The metaphor of God’s presence, especially with this people, runs throughout the Bible.
Jesus tells his followers (building on an Old Testament metaphor) that they are the “light of the world.”
At the end of the entire Bible, the writer of Revelation has an image of major churches as lampstands, but in danger of having their lamps removed due to various struggles and shortcomings.
There’s some room for debate, but probably the original though behind all of these metaphors is from Exodus. More specifically, you can see the symbol in the building of the tabernacle—where God’s presence resides within the people of Israel—and the placing of a symbolic lampstand inside the tabernacle, to illuminate the “bread of the presence.”
So how bright was that light?
I think Dietrich Bonhoeffer said something along the lines of, “we who live in the era of electric light have no true concept of the dark.”
I think it’s true. Living in an era where we can make the night practically as bright as day, we forget how truly deep and dark the night can be.
And a lamp stand simply is NOT that bright.
In Florida, we lose power a few times a year without fail, and when that happens at night, trying to read by candlelight is pretty instructive:
It’s REALLY DIFFICULT.
A candle just doesn’t give off much light.
Whether thinking about OURSELVES or our CHURCHES, sometimes we think that being the “light of the world” means having a white hot burning spotlight that gives day-for-night to the largest radius we can imagine.
But the lamp stand in the tabernacle simply wasn’t that big. It probably had a very, very smalll radius of light.
But it wasn’t the radius that was important, it was what the lamp SHOWN ON. It’s what was illuminated: the bread of the presence.
It’s not how large, or how bright our light burns: it’s simply whether or not our light is illuminating God, Jesus Christ, and the life he offers us with the Holy Spirit.
It might seem like your personal (or your church’s) light is too small, but maybe that’s not what you should focus on. Maybe you can just focus on keeping the lamp lit, and keeping it shining in the right direction.