by John Jewell
Scripture: St. Matthew 1: 18-25
Have you ever had a time when you wished that God would speak directly to you? Perhaps you have come to a time of decision, or a time of crisis, or simply a time when you wondered what your life was really all about, and you thought, "I wish the Lord would speak to me!"
The Prophet Isaiah cried out to God at a time of national crisis in Israel's life, "Oh God, if only You would tear open the heavens and come down! Are You going to keep silent and let us suffer?"
King Zedekiah of Israel, was the last king to reign in Israel before the fall of Jerusalem. The glory of Israel under Solomon's rule was a faint memory and the worship life of the nation was a mockery. Yet, during the last critical days, King Zedekiah summoned the Prophet Jeremiah hoping to hear from the Lord. He takes Jeremiah aside secretly and asks, "Is there any word from the Lord?"
It is not, however, only in ancient times that people have wished God would speak. During the bleak days of World War II the young pastor and theologian, Helmut Thielicke spoke to the horror which surrounded his German congregation and later published a book of those sermons called, "The Silence of God." How they longed to hear from God!
If you have ever wished that God would speak to you, you are not alone. In fact, the desire to hear from God is the ignition system of the human spirit. Jesus, who is the Word become flesh, said, "My words are spirit and they are life." In other words... if we do not somehow hear the voice of God, we are lifeless in the deepest spiritual sense.
There is another interesting comment Jesus made concerning people in His own time who were outwardly very religious, but inwardly didn't understand what He was trying to say about spiritual life. "You will not come to me that you might have life."
I am amazed sometimes at the lengths people will go to get direction for their lives. The human spirit longs for direction, and this reflects the God designed, built in longing to hear His voice. I've known people whose first action in the morning is to look up their daily horoscope in the newspaper. Others pick up the National Enquirer to see what Jean Dixon's latest predictions are. I watched an ad on late night TV which offered the opportunity to find out what your life is all about by calling a psychic who would tell you what's in store for your life. All you had to do was call a 900 number and get a "personal" consultation. Guess what? I called it and found out that I'm a wonderful guy who will get the reward I really deserve this year! That call cost me twenty two dollars. (I am really glad that I believe in the grace of God and that I won't get what I really deserve!)
In the scripture reading for today, Joseph has a dream at a critical moment in his life. The dream rearranges everything rational. In this dream an angel of the Lord comes to Joseph with some directions for his life. Directions which will affect not only his life, but millions of lives. (If you recall, this is not the first Joseph whose dreams affected history! See Genesis 37:5)
Although I do not want to encourage frivolous play with the issue of dreams and spiritual direction this morning – I do want to lift up the issue of how we western folks have devalued the inner life. Dreams have historically held a place in the inner life of Christian people and I invite you to think with me for a few moments about dreams.
There is a wonderful story about the inner life in Kings 19:1-1 3. This scripture tells the story of the Prophet Elijah on the run. Wicked King Ahab of Israel and his infamous wife Jezebel were out to kill Elijah, essentially because Elijah insisted on bringing the voice of God to Israel. Although honesty may be the best policy, in Elijah's case it wasn't the most healthy policy because Ahab and Jezebel weren't interested in what God had to say! In any case, Elijah became discouraged and deeply depressed. Other prophets who told the truth had been summarily executed by the dynamic duo of Ahab and Jezebel and he felt absolutely alone. It is in those times of feeling alone and abandoned that you begin to wonder if it's worth it all and Elijah was no different than you and I might have been. Exhausted by fleeing for his life, he fired off a prayer which the Living Bible translates, "I've had enough, "he told the Lord. "Take away my life. I've got to die sometime and it might as well be now."
Knowing that Elijah is at his wits end, God speaks to him. The way God speaks is the critical point of the whole story.
1 Kings 19:11-13 The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Did you notice that? God did not speak to Elijah in the outward fireworks, but inwardly, with a gentle whisper. The old King James version of the Bible translates this, "a still, small voice."
The lesson is very clear. God speaks to His people in a voice that is within His people. This may be the primary meaning of Jesus' words in Luke's gospel when the Pharisees asked Him when the Kingdom of God would arrive. His answer was, "The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."
There are two difficulties which you and I encounter today when we wish God would speak to us. First of all, God speaks inwardly and our ears are pointed outward. Secondly, God speaks in a gentle whisper and we live in a very noisy world!
There is, however, a resource available to all of us which requires that we simply stop and pay attention to it. Listen to a quote from a book written by John Sanford:
"Suppose someone told you that there was something that spoke to you every night, that always presented you with a truth about your own life and soul, that was tailor made to your particular life story, and that offered to guide you throughout your lifetime and connect you with a source of wisdom far beyond yourself. And, furthermore, suppose that all of this was absolutely free. Naturally you would be astonished that something like this existed. Yet this is exactly the way it is with our dreams." John A. Sanford: Dreams and Healing
Morton Kelsey in his book, Dreams: A Way Of Listening To God bemoans the fact that the subject of dreams has been sorely neglected in relatively recent Christian history. Yet, he writes, "I discovered that throughout the history of Christianity, the dream has been a channel often used by God to talk to His people."
Most people In our culture today would see the study and interpretation of dreams as the province of psychologists and psychiatrists, yet dreams were received as a gift of God from biblical times on into centuries of Christian history long before Freud "discovered" them. Abraham Lincoln noted how much dreams appeared in scripture and paid close attention to his own dreams. "We know," John Sanford wrote, "That Lincoln believed God still spoke to people in dreams ... and has left us a record of some particularly interesting ones that immediately preceded his death, which seemed to him to be intimations of the forthcoming end of his life." In the very first book of the Bible, Joseph says of dreams, "Do not interpretations belong to God?"
Obviously, my message today can not begin to say all there is to say about dreams and how they can become a vital part of our spiritual lives. Today will simply serve as an introduction to the subject. We'll look at the important role dreams played in the Bible and how we can begin to listen to this "inner voice".
In the book of Genesis, at the very beginning of Israel's national life, God spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through their dreams. He guided and preserved the nation through the dreams of Joseph.
The prophets received the Word of God frequently in dreams. The whole book of Daniel has to do with dreams and interpretation of dreams God gave to point to the future.
At the beginning of the New Testament in the gospel of Matthew, Five times God gave Joseph direction through dreams.
In other words, our biblical heritage includes a very strong sense of God leading His people through the inner experience of the dream.
Twenty years ago, I began to record my own dreams and for fifteen years, I've paid close attention to the relationship between my spiritual life and my dream life. I've found insight, guidance and spiritual growth through what I've come to strongly believe is a much neglected, yet very valuable resource.
How is it that our dreams can be so important? First of all, when we are sleeping, we have tuned out the outer world. There are no distractions, the daily "humming" of our busy, conscious thinking shuts down. A Baptist minister named A.J. Gordon found his life and ministry profoundly revitalized through a dream and said, "Apparently we are most awake to God when we are asleep to the world." Secondly, when we are asleep, our minds do not stop functioning - rather they shift into another quieter, deeper mode. In this state, God is able to make direct contact with us. Contact which is not mediated by things outside of us.
I want to give you six beginning clues using the word DREAMS as an acronym. These clues will help you begin to explore the fascinating world of your inner life.
1. Desire: Nourish your desire to listen for the voice of God. Remember that it is desire for a vital relationship with God that is the ignition system of your spiritual life.
2. Record: Begin now to record your dreams. Listen to Daniel 7:1: "In the first year of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying on his bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream." Studies show that over 95% of our dream material is forgotten if we do not record them quickly. Keep a notebook and a penlight by your bedside.
3. Enlist: In the near future, we will offer an opportunity to enlist in a course called, "Developing Your Inner Life." This is a course which I've taught in churches and through the University of Wisconsin Adult Education Program. It will help you get a handle on how to nourish and grow your inner life and begin to use dreams in a positive way.
[*Note: I recommend Morton Kelsey’s book, Dreams, A Way To Listen To God, as a good introduction to this topic and a good discussion starter. You can find it on our bookstore page. Also, get a spiritual director or find someone who can assist with this in a Christian perspective – there’s lots of strange stuff out there in this field jpj]
4. Accept: Accept for your own life what has been true for the largest part of Christian history. Pay attention to your dreams as important gifts from God. As you pay more attention to your dreams, they will pay more attention to you.
5. Meditate: Include times of reflection on your dreams and what they are saying to you. Remember Daniel. He spent time reflecting on what God had been saying to him in the night hours before he lumped off into the day.
6. Stay with it! Spiritual life, like our physical life has to grow and mature and it needs exercise over a long period of time.
So there you have it. D R E A M Desire, Record, Enlist, Accept, Meditate and Stay with it!
God has a wonderful resource for you in your inner life. It is a gift which needs to be taken down off the shelf of Christian experience - like many spiritual gifts which we "moderns" have neglected. It is a gift which can add a quiet, but powerful sense of vitality to your spiritual life.
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