Episode 1. Dreams that Point the Way
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As you look back on your life so far, it might amaze you to think about the huge changes in direction that your life’s taken, based on seemingly small decisions that you’ve made along the way. In …
As you look back on your life so far, it might amaze you to think about the huge changes in direction that your life’s taken, based on seemingly small decisions that you’ve made along the way. In fact, the more you think about it, the more mind-boggling it becomes.
I wonder if you can point to one seemingly small decision that you’ve made along your life’s journey that had huge consequences, or perhaps, it was a seemingly chance encounter or some small twist or turn that changed the course of your life. When I ask that question, people often answer: ‘Well, no, I can’t really think of anything like that’, and my response is: ‘I don’t think you’re thinking hard enough’.
My father was Romanian. After World War II, when Romania looked like falling into communist hands (which it did), his parents, his sister, and he decided to get out of there, but where to flee? So they decided that they’d apply to each embassy in alphabetical order until one of them accepted them as immigrants. Now, if you have a look at the alphabetical list of countries, it goes something like this: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, American Samoa, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Armenia, and then Australia. The earlier ones rejected them. When they arrived at the Australian embassy, they went through the process, and the official there said no too.
Well, they left dejected, but as they were walking out and through the car park, that same official came running out to tell them he’d changed his mind. They’d be accepted, and they could emigrate to Australia and that, that’s why I’m an Australian, and not an Afghani, Albanian, Algerian, Angolan, Armenian or anything else. That one small twist, years before I was born, has defined my whole life.
Decades later, I almost didn’t go to the church service one Sunday morning because I was sick and I was running a high temperature, but I really felt I should go, and that is where I met my wife. She was visiting from interstate and that is the only morning I could have met her in my life. It’s funny the twists and turns that life takes.
I know that if you think back, you’ll be able to see some amazing things that happened along your journey, that have completely changed how your life’s turned out. Some people put it down to co-incidence; others to fate; yet others to destiny. What do you put it down to? Me – I believe, in fact I know that I know, that it’s none of those because the God who created us (you, me) has a plan for our lives. He has a plan for your life; He has a plan for my life, and along the way, He hands us opportunities and He expects us to take them and do something with them. Don’t believe me? Have a listen to how Jesus put it:
As they were listening to Him, He went on to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. So He said: ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then to return. He summonsed ten of his slaves and gave them ten pounds, and said to them: ‘Do business with these until I come back.’
But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him saying: ‘We don’t want this man to rule us.’
When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves to whom he’d given the money to be summonsed so that he might find out what they’d gained in trading. The first came forward and said: ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.’
And he said to him: ‘Well done, good slave. Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of these ten cities.’
Then the second came, saying: ‘Lord, your pound has made five more pounds.’
And he said to him: ‘And you, go rule over those five cities.’
Then the other came, saying: ‘Lord, here’s your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth because I was afraid of you, because you’re a harsh man. You take what you don’t deposit and you reap what you don’t sow.’
And he said to him: ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave. You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I didn’t deposit, and reaping what I didn’t sow? Why, then, did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.’ He said to the bystanders: ‘Take the pound from him, and give it to the one who has ten pounds.
And they said to him: ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’
’I tell you, to all those who have more will be given, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be king over them, bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.’ (Luke 19:11-27)
The easiest thing in the world for us to do is to read that like some fairy-tale. Heard this one so many times, some of us, that it’s like water off a duck’s back, but let’s just remember who Jesus was speaking these words to: The everyday man and woman in the street; Jews – a proud nation, God’s nation. These people were farmers and peasants, nobodies when compared to the Roman empire and the power of Caesar; an occupied nation, oppressed, with little or no future.
And so along comes the Son of God, and tells them a powerful story about the fact that God is handing them something. In the parable it’s the pounds – the money, and God expects them to do something with it. What this story is about is God handing His people, even the peasants, even the farmers, even those who live in an oppressed land, a substantial opportunity with the expectation that they’ll grab hold of it, and do something with it.
Now let’s take a moment, you and I, to apply that parable (that powerful story) to our lives, the way the men and the women who were listening to Jesus on that day applied it to theirs. God comes to you; He hands you your pound – your opportunity, with the strongest of expectations that you’ll do something with it. How do you handle that opportunity? Are you too busy to notice? Are you too busy to take hold of it? Is it perhaps an inconvenient opportunity? Do your circumstances maybe tell you that you couldn’t possibly make a difference in this world? What do you do with that opportunity?
See, all too often, God’s opportunities come disguised as calamities, impossibilities, and even sometimes seemingly insignificant decisions, but what we do with God-given opportunities is going to impact the rest of our lives.
Dreams of Greatness
When we’re young, we have dreams for how we want our lives to turn out. Those dreams are all different in one sense, and all pretty much the same in another, in that they include some common elements. Most of us when we’re young dream about being wealthy, famous, and finding love. Some dream about having children. They’re like all the happily ever-after dreams, and in fact, we don’t just dream those dreams when we’re young; we continue our daydreaming pretty much the whole of our lives. It’s when we stop dreaming big dreams that we know we’re plumbing the depths of human existence. Whether we realise it or not, we’re all day dreamers. It’s part of what keeps hope going, and hope, when the going’s not quite what we want it to be, hope is what keeps us going.
We’re chatting this week and over the coming few weeks about not missing out on God’s opportunities. Because He loves us, He has a plan for our lives and time and again, He drops opportunities in along our path: Opportunities that we can choose to pick up and run with, or ignore and bypass, something which many people do. But often God places a dream in our hearts: A dream that He planted there when we were quite young; a dream that somehow He brings to fruition as we grow and mature.
When I was young, daydreaming wasn’t encouraged. ‘Daydreamer’ was a detrimental label. It implied laziness, and yet I dreamed dreams. In my early teenage years, I had an encounter with God, and I dreamed about becoming a minister. I dreamed about telling people about Jesus, but by the time I’d finished high school, I went on to study at university and set out to build a career and make lots of money (which I’d also dreamed about). The idea of me becoming a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ was lost, and yet it came back, and it came to fruition in my late thirties/early forties and here I am, well into my fifties, living out that dream. My point is that the dreams that God lays on our hearts are often appointed to the opportunities that He’s planning on laying before us further down the track.
That’s exactly what happened to young Joseph (the son of Jacob) way, way back in the Old Testament. Let’s have a listen (Genesis 37:1-11):
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers. He was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and Joseph brought back a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel (that’s Jacob’s other name) now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his other brothers, they hated him, and they couldn’t speak peaceably to him.
Once, Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding up sheaves in the field. Suddenly, my sheaf rose up and stood upright. Then all your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’
His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed going to reign over us? Are you indeed going to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers, saying: ‘Look, I have had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’
But when he told it to his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What kind of dream is this that you’ve had? Shall we indeed, I and your mother and your brothers, come and bow down to the ground before you?’ So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Now it seems like a pretty grandiose set of dreams, doesn’t it, a dream of greatness? And when we have those sorts of dreams and tell others about them, the most common response is mocking and rebuking: Exactly what young Joseph ran into. It’s what I ran into when I shared my dream as a teenager too.
When finally at aged thirty-nine or forty I found myself studying to become a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I had another dream: To share the love of Jesus with millions of people. Millions. Now that’s outrageous! I didn’t tell anyone about that dream; it was too ridiculous, and here I am with you today, living out that dream.
Dreams don’t have to be big to seem ridiculous. Most people’s dreams actually aren’t huge, but if they were to verbalise those dreams, they’d no doubt draw the same response that Joseph’s dreams drew. I’m not saying that every dream we have in our hearts is from God; sometimes we dream of fame or comfort or wealth; sometimes we dream away the problems that we’re facing in the here and now, visualising what our lives would be like if only that one problem would go away. No, not all our dreams are from God, but some of them are. They’re the ones that inexplicably warm our hearts and bring tears to our eyes, no matter how difficult or how outrageous they might seem.
Joseph’s dream was outrageous, wasn’t it? Being a ruler, where his father and mother and brothers were going to bow down to him? They all put it down to the fact that he was Dad’s favourite, spoiled little brat, and his brothers hated him. And yet, if you know Joseph’s story (something that we’re going to explore over the coming weeks), that’s exactly what happened.
The dreams that God puts in our hearts when we’re young, and sometimes when we’re old too, the ones He puts there (as opposed to the selfish ones that we dream along the way), those dreams from God are an opportunity that many, many people miss because they write them off as just some crazy idea. What a tragedy it would be to miss out on the dreams that God’s put into your heart.
A Fall From Grace
Before the break, we were talking about the dreams that God places on our hearts. They often seem outrageous at the time, and yet those dreams are what open our eyes to the opportunities that God brings across our path from time to time. Often without that dream in our hearts we miss the opportunities. The God-given dream gives us a new set of eyes to see what God’s up to from His perspective. That’s what it’s there for, that dream: That, and to give us hope.
And when we met young Joseph (the son of Jacob) way, way back there in the Old Testament in the book of Genesis, he was a young man with a dream. A young man who dreamed that one day he’d be a great ruler, and being the naïve young man that he was, he stupidly shared this dream with his brothers, not realising how offensive it would be to them:
‘Listen to this dream I dreamed,’ he said. ‘There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly, my sheaf rose up and stood upright. Then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’
His brothers said to him, ‘Are you going to reign over us? Are you really going to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
I mean, who wouldn’t be offended, right? People are often offended by the dreams God puts in our hearts. Often, that’s motivated by jealousy. They make fun of us; they tell us that the dreams are impossible … Of course God’s dreams are impossible! If He gave us dreams that were possible, dreams that we could realise in our own strength, we wouldn’t need Him then, would we? In fact, one of the ways we can tell whether a dream comes from God is that it is almost always impossible to achieve in your own strength. That tends to be a pretty solid marker that it’s from God. There are others too and we’re going to talk about those another time.
So, young Joseph has this dream. Hey, come on! It’s a great dream. Right? But then his life takes a terrible twist, a shocking twist, one that neither he nor his beloved father Jacob could ever have predicted. Genesis 37:12-24:
His brothers went to pasture their flocks near Shechem, and (Israel – that’s Jacob his father; Israel’s the name that God gave to Jacob) … Israel said to Joseph, ‘Aren’t all your brothers pasturing the flock out at Shechem? Come on, I’ll send you to them.’
And he answered, ‘Here I am.’
He said to him, ‘Go now, and see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron.
Joseph came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields. The man asked, ‘What are you looking for?’
‘I’m looking for my brothers,’ he said. ‘Tell me, please, where are they pasturing the flock?’
And the man said, ‘Look, they’ve gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan’, so Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Look. Here comes that dreamer! Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and then we’ll say a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his stupid dreams.’
But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying: ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him’, that he might rescue him out of their hands to restore him to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore, and they took him, and they threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.”
Can you begin, just begin, to imagine that something so terrible would happen to you? That your brothers, your own flesh and blood, would conspire to kill you, and then take that precious robe that your dad had given you, and throw you into a pit? It’s totally beyond imagining, isn’t it? And yet, this is a pattern that anyone who has ever dreamed a dream will recognise. You have a dream in your heart; a God-given dream that really you don’t fully understand. You have no idea whether it’ll ever come to pass and if so, how God could possibly make it happen.
When my life and my hopes and my dreams lay shattered at my feet, I was praying one Saturday afternoon and God gave me a dream to tell millions of people about Him, millions. His presence in that hour or so, as I sat on the top stair in the stairwell in my townhouse, was palpable. It was the craziest dream that anyone could ever have, but I knew it had come from Him. How could that be? Everything around me was in such devastation; I was travelling through such a lot of pain at the time.
As I think of young Joseph lying there in that pit, his life in the balance, not knowing what was going to happen to him, I bet you he was thinking about those dreams that he’d dreamed. His reality must have screamed at him that the dreams were a fake.
Have you ever had that happen to you? Reality decisively, emphatically, tells you that the God-given dream you had, was a lie. The evidence seems irrefutable. There you are in your pit; you look at the wall; you can’t get out, dream over.
Well, I’m here to tell you that if that’s from God, it’s never dream over. To the absolute contrary, dreams and adversity seem to go hand-in-hand in God’s scheme of things. Let me say it again; maybe it didn’t sink in the first time: Dreams and adversity seem to go hand-in-hand in God’s scheme of things. Why? Listen to what the apostle Paul said thousands of years later, out of a not dissimilar situation. 2 Corinthians 1:9:
Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we wouldn’t rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.
My friend, when you find yourself in that pit with your dreams shattered at your feet, the last thing, the very last thing that God wants you to be thinking is dream over. Here’s the thing about God: What He starts, He finishes. Listen again to the apostle Paul, writing this time out of his Roman dungeon on death row, Philippians 1:6:
‘I am confident of this’ (he said), ‘That the One who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.’
Why are we talking about this stuff? Because God has a plan for your life, and along the way, He places opportunities before you – opportunities that you can accept or reject; opportunities that you can grab onto with both hands or push away, walk around, leave behind. If you let the God-given dream in your heart die, let me tell you, you’re going to miss out on those opportunities because the dream is what helps you identify a situation as an opportunity from God. The opportunity resonates with the dream, and bingo! You know that this is one to grab onto.
When the opportunity came to take a half-unit elective at Bible-college in media studies, I just knew that I had to take it. It spoke so clearly about the dream that God had laid on my heart. If I had let go of my dream because of the adversity I faced, I would never have taken that media half-unit, and I wouldn’t be sitting here chatting with you today. It’s that simple.
Joseph had a lot more bad stuff to travel through, let me tell you. We’re going to see some more of that in a little while, but here’s the thing: The dream never died, and just as well because it’s through Joseph, his brothers and their descendants that God brought Jesus into this world. Dreams and opportunities are vital if we’re going to live out the plan that God has for our lives.