Punching Holes in the Darkness

As a kid, I hated the dark. Shadows seem to grow in the dark and turn into creatures in the closet and under the bed. At bedtime, I made sure my mom turned on the nightlight. One reason I love Christmas so much is that, when I was little, the Christmas tree lights would filter through the house into my bedroom, and their warm glow set me at ease. Their simple comfort still does.

The world around us, with all of its suffering and spiritual darkness, can feel overwhelmingly gloomy, threatening our peace and robbing our joy. That was also true in Peter’s day as he wrote to early believers in order to strengthen their resolve to live godly and obedient lives in spite of it.

A classic biblical metaphor is the contrast of darkness and light. Darkness stands in for the spiritual values of the devil and the world system; light speaks of God. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NIV). The Apostle Paul described the result of that truth: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). And Peter, having established certain truths in the first part of his first letter—God chose you and has given you a living, eternal hope to help you navigate suffering—now shifts into what to do with that truth. How do we live well in a dark world?

I’ve always loved the story about Robert Louis Stevenson growing up in Scotland. In those days, streetlamps didn’t just come on automatically; people were hired to light each one individually. One evening, as the lamplighters did their work, climbing their ladders, lifting the glass lid, lighting the torch, shutting the lid, climbing down, and moving on to the next lamp, young Stevenson was enthralled. As dusk settled into night, one light would be kindled, then another, and another. He turned to his parents and said: “Look, they’re punching holes in the darkness!”

What a great visual. How do you punch holes in darkness? How do you live for Christ in a dark world? Well, action always begins with thought, moving from mind to deed. If you are going to walk in the dark, Peter wrote, you must first prepare your mind.

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts” (1 Peter 1:13-14). Gird up the loins of your mind? That sounds so foreign, even creepy, to our ears. My mind is loin-free, thank you very much—and even it if it weren’t, how do you gird a loin, anyway?

Two thousand years ago, men regularly wore long, flowing robes. It was the fashion of the day; it looked good, and it was also practical; but it was a problem if you wanted to run or work. You had to cinch up—gird up—your robe and tuck it into your belt, or you’d face-plant. Loins of your mind sounds even stranger to us, but the idea was to fix your full creative

and mental strength on God. The modern equivalent would be, “Roll up the sleeves of your mind.” That is, get mentally ready; intentionally prepare your thought life.

Once you’ve done that loin-girding, you’re told to “be sober.” The idea isn’t just don’t be drunk, but rather, think clearly and be morally decisive. Behavioral scientists tell us that our subconscious minds govern our actions. More important, the Bible says, “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). What you believe determines how you behave. What we think determines what we do. If you walk in darkness in your mind, you will walk in darkness in life. But if you prepare your mind to walk as light, you’ll find it much easier to punch holes in the darkness.

I’ll never forget as a little boy in 1969, watching on television the first walk on the moon. When that space capsule landed and that first step was taken, Neil Armstrong’s words were tailor-made for the history books: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The headlines declared: We Have Conquered Outer Space.

We were so proud of ourselves; we’d gone out into the universe. But the problem inside us remained, and still does. We need to conquer inner space—to think clearly and then hopefully. “Rest your hope fully on the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). His revelation should be our motivation.

There’s something coming down the line. Everyone sets their hope on something: a student on graduation, a bride on her wedding, a politician on Election Day. As Christians, we should set our hope on the coming of Jesus Christ. The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. We get up every day and we put on our running shoes, so to speak. Our motivation, according to Peter, should be our hope of what awaits us at the finish line: Jesus greeting us with those longed-for words of praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Unless our minds are focused and determined to avoid “conforming … to the former lusts” (1 Peter 1:14), we’ll never be able to punch holes in the darkness. And such a firm motivation is produced only by the future anticipation of seeing Jesus face to face.

Distraction can be disastrous. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, American Matt Emmons was competing in the 50-Meter Rifle Competition. He could taste the gold medal. Sitting in first place, all he needed for his final shot was something near the bull’s-eye. Emmons aimed his rifle and pulled the trigger, but his shot did not register on his target.

Shock turned to horror as Emmons, standing in lane number three, realized that he had struck the target—in lane two. It was an unheard-of error at that level of competition. The judges gave him a zero, and Emmons plummeted from first place to eighth. A costly distraction for him but a key reminder for us: You live in a dark world. Prepare your mind. Live in the light of the coming of Christ, and let your real hope in Him lead you as you punch holes in the darkness. D 2015 SKIP HEITZIG