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Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer



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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Jim Palmer

Friday, November 5

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
—Matthew 2:13


I have a friend named Nihad who came to follow Christ as a result of a series of dreams. In one of them, she mysteriously discovers a wooden chest filled with exquisite diamonds and priceless pearls on an abandoned desert road. Before meeting Nihad, I did not give much legitimacy to dreams, and even thought people who did were a little loopy.

Surprisingly, I discovered dreams hold special significance in the Christian tradition. In addition to being a common way God spoke to and guided people in the Old Testament, dreams and visions directed Mary and Joseph as they navigated the circumstances surrounding Jesus' birth. After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Peter announced the new era of Christ's indwelling Spirit would result in believers "seeing visions and dreaming dreams."

Digging around in church history, I learned that there is a 1,500 year tradition of Christian belief that visions and dreams are a natural way that spiritual reality reaches out and touches people, and a frequent means of God revealing himself.

I wondered why I categorically dismissed something so important to people's relationship with God both in scripture and in the lives of so many down through history. Sadly, I recognized my pick-and-choose approach to life in God. Concepts I could understand and those that allowed me to be in control were accepted, but those beyond my intellect or control were questioned.

If prayer meant talking to God, fine, but the thought of some real-time personal response from God seemed improbable. If being "Christian" meant doing church and being civil, this was do-able, but Paul described the Christian life as "no longer I who live but Christ living in me." 

For me, dreams were in this same nebulous category. But what if, I wondered, those nebulous, subjective ideas were a vital part of experiencing God and the present reality of his kingdom?

God showed Nihad through a dream that knowing Christ would become her greatest joy and treasure, like the chest of jewels on the desert road. Who knows what God might show me if I were more open? Perhaps God was whispering to me through last night's star-filled sky or is mysteriously present in my tears of sadness. Maybe it was God speaking to my heart through that song on the radio or that scene in the movie or that faint train whistle I heard early this morning.

I wonder how much I limit God because I am not open to what he might do through the ebb and flow of ordinary life and people, the natural creation surrounding me, and, yes, even dreams. Jesus said, "The Father is always at his work," and that work is drawing us into intimate life with him. Let's keep the eyes of our heart wide open. Maltbie Babcock wrote, "Life is measured by the number of things you are alive to." I want to be more alive to God.

God, help me be aware of your voice and emanations of love speaking and reaching out to me today. Amen

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.