Dreams and Visions

Anyone acquainted with the Old and New Testaments knows that God is in the dream and vision business (Genesis 28:10-17, 41:1-41; Exodus 3:1-14, 19:3-6 and 20:1-21; Joel 2:28-29; Isaiah 6:1-8; Jeremiah 1:4-19; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Acts of the Apostles 7:54-56, 9:1-8, 19:1-15, 16:9-10; Hebrews 11:6-11; Revelation 1:10-19, 4:1-2, 5:1-14, 7:9-17, 21:1-7, 22:1-6). I encourage you to find a Bible and read these passages so you will see for yourself that God, by His Spirit at work in their minds and hearts, gives His chosen and called servants the ability to dream dreams and see visions.

One of the great prophecies of the Old Testament, and one of the great promises of God to His people is found in the book of Joel: Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:28). Now that I have retired for the third time, and just celebrated my 86th birthday July 1st, most people who know me realize that I am now an old man. I know it is hard for many who have known me for a long time to now see me that way, and I confess it is hard for me to see myself as an old man. In fact, I enjoy telling both old and new friends that there are “four stages of life: childhood, youth, adult, and you’re looking good!” I am hearing the latter a lot these days, and it makes me wonder what people have expected when we see each other after a long absence. I assume they expected me to be senile and barely able to get around. Actually, I’m in pretty good shape for the condition I’m in!

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I also confess I have trouble with Joel’s words, when he tells us that only young men “see visions,” while old men will “dream dreams.” Yes, I do have a lot of dreams, and I often wish I had the gift God gave to His servant, Joseph, who was able to interpret dreams. On the other hand, the apostle John tells us how God allowed him to see things that no one else had ever seen, and he shares his dreams and/or visions in the Book of Revelation, leaving the task of interpreting all of the images to his readers. Although most of them are strange to us, the symbolism of those word-pictures were understood by the followers of Jesus living in the first century. However, those of us living in the twenty-first century need to consult a reliable commentary on the Revelation to John in order to be sure we are interpreting those symbols accurately. It is never an easy task to interpret our own strange dreams. much less those images and symbols given to someone else, and shared in a literary genre that is unfamiliar to most of us, such as apocalyptic writings. The word means an “unveiling,” but let us admit that we need biblical scholars, who are familiar with such mysterious figures and extraordinary metaphors, to help us do the unveiling.

Suffice it to say that these biblical dreams and visions were real, God-given historical revelations to those writers who shared their personal spiritual experiences with us in writings that they did not know would become a part of the canon (i.e. the body of literature that has come down to us in two volumes in the form of one book, that we know as the Bible (a word that simply means “the book”)). It is the book that is accepted by believers as the written Word of God, inspired by the Spirit of God, and our authority for faith and practice – a library of sixty-six books, written by visionary leaders and dreamers living at different times, who dreamed God’s dreams and caught God’s vision for His people in their own times, but shared the words God gave them in the form of “timeless truths” for all times. 

Even those who do not accept the Bible as the written Word of God do applaud all those who dare to dream big and can provide visionary leadership in their areas of responsibility in our common life. Every company, every business, every government, every non-profit, every religious institution, seems to need a “vision statement.” Of course, visionary is a more acceptable word to most people today than “dreamers,” for we wonder if they have their feet on the ground. Do they even live in the real world? There are many who speak disparagingly of those who live in a “dream world,” believing such people are not really very realistic. They are too otherworldly, perhaps too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.

When I was a young man there was a popular song, “When I Grow to Old to Dream,” and yet that is precisely what God’s prophet Joel says we old people will do, if we are people of faith, for we know we are only pilgrims here. This world is not our home; we are just passing through. This is not our final dwelling place. Jesus told His sorrowing disciples that He was going ahead of them to “prepare a place” for them in His “Father’s House.”  Somewhere in God’s creation is the real world (i.e. the spirit world, the unseen world, the place of ultimate reality, the “other dimension” Einstein referred to, and which many pure scientists believe in). That is the place we can only dream about in this life. There are many other things we dream about during our earthly pilgrimage from the days of our youth to old age, and when we “grow too old to dream,” we are truly too old!

God created us to dream, and to dream big! One of my favorite broadway musicals is “Man of La Mancha.”  I have seen it several times, and never tire of it; not just the music, but the story line. However, I always enjoy hearing Don Quixote sing “To dream the impossible dream.” The God we believe in is the God for whom there are no impossibilities. If the god you believe in is a limited god (little “g”), then your god is too small!  It is not the size of your faith that is most important, but rather the size of your god! If the God you believe in is the Almighty God, the God of creation, who brought all things into being in this ever-expanding universe, the God we are introduced to in the scriptures of the Old and NewTestaments, the Sovereign God, who has made Himself known in His mighty acts in history, including the Exodus and the Incarnation, then you should have an unlimited faith in an unlimited God (Hebrews 11:1 and 6). This is the kind of faith that pleases God, but we must not put our faith in our faith! For the value of our faith is determined by the object of our faith!

Abraham is used in both the Old and New Testaments as a great example of one who had the kind of faith that pleases God (Romans 4:13-21), for he believed in the true and living God who brings life out of death. God had told him in a dream, or was it a vision, that he and his wife, Sarah, would be blessed with a son in their old age. He was almost one hundred years old, and his wife was barren. But when he looked at their old bodies, which were almost as good as dead, what did Abraham see? He saw a perfect place where his God could work wonders, for the God he believed in is the God jeremy-thomas-63102who “…gives life to the dead, and calls into existence the things that do not yet exist” (Romans 4:17) – the same God who created all things out of nothing (“ex nihilo”). People sometimes speak of “blind faith”, but true faith, the kind of faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), is not the closing of the eyes, but rather the opening of the eyes to see what people with only 20-20 vision will never see! It is the kind of faith that does not need evidence, for such “faith is the evidence” (Hebrews 11:1), faith that is the gift of God, faith that does not see less, but more; much more, for it is faith that sees beyond the boundaries of space and time; it sees those things that can only be seen through the bifocals of unlimited faith!

This the kind of faith that enabled Abraham to believe God’s promise, which from a natural point of view seemed impossible. He dared to dream of the day when he and Sarah would be blessed with a son, and that through his descendants a new nation would be born a holy nation, God’s own people, in a new land God would give them. The Apostle Paul tells us that Abraham believed God, and “In hope he hoped against hope (a very interesting phrase)…and did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead…no distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew stronger in his faith  and gave glory to God (even before it happened), fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:18-22). However, it was not because his faith was so great, but because his faith was in such a great God; the God who has always enabled true believers to “dream dreams” and “see visions.”

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