We’re nearing the end of our sermon series, “Dream On”, looking at dreams and dreamers in the Bible. We’ve talked a lot about finding God’s dream for us as individuals and finding God’s dream for us as a church. And I think we’d all agree that’s an important thing to do. We all want to follow God’s dream for us and for our church. But here’s the thing: how do that the dream we’ve found and that we’re ready to follow really comes from God?
In our reading for today, God is speaking through Jeremiah, and God talks about false prophets, people who prophesy lies in God’s name. God says, “They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!...I am against those who prophesy false dreams.”
Now, there are people who deliberately lie in God’s name. There always have been. There probably always will be. There are people who will deliberately try to mislead us and try to get us to go the wrong way and follow them rather than following God. And it’s important not to be fooled by people like that.
But there are other people who honestly and sincerely believe they are following God. They truly believe they’re saying what God wants them to say and doing what God wants them to do. They’re honest and they’re sincere and they’re truthful, but they’re wrong.
You know, one of the most interesting things about the church history courses I took in seminary was learning about the heretics in the early church. We think, or at least I thought, of a heretic as someone who’s just way out there, who’s actively opposed to the church and opposed to God and who’s just advocating wild and crazy stuff.
But the thing is, for the most part, that’s not true. Most of the early church heretics were people who were trying really hard to get it right. They wanted to follow God. In fact, a lot of them believed in Jesus. They just had a different understanding of who Jesus was. They had a different understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and of how the trinity works. Most of these early church heretics were not bad people at all. They were good people who were trying to get it right and just came to a different conclusion than the rest of the church did.
So bringing that back to God’s dreams, there are a couple of things we need to look out for. We need to look out for the liars, for the frauds, for the people who try to get us to follow false dreams rather than God’s dream. But we also need to look out for the people who come across as honest and sincere, and who in fact are honest and sincere, but who with the best of intentions are still trying to get us to follow false dreams rather than God’s dream.
And you know who else we need to look out for? We need to look out for that person we see in the mirror every day. We need to look out for ourselves. Because we all have a great capacity to fool ourselves, don’t we? I know I do. I can be really good at convincing myself that the thing I want is what God wants. I can be really good at telling myself that my dream is God’s dream, even when it may be obvious to other people that it’s not.
So, how do we tell when we’re being fooled, either by someone else or by ourselves? How do we tell the difference between a false dream and God’s dream?
Well, let’s look at some of the things we’ve already talked about in regard to God’s dreams. We started out by looking at Jacob’s dream and we said that quite often God’s dreams for us are beyond anything we’d have ever dreamed for ourselves. Then we looked at Joseph’s dream, and we said that God often takes us on a long and winding road along the way to making our dreams come about. Then we looked at Gideon’s dream, and we said that we’ll only accomplish God’s dream if God is with us, and that God often accomplishes God’s dreams in a way that makes it obvious to everyone, including ourselves, that it was God who did it, not us. Then we looked at Solomon’s dream, and we said that God’s dream usually involves serving God and serving others.
It seems to me that what we have there is a pretty good checklist of what God’s dreams are and are not. And if a dream does not fit into that checklist, then there’s a pretty good chance it’s not God’s dream for us. That does not necessarily mean that what we dreamed of would be a bad thing. It might even seem like a really good thing. But still, it would not be what God wants. It would not be God’s dream.
So, as we dream our dreams, and we try to figure out whether they’re God’s dreams for us, here are at least some of the questions I think we should ask:
1) Is this a common, mundane, ordinary dream? Or is it a dream that’s beyond what we would’ve dreamed for ourselves?
2) Is this a dream that’s going to be easy to accomplish? Is it going to take us on a nice, smooth, straight road? Or is it going to be hard, and take us the long way around sometimes, and are we probably going to have some setbacks along the way?
3) Is this a dream that we can accomplish on our own? Or is it a dream that we can only accomplish if God is with us and we get God’s help?
4) Is this a dream that’s just going to benefit us? Or is this a dream that will involve serving God and serving other people?
Now, that does not mean we should never do anything that does not fit this checklist. There are times when we have to do the common, mundane, ordinary things. We need to pay the bills. We need to do the laundry. There are times when we need to do a few things that are easy, if for no other reason, then just to give ourselves a little breathing room and a little confidence once in a while. And, while there’s a sense in which we can do nothing without God because of course God created us and all of our abilities come from God, it’s also okay to do some simple things without specifically asking for God’s help. And while we generally should not do things that benefit us and no one else, there are times when we take great satisfaction out of helping others and so it does benefit us. And then, too, sometimes taking a little time to ourselves refreshes us and makes us better able to serve others.
But while it’s sometimes necessary to do all those things, none of those things is God’s dream for us. God’s dream for us is probably going to be something that’s beyond what our own dream is. It’s probably not going to be something that’s easy and quick. It’s probably not going to be something we can accomplish on our own. And it’s probably not something that’s just going to benefit us.
Now, I should also say that just because God’s dream is beyond our own dream does not mean that God is necessarily asking us to go and do something great or heroic. For example, I believe God’s dream for me is that I be a pastor. That’s not something particularly great or heroic. But it is something that was beyond what my own dream was ten years ago.
We need to keep this checklist in mind, because there are a lot of people who are going to tell us different. There are plenty of people out there who’ll tell us that we should not dream big dreams. There are plenty of people who’ll tell us that God’s dreams are going to simple and easy. There are a lot of people who take the vending machine approach to God, who say that if we just pay a certain price by being good and praying to God, God will automatically take care of everything and we won’t have to do anything ourselves. It’s very easy for us to believe we can do things ourselves, rather than knowing we need God to do them. And of course, it can be easiest of all to convince ourselves that the things we want are God’s dreams for us just because we want them so much.
So as we talk together, and as we dream together, and as we try to figure out God’s dreams for us, let’s remember this checklist. Let’s avoid the false prophets who try to fool us and the false prophets who are fooling themselves. And let’s not fool ourselves, either. Let’s do everything we can to make sure our dreams are God’s dreams, and let’s be willing to change our dreams if they’re not God’s dreams. God always comes through. God came through for Jacob. God came through for Joseph. God came through for Gideon. God came through for Solomon. And God will come through for you and me and for our church, too.