actually is, I more fully appreciate light.

If I want to see to go anywhere, I need light. I don’t need daylight where everything is clear and obvious, but I do need sufficient light to be able to take my next step. This Advent, this is the light I need. When I read the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it it’s not simply an element I believe in, but a truth I’m living by. In recent months I’ve spoken to a whole variety of people who are struggling to keep going. This is not something followers of Jesus are immune to.

I talk primarily with Christian leaders, so I’m under no illusions and my hunch is, whoever you are and whatever you give your best energies to, you’ll not need much imagination to identify with this sentiment. Within the UK, what’s being described as ‘the great resignation’ is epidemic. Last month the surveys were telling us that almost a quarter of UK workers are planning to change jobs within the next few months. Post-pandemic burn out is outstripping the number of virus cases and the numbers currently running on empty remain unseen – for now.

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re highly motivated to serve God the best you can. You’re most likely to be someone who sets yourself high standards, you like to do whatever you do well. In my view, you’re a strategic, missional leader. On top of all that, you want to be a positive influence for Jesus in your circle of influence. Yet despite it all, sometimes (maybe today) you feel you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the darkness. Sometimes, like me, you’re tempted to give in. Sometimes, like me, you’re tempted to give up because the darkness does feel overwhelming at times. Be encouraged. Remember: the light shines in the darkness.

I’d be lying if I suggested it’s solely physical darkness that I’ve become more aware of. There is a very real spiritual darkness which is increasingly apparent. Let’s not be fooled by the politically correct, nice culture surrounding us. Right now, the post-modern secular culture which predominates across the UK, appears less receptive to the gospel, than to Islam.

I’m a supporter of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris who wrote and illustrated, respectively, the children’s book, The Lost Words. The Lost Words project began as a response to the removal of everyday nature words – among them “acorn”, “bluebell”, “kingfisher”, “wren” – from a widely used children’s dictionary, because those words were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. Imagine if we had a stock take and only included in a Bible dictionary those words ‘used enough’ in the UK church. You can draw up your own list, but top of mine is ‘holy’. The one, true, living, God is holy. Wholly other. Yet he calls you and I to ‘be holy as I am holy’. Holiness and light are linked together.

I wonder what element of darkness you’re looking into right now? It may well be different to mine, but I’ve no doubt we’re all looking into darkness somewhere in life. I can look as hard as I might in my garden for the outline of my compost heap, but if it’s too dark, it just doesn’t work. However, one lumen of light is enough. I understand one lumen is equal to the light output of one children’s birthday candle one foot away from you. For comparison purposes a typical digital projector, these days, provides at least 2500 lumens. A lightbulb for a standard sized room provides at least 1300 lumens.

Only one single lumen may well be all you can provide today. But even that amount cannot be, nor ever will be overcome by the darkness and certainly cannot put it out!

That is the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus talked about light, mustard seeds, and yeast, because they all work according to the nature of the kingdom of God. It’s not about how much light, how many lumens you think you allow to shine, but about the light source.

Listen again to John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Listen again to Jesus: You are the light of the world (Mt. 5:14)

The book I’m working on may well be subtitled ‘beyond listening into fruitfulness’, because that’s where the purposes of God, working themselves out in and through your life and mine, lead us. So let me gently challenge you to listen carefully to each of these verses. We listen to hear, so hear whatever the Lord speaks into your life. Act on whatever it is you need to do as a result. Embrace the word of God and allow it to take root in your life, because that’s where fruitfulness is born.

After we’d moved house, on discovering the darkness in the countryside, I recalled a story of Abraham Lincoln. He once said “when I feel too full of my own importance I go outside and look up at the night sky. Then when I feel small enough, I go back in”. I do that quite regularly, not in my case because I feel the need to be reminded how small I am, but to be reminded I am held in the hands of almighty God. Abraham Lincoln also said, ‘I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.’ And that’s ultimately why you and I can go into a new year with confidence. The light of the world is invincible, and it shines through you.

Nigel Coles

Nigel is Regional Team Leader of the West of England Baptist Network. He facilitates the life of the webnet team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations and Baptists Together. Nigel believes that when Jesus sent out seventy-two others, he meant everyone who was there, and this passion to help everyone find their way in the mission of God is what inspired the development of Seventy-two.