1 John 4:1
You’ve probably heard the story of the man who was sitting in a window seat on an airplane flying across the desert in Arizona. The desert sun was shining white-hot on the parched earth below and the man was the only passenger on that side of the plan who had not pulled down his window shade to keep out the glare. In contrast to the other passengers who were sitting in window seats, this man kept looking out the window and actually seemed to be enjoying the scene down below.
After a while, the person sitting next to him in the aisle seat got curious and asked, “Excuse me, but what do you see down there in that wasteland that makes you smile?” To which the man in the window seat answered somewhat apologetically, “Oh, it’s just that I’m in the irrigation business, and I was sitting here thinking if we could only get water to this desert how we could turn it into a lush garden.”
Now that’s a big dream, and I’m not so sure that most of us could join him in imagining such a thing. That’s because most of us struggle with small-sightedness. We don’t tend to take the time or go to the effort to see what could be. We don’t give much thought to how we might leverage our talents and abilities to work for big changes. We dream in wallet-sized categories and we’re pretty much content with accepting things as they are.
In our defense, much of our small-sightedness is because of how we have had too many dreams shot down by the comments of others. It’s remarkable, is it not, how our hearts can get shrunken in size by the things that others tell us?
For example, has there been a time in your life when you’ve harbored some big hope, only to have someone pour water on it by saying something like, “You have got to be kidding,” or “You’re getting too far out over your skis,” or “You don’t have the resources to pull that off.” Trust me when I tell you that as a pastor of a local church for over 40 years, I have heard more than my share of what I call “killer phrases” – phrases that can cut off a dream before it has any chance of growing legs.
But in order for us to experience anything that resembles the largeness of life to which we are called through our faith in Jesus Christ, we must reject any such talk and choose instead to focus on the voice of the Holy Spirit, the One who will guide us into places of boldness and daring where we realize things that few people could ever know.
That’s the encouragement we receive in this passage that’s before us this morning from John’s first epistle. 1 John comes from Jesus’ beloved disciple, who was at the time of this letter at what we might call an advanced age, but who, out of his vast years of experience following Jesus, offers counsel to his readers that they might know more fully what he calls in the first chapter of his letter “the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1) and the subsequent “complete joy” (1 John 1:4) that living for Jesus always brings.
In this section of his letter John challenges his readers to scrutinize carefully every word of instruction that comes their way, because not all of them will have their best interests at heart. “Dear friends,” he writes, “do not (continue) to believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Evidently there were some in John’s day who mistook gullibility for good counsel and ended up buying in to ideas and viewpoints that were keeping them from knowing the power of divine love that had come into the world through the very person of Jesus Christ. Instead of living boldly and brashly, they were living tentatively and fearfully. Instead of undertaking major tasks, they were wallowing in minor matters. Instead of knowing life, they were having life sucked right out of them. Perhaps that’s why a little later in this chapter, John seeks to embolden them by reminding them of how “there is no fear in love. But perfect love (the kind of love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ) has a way of driving out all fear” (1 John 4:18).
I think all of us understand how vulnerable we are to the constraints others seek to place upon us and, even worse, the constraints we tend to place on ourselves. I think all of us understand how exasperating it is to get to a place where on the verge of finally doing something meaningful and significance, but then a voice (or as John would put it, a spirit) gets into our heads and our hearts, telling us that we’re being silly ever to consider doing such a thing.
What John would remind us is that dreaming a bigger dream for our lives is something that God must awaken in us. Dreaming a bigger dream requires our openness to God’s love for us and our confidence that God wills the best for us. Dreaming such a dream means that we are drawn into something much larger than ourselves, something that involves activity that only the power of the Holy Spirit could produce.
What about your life this morning? What are some of the possibilities that are calling to you, which you would gladly undertake if you were not so afraid? What are others telling you or what are you telling yourself that is keeping you from seizing those possibilities?
Or let’s think about it another way. When have you experienced a time in your life that was so profoundly of God that it stopped you in your tracks or moved you to tears? How did it change your life? How did it fill your heart with “complete joy?” I dare say that most of us tend to be driven by the first series of questions that are marked by fear and trepidation, nervousness and apprehension. But when we choose instead to reject those evil spirits for the truth of God’s Holy Spirit and the loving voice He speaks to us, we have nothing to fear and we have everything to gain.
No doubt John, the author of this epistle, remembered this truth from his time following Jesus, as Jesus gave his disciples teachings that would change them and then move them to change the world. One of those teachings is recorded in the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus is describing himself to his critics as the Good Shepherd and his disciple are overhearing the exchange. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “the man who enters the sheep pen by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice” (John 10:1-5). And how does John recall the response of Jesus’ opponents? “They did not understand what (Jesus) was telling them” (John 10:6).
Do you understand? If so, then you will never be content with a little dream. You’ll know that little dreams never stir up anything or anyone and fall far, far short of the business to which God calls us as His people, a work that involves, in the words of the Psalmist, “turning the deserts into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs” (Ps. 107:35).