Episode 1. Dreams that Point the Way
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Life is a series of opportunities – some are realised, some are missed. God is in the business of handing us opportunities aplenty, and He expects us to grab them with both hands. And often …
As you look back on your life so far, it might amaze you to think about huge changes in direction that your life has taken, based on seemingly small decisions that you 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 some seemingly small decision that you 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 your life?
When I ask people that question, they often answer no, I can’t think of anything like that. And my response is, you’re not thinking hard enough.
My father was Romanian. After WWII when Romania looked like falling into communist hands, his parents, his sister and he decided to get out of there. But where to flee. So they decided that they would apply to each Embassy in alphabetical order until one 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. They left dejected. But as they were walking out and through the car park, that same official came running out to tell them that he’d changed his mind. They would be accepted and could emigrate to Australia.
And that … that’s why I’m an Australian, and not 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, because I was sick and running a high temperature. But I felt I should go – that’s where I met my wife. She was visiting from interstate and that was the only morning I could have met her. 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 has turned out. Some people put it down to coincidence. 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 this, 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 return. He summoned 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 do not want this man to rule over us. ’ When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. The first came forward and said, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds. ’ He said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities. ’ Then the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds. ’ He said to him, ‘And you, rule over five cities. ’ Then the other came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow. ’ 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 did not deposit and reaping what I did not 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 did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence. ’”
The easiest thing in the world for us to do is to read this like a 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 He was speaking these words to – the everyday man and woman in the street. Jews. A proud nation, God’s nation, who were farmers and peasants. Nobodies, when compared to the Roman empire, 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 He 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 will 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 women who were listening to Jesus tell it, applied it to their lives. God comes to you, He hands you an 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 perhaps tell you that you couldn’t possibly make a difference in this world, a little like those who were listening to Jesus on that Day? Or … do you grab it with both hands and throw your whole life into doing something with that opportunity? All too often, God’s opportunities come disguised as calamities, impossibilities … and yes, 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, finding love. Some dream about having children. They’re what I call “happily ever after” dreams.
And in fact, we don’t just dream those dreams when we’re young. We continue with our daydreaming pretty much our whole lives. It’s when we stop dreaming big dreams, that we know that we’re plumbing the depths of human existence.
Whether we realise it or not, we’re all daydreamers. It’s part of what keeps hope going and hope, when the going’s not quite what we wish it was, 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 – that 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 finished high school and 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 long lost.
And yet it came back and came to fruition in my late thirties and 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 a pointer to the opportunities that He is planning on laying before us further down the track.
And that’s exactly what happened with young Joseph, the son of Jacob way, way back in the old testament. Let’s have a listen:
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 a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not 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 sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
He had another dream, and 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 to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. (Genesis 27:1–11)
It seems like a pretty grandiose dream 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 share my dream as a teenager too.
When finally at age 39, 40 I found myself studying to become a minister of the Gospel of Christ, I had another dream. To share the love of Jesus with millions of people. Millions. Outrageous. I didn’t tell anyone about that dream. It was simply 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 aren’t huge actually. But if they were to verbalise those dreams, they’d no doubt draw the same response that Joseph’s dream drew.
I’m not saying that every dream we have in our hearts is from God. Sometimes we dream of fame or comfort and wealth. Sometimes we dream away the problems that we’re facing in the here and now – visualising what our lives would look like if only that problem would go away. No, not all 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 outrageous they seem. Joseph’s dream was outrageous, wasn’t it? Being a ruler where his father, mother and brothers were bowing 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 for it.
And yet, if you know Joseph’s story – something 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 older too – the one’s 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 in your heart, eh?
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’d 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, and to give us hope.
And we met young Joseph, the son of Jacob way, way back there in the Old Testament, the book of Genesis, a young man with a dream. A young man who dreamed that one day, He would be a great ruler. And, being the naïve young man that he was, he shared it with his brothers, not realising how offensive it would be to them.
Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed 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 on our hearts. Often it’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 that we can tell whether a dream comes from God, is that it is, almost always, impossible to achieve in our own strength. That tends to be a pretty solid marker that it’s from God – there are others too, that we’ll talk about 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, or his beloved father Jacob, could ever have predicted.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel [that’s Jacob His father, Israel is the name God gave to Jacob] Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, 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.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us 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, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his 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 lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and 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 threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. (Genesis 27:12–24)
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 the 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 understand fully. You have no idea really whether it will 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 ironing 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 anyone could ever have. But I knew that it came from Him. How could that be. Everything around me was in such devastation. I was travelling through such 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, that he was thinking about that dream that he’d dreamt. His reality must have screamed at him that the dream was a fake. Have you ever had that happen to you? Reality decisively, emphatically tells you that that God–given dream was a lie. The evidence seems irrefutable. There you are in your pit, you look at the walls. You can’t get out. Dream over.
Well, I’m here to tell you that if it’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:
Indeed we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
(2 Corinthians 1:9)
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. Get it?
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:
I am confident of this: that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. (1 Philippians 1:6)
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 and leave behind.
If you let the God–given dream in your heart die, let me tell you, you’re going to miss 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 should take it – it spoke so clearly about the dreamt hat God had laid on my heart. If I’d let go of my dream because of the adversity I’d faced, I wouldn’t have taken that media half unit, and I wouldn’t be sitting chatting with you today. It’s that simple.
Joseph had a lot more adversity left to face, let me tell you. We’re going to see some more of it in a little while. But here’s the thing – the dream, the dream never died. And just as well, because it is through Joseph, His brothers and their descendants, that God brought Jesus into this world.
Dreams and opportunities – are vital if we’re to live out the plan that God has for our lives.