When I was a kid, my family used to go camping in the summer and fall. I loved the smell of the woods, and the familiar drive into the state park that we visited. The trees enveloped us as we drove farther down a winding dirt path, away from towns and highways and the hustle and bustle of our normal daily rhythms. On those trips, we fished, hiked, swam, ate good food, and sat around the fire at night telling stories or singing songs. Some of my sweetest, most relaxed and joyful memories from my growing up years are from those trips.

My favorite part of those camping adventures happened in the evening, right around dusk. My brother and sister and I gathered sticks and small branches from the woods, excited for the taste of smoky marshmallows and melted chocolate s’mores. Finally, after much anticipation and excitement, my dad would start the fire. On those evenings, under an open sky, serenaded by crickets, I sat and watched the sparks catch onto the wood and slowly build into a bright crescendo of light. Any time I catch a hint of the smell of woodsmoke, I am instantly transported back to those sweet, nostalgic camping trips.

I grew up in a Christian home and church, and adopted a life verse pretty early on in my walk with the Lord:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16

This verse became a mantra- I often said it to myself in lunch rooms or gym class when tempted to react with a less-than-kind response to others. I listed it as my favorite quote in my senior yearbook, and had the reference of Matthew 5:16 engraved on the inside of my class ring.

The problem was that I was externally motivated. I shined as brightly as I could, but my focus was on outward good deeds, always wearing a smile, and the appearance of having my life all together. However, sometimes those good deeds had ulterior motives (really, I wanted to be SEEN as good), the smile was often just a mask, and my life wasn’t all together. So I wasn’t really being honest with myself or others.

It’s easy to sense a false light source. On those camping trips, sometimes we would have to use our flashlights to carry us through the woods to the bath houses. The battery operated flashlights would barely cut through the darkness, and when we returned to our family campsite, it was a welcome relief to find the swell of light and warmth coming from the fire. Sometimes when I look back on myself during those periods of life where I claimed Matthew 5:16 as my badge-of-honor-life-verse, I think I reflected more of a harsh fluorescent office light (the kind you’d rather turn off because it hurts your eyes) or a flashlight that barely lit the path forward, rather than a pure source of light and truth.

Over the years, I’ve become keenly aware that when we admit our weakness there is more room for Christ’s light to shine through. If we can’t admit our brokenness, it’s hard to see the need for a Savior to redeem and restore. I now know that when the light shines through from a deeper internal Source, it is lasting, it is pure, it brings warmth, and draws other people to it, like a cozy campfire on a chilly autumn evening.

The light cannot be generated by us if we truly want to draw others to Christ– it has to come from Christ alone. In my younger years of faith, I often let others know that I was a Christian by offering up stock answers to hard questions, quoting Scriptures, and making lists of my good deeds and activities. But I really wasn’t worried about praise for my Father in heaven… I think I can see now that I was much more concerned with praise for myself.

The best way I can draw others to Him is by abiding with Him, sharing how He has changed me, and letting His love flow into the lives of others around me with sincerity and genuine care.

  • “Remain in me, as I remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” -John 15:4
  • “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” -Psalm 119:105
  • “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” -John 14:6
  • “When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” -John 8:12

When I am abiding in the Lord– spending true time in prayer, reading His word consistently (daily), praying for others, digging into the work He wants to do in my life– I find that I stop worrying about “turning on” my light like a lamp switch. The light starts to flow more naturally because the source is eternal, pure, and I am able to love others well without selfish motives. THAT kind of light is the light He calls us to be.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather be gazing up at a thousand bright stars next to a campfire than forging my way ahead with an inauthentic light source trying to dazzle others to Christ. He doesn’t need me for that. He is the brightest Light on His own. We are a mere reflection or a vessel for it to shine through.

A few extras just for you:

A passage for you to read: John 15:1-17

A song for you:

Some questions for you to consider:

  • Are you comfortable showing your own brokenness, or telling the story of how God has brought healing to your life?
  • Do you point others to Christ just in your words or the smile on your face?
  • What do your actions look like on any given day (especially when others aren’t looking)?
  • What is your motivation in serving and loving others?
  • What does that “abiding” look like for you?


*Special thanks to the wonderful Ian Keefe, Toa Heftiba, and Jonathan Forage for the images featured in this post.