How to Fulfill Jesus’ Exhortation to Be the Salt and Light of the World in the Midst of Overwhelming Times
Is anyone else tired?
Is anyone else tired while accomplishing what appears to be little?
This world demands nothing less than a full-speed marathon pace just to keep ahead of the chaotic mess chasing us. Our work spills over and often remains undone; the bills are two months overdue and our plates have mountainous heaps that can’t contain all our responsibilities.
Consider the following statistics:
- Working mothers today spend as much or more time with their children as non-working mothers did in the 1960s. This doesn’t indicate we have more hours available to us; it shows we fulfill the same obligations – and more – as moms in the 60s.
- 38% of men in professional jobs work more than 50 hours a week, up 4% since 1978
- Almost 15% of women in professional jobs worked more than 50 hours a week, up almost 10% since 1978
And it’s not just on-the-job work hours that have increased. Digital overtime expectations have also increased due to technology:
- 22% of employees are expected to respond to work email while off the clock
- Half of all employees engage in work email on the weekends
The cost of living has increased 67% since 1990, but our wages haven’t kept pace. Not only are we working longer and harder, but we have less to show for it.
Not only are we working longer and harder, but we have less to show for it.
Additionally, we now have a second shift: the average, American working mom spends 28.5 hours a week on childcare and household duties, while the average, American working father spends 19.1 hours a week on such activities. This is in addition to time spent on the job and time spent working at home.
Welcome to earth, 21st-century style. Life is crazy and overwhelming. No wonder we feel like worn-out rags.
We’re Harried Beyond Belief
A few months ago, I spied on a woman while trying to sleep in my car before going into an evening church service. It was fascinating.
I secretly watched her as she pulled her hectic minivan into the parking lot. She was in her thirties, hair pulled into a messy top-knot, and screaming at someone. After parking, the van doors opened and about sixteen kids poured out. Plastic was duct-taped over the space where the van window should have been, and it was peeling off. The car registration was expired and the license plate hung on with one screw.
While the kids raced into the church, she slowly emerged from the drivers’ seat, baby on her hip and a toddler clinging her pants belt loop. She slung a purse over her shoulder and the strap simultaneously broke, spilling unused diapers, credit cards, lipstick tubes, and papers all over the parking lot.
Grunting loudly, she bent down while holding the baby, who was upside down by now. She painfully stuffed the contents into her purse while jostling the infant. Meanwhile, the toddler chased the rolling items and accidentally kicked them instead, propelling them further across the parking lot. Mom screamed. Receipts blew in the wind.
I helped her retrieve everything and she murmured while puffing her bangs. Deep, dark circles surrounded her eyes, and a large chasm furrowed between her brows. Her shirt was torn and pants stained with multi-colored marks. Her fingernails were gnawed to the nub. She retreated into the building with the cloud of chaos following her.
I looked on with love. I fought not to run after and hug her. Then I laughed because her van doors were left wide open and a Texas monsoon was swirling overhead. Clearly, this was her life.
I loved her because I was her. I am her.
The Disarray Called Life
Let’s face it: life is messy and uncontained. It doesn’t fit in neat packages; instead it spills everywhere and we’re running furiously behind it with a mop and bucket. I usually imagine I travel everywhere in a whirlwind like the Tasmanian devil from the Looney Tunes. Family, household, and work needs pull me every which way until I feel like I’ve been quartered. By the time the day is done, I stare into the gaunt mirror to examine the grays, wrinkles, and stress pimples. I don’t know if I’m coming or going.
And while we’re in the midst of our overwhelming ocean called Life, here comes Jesus’ declaration stage left: Christians are the Salt of the World. We are the Light.
According to our Fearless Leader, not only are we moms, dads, wives, husbands, employees, friends, sons, daughters, and volunteers, but we are also the Salt and Light of the earth.
Who here doesn’t need another role to fulfill? This girl’s hand is raised. Ah, but Jesus did not say we should be the Salt and Light – He said we already are.
What Did Jesus Mean By Salt and Light?
If we’re the Salt and Light, let’s outline some definitions.
Of all things, salt:
- Transforms powerfully. A small amount of salt changes the blandest hunk of chicken into an exquisite bucket of KFC.
- Preserves. Before refrigeration, salt was sprinkled on meat to prevent decay.
- Creates thirst. Wolf down a salty Auntie Annie’s pretzel, and what’s the first thing you reach for? That Coke, or Sprite, or whatever.
If Christians are Salt, then we also transform powerfully, preserve, and create thirst.
And what about light? What does light do?
- Illuminates. Without light, we’re bumbling around in the dark, desperately grasping our way around, tripping over stairs, and stubbing our toes.
- Warms. Think about a loving, comfortable home at night. What do you see? Light.
In a postmodern world, salty Christians are needed. Who else is going to preserve this crazy world? Make no mistake – most of us want badly to be what Jesus says we already are. The last thing we want is to disappoint Him by being un-salty and un-lighty.
But then life happens. Problems arise, emotions are stirred, temptations tempt, the washer breaks, the dog is sick, and dinner’s not ready. We holler and scream and whine and gaff. At nine twenty-seven that night we remember: we were supposed to be the Salt. We were supposed to be the Light.
We sigh and flop into bed. Tomorrow, we think. Tomorrow we’ll be better.
However, as we float between consciousness and sleep, we wonder: how can we be the Salt and Light when we’re just trying to survive?
A Biblical Solution
In a world that demands so much just to exist, here are some Biblical tips about how to actively fulfill the roles of Salt and Light.
- Keep an eternal perspective. When I think of a salty life, I think of Paul. Of all New Testament lives, his may have impacted most.
A zealous evangelist, Paul’s physical life was out of control: he was outcast by his former Jewish comrades, imprisoned several times, stoned, whipped, held under arrest for two years with no trial, attacked by an angry mob, and more. We think we’re drowning in demands; Paul almost literally drowned three times after he shipwrecked while trying to deliver the Gospel to unbelievers.
He kept an eternal perspective.
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Instead of focusing only on the here and now, he also thought of the future. His perspective reached far beyond his residence transfer to Heaven. You see, Paul knew he wouldn’t cease to exist upon death. No, he knew his life would outlast his body. And he lived accordingly.
Consider his words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
If we think beyond this life, our influence will reflect it. Most profoundly effective people live under the reality that this life is only a small part of the eternal picture.
Most profoundly effective people know this life is a small part of the eternal picture.
– Diane Watt, Scripture Seeds
Many of us are short-sighted. The furthest we think ahead is to retirement, when we’ll ride into the sunset in our RVs and live out our days amongst the nursing home population.
When asked, “What happens after that?” our typical response is a blank stare.
But let’s think about that. What does happen after that? What goes beyond our physical end? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we will outlast our retirement (sorry, meticulous financial planners.) Your life has no end. Oh, your current body will die, but you’ll get a replacement.
Are you living with that in mind?
- Prioritize Correctly. Just because we can do everything doesn’t mean we should. In his book Crazy Busy, Kevin DeYoung sheds light on the abundance of 21st-century opportunities:
We have more opportunity than ever before. The ability to cheaply go anywhere is a recent development. The ability to get information from anywhere is, too. Even the ability to easily stay up past sundown is relatively new. The result, then, is simple but true: because we can do so much, we do do so much. Our lives have no limits.
-Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy
There is a lack of boundaries in our 21st-century lives, and it’s wreaking havoc on our ability to choose wisely.
We cannot do it all. And we shouldn’t.
Consider the example in Acts 6. The baby Church was growing. Thousands of members joined the ranks in the blink of the disciples’ eyes. Their food distribution ministry, designed to provide for the widows amongst them, was not meeting all their needs.
Grumbling and infighting began, and the original Twelve had a choice to make: stop praying and preaching (or at least, cut back) and devote themselves to the food ministry. Look what they chose:
It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
– Acts 6:2-4
Instead of stressing themselves out or trying to fit 28 hours of work into a 24-hour day, they chose instead to spread out the work. In Jesus’ words to Martha, they had chosen “what is better.” (Luke 10:42)
Can you imagine if they had chosen to distribute food (the urgent) instead of prayer and preaching (the important)? Or if, like so many of us, they had tried to “manage their time” and “life hack” their way into doing both? Guess which one would have suffered first?
Listen, this slice of life is short! Unless God prevents the sun from going down like He did in Joshua’s day, you won’t be able to do it all! You have 28,000 days – spend them wisely. Choose the important over the urgent.
You really can be the Salt and Light, even amongst the 21st-century chaos. Jesus knew our lives would be disorderly, yet He called us to be the Salt and Light anyway. Jesus is not unrealistic or overly demanding; He knows there is a way for very real, very human people to shine His light to a dark world. He called us to be fishers of men even when He knew we may not have a free hand to hold a fishing pole. Be encouraged, Friend, as we astutely carry out our noble mission.