Dreams are powerful things. They help propel us forward in life. They are the aspirations of our hearts, and we hope, the framework of the extraordinary. For better or worse, what we think and what we dream tends to materialize. "As a person thinks in the heart, so a person becomes" (Proverbs 23:7).
The best dreams call us to our higher selves, participating creatively in the things and plans of God. Good dreams reflect a Philippians 4:8 orientation: "Brothers and sisters, think about things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected."
Dreams that are "worthy of praise" - dreams of the Spirit - come to us from many places: our family of faith; a worship experience; deep prayer and meditation. Yet, some of the best dreams come to us from simply living on the planet and being present to what's going on around us. These are the yearnings for loftier ways of living, refracted through what's best in our culture, filtered through leaders we respect, and revealed in the everyday interactions with the issues and people around us.
Can we as Christians dream dreams along with those who do not acknowledge Christ as savior? That is a crucial question as the Church struggles to provide real hope to a world where hope is now being provided elsewhere: Those outside of the community of faith who are working diligently on issues that matter, on a higher vision of what humans can be together. Those working to alleviate the devastation of AIDS in Africa, who are combining forces to steward the planet's dwindling resources. Those who are making the necessary sacrifices to reverse climate change.
Recently, I was part of a panel at a conference. Part of our session's goal was to address what seems to be an increasing myopia within evangelicalism. One of the observations that surfaced concerned the narrow vision surrounding morality within evangelicalism, i.e., what is moral in the conservative church so often revolves around sexual practice. Why? Are not justice, poverty, disease, hunger, and planet degradation also moral issues? If so, does our silence and lack of engagement on these issues belie a dearth of dreams? We may wish the Philippians 4 passage only applied to our favorite behaviors and issues. Or, we may wish we could retreat into the safety of the abstract (holiness divorced from action). But that is hypocritical faith. It is what Jesus confronted in the Pharisees. A white-washed-tomb religion.
As leaders, our best dreams call people to live their faith in the midst the watching world. We are not called to live in denial and to stay within our comfort zones. We are not called to talk about the things of God in platitudes. In these days when people outside the Church are wanting to connect to movements and causes that actually make a difference, we must ask ourselves if our highest Christian dream is to amass personal possessions and personal happiness within a fortified subculture. If so, we are certainly making that dream come true.
Barak Obama says he borrowed the term, "audacity of hope" from a minister's sermon. But I wonder if that minister is an anomaly. The dreams of much of conservative Christianity seem to be incredibly self-focused and small. We can do better. To dream Philippians 4 dreams as the Church is literally to be people of hope in action: to do what is necessary to usher in the reign of God - the reconciled and reconciling kingdom - in a broken world.