Decorate the Dream
No one imagined Charles Dutton would ever amount to anything, for he spent many years imprisoned for manslaughter. When asked how he was able to make such a remarkable transition, this successful Broadway star replied, “unlike the other prisoners, I never decorated my cell.”(1)
The mundane art of cell decorating is common but unnatural - it’s a learned art. Unintended for us by our Creator, this practice is the equivalent of being dreamless or purposeless. Decorating one’s cell means he or she has determined to make a current rut permanent.
You don’t have to be in a prison to live in a cell. Your current job could be one; perhaps the job you just lost, having imprisoned you in unpleasant circumstances, is your prison cell. The relationship you lost, the abuse you suffered, the poverty in which you were raised, the injury you incurred, the personal challenge that you seem unable to conquer - cells come in all shapes and sizes. If allowed, they will imprison you in a confined place of isolation, despair, hopelessness, and inactivity. Their ultimate effect, if not checked, will be to rob you of your future.
There is good news, however, concerning this Alcatraz of the soul. You possess a key that will unlock the cell door. What is this key? Dreaming. The only thing that can keep you locked in your cell is losing the will to dream. You’ll have to either dream or decorate.
Proverbs 29:18 speaks of the death sentence that comes from being dreamless: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). It doesn’t get any plainer than that. If you don’t dream, you’ll die. Perhaps you won't perish physically, but a part of you certainly will, and it will be the part that makes you truly live life. As William Wallace in the movie Braveheart said to the cell-bound men of Scotland, men who were afraid to fight for freedom from the tyranny of Britain, “Every man dies; not every man really lives.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Like a flashlight with a hidden, corroding battery inside, you can look good on the outside but be dying on the inside. Cell decorating requires a degree of denial. Hiding behind a well-disguised facade, while actually plagued with the inability to live life to the fullest, is exactly what this verse in Proverbs is describing. The word perish is actually more associated with this figurative meaning than it is with physical death.
Perish comes from the Hebrew word para, and when fully understood, reveals several ways dreamlessness can destroy. First, para means unbridled, uncontrolled, or unrestrained. Where there is no dream or vision, we are like a horse without a bridle or a car without a steering wheel or brakes: out of control and headed for disaster. Activity alone doesn’t equal progress, and busyness doesn’t equate to productivity. Hard work in and of itself doesn’t guarantee success, nor does the admirable character trait of perseverance. Something must direct these efforts and qualities, and that something is a clear vision. Someone once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
A bridle, providing a connection point for a horse’s reins, illustrates this well. It allows the rider of a horse to control its great strength and ability, making these things work for him, not against him. An out-of-control horse is not only unproductive, it is also dangerous and destructive. With a bridle and reins, however, a rider can turn a horse with just a gentle tug. It’s not difficult to see how dreams function in this way, keeping us moving in the right direction.
Dreams not only steer us, they also provide restraint. Where there is no vision, people are unrestrained (see Proverbs 29:18 NASB). It is easier to refrain from overspending, for example, when one is saving money for a specific cause. Whether it is a child saving her allowance to purchase a bicycle or a married couple saving funds to buy a home, vision produces self-control.
The second meaning of para is somewhat unusual; it can actually mean naked. The concept is often figurative, referring to one that is uncovered or unprotected, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The word could actually be translated as “exposed.” Where there is no vision, people are unprotected and vulnerable to wrong choices, compromise, and distractions that waste time and energy.
In 1991, just after moving to Colorado for the purpose of writing and taking a partial sabbatical, I was offered the pastorate of a very large church in Florida. The pastor and founder of the congregation wanted to retire and was searching for his successor. Though I didn't feel the position was right for me, out of respect for this person, I agreed to at least travel there to hear his proposal.
The offer was generous and enticing. The church had just completed a new and beautiful 2000-seat sanctuary, the salary would be much more money than I had ever made, and my young family would be secure for years to come. At one point, the pastor actually held the keys of this new building up to me and, with tears in his eyes, begged me to take them.
After much prayer, we said no.
My dream was to write. I also felt called to the nation at large, to travel and teach on the subject of prayer, something I would have been unable to do while leading a large congratulation. This was a huge test, but my dream protected me. We stayed the course and remained in Colorado Springs. It was a short time later that my first book, Intercessory Prayer, was written. I also became one of the leaders of the worldwide “prayer movement.” Intercessory Prayer is now in more than thirty languages, and I have authored over 20 other books.
I often wonder what would have happened had I taken that offer. Would I have written books? Would I have connected with the necessary leaders in the prayer revival? Many lived in Colorado Springs during that time. It’s impossible to know for certain, but I would likely have missed portions of my dream and destiny.
Still, another concept of para has helped decorate more cells than you can imagine. “Perish” means to be unready or unprepared. Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, in his lexicon, says it is used to describe missing an opportunity by letting it slip through the fingers.(2) Where there is no vision or dream, opportunities will be missed. On the other hand, focused vision produces alertness to opportunity.
A person who dreams of becoming wealthy through real estate will see building and land opportunities others miss. Shockingly, during the Great Depression, there were more millionaires created than at any other time in history. While many people decorated their cells, others were dreaming of opportunities. One who dreams of winning souls will see the potential in a sinful individual, whereas someone else may see only their sinfulness. Jesus saw something more than a prostitute in Mary Magdalene; He saw a potential follower and helped her undecorate her cell. He hates decorated cells.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Ned and Jed. They were seeking their fortune-hunting wolves - a $5,000 bounty was being offered for wolves captured alive. Exhausted, they fell asleep one night dreaming of their soon-to-come riches. A few hours later, Ned awoke to see them surrounded by forty wolves with bared teeth. Nudging Jed, he whispered, “Wake up, Jed. We’re rich!”
Some see obstacles, dreamers see possibilities!
The problem is that most of us aren’t looking for the opportunities; and we aren’t looking because we aren’t dreaming. This would be a good time to remove and demolish all of the decor in your cell - every picture, the figurines, the souvenirs. Get rid of everything that makes you feel comfortable in a dreamless world.
It’s time to decorate the dream.
Pray with me:
Father, many people have given up on dreaming. Locked in their prison of passivity or fear, they endeavor to make the cell as pleasant as possible. But You have other plans for them. You want to heal them of disappointment, fear, hope deferred, or anything else that keeps them from dreaming with You.
Bridle us with Your plans and purposes for our lives. Appropriate dreaming brings discipline and needed restraint to us. It protects us from detours and wrong choices, and keeps us alert to Your opportunities.
And as we allow You to stir up the dreaming nature in us, we pray that believers always include You in their dreams. Here in our nation, so many have made “the American dream” a selfish one, all about money and possessions. We pray that in this coming Great Awakening, Your dream for America would be rediscovered in “the American dream.” And we know the dreams of Your heart always involve people, not things. Melt our hearts into Yours, we pray, in Christ’s name. Amen.
We declare that we are a people of vision, we have dreaming hearts, and our dreams will always be influenced by the heart of God.
Today’s post was taken from my book Dream.
Click on the link below to watch the full video.
[Dutch Sheets Dream, Discovering God’s Purpose for Your Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2012), pp 57-63.]
Craig Brian Larson, Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p 280.
Spiros Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible (Chattanooga: AMAG, 1990), 1766.