Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

Psalm 139:17-18

sleeping6 A few weeks ago after a particularly long day my wife and I dropped into our bed exhausted and I immediately fell fast asleep.  Sometime later my wife woke me up and I stared at her through foggy eyes trying to figure out what was wrong.  “You were talking,” she said, “you kept saying ‘Hey Steve- Steve!’ over and over you were trying to get some guys attention.” I had no recollection of it but assumed that I must been talking to a friend in my dream.  I got up for a glass of water and came back to bed hoping that I had cleared whatever dream I had been having and would be able to snooze peacefully for the remainder of the night.  As I settled in again my wife turned and kissed me goodnight and said, “If you see anybody you know this time, just wave, ok?” Ever have the kind of dream that seems so real it makes you talk in your sleep or maybe even wave an arm or move your feet like a lazy dog dreaming of running? We’ve all probably experienced that feeling.  Some dreams seem so real it’s hard to separate them from reality the next day.  My wife once sped an entire day mad at me for something I’d done in her dream!  And we’ve all experienced the way too intense stayed-up-late-watching-zombie-movies nightmares, right? The ones where you’re trying to force yourself awake just to end it… you know the dreams I’m talking about.  And maybe the best kind of dreams of all are the ones you’re having at 6 am when the alarm goes off and all you want to do is roll over and go back to sleep and back to that dream.  If you’re anything like me that rarely works out though; the dream is gone.  We’ve all probably wished a time or two that our conscious reality might look more like some nocturnal fantasy we’ve had.  What if the splendor of the dream could remain with us even in daylight? What might that be like? In Psalm 139 King David said that’s what life was like for him.  Look at verses 16, 17, and 18 of the Psalm.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.
(Psalm 139:16–18, ESV)

Two things have captured David’s wonder and have left him awestruck: the presence and the purposes of God. The King has realized that even before he was born, while he was yet an unknown, unnamed embryo in his mother’s womb God knew him and had a plan.  Before David saw the light of even one day on earth, every day he would spend on this terrestrial ball was already recorded in God’s book.  “How wonderful are the thoughts You think toward me and the purposes You have concerning me!” cries the humbled shepherd king, “they are precious to me! It’s like I’m dreaming! How could anything in reality be this good?” he exclaims. It’s like David has found himself in the middle of one of those awesome, don’t-you-dare-wake-me-up kind of dreams.  The psalmist has discovered that the God of creation, the Lord of Hosts, the Inescapable Presence is FOR him and not against him and that He has a purpose to prosper him.  This is all so incredible, so unbelievable, so inconceivable and improbable that David decides that it must all be simply a dream; it must be a delusion or a hoax his own brain is playing on him while he sleeps.  But then look at end of verse 18… David wakes up.  He comes back to himself; he returns from the fogginess of slumber and he discovers something amazing: God’s presence is still with me!  His purposes are still to prosper me; to lay His hands of blessing upon me and give me a hope and a future!  The dream isn’t a dream at all- it’s reality!! David rejoiced to discover that the presence and the purpose of God in his life was real; God was truly with him and He was constantly there directing David’s life so that God’s pleasant purposes might be accomplished in and through His servant. Not that David didn’t know nightmares… both before and after these words of David we find evidence that conscious life for the king was often worse than any unconscious night terror.  The psalmist spoke of vicious enemies, “men of blood” surrounding him.  In the earlier stanzas of the poem he speaks of the even crueler enemy of shame: shame that left him looking for a place to hide from God.  David knew nightmares.  On more than one occasion David LIVED nightmares.  But by faith David swapped the realms of dream and reality.  The evil and the trouble that David lived with while awake he reckoned as merely a mist of fantasy and he reckoned as his true reality that which he had once thought could only be a dream: the truth that God was with David and working even in his nightmarish circumstances to accomplish the precious thoughts that He had toward His child. Friend, we are called to the same thing today.  We must recognize first of all, like David did, that what we once thought could only be true in a dream is in fact more real than we can imagine.  God’s love for us is real- it is true.  He has plans for us- good and pleasant purposes to use us and fill us and change us and bless us.  It’s all true, and we know it’s true because He has already paid the most costly of prices to ensure that His purposes for us will prevail.  So we must first recognize that the dream is real, and second let us like David swap out our realities.  What you see around you now; the trials you face, the enemies that surround you, and the nightmares you often live in; these things are but a momentary mist and will soon fade as quickly as the dream leaves us in the morning.  The trials we face won’t last but the plans and the purposes of God stand forever.  Hold fast, my friends, to the reality of His ever-present love for the night is almost over and we will awake to a new day where we will see Him in glory. Won’t you pray this with me, “Dear Lord, help me to live each new day rejoicing as David did to know that Your loving presence and purposes are with me always.  Help me to remember that the nightmares of this life are but light and momentary afflictions which You are using to achieve in me an eternal weight of glory that far outshines them all! Amen.”

Unmet Expectations

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [Moses] named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?””

Exodus 17:1-4;7 NASB

Wadi                My wife pointed something out to me a while back.  She noted that when someone asks how long I was in the Navy I never just say “4 years.”  Instead I tell them “3 years, 11 months, and 22 days.”  It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know that there was something about my experience in the Navy that I didn’t like.  Now, I’m not military bashing; I appreciate our service men and woman and I’m proud to have served.  I just didn’t want to make a career out of the Navy because it wasn’t what I thought it would be like.  All the recruiting posters said “Join the Navy see the world”… and then my boot camp instructor let me in on the secret: the world is 75% water! I saw the world alright! In the end my unmet expectations were too much to overcome and I decided to make my naval career a short one.                Unmet expectations can have a huge impact in our lives, can’t they? The same was true for folks in the Bible as well.  In the book of Exodus, chapter 17 we find this story of the Israelites leaving Egypt heading for the Promised Land.  God was leading the Hebrew hoard “by stages” says the text, which probably means He lead them from watering hole to watering hole through the dry land, providing all they needed.  He was a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day; when the Lord moved the people followed and they soon grew to trust and count on the provision of the Lord.  And then they came to Rephidim.                By all accounts the people expected that there would be water at Rephidim; the name of the place was the first clue.  Rephidim means “resting place” in Hebrew, and out in this kind of land any place called a place of rest would be expected to be a place of water.  Like we might expect to find food at Food Lion and a soft bed at a Holiday Inn they expected water in a resting place.  Beyond that the terrain itself indicated that there would be water at Rephidim.  The oasis was located in what is called today the Refayid Wadi.  A wadi for us Americans is what we might call an arroyo or a wash; a dry river bed that only carries water when there is a heavy rain.  It only rains in a desert once or twice a year and when it does it POURS! The run off flows through the wadi and where there are low places and dips the water will pool, leaving behind an oasis- a resting place: a Rephidim.  And above all of that, the Hebrews had been conditioned by this point to expect to have water wherever the Lord lead them.  But there was no water at Rephidim…                The Israelites did not react very well to the disappointment… their unmet expectations created an immediate and particularly visceral reaction.  So great was their grief that according to the text they began to cry out “Is God with us or not?” Now as outsiders looking in we see all the reasons why that was a crazy thing for them to wonder right?  Had they forgotten about the Red Sea? Did they not see the massive cloud over their heads shading them from the sizzling desert sun?  Some of us might be tempted to look at this and wag our fingers and cluck at these “over dramatic and histrionic Hebrews.”  But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them… after all, who among us has never over-reacted in some situation when the bitterness of an unmet expectation has temporarily blinded us?  I know I have.  In my early years of ministry as a pastor it was hard at times when I realized that it wasn’t all I had expected.  I remember wrestling with the Lord at time crying out, “Lord where are you? People don’t respect me like I thought they would! I thought all my plans would work out better than this? I thought you were going to make me successful!”                Maybe you’ve been there, too.  Maybe at some point you’ve said “Lord, I gave you my life and I’m following you- but this sickness is starting to make me wonder if You’re really on my side?”  Or, “Lord, you said you would provide but these bills are piling up? Are you there? Have you forgotten me?” Maybe you’ve watched a relationship crumble or a loved one die and it has left you in a pit of unmet expectations… And if so, then you can relate to what these Israelites were feeling.  And maybe you can even relate to them in how you handled the disappointment.  Unmet expectations can really mess things up in your life.  Cain slew his brother Able in a fit of unmet expectations.  David’s older brother Eliab became a bitter and angry man when God didn’t chosen him as he had expected.  When Jesus didn’t immediately form an army and defeat Rome after His triumphant entry into the city the Jews cried out “Crucify Him!” in a fit of unmet expectations.  Feelings of disappointment can very quickly become serious spiritual problems when not dealt with appropriately.              moses rod In the situation there at Rephidim, Moses was the one who handled things the right way.  While the people busied themselves talking about God and what He hadn’t done, Moses hit his knees and talked TO God.  In verse 4 he asks a great question, perhaps the best question he could have asked: “What shall I do?” he says.  The moment Moses recognized a problem; the very moment the confusion hit, Moses took the issue to God.  Do you think God is so fragile that He can’t handle your questions? Do you think He would rather that you whined and complained, or even worse, pretended everything is ok? God can handle the cries of a confused heart.  David cried out in Psalm 22, “God, why have you forsaken me?” The Father didn’t wilt; David wasn’t immediately smitten with arm-pit lice and boils.  Talking to God in the midst of the disappointment is key.                Next, Moses listened.  He cried out to the Lord and then he listened.  He didn’t take matters into his own hands (Cain!).  He didn’t throw a pity party (Eliab, I’m looking at you!).  He listened for what the Lord would say.  And I know what someone is saying right now, “That’s all good, but God doesn’t talk to me like He did to Moses!” Really? He speaks to me.  In the pages of His word He speaks to me. And that’s not just preacher-talk; this isn’t all some clever pastoral marketing scheme to get you to read your Bible more.  He really does speak to us today through scriptures.  Sometimes while I’m reading them and other time when He brings a passage to my remembrance at just the moment I need it.  He speaks to us.                Finally, we must note the most crucial part of Moses’ plan for handling unmet expectations: He trusted.  Moses prayed, God spoke, and then Moses trusted the plan.  It’s seemed wild: go strike a rock with a stick.  But Moses trusted.  Friends, our God never says “Uh, oh” He never says “Whoops,” He never says, “Huh- didn’t see that coming.”  Nothing throws Him off- nothing surprises Him- nothing can cause Him to get up from the throne and pace the floorboards of heaven wringing His hands with worry. He has said, “I know the plans I have for you.”  Whatever you are going through; whatever disappointment you are facing; whatever empty water hole you’re staring at, you can believe that God knew about it before you did and you can trust that He has a plan to use it to grow you.                So what happened at Rephidim? Did God get some bad intel from his scouts? Did google maps mis-mark the oasis?  No.  He knew there was no water there.  His plan all along was to show His power in the midst of an impossible situation.  And Israel almost missed it, and WOULD have missed it had not Moses been the one to rightly handle the unmet expectation.  What will you do the next time what you expect and what you get don’t line up? Will you talk about God or to God? Will be bitter and let Him make you better? Won’t you pray this with me; “Father, help me in my disappointments both big and small to cry out to You and trust.  Lead me to the water of Your word in every moment of grief, and use these distresses to make me into the child You’ve called me to be. Amen.”