A few years ago my son was referred to an orthodontist to address the lack of space in his upper pallet for the incoming adult teeth. The new teeth weren’t quite settling in as they should, and the doctor recommended it was time to have an expander installed. If you’re not familiar with this devise, it’s a metal bracket that spans the gap from one molar to the other across the roof of your mouth. In the middle is a torque screw that gets turned every night, applying gentle pressure outward to gradually expand the upper pallet and allow additional side-to-side space for new teeth to come in straight. When the screw is turned, it can be a bit uncomfortable, but over time the necessary correction is made. If the device is installed and the pressure is applied at the right time, the result is a healthy smile and a properly aligned bite, cutting down the chances of future problems occurring.
Our lives develop in much the same way. We never cease growing, but often receive pressure that steers our growth in a certain direction. The critical question, that can drastically alter the outcome, is - Who are you allowing to apply the pressure in your life? The answer will determine if you end up with a beautiful smile, or a mouthful of chaos. Because I don’t want the suspense to be killing you, I’m going to tell you right out of the gate that your answer should include a very short list of people, with God positioned right at the top. I also want to clarify that when I use the term pressure, it can be either good or bad. It’s simply a way of describing an influence that causes a directional change.
Let’s start with people. It is true that God Himself speaks in numerous ways, one of which we will exclusively focus on in a bit. However, hearing Him clearly is a discipline that takes practice and understanding. Even after years of honing this skill, it is still true, that the people around us also have a massive influence on the direction of our life - like it or not! It doesn’t matter how independent you are, you can’t escape the shaping power of parents, siblings, spouses, teachers, friends, or co-workers. It can be a challenge because the pressure they apply, even by proximity if they’re not outspoken, will cause you to react and grow a certain way. Just like with an expander where certain foods need to be avoided so they don’t get stuck and cause damage, some people need to be cut out for the same reasons. In other words, the following proverb should be what describes the people you allow to speak into your life – those that have your best interest in mind:
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” Proverbs 27:9
I recently received an email from someone who I don’t know very well. After visiting our website, they concluded that the ministry I’m doing through Mended appears to be void of the Holy Spirit and done completely under my own efforts apart from God. They even included a Scripture just to drive the point home. You want to know what I did? I sent a cordial reply inviting them to talk personally with me to gain more understanding, and then I laughed. I laughed because that is what you do when someone who’s not on your short list attempts to apply pressure. Their comment, which wasn’t “earnest council”, had the power to alter my course – if I let it! I’ve learned that if a person is not fighting, or has never set foot in the same arena as me, their input doesn’t get a turn on my expander. It never redirects my path. It’s important to distinguish here that good counsel from a true advocate doesn’t always make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Although it can be uncomfortable, the heart behind true counsel will always be for you and not against you. What I’m referring to is silencing the naysayers. Take a moment to make a list of the people you trust; the ones who have insight and make your heart glad - practice letting only those opinions stick, and I guarantee your life will feel fuller.
Once you have your short list of loved ones, scan each name and say quietly to yourself, “There is a good chance that I will be let down or disappointed by this person.” Hold up! These are supposed to be the ones I trust. Yes…that’s right, but they’re still people. I know I shared this story once before, but when I first committed my life to serving God in ministry, He very clearly pointed out that people would inevitably hurt me, and He was the only one that never would. I’m not reminding everyone of this to be a big downer, it’s just truth. God is infallible, people are not. No matter how good their intentions are, He must be trusted above all else – put at the top of your list.
Even if God is at the top, there is another challenge of maintaining a short list that includes people: they are the ones that are easy to listen to and receive pressure from. We can hear them talk, read their body language, and look into their eyes – it’s not so simple with God, but as I mentioned earlier, He does speak in a number of ways if we take the time to learn them.
One often overlooked language God uses is the one I want to focus on today - dreams. Yes, literal dreams in the night. I know dreams are important for a number of reasons. First, Scripture is full of God speaking to people in dreams at critical points in their lives. Second, I have personal experience of God directing me in dreams. And finally, many of the people I’ve counseled over the years who struggle with hearing from God have all had dreams, yet they are routinely dismissed. Before I go too far, I must clarify that not all dreams are from God. Yet, it’s undeniable that He has, and will, use dreams to apply pressure to a person’s life as a means to direct them to do something specific.
It may seem strange to contrast a person influencing us, versus a dream given by God, but I felt very strongly about sharing this because it is a way God can communicate that is powerful, but often times misunderstood. For those having trouble hearing God’s voice, this may be an entry point in beginning to hear Him. Think of it this way, if the opinions of this world are like the torque screw being adjusted in our expander, dreams from God are like the expander itself! They are designed by a skilled Craftsman to fit perfectly in just the right place, at just the right time. The catch is that the dreams God gives will only be effective at shaping your life if they are fueled by the positive influence of those that believe in you, those that are in the arena with you.
Although there are many places in the Bible that tell of God-given dreams, the one’s given to Joseph surrounding the birth of Jesus stand out. These dreams are important because I feel we can all relate on some level to Joseph as He’s uncertain about the future, needs direction, and has a heart to do the right thing. We find out in Matthew chapter 1 that he and Mary were pledged to wed, but even before they ever had a chance to be together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. That would not exactly be an easy pill to swallow! God knew the timing was almost impossible for Joseph to understand; therefore, God appeared to him in a dream:
“…an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1:20-21
If ever there was a time that the naysayers and the scoffers were going to come out of the woodworks, this would be it; these would be the ones that would look at the situation and claim it was void of the Holy Spirit. Understandably, Joseph had already thought of ways to separate himself and keep Mary out of the public eye as not to disgrace her, but when he awoke from the dream he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded and took her home as his wife. The only pressure Joseph let guide him came from two of the people on his short list – God himself, and the love of his life, Mary.
Several months later, following the birth of Jesus, the Lord spoke to Joseph in a dream again. This time, He instructed Joseph to take his wife and newborn child and flee to Egypt to escape King Herod who was on a hunt to find and kill Jesus. Herod was enraged, because Christ was prophesied as the awaited “King of the Jews,” and therefore a threat to Herod’s current reign. Joseph followed the Lord’s instruction, which saved his family from Herod’s clutches. As you read on in Scripture you find out that the Lord actually instructed Joseph a third and fourth time in dreams as well. One to inform Joseph that Herod was dead and to return to the land of Israel, and another to guide him to Nazareth (see Matthew 2:13-23). Following the instructions given once again, Joseph was able to find safety and a place to nurture and raise his family. Nazareth would become the place Christ would call home for the next thirty years, before he began his public ministry.
I have talked with many people who have heard from God very directly in dreams, just like Joseph. My experiences, on the other hand, have been a bit more abstract, waking up with a strong feeling that the dream had indeed come from God, but required prayer and counsel from my “short list” to help with the understanding. Many of the major decisions in my life, such as, taking or passing on job opportunities and starting Mended, have been prompted by dreams. For those who may not have ever thought that hearing from God in this way was even possible, a good place to start is by immediately writing down your dreams as soon as you wake up. It’s best to keep a journal ready to go by your bedside because you never know when it will happen, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t remember it all – just start writing! Your mind has a way of remembering as your hand starts moving.
God’s track record with His people is clear; He speaks in dreams, and they are meant to influence our decisions in order to follow Him. As you read the Bible, you will soon find out that encouragement has been given, wars have been decided, nations have risen and fallen, plans have been laid out, and warnings have been delivered in this way. As you stop and think about the direction you want your life to head in, not unlike Joseph, be encouraged that God has already thought through the best-case scenario and is actively working on the master plan. It’s simply up to us to respond to the queues He’s giving us – dreams included. It’s also up to us to make sure the right person is at the helm, the right people are part of our crew and are the only ones we accept pressure from. If your life doesn’t appear to be developing a bright new smile, you may want to take a look at who’s turning the screw.