One interesting development I have noticed over the last ten years in the church has been the growing use of “dream” language among Christians both in the “pew and pulpit” as they say. Go to that preserve of desperate preachers on a Saturday night, sermonCentral.com and search for “dream” and I suspect that you will have endless results pointing you to sermons along the lines of “How to live your dream.” A quick scan of Face Book statuses usually shows someone talking about “living their dream” or encouraging other people to “have a dream” or some motivational picture with the same message.
Of course all this talk about dreams, isn’t referring to those some time weird nocturnal thought processes we have which we sometimes remember and sometimes don’t. I don’t think there is any point in following those dreams. Sadly, I have had to come to the conclusion that no matter how many times I dream about scoring a winning try at Murrayfield for Scotland or driving off into the sunset in the West Highlands on a Ducati Multistrada, they ain’t going to happen. The kind of dreams I am talking about, and hearing about a great deal inside and outside church, are personal goals and ambitions.
Now I need to make something clear, I am not against personal goals and ambition. I think its incredibly helpful to have some sort of vision of who you want to be and do in life, rather than apathetically waiting for life to happen. But I have a worry about all this talk about “dreams” and that worry is related to a somewhat geeky theological subject, which may not surprise you as I have a bit of a pronounced geeky theological side. My concern about our “personal dreams” relates to my understanding of original sin.
Original sin, is not about finding a new and novel way to break the 10 commandments, just in case anyone was up for the challenge. Original Sin, among other things, refers to the fact that every human being is born with what I’ll call an inbuilt inclination to sin. One of the most important of the so called Early Church Fathers, the church thinkers in the couple of centuries after the Apostles had died, famously spoke about sin coming “naturally” to us because “the heart is turned in on itself” What Augustine was talking about was that we all, every single one of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have an inherent propensity to self love and self-centredness. Sin is in essence self love, the inclination which leads to the decision to love ourselves more than God and others. Ok lets cut the theological jargon, in “layman’s” terms, what Augustine meant was that we can all be flipping selfish and self centred because it comes “naturally” to us. If you have children, did you need to teach them to sin as they grew up like you needed to teach them to walk and talk, nope? Me neither and I am certain my parents didn’t need to teach me to be selfish either, I took to it like a duck to water. Stanley Grenz, a more modern Christian thinker describes the result of this inbuilt tendency to self love like this:
“Deep inside, we sense that we are a strange paradox. Sometimes we find ourselves doing things that make us feel genuinely proud. We act unselfishly. We care and even sacrifice for others. But other times we seem so self centred and mean spirited. We constantly promote ourselves, even at the expense of others.”
Its because of this human paradox, our capacity to love others and yet this pull within us to love ourselves more than others which acts like a magnet on our hearts which makes me wary of our contemporary talk about “living my dream.” You see it seems to me that all too easily, “my dream” could simply be a vehicle for my self-centredness. Ambition can be a hugely positive influence in our lives but if its coupled to our tendency towards self-cent redness it can also be utterly toxic to ourselves and others. I suspect a few of us have had our heads used as stepping stones by wildly ambitious people on their way to fulfilling their dream for their life, in their way and for their benefit.
There is another reason why I am slightly wary of all the talk about “having a dream” and “living my dream.” I believe passionately that God in fact already has a dream for this world and my role in it and as committed Christ follower no dream I have should ever knock His dream off the top of my my list of priorities. Jeremiah 29:11 tends to get quoted endless in Christian circles when we start talking about dreams and plans for the future. I am pretty certain I don’t even need to quote it, its so well known but I will any way “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” There is something glaringly obvious in this verse which is often missed, maybe because of that inward facing heart, we don’t get to decide the plan (dream) God has for us “I know the plans I have for you.” What matters is His plans for our lives, not our plans for our lives!
God does indeed have a dream for you,, and me, as He does for all of humanity and creation. That dream, that plan, that desire for our lives and all of creation is called the Kingdom of God. I love the way Brian McLaren talks about using the “Dream of God” as another way of describing the “kingdom of God”
“It (The Dream of God) gives us language to talk about evil and sin in the world: these are nightmares for God. In creating our world, God wasn’t dreaming of prisons and kidnapping, child abuse and racism, greed and poverty, pollution and exploitation, conformity and chaos. God’s dream was for freedom and creativity, kindness and justice, generosity and peace, diversity and harmony. … If we dream of using or controlling others, raping the environment, ignoring the poor, perpetuating racism and other forms of injustice, or simply being lazy or selfish, we are ruining God’s dream: our dreams are opposing God’s dream.”
Martin Luther King famously stood in Washington and electrified America as he described his dream for the country, which was in reality an expression of God’s dream. I think when we talk about having a “dream” we need to hear Brian McLaren’s warning and follow Martin Luther King’s example. We need to hear McLaren’s warning that because of our inbuilt capacity for self-centredness our “dream” can all too easily oppose God’s dream. Following MLK’s example is about making sure that our dream expresses God’s dream, Martin Luther Kings dream for America expressed God’s dream for all of humanity.
Just like Martin Luther King Jesus described God’s Dream in what I think are electrifying terms to the crowds. In what we now call “The Sermon on the Mount.” In Matthew 5 – 7 we hear God’s Dream for humanity, for a humanity where love predominates, where enemies are turned into friends, where humans turn their back on violence, vengeance and unforgiveness against others and instead serve them, a dream of integrity and authenticity and so much more. In the middle of that sketch of God’s Dream, Jesus teaches those who are committed to being his disciples to pray “Your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven” There is it is distilled, given in a nutshell, God’s dream for our lives, what it is we should be primarily ambitious about achieving. My dream if I am a Christ follower must be primarily about seeing God’s Dream become an increasing reality in this world. My dream is to be part of God creating foretastes of His future through me. Now that is a dream!
I am afraid I have come down on the whole “living for the dream” thing too hard and I don’t mean to. I just want to remind you, as I remind myself of what I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious and planning to succeed in life. What is wrong is if your ambition is just a veiled expression of that self-centredness that lurks in all of us. I have two suggestions when it comes to dreams
1. Read the Sermon on the Mount over and over, live with it, absorb it, and make it your dream to do everything you can to see this God’s Dream become an increasingly reality in this world. Don’t just pray, “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” live to see it happen
2. Have a dream for your life but make sure that it doesn’t contradict but in some way expresses and advances God’s Dream. Read the Sermon on the Mount and evaluate your dream in its light.