To dream is human
We all have dreams.
I’m not talking about the natural sleep sensation of dreaming. I mean every healthy human being on the planet should have a dream for the future, whether it’s owning your own home, having a family or owning a business, buried deep down inside you are dreams that are yet unfulfilled.
It’s good to tease those dreams out. Someone said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
So there are different categories of human:
Those who say they have no dreams – they have buried their dreams so deep due to disappointment or for whatever other reason that they deny the fact that there are God-given dreams buried like a packet of seeds in a cupboard: unplanted and growing nowhere.
Then there are those who have acknowledged their dreams. They know what it is they want to achieve. But this category of person does nothing about it. They are no better than the first!
Finally there is the rare human being who has a dream and is intentional about it. They go for it with all their heart. There is nothing that will stop them relentlessly pursuing their dream.
There are of course other sub-categories: those who relentlessly pursue a dream that is not right for them, those who know what they want to do but have no idea how to move forward, or they don’t know how to face the opposition.
But for now, let’s assume you’ve got it all together and you’re heading for dream-land.
Today I want to warn you about two distractions that will totally destroy your dreams. Two distractions that will cause you to do a complete U-turn on your road to your dream.
Caught in the headlights
Imagine driving along a dark road and a car comes towards you with high-beam headlights shining in your eyes. What should you do? Get out of the way of course! But I’m told that there is something about our brains that causes us to steer towards the bright light! It’s as if we can become so overcome with the idea of NOT crashing into the headlights of an oncoming vehicle that we become over-focused on that vehicle. Unwittingly many people will steer towards those headlights.
In the same way, there are two distractions, two headlights if you will, that will cause you to drift onto the wrong side of the road and lead you to disaster, when all you needed to do was stay focused on the unlit side of the lines. Your destiny is not necessarily lit up at all. If you’re a pioneer, that means you’re the first person to walk that road. And that means that you will not find streetlights along the way. Well in a way, we’re all pioneers because no one has lived your life before.
But back to those two distractions. Below I will show you what they are and how to avoid them.
Let’s go to my favourite source of knowledge and inspiration: the bible.
1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
2 They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.
3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
4 even to your old age I am he,
and to grey hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
5 “To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
and compare me, that we may be alike?
6 Those who lavish gold from the purse,
and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
then they fall down and worship!
7 They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
they set it in its place, and it stands there;
it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
or save him from his trouble.
8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.
12 “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
you who are far from righteousness:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
for Israel my glory.”
1. Identify the distractions: Bel and Nebo (v1)
Recognise the headlights for what they are.
You: What? I’m distracted by Bel and Nebo?
What the heck are you talking about?!
Me: I know, stay with me.
Bel and Nebo are the two headlights that draw us away from our path. In Isaiah’s day they were the two principal gods of the nation who had captured Israel and taken them into exile: the Babylonians.
Bel, the left headlight
Bel is a Babylonian version of Baal. Both names simply mean “Lord”. He was so important that several Babylonian kings had Bel as part of their name, e.g. Belshazzar. He was the god of fortune and is associated with the planet Jupiter. If you were born under Jupiter you were thought to be really lucky. So for me, Bel represents the distraction of seeking your fortune, or chasing money.
You might think I’m stretching the meaning here. But remember that Bel means Lord, or master. What did Jesus suggest about serving two masters? It is either God or money for so many people.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24
So this is my first distraction. I’m either dreaming for God and his kingdom, or my dream is somehow contorted to fit financial aspirations.
Well I find that challenging.
I mean, I want money, and money is useful in the kingdom, right? But God says, Kingdom first, money second. One day you’ll thank me for telling you.
Nebo, the right headlight
To the Babylonians Nebo was the god of learning. Nebo was the vocal god and was associated with oracles. For many he was linked to the planet Mercury and is referred to as the scribe of heaven.
So for my purposes Nebo represents human understanding, or human wisdom. It can even represent academia when we make our understanding greater than our submission to God’s ways.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
And in case you need to be reminded,
‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
It’s easy to think. I think a lot. But recently I’ve become increasingly aware of my inability to understand so much. In fact, I have more thoughts and dreams than I can handle. I think of all the things I could do with my time and it’s like looking at a huge menu in a restaurant. I NEED to seek God for HIS thoughts about where I should go, what I should do, what I should pick from the menu, because his thoughts are infinitely greater than mine.
Let’s not get distracted by money and let’s not allow our own understanding of things interfere with the amazing adventure God has for us.
But let’s keep dreaming!
2. Recognise the lights’ limitations
The headlights represent wrong priorities. I have suggested that the pursuit of money and your own understanding as two headlights we could steer towards very easily, you may have others.
Wrong priorities are beasts of burden
If you allow money and human wisdom to distract you from God’s way of doing things, the image you have of your future will become a burden to you. Look at Isaiah 46:1-2. The idols themselves end up in captivity – the very things you hoped would set you free to live the dream.
See in verse 2 how the idols bow down. This is complete role reversal now as those you created the idols once bowed down to them. Now at the hand of the almighty God these idols bow down. They have been conquered.
Once the idol is made it cannot move. It’s just a piece of metal. The owner carries it and puts it in a high place where it sits and does nothing.
Let the idols bow down. Whatever is standing between you and God and the abundant life he has for you. You must lower these idols in your estimation.
Wrong priorities come with a price
See in verses 6-7 how much people spend in literal money to elevate their idols. It’s a poor investment. They pour money into something that is diametrically opposed to God’s plan and will. This cannot end well.
Wrong priorities make you a rebel
The writer refers to those who follow Bel and Nebo as rebels (v8).
Sounds cool, doesn’t it. Being a rebel. But rebellion against God is not cool. In fact he is calling you to rebel against the world and all that it stands for. The elevation of human wisdom over God’s majestic ways and the relentless pursuit of money might cause you to feel you fit in with a lot of people, but these are the things your creator wishes for you to rebel against. So actually either way you will be a rebel. Who’s side are you going to be on? How long will you waver between two world-views? How long will you stand on both sides? Do you not realise that a double-minded person is unstable in all that they do?
So, rebels, what are you to do?
3. See God as he is
However much God’s people rebelled against him, he always loved them. If we can just learn to walk and live in that love, we will make life so much easier for ourselves.
Remember who God is
In verse 8, the rebel is told to do something extremely powerful. He is told to remember.
Verse 9 puts it this way:
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…
Remember that God is God.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that. Simple because the statement is a truism. Complicated because it takes more than a lifetime to live in alignment with this truth. God is God. Money is not God. People’s opinions are not God. God is God. He is Lord. His thoughts are not your thoughts. His ways are not your ways, or the ways of anyone else you know. There is no one like him.
Remember what he has done
Remember the former things. Maybe they are things God did long ago. Remember them. The act of remembering something from the past brings it into your mind in the present. Then it’s easier to believe that the God who never changes will do something equally amazing or beautiful today.
Perhaps my favourite verse in this passage is verse 10, telling me that God declares the end from the beginning. And then in verse 11,
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.
Now that’s pretty impressive. God is the ultimate completer-finisher.
Many of us say we are going to do something. So does God. But many of us fail to complete what we say. God does. He doesn’t just know the end from the beginning, he declares the end from the beginning.
I love watching a pool player name the pocket they will pot the black in, hit the cue ball in a totally opposite direction and watch as the balls bounce round several cushions leaving the black ball to drop neatly into the named pocket.
That’s what God is saying here.
He can name the pocket 1000s of years ahead of time. Things might look as if they are bouncing around in the wrong direction but God knows what he is doing. This is why it is so wrong to think we can rely on our own resources and understanding. He is God and he knows what he is doing.
And he will fulfil his purpose. He declared the end from the beginning and he will do it.
This is why it’s so important to ask God to help us align our dreams to his.
Don’t play Chicken
One of the most foolish games I’ve ever heard of kids playing is the game Chicken, where a child will stand on a rail track and watch an oncoming train approach at speed. The longer he waits, the less chicken he is. The boy who jumps off at the last second wins kudos or street-cred with his mates.
Don’t play Chicken.
Remember the headlights. Remember how allowing finance and human opinion are like two headlights.
The correct path might be dark but it’s still the correct path.