Dreams and Visions

We often use the terms ‘dreams’ or ‘visions’ to refer to things we would like to see happen in our lives, things we desire. We refer to ‘dreaming’ of becoming a movie star, singer, preacher or any number of other aspirations. The reality is that dreams are things we aspire to and are linked to the idea of having a ‘vision’ for out future. While these ideas are often popular, in my experience many of us never achieve them, they remain just that, unfulfilled desires. An important point from a Christian perspective is that we need dreams and visions from the Father’s heart. Those are the ones worth pursuing. Yet, even if we know where we should get them from, and we have them, the ‘how to’ is not automatic.

I remember once hearing that ‘when opportunity knocks it usually shows up in work clothes.’ The idea being that for dreams and visions to be realized we need to do more than simply think about them; we need to take action. So let me tie dreams and visions to the reality of ‘work clothes.’

Dreams and visions are often amorphous. They are like a viewing a mountain from a great distance where specific aspects come into focus as we draw near. Our drawing near requires a strategy and persistence. The dream or vision pull us toward the future while a strategy anchors us in what we need to do in the present to achieve it, to reach our mountain.

To illustrate this, I will share from my own life since I know it best. I can remember as far back as high school having sense of a call to teach. I considered further education as a teacher but frankly I did not have great marks from grade 10-12. I had skipped a lot of school for a variety of reasons and just made it through grade 12 so I began my work career. At age 20 I was visiting my parents and my sister was home for a visit as well. I commented on not being happy with my job and my sister suggested I could go back to school. This comment was a spark that stirred something in me that led to action. I sought out some college information, applied for a program I was interested in, quit my job and moved 500 kilometres away to attend college. I simply assumed I would be accepted into the program, thankfully I was.

For my career I spent thirty-seven years working in the social services field. I was never employed as a teacher. The end? Not quite. In my career I intentionally sought out teaching opportunities, I took a certificate program in adult and continuing education through the university while working. I took training in conflict resolution and taught part time for the provincial program for a decade. I continued my education and did an MA in Conflict Management. Later in my career I became the manager of the training unit for the largest child welfare region in the country. I did some part time teaching at a local university. The last six years of my career I was the Director of Engagement and Education for a legislative office. I did a lot of teaching over my career.

Additionally, I became a believer early in my career and did ongoing teaching at church, including being the interim pastor of a church for about a year. Thus, while I was never formally a ‘teacher’ I frequently taught and still do because I pursued a calling and purpose that He had placed within me and took concrete steps to see this realized.

The idea of a calling or purpose is common in church circles while the fulfillment of it is not even though it is rooted in scriptural concepts. Years ago, I looked more deeply at Proverbs 20:5 because it relates to seeing dreams and visions fulfilled.

5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, But a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (NKJV)

I realized there was more depth and so from my research created my own translation of Proverbs 20:5, ‘Purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a discerning man will draw it out.’ I have referenced it many times over the years. Interestingly, after I had done this the English Standard Version came out with this translation of the verse.

5 The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out. Proverbs 20:5 (ESV)

The Hebrew word translated as ‘understanding’ basically means to discern or understand, תְּבוּנָה tebunah (108b); from 995; an understanding:—discernment(1), reasonings(1), skill(1), skillful(1), skillfully(1), understanding(37).[1] Inherent in the verse is the idea that purpose or calling in our lives is put there by the Father and it needs to be drawn out of us. I believe we can draw it out ourselves or have others draw it out of us. We can see our dreams and visions realized if we recognize and respond to His calling, that which He has placed within us.

In each of our lives we have the opportunity to discern and then realize His calling and purpose in our lives. Even when we fail, we can still recover. We have an example of this in scripture with John Mark the cousin of Barnabas (Acts 12:12). He traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic journey (Acts 13:5), deserted them and was rejected by Paul (Acts 13:13, 15:36-38). We later see Paul commending John Mark as a fellow worker and comfort to him (Colossians 4:10-11). Church history also tells us he is the author of the gospel of Mark.   

My conclusion, pursue His calling and purpose. If you don’t know what yours is then seek out wise counsel from mature and spiritually gifted believers who can discern and help you develop yours. When you have failures, like John Mark, seek out godly support and counsel and keep going, believing what Paul wrote.

6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; Philippians 1:6 (NKJV)

This is available to us, the mountain is calling, go climb it!

[1] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

A Godly Vision

In the business world and in organizational culture the idea of vision is presented as something important to follow. I believe there is truth in that idea but I think it only has lasting merit if it is a godly vison. To that end I am focusing on Proverbs 29:18 in relation to vision for our lives.

18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV)

18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. Proverbs 29:18 (ESV)

I have included Proverbs 29:18 from two translations as they capture the full range of meaning. Solomon is referring to prophetic vision/revelation. This is an insight Solomon had and penned for others to learn from. Here in this stand alone verse he contrasts those who lack revelation/prophetic vision with those who keep the law. At the time of his writing the Mosaic Law was the law Solomon was familiar with.

Given the existence of the law we need to consider the role of the prophets in relation to the law. Their primary job description wasn’t declaring things to come and prophesying the future, their main prophetic role was calling a wayward nation back to obedience to the law.

Knowing this let’s consider what Solomon is getting at and how it applies to our lives. Solomon is saying we need a revelation or vision of the importance of adherence to the law to live our lives rightly. That made sense in Solomon’s context. Those in Israel who had a revelation of the importance of the law and followed it lived their lives well. Look at what happened in Israel when Josiah called the nation back to adherence to the law (2 Kings 21:24–23:30; 2 Chronicles 33:25–35:27).

Obviously, we live in a different context so we need to consider how to theologically and practically apply this verse to our lives. Theologically we need a revelation of the importance of Jesus words.

37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37–40 (NKJV)

For us this means pursuing His call on our lives to love the Father, Son and Spirit and out of that to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is the theological perspective. Practically speaking loving God brings pleasure to His heart. Loving others means doing what is in their best interest. Not following our culture and seeking to make others feel good, though that may be the result. Loving others means speaking truth to them and living rightly before and toward them. Paul provides many practical examples of this type of life from Ephesians 4:17 – 6:9.  

Paul also provides similar instructions in his other letters for our day to day lives. One very practical example is Philippians where Paul tells us where and how to focus our thinking and the outcome we can anticipate.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8–9 (NKJV)

Living practically, we need a revelation of the importance of living rightly before the Lord and others and an awareness of the impact we will have on their lives and our community.

Servants or Leaders?

You have likely heard the term, ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ While meant to encourage leadership I believe it merely demonstrates a lack of understanding of what an actual leader is like. We are all called to lead, which sometimes is demonstrated by following and at other times leading by not obstructing good leadership. Getting out of the way as it were. A good leader is first a good follower and analogous to this is the idea that to exercise authority well you need to have had some experience being under authority. To lead well we need an understanding of the impact of our behaviour on others from having been in their shoes. Wherever you are in your journey through life and in your walk with Jesus you are called to lead. Whether that is leading by example, influencing others or having authority over others, you need to lead. So, let’s look at how we do just that.

We can better understand our call to lead by looking at positional and relational authority. We don’t all have positional authority; we all have the opportunity to develop relational authority. Many times, over my years in leadership at work I made this comment, “If all you have is positional authority you don’t have any.” I would then go on to explain the need for relational authority. I people who follow my lead because they freely choose to, not due to forced compliance. I found in my career that when I developed meaningful working relationships with those over who I had positional authority they were more willing to follow my lead and support me in whatever tasks we needed to accomplish. In most leadership roles we need relational authority to accomplish tasks through others.

A great example of relational authority is friendship. I have friends who can ask me for things or ask me to do things and I do those things because we have a relationship and I trust their judgment. In those cases, they are leading me.

We see this in Jesus leadership style. He gathered His followers and demonstrated and taught many things. He coerced no one to follow Him. He often said hard and difficult things and yet they still followed. They followed because they valued the relationship Jesus had developed with them. Jesus presented it to the apostles this way just as they were vying for positional authority over one another.

24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. Luke 22:24–27 (NKJV)

Here Jesus contrasts positional authority with relational authority without using the exact words. I suspect my relationship with Him is what led me to begin using the terms many years ago, they described His servant leadership approach. If we believe Jesus, the best way to lead others is to learn to serve them. Which answers the question inherent in my title, are we servants or leaders? Neither really, we are called to be servant leaders so let’s lead by serving others and His kingdom. Whether in practical matters or in the place of prayer, let’s serve.

Among Us

I last wrote about the significance of Moses realization that he needed to know Yahweh’s character in addition to His presence. I did this by looking primarily at Exodus 33. The next step is looking at Yahweh’s presence in relation to sacred space.

First a brief primer on sacred space. Eden was sacred space because Yahweh dwelt there and when Adam and Eve sinned, they could no longer remain in sacred space. When Moses met Yahweh in Exodus 3:2-6 he was instructed to remove his sandals, he was on holy ground, sacred space. We see a more explicit understanding of sacred space in the role of the scapegoat. We are likely all familiar with the term scapegoat but we may not know the origin. Below is the Levitical passage that is the source of the term. I have used the ESV as it clarifies something missing in many translations.

10 but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel. Leviticus 16:10 (ESV)

Azazel is the Hebrew term usually translated into English as ‘scapegoat.’ However, the Ancient Near East literature from the Second Temple period and the Dead Sea Scrolls inform us that Azazel is a proper name. Azazel was viewed as the leader of the rebellious Elohim who fell in Genesis 6. In Ancient Near East culture, the sea and the desert both represented chaos, darkness and the realm of the fallen ones. In the annual ritual the live goat was being sent to Azazel not sent as a sacrifice. Once the sins of the nation were confessed over the goat and the goat was taken to the wilderness the sins being sent to the place and being to whom they belonged, Azazel.

21 Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. Leviticus 16:21–22 (NKJV)

Here, Israel was cleansed of sin both through sacrifice and ritual at the tabernacle as well as sending the sins of the nation to Azazel. This is a primer for understanding the role of sacred space in Israel in terms of Yahweh’s ability to dwell among them. In Exodus 33-34 following the golden calf incident a distinction is made between Yahweh appearing versus dwelling among or in the midst of Israel.

We see it in Exodus 33 and 34.

3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3 (NKJV)

8 So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 Then he said, “If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance.” Exodus 34:8–9 (NKJV)

Whenever Israel failed disaster struck the nation. If Yahweh went among them and they sinned again they would be consumed due to His holiness. There needed to be a way for Yahweh to dwell among them without consuming them, a way for Him to ‘go among’ them as Moses requested. Exodus 13:20-22 describes the behaviour of the pillar of fire and the cloud, the manifestations of Yahweh’s presence, as going ‘before’ Israel, never among them. Then we have Exodus 33:7-11 describing Yahweh’s presence descending on the tent of meeting but it had to be ‘outside the camp.’ We only see His presence in the camp once the Tabernacle of Moses is completed. Chapter 40 describes all of the rituals and sacrifices required in the setting up and use of the Tabernacle. The result is a transition in how Yahweh interacts with them as He is now among them.

34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. Exodus 40:34–38 (NKJV)

The important part is that the Tabernacle of Moses was in the midst of the people of Israel not outside the camp. In Numbers 2 Moses provided instructions for how the tribes of Israel were to camp. They were set up three tribes to each of the four directions, north, south, east and west with the Tabernacle in the middle.  

 An additional part around the role of the Tabernacle relates to the Ark of the Covenant. It was Yahweh’s dwelling place, His footstool (heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool, Isaiah 66:1). This is why we see the following verses in scripture.

7 Let us go into His tabernacle; Let us worship at His footstool. 8 Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Psalm 132:7-8 (NKJV)

41 “Now therefore, Arise, O Lord God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, And let Your saints rejoice in goodness. 2 Chronicles 6:41 (NKJV)

The people wanted Yahweh to be active among them in His dwelling place, to arise ‘to’ rest upon the Ark of the Covenant between the wings of the cherubim. As a bit of an aside, when I was twenty-two, I had started attending church off and on. The Lord had not yet captured my heart, that would happen at 25. However, I had read and knew a fair bit of scripture. I was in a service and they sang the song ‘O the Glory of His Presence’ based on Psalm 132:8. Not knowing that the song writer had gotten it wrong and written ‘arise from your rest’ rather than ‘arise to your rest’ I pointed this out to the pastor. Rather than showering me with effusive praise he brushed me aside. I was genuinely trying to be helpful and though I didn’t understand all the significance at the time, I knew ‘to’ was correct. Yahweh isn’t engaged in resting and needing to join the people, He is present and the request is for His manifest presence on His resting place.  

            Now, it is important to look at what this means for us as believers. When we were born again the Holy Spirit brought about a new birth in our spirit and we became His dwelling place individually and corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19). As a result, we both are and also carry sacred space. We carry Him with us wherever we go and one of our jobs is to influence the spiritual atmosphere around us by asking Jesus to move with us as His resting place whenever we interact with others. Let’s do that.

Here is the song Oh the Glory of His Presence by Jesus Image. They do the song correctly with ‘to Your rest.’

Oh The Glory Of His Presence (Live) – Bing video

A Thin Place

Three decades ago, I realized the important connection in Exodus 33 and 34 between opportunity and experiential reality and wrote about it. I have often come back to this awareness and I am still pursuing the experiential reality. Given how I view the importance of it I have written about it again.

Over the years I have heard a number of sermons regarding Moses’ prayer in Exodus 33 and his heart cry for Yahweh’s presence to go with them to the land of their promised inheritance. With the exception of one I heard a couple of years ago, I believe they all missed the point. I will delve into the verses below to illustrate what I mean.     

1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1–3 (NKJV)

12 Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” 17 So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” 18 And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” 19 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Exodus 33:12–20 (NKJV)

We see in these verses that Yahweh promised His presence as they traveled and Moses knew the importance of His presence, given he had spent so much time in it. Yet in spite of that assurance his heart longed for something more. He had the realization that while Yahweh’s presence was to be valued it didn’t automatically confer intimacy! It was the doorway or access point, a thin place. The opportunity to pierce the veil between the natural and spiritual realms.

We see a remarkable event being played out starting in verse 12. Moses had been on the mountain with Yahweh, he had spent hour upon hour interacting with Him in ‘the tent of meeting,’ that Yahweh’s visible presence rested upon. They met ‘face to face’ (though Yahweh spoke, it is clear from the text that Moses never actually saw His face). Here in verse 12 Moses in essence says, “You know me but I don’t really know You, who are You?” Moses has the realization that though Yahweh knows Him, all of his time with Yahweh has not given him a revelation of Yahweh’s character.

This whole episode wasn’t about whether Yahweh would go with them, it was about who Yahweh was, the one going with them.

Now we may wonder what this encounter has to do with us and our walk of faith. Let me carry it over to our prayer and worship times, whether individual or corporate. In both circumstances, like Moses, we are spending time with Yahweh. Like Israel, we have a given, His presence is with us. I believe prayer and worship times are thin places, places that provide the opportunity for intimate encounter. They are an opportunity to know Him, to ask Him to show us His glory (we see from Exodus 33:18-20 and 34:5-7 that Yahweh’s glory is His character).

Times of prayer and worship are ‘thin places.’ Places where if we are sensitive to His presence, we have encounter opportunities. May we use them in a wise and ‘timely’ manner.  

Thin Place by Vineyard Worship captures this concept.