Watch Out for the Lyrics

In the gathering dusk, the harmonies settled in, comfortable, tight and mysterious.  The guitar was soft, rich and deep, a confident, rock-steady downbeat.  A few hands clapped in light, syncopated rhythm. They sang:

“Keep your lantern trimmed and burning, 
Keep your lantern trimmed and burning”…

Moments like that are rare and precious, they sweep you up and pull you in. Maybe you love singing that old Gospel song and have memories like that. 

But watch out for what it says!  It’s a dangerous message.  There is no way a oil lamp or kerosene lantern can keep itself burning.  It must be cleaned and adjusted.  Most importantly, it must be filled.  The song tells “you” to keep yourself trimmed and burning.  It implies you can do it if you will just try hard enough and persevere.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” going on to illustrate His imagery with an oil lamp.  But He also said, 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –  (John 15:5)

We who follow Him are but branches through which His life grows, lanterns through which the oil of His Spirit is transformed into light.  Only by His power, life and light, are we able to keep burning.

Somehow, David understood that Who keeps the light lit.  3000 years ago, he wrote:

“You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.” –  (Psalm 18:28)

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