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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Say What? Series: Hearing God Speak Through Dreams (1 Samuel 3:1-10)


You all know the feeling.  It is halfway through the sermon – not one of mine, certainly – and your eyes are starting to get heavy, and your head is starting to droop, and your chin is bobbing against your chest.  You’re falling asleep in church.  Maybe you were up all night with kids or sickness or just couldn’t sleep.  Maybe you just came in from work.  Maybe it’s gotten a little too warm in here and your seat is just a little too comfy and the preacher – again, not me – is a little boring or dry or monotone, and it’s all you can do not to drift off completely.

 

There is a little game I like to play from up here as I look around and see people with heads bowed and eyes closed – the name of the game is “Who’s Praying, Who’s Sleeping?”  One little girl was once asked why we should be quiet in church, and she thought for a minute and said, “Because, people are sleeping!”

 

The next time the person next to you falls asleep in church, you may be tempted to throw an elbow or wake them up.  But think twice, before you do.  You see, God has a long-standing and well-documented history of speaking to people in their dreams.  God speaks to us in our waking and in our sleeping, in our going out and our lying down.  God speaks to people when they take a rest, in their sleep, in trances, and through their dreams.

 

In fact, this was so well-known that people would go to the temple and intentionally fall asleep, in the hopes that God would speak to them in their dreams.  And so, when I look around and see you starting to nod off, I don’t take offense, I just assume that you are participating in a great Biblical tradition.  When the person next to you starts to nod off, let them sleep – God may have something to say to them as they dream.

 

We have already talked about how God speaks to us in silence – and how we need to intentionally turn off the noise and stop making noise so we can hear the still, small voice of God.  We have talked about how God speaks to us through other people – in the particularities of each and every voice, but always and consistently with the accent of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

 

Hearing from God requires a simultaneous tuning out and tuning in.  Tuning out other distractions, tuning in to what God.  Given that, it should be no surprise that God might speak to us in a dream.  Dreams happen in our subconscious, with our eyes closed and parts of our mind taking a rest, perhaps the perfect place for God to get our attention when we might not have been paying attention, otherwise.

 

The Old Testament prophet, Samuel, is one whom God first called in his sleep.  Turn with me in your Bibles to 1 Samuel 3:1-10:

 

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.

The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.

Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.

Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”

(Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)

A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”

Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.

10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”

Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”

 

Samuel – Through dreams, God calls us to action

Samuel is a young boy, no more than 12.  He is drifting off to sleep, and a voice calls to him in the night: “Samuel!  Samuel!”  Obediently, if not somewhat begrudgingly, the boy jumps out of bed and says, “Here I am! You called me!” as he scurries into the room of Eli, the old, blind priest.  “Silly boy!  I didn’t call you!  Now quit bothering me and go back to bed!”

 

The scene is vaguely familiar to anyone with children in the home.  The adults are tired and the child won’t stay in bed.  In slapstick comic fashion, not once, not twice, but three times the child shows up in the adult’s room when he should be in bed.  But as the rusty gears in Eli’s brain finally engage, he remembers that the Lord sometimes does this sorta thing.  In verse 9, he says, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  Dottering old Eli’s eyes were almost dim, but not quite - there was still enough of a flicker of God’s Holy Spirit within him to help young Samuel hear the call of God.

 

When the word of the Lord is far too rare and where visions are not nearly widespread enough, it is not that God has ceased speaking, it’s that humans have stopped listening.  The absence of a word or vision from God has more to do with our human refusal to listen than with any divine reluctance to speak.  To hear from God, we, like Samuel, may need to lie down in the dark and be still, and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

 

That drowsy, quiet place might be what God needs to get our attention, to speak our name, to make God’s dream our dream.  As God did with Samuel, God may use that dream to call us into action to bring God’s dream to fruition.  God may use a dream to call us into action.

 

The tricky part is that in order to have the time and space to dream, we need to take a break from the action.  A story is told of Henry Ford, some years after he began assembly line production on the Model T, he hired an efficiency expert to help him run the operation better.  They made a few tweaks to the assembly line itself, and how the workers did their work.  Then they came to the administrative office.  The efficiency expert said, “There’s a man down the hall – every time I pass his office, his feet are on the desk, he’s kicked back in his chair, and his hands are folded behind his head.  He’s wasting space here – you need to fire him.”

 

Henry Ford said, “He came up with an idea that saves me millions of dollars a year.  If I remember right, his hands and feet were in the same position, then.”

 

Having the time to dream is important, but in response, we’re then called to action.  A God-given dream that is never acted upon is a wasted dream.  God will always call us to action.  God is not one to say, “Well, what I want YOU to do about it, is absolutely nothing.” God’s dream is not for us to be lazy, comfortable, and contented.  That may be our dream, but it certainly isn’t God’s dream for us!  If you think the message you’re getting from God is “sit this one out,” then check again, because that most certainly is not a dream from God.  God uses a dream to call us into action.

 

Joseph – Through dreams, God shows us a preferred future

God also uses a dream to call us to show us a preferred future.  A famous example of this is Joseph, who had several famous dreams of his own, and who famously interpreted the dreams of others, including the king, the Pharaoh himself.  Let me read the story from Genesis 41:

 

15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, but no one could interpret it. Then I heard that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.”

16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It’s not me. God will give Pharaoh a favorable response.”

17 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile. 18 In front of me, seven fattened, stout cows climbed up out of the Nile and grazed on the reeds. 19 Just then, seven other cows, weak and frail and thin, climbed up after them. I’ve never seen such awful cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 Then the thin, frail cows devoured the first seven, fattened cows. 21 But after they swallowed them whole, no one would have known it. They looked just as bad as they had before. Then I woke up.

25 Joseph said to Pharaoh, “26 The seven healthy cows are seven years, 27 The seven thin and frail cows, climbing up after them, are seven years.

29 Seven years of great abundance are now coming throughout the entire land of Egypt. 30 After them, seven years of famine will appear, and all of the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land. 31 No one will remember the abundance in the land because the famine that follows will be so very severe.

 

Because of Joseph’s interpretation of that dream, he was put in charge of all the affairs of the country.  Sure enough, there were seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine.  But during those years of surplus, Joseph had the extra stored away in barns so that when the seven years of famine hit, they had saved up enough food to make it through.

 

Friends, God can speak through our dreams to prepare us for a preferred future.

 

God’s dream necessarily has a future component to it, the hope of something that is yet-to-be-fulfilled, but by the grace of God, can and will be.  God’s dream is rooted in the past, a testimony to the unfailing faithfulness of God, a witness to who God always has been and what God has always desired, but God’s dream is never to simply reset the clock and go back to the past.

 

No, God uses our dreams to show us a preferred future, and then to prepare for that future.  It’s one of the things that really excites me about where we are as a church right now.  In so many of my conversations with you, you are dreaming about our future, and I believe that God is the one giving you those dreams.  There is some beautiful synergy in your dreams, and the more I see what you express lining up and layering over each other, the more our God-given preferred future is revealed.  You see, if I talked to you and your hopes and dreams for the future of the church were all over the map, those might be our personal dreams, but when all the dreams start to hit the same page, it tells me we are getting very close to God’s dream.

 

Friends, if God gives us a dream, God will also provide every resource we need to fulfill that dream.  It doesn’t mean God will spoon-feed us – we may still have to use our God-given abilities to think and plan and strategize – but whatever resources we need, be they money or people or ministries or relationships or facilities or land or whatever it is as we move into God’s preferred future, but if God gives us the dream, and we catch it and move toward it, I know our God will provide.  Amen?

 

Further, no one gets the whole of God’s dream.  We each get a piece.  The prophet Joel said that when God’s Spirit is poured out on all people, our sons and daughters will prophecy.  The old will dream dreams, and the young will see visions.  To this day, anywhere God’s Holy Spirit is found among God’s people, there will be dreams and visions.

 

So to back it up, let’s be sure we’re praying to receive the Holy Spirit.  Praying for the Holy Spirit to be poured on us.  We pray to feel God’s presence in unmistakable and life-changing ways.  And then, where the Spirit is, there will be dreams, and there will be visions.  Visions and dreams from everyone – old and young, sons and daughters, newcomer and long-established.  Catching God’s dream requires us to listen to each other.  We need each other!  The dream of God’s preferred future is given to all of us, and we realize the fullness of God’s dream when we listen to and learn from each other – each of us bringing what we see, what we hope, what we envision.

 

Another aspect of God’s dream is that God’s dream is big.  As a kid, I remember taking a large portion of food when the dishes came around, and sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, not being able to finish it.  My mom would look at my dad and say, “Looks like somebody’s eyes were bigger than his stomach.”

 

When it comes to God’s dream, of seeing and preparing for a preferred future, we may be tempted to keep the dream manageable and only bite off as much as we can chew.  That’s a very reasonable, rational approach, and if we follow it, we will completely short change what God wants.  God’s dream is big, God-sized.  God’s dream is so big it will require faith beyond our own abilities and what we ourselves can manage.  If we’re dreaming of something we can accomplish with relative ease on our own, then our dream isn’t big enough.  And so, as we discern and act on God’s dream, let’s make sure we’re pursuing a big, God-size dream.  A big God gives big dreams.  What’s the thing that we’re pursuing that we will desperately have to rely upon God to accomplish?  What’s the thing that if God doesn’t show up, it’s never gonna happen?  What is the thing that makes us a bit queasy and sick to our stomachs to think about attempting it, the thing that pushes us further outside of our comfort zone than we’ve ever imagined – because that’s the kind of dream that comes from God.

 

Dreaming is not just for the pastor or the leaders or just for the folks who’ve always been here or just for the young people.  What any of us wants to do needs to take its place in light of what God wants us to do.  Yes, we are all called to dream, to dream God’s dream.  God’s dream is the most important one around here, and it’s the one we’ll follow.

 

The word of the Lord was rare, and visions were not widespread, until Samuel laid down and said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”  It’s not lying down on the job.  It’s getting ourselves in a place to hear from God, to dream dreams and see visions.  It’s lying down, so we can do the job.

 

Remember, God has not called us to settle into cozy little cocoons of comfort and complacency.  That is not God’s dream.  God’s dream calls us to action, and it leads us into a preferred future.  God’s dream is God-sized.  Keep dreaming until yours is, too.

 

Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.

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