Most nights a pen can be found on my bedside table. If in the night there is a dream worth remembering, I want to be able to write it down right away. Dreams, upon waking, slip away like the tail of kite soaring into the sky; you try to grab on but they always get away. For that reason, paper is also kept nearby. In a pinch, a napkin will do.
We tend to disregard dreams. Sure, we value them because of the stress relief often achieved through them while unconscious.
Dreams, even bad ones, are healthy. We awake refreshed and occasionally reinvigorated. But in terms of their value to us, that's as far as it goes. This is because we are born post-Enlightenment.
There was a time when dreams were viewed as direct communication from God. The dreams were precognitive; they announced events before they actually happened.
The Bible is rife with examples: Joseph interpreting the dreams of pharoah's butler and baker and later, even pharoah himself. Dreams that later came true. A dream guided Gideon in advance of Israel's defeat of the Midianities. King Nebuchadnezzar suffered a nightmare and forgot his dream upon waking. (He should have had a pen handy!) Nebuchadnezzar issued an edict throughout his kingdom demanding that a true seer present himself to recall and interpret his dream. Daniel did so and the nightmare, the Bible reveals, came true.
At this season of the year, we recall the series of dreams centered on the birth of Jesus.
A dream told Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt because of murderous King Herod. (Matthew 2:13)
A subsequent dream told Joseph the coast was clear to return to Israel. (Matthew 2:20)
But the most important Christmastime dream was the first one -- before the marriage, before the baby. Joseph went to bed determined to divorce pregnant Mary believing that she had been unfaithful to him. Any man would be suspicious and distrustful; what other rational explanation was there?
He sleeps, he dreams. He is told that Mary is not at fault and not to be afraid of marrying her since the unborn son is the seed of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph wakes up and changes his mind, and they get married. He listened to the dream. (Matthew 1:20-25)
More than 30 years later, there is another dream. It is given to the wife of Pontius Pilate, the Judean procurator who pronounced the death sentence on Jesus of Nazareth.
"Have nothing to do with that just man. I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him." (Matthew 27:19)
Pilate ignored the dream of his wife and in consequence became one of the greatest villains in history.
Two men. Two dreams. One is ignored; the other is obeyed.
Every time you and I dream, we have the chance to be Pilate or to be Joseph. Usually, we are Pilate.
"It was nothing; it was just a dream," we tell ourselves.
But what if we dared to be Joseph? What if we had a dream, believed it to be from God, and obeyed?
I'm not a fool. Not every dream is from God -- most probably are not.
But what if we dared believe that God may occasionally use a dream to reach us? Dreams are the only time in which God has our full and undivided attention.
Got a pen?
Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies, and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.