(Originally published: June 11th, 2010)
DREAMS ARE STRANGE.
I once had a wall that I needed to paint in an old apartment before I could move out. I planned on painting on a Saturday, but that Friday night, I spent my entire dream-time working on it. When I woke in the morning, I was exhausted—but what’s worse is that I still hadn’t accomplished the task in reality!
Most of the dreams I remember are typically very surreal. I’m usually an unwitting party in a much larger disastrous event. I could be on the balcony of my parents’ house, and out from behind the line of eucalyptus trees far off on the horizon, there suddenly looms a terrifying machine. At once, the day is night, and I am surrounded by darkly clad soldiers storming the property, strange ships swooping in the night sky, firing down upon unknown targets.
Sometimes all I remember are snippets of dreams, some very startling piece of what would otherwise be a very normal puzzle: the other night my friend’s sister has to leave our company. She’s come out positive on a pregnancy test. She’s unwed, and had no intentions of having a child.
I wake up thinking, “Wow, that’s rough!”
And then I remember, “Oh wait, that was a dream.”
In my experience, dreams are a way of processing things that have happened throughout the week, or things that I have been thinking on. It’s a way of answering questions and making sense of life as best as we know how. In the moment, the images and themes are totally new, but come morning, it all starts to make sense.
I think this is why God has often spoken to His people through dreams. He can tell us the same thing He has always said, but, this time we will listen. Unfortunately, the things we sometimes learn can be unsettling. Sometimes, they’re not the things we were wanting to hear:
Twice, I have had roughly the same dream. The contexts are different, but the underlying theme and message has been the same. It’s a dream about death, and something more.
If I start backward, the second dream was this:
I have fled into the golden hills back home after taking a leisurely stroll. There was a jet fighter above and it had opened fire, so I ran for cover. In the hills, I stumble upon a large shipping container. Inside, I find people hiding, presumably from the same danger. I join them, but realize that we’re stuck in here. Before I wake up, I am overcome by the distinct and terrifying understanding that all of us inside are about to die, and I am not ready for that to happen; I don’t know where I will go.
When I awoke, I knew at once what this dream was referring to. In the footnotes, I knew it pointed back to my first dream like it—the one I had had back in High School:
There is an L-shaped metal platform, jutting out from a corner in a valley; it is perched above a precipice in the redwoods. I am in the leg of the L, standing in line with many others. Ahead of me, around me, are the people from my youth group—my friends and leaders. From where I am standing, I can see what can only be described of as a stage. There are roughly ten cylindrical pedestals, each one set just ahead of a wooden beam. I know what happens on that stage and I am terrified.
We are beginning to get ushered onto the stage, those of us in the youth group. My heart is racing.
The youth group leader’s wife turns to me, she says, “You can do this, Daren.”
My jaw is clenched, I don’t want to cry. “I can’t…” I say.
Three of my friends are taking their place on the stage. They wrap their arms around the beam behind them.
Someone turns to me. “You don’t have to say it, if you don’t want to.”
I am being ushered forward, and my heart is in my throat. I am crying now. I have to say it. If I don’t, what does that say about me?
I am on the stage now, standing on my spot. My arms are wrapped around the beam. My friends, the leaders—they are waiting patiently, silently. I am bawling.
Before me, I can now see what I couldn’t see before. Another platform faces ours. On it, there stands one man for every one of us on stage, and each one has a rifle.
Someone (a king, a politician, who knows?) asks through a loudspeaker, “Do you know Christ?”
Nobody looks at me. Nobody guilts me into anything. Each person on stage with me—those I know and love—all bow their heads. I look away.
There is a chorus of gunfire, like peals of thunder, and just like that my friends are gone. I am the only one left standing on the stage, and I am ushered away, crying.
I am Judas.
I remember the feeling I had when I woke from that dream. It was like a revelation. God had shown me my heart, and I was filled with shame.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
I have always been troubled by statements such as this. The truth is that I have never been willing to give my life in exchange for the life of another. If I boil it down, I know it stems from fear. I’m afraid of leaving this world. There are so many things that I want to do, to be, to see, to know. There are so many experiences I’m terrified of not having. But worse yet, I have always been scared of what may come after this life is done.
When Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends,” I think He is referring not just to dying for a loved one. I think He is also hinting at the kind of life we as Christians ought to be living: a life that is not our own.
Jesus calls us to give up our lives, to give up everything that we desire if we desire it more than Him. Scripture refers to God’s people as “the bride of Christ.” Do we love Jesus like a bride loves her husband? Are we that passionate about Christ that we would leave our family, leave our home, and leave our name behind? That we would set aside our own personal goals for something better if Christ asked us to—even if it didn’t seem better, to us?
When I look at my own life, I recognize that I have difficulty answering that question. I want to say yes, but, I don’t want to lie. Lately, I feel Christ has been tugging at me again, reminding me what He calls for. He reminds me gently of the price He paid for me, asking softly, “Did I do it for nothing?”
Christ will not guilt us into following His call. He has done His part and offered us His gift. He won’t make us take it. But, if we do take it, He calls us to take it responsibly. He calls us to know what it is we are getting into. And when we stand up in front of the world and make our vow of fidelity to Him, He vows the same: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
No matter what we do, He remains. If we abandon Him, He waits at the door for our return. It’s the story of the prodigal son. But just because Christ welcomes us back, does that give us permission to leave? Perhaps the question is better answered when asked another way: would a loving bride leave her loving husband? Not unless her heart was lying, or was deceived by the lies of this world. But if her heart was sincere, if she truly loved her husband, then she would remain faithful just as she vowed she would.
I believe God gave me these dreams to ask me that simple question.
“Did you mean it up there, when you said you loved me? When you said you would follow me, and give up your life?”
He tells me, “You say that you feel like Judas, but that’s not you. You are Peter. Judas betrayed me, Peter ran in fear. But, whereas Judas took his life, Peter gave his to me.”
He asks the same question that He asked Peter. He says, “Do you love me?”
He gently asks this question to us all, and does not push us to answer. He lets it dwell in our hearts. I think about this, and I think about my dreams. He is calling me again, and I think back to a time when I walked beside Him faithfully.
There has been no better time, no better experience than the days of my fidelity to Him.
Why should I give that up for the cares of this world?