“Therefore let us not sleep, as others do; but let us watch and be sober.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:6
The Christian dreamer is a rising phenomenon in American Christianity, and a sad blight upon the visible Church. Outwardly, the Christian dreamer seems wide awake to God, but his (or her) mind is elsewhere. He will claim Jesus Christ as his Savior, yet be found with his head in the clouds of fantasy, or asleep at the wheel of his idling discipleship. Often he yawns at the tedium of godly study and service, yet becomes absolutely giddy over the creative handiwork of the human imagination.
Perhaps you have seen this Christian dreamer. If so, you can surely spot his sluggish disposition. Unlike the aroused laborer-in-Christ who feeds on God’s word for the spiritual nourishment to serve, the Christian dreamer will prefer mythopoetic treats to stimulate his intellectual assent of God. He will often feast on the cotton-candy visions of fantasy fiction and movies that best serve his Christian romanticism. With a belly filled with the stuff of dreams, the Christian dreamer is intoxicated by the euphoria of his religious “feelings” and will soon nod off “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1).
For now, perhaps, the Christian dreamer’s slumber is undisturbed, but a rude awakening will one day happen when the alarm of God sounds off. According to Scripture, sudden destruction will come upon those in the middle of their peace and security and they shall not escape it (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Likewise for the Christian dreamer, the harsh reality of day will knock him off his fluffy pillow and toss him to his knees in judgment. Startled by his sudden predicament, this wide-eyed sluggard may then be heard to say, “Lord, Lord, do you not know me?” (Matthew 7:20-23).
Considering the deadly fright of the coronavirus pandemic, the violent political turmoil around us, and the increasing persecution of Christians throughout the world, perhaps this rude awakening will come sooner than expected. Then, and only then, will some professing Christians open their eyes and see the unmitigated worthlessness of their so-called “redeemed imagination” to help them escape from the sudden chaos of the real world. Running back to their precious fairy tales and Christian fantasies for a fleeting moment of solace will only delay the reckoning. Eventually, the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter will utterly fail them. To be sure, reality will sting even more when it smacks them in the face while they look the other way.
Sadly, this may be the only way for the Christian dreamer to finally “get it.” Apollo, Superman, Aslan, or any number of dream-gods cannot save you; but Jesus Christ, the living Savior, can and does. The true disciple of Christ isn’t a dreamer, but a doer. He has denied self, taken up his cross, and followed his Lord and Savior into action. The faithful martyr-to-be, the watchman at full attention, and the compassionate evangelist have no time or inclination for fantasy when they have lost everything in the world because of their bold and unyielding faith in Jesus. In the midst of the fallen world’s spiritual adversities, the supreme importance of active service to Christ makes the pursuit of dreams vain and obsolete, proving it to be fruitless and a thing of sin and idolatry that will burn up like straw in the fiery furnace of trials and persecution.
America, The Inklings, And The Fantasy-Driven Life
To be sure, the horrifying scenario of a sudden judgment against the Christian dreamer is difficult to contemplate, but one which must be addressed in the less-than-hallowed halls of today’s postmodern Christianity. Let us face this dreadful fact: the rising spectacle of the professing Christian obsessed with his “inner life” is not a new one in history, but it is most certainly a spiritual malady that is most suited for our time. These days, fantasy holds sway in America, coddled by the luxury of an affluent, free society and the reigning philosophy of self-actualization. Indeed, the Christian dreamer has found a soft bed here.
Such an abiding affection for this spiritual dream-state is not surprising, considering the generations of Americans who have been raised on the amusements of fantasy, science fiction, and comic books over the past fifty years. What is surprising, however, is how the visible Church has become an eager accomplice to this worldly vice. By all appearances, the prevailing religious discipline of many American Christians in the 21st century seems to be too-often fixated on the products of vain imagination, not just from the usual suspects of Marvel or Disney, but within our very own ranks.
Many unsuspecting believers, weaned as children on the fanciful milk of Narnia and Middle-earth, have been slowly indoctrinated with what can rightly be dubbed the “theology of the Inklings.” It is a flawed, unbiblical belief system first touted by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien which promotes the speculations of pagan mythology and esoteric philosophy in opposition to the sure word of God. Today, in fact, you can barely get through a religious bestseller without seeing the dominating influence of the Inklings. Many Christian authors gladly litter their writings with quotes or literary allusions from the celebrated works of Lewis and Tolkien, who are perhaps two of the most prominent Christian dreamers of our time.
In response to this, some Christians might sincerely ask, What’s the big deal? Is it really off-base for believers to use myth and fantasy for theological use? Just as Lewis and Tolkien argued, aren’t we made in the image of God to be “sub-Creators” in order to create a unique, personalized impression of God’s truth? What is so wrong with using the human imagination to engage our minds, energize our emotions, and inspire us to a greater devotion to Jesus Christ?
Idol-Making And The Discipline Of Delusion
In theory it sounds commendable, at least in a cautious and minimal dose, but the Bible has denounced the underlying spiritual disorder that causes someone to seek truth in the corners of the mind or in the shadows of the past. To do so is an idolatrous shell game that refuses to acknowledge the heavenly realities which have been revealed and fulfilled in Christ alone (Colossians 2:17). So why go back to the shadows? Scripture reminds us that the Israelites fell into the same error while camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. They desired a creative, handcrafted image similar to the familiar idols of Egypt to look upon as a compelling representation of Jehovah God, and were soundly condemned by Him for their presumption (Exodus 32).
Such artistic idol-making was later blasted by the prophet Jeremiah as a “discipline of delusion” practiced by “skilled men.” Pronouncing God’s wrath against these foolish craftsmen and their works, the prophet boldly proclaimed: “Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; for his molten images are deceitful, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, and a work of delusion.” (Jeremiah 10:8-15). Would this biblical condemnation not also apply to the skilled wordsmiths of today’s popular myth-making? Is it not possible, then, that the Christian dreamer has in some way fashioned the living Savior into an idol of his unchecked imagination? Alas, perhaps these questions are too controversial to answer in the confines of this small article; a deeper, more detailed Biblical examination will be required for another time.
Nevertheless, at present, one thing is for certain: Scripture has clearly spoken out against the professors of faith who have been lulled asleep by the “opiates” of the world, winnowing down their discipleship to the mere chasing down of comforting dreams. No doubt this Biblical condemnation of spiritual slumber is presented, not only to rebuke the Christian dreamer, but also to serve as an alarm to those listless Christians who are awake enough to hear the warning and repent. Thus, the Bible graciously gives us a frightening three-fold depiction of the spiritual woes of the Christian dreamer for our edification and instruction in the hope that we will avoid the pitfalls of self-indulgence.
The Three Woes Of The Christian Dreamer
First and foremost, the Bible tells us, the Christian dreamer is withdrawn from vibrant discipleship and is therefore fruitless. Just as physical sleep disengages the mind and body from active and useful labor, so too does spiritual slumber remove us from the vital disciplines of godly service, evangelism, and watchfulness. According to Isaiah, such sleeping watchmen of God are “all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they are dreamers lying around, loving to slumber” (Isaiah 56:10).
Charles Spurgeon said of such useless and selfish slumber, in terms of occupation: “The sleeping farmer cannot plough, the sailor direct his ship, or the tradesman attend to his shop. And how many there are who rise up early to toil for themselves and do nothing for the glory of God or the good of men.”
In sharp contrast to the sleeping workman, the Christian is commanded as a child of day: “Arise and shine, for your light has come!” (Isaiah 60:1). Specifically, believers are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22), created in Christ Jesus for good works, that they should “walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), bearing much fruit to glorify God (John 15:8). As Spurgeon urged us, “Let us not sleep as did the disciples who went with their Lord to the garden, and fell a slumbering while He was agonizing. Think of what Christ has done, is doing, and wants you to do. Where is our zeal for God, and compassion for men in view of all this?”
“Prone To Wander, Lord I Feel It”
Secondly, the Bible informs us, the Christian dreamer is more susceptible to delusion and grievous error. According to Barnes’ Notes of the Bible, it is “commonly the case that false and unfaithful teachers of religion are not merely inactive; they act under the influence of deluding views like people who are dreaming and see nothing real.” As Thomas Binney put it, “They that sleep dream, and are therefore liable to be affected by the unsubstantial and the untrue.” Likewise, Preacher’s Monthly viewed spiritual slumber as a “season of darkness” which causes the sleeper “to know nothing as it really is; and is, for the most part, insensible to the pleasure or pain” of true discipleship.
The Bible puts it more bluntly. For starters, whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, says Proverbs 28:26. Specifically, we are told by God that “every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is evil continually” (Genesis 6:5), the truth of which Jesus later echoed when he declared, “Out of the heart of man comes evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness” (Matthew 15:19).
Truly, then, the imagination of the Christian dreamer, which values fuzzy feelings over truth, is a ready receptor for “deceitful spirits and the doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). This is why dreams are often the tool of false prophets, which they use like shiny objects to hypnotize many and lead them astray (Deuteronomy 13:3; Jeremiah 29:8). Jude, for example, characterizes false teachers as “filthy dreamers” who agitate the lusts of natural man with the passions of the mind (Jude 1:8). This is why we are instructed in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts with all diligence, and set our minds on the reality of things that are in heaven and not on the spiritual illusions of the world (Colossians 3:2). Remember, it is only when we are “in Christ” that both our hearts and minds are protected by the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
The Spiritual Fallout Of The Rude Awakening
Last but not least, the Bible teaches, the Christian dreamer will one day have a rude awakening. During his slumber, he will be oblivious to the spiritual conditions of his surroundings. He will not see when the opportunities for evangelism appear or when the field is white for the harvest. While asleep, in fact, the enemy advances. The dreamer will not see when the seeds of the Gospel are choked off by the jagged rocks and creeping thorns of this evil world. He will not see the persecution of Christians when it comes in full measure to silence the faithful or take their very lives. Even worse, he will not see the coming judgment of God and thus be found shut off from salvation, his name not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but numbered instead with “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” (Revelation 21:8).
Perhaps Spurgeon said it best when challenging us with these Biblical lessons on spiritual slumber:
“Let us not sleep as Samson, who, while he slept, lost his locks, strength, liberty, eyes, and at last his life. Carnal security is a Delilah always. It gives us many a dainty kiss, and lulls us into tranquil slumber, which we imagine to be God’s own peace, whereas the peace of Satanic enchantment is upon us. Here there are perils of the deadliest sort. The Philistines do not sleep. Our Samsonian lock, the secret of our strength, is faith. Take away that and we are weak as other men.
“Sleep not as those did when the enemy came and sowed tares. When false doctrines and unholy practices creep into a Church, it is when the watchers are asleep. An unwatchful Church will soon become an unholy Church.
“Sleep not as the ten virgins whom the coming of the Bridegroom surprised. Suppose the Lord were to come tonight; are you ready, with your loins girt and your lamps trimmed?”
A Final Word Of Admonition
If you are a Christian dreamer reading this, you can still rouse yourself from slumber and open your eyes to the sober reality of our current world. Right now, your undivided attention is required to see things as they really are. Around the world, Christians are witnessing a rising persecution that should be a call to action before it is too late. The enemy appears to be advancing. Even in our own backyard, during this recent pandemic, church fellowships were being singled out and forced to stop meeting while sinful and worldly institutions were given full liberty. One church in Mississippi, for instance, was burned to the ground to scatter their flock, and the media barely took notice. Our religious freedom in America is not as secure and protected as we might like to think.
Globally, of course, it is much, much worse. Our Christian brothers and sisters are under heavy attack, every single day, all over the world in China, Iran, India, Africa, etc. The news in the spring of 2020 was absolutely horrific to hear. In Nigeria, for example, Muslim militants have killed, kidnapped, or injured over 100 Christians and displaced over 400 families from northern villages since the first of the year. Young Christian women have been kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and married off to Muslim men. In the first four months alone, 620 Christians in total had been hacked to death by Nigerian Jihadists. And recently, in Central African Republic, more than 33,000 Christians were driven from their villages by arson and gunfire, and displaced to makeshift camps without hope of ever returning home (Sources: International Christian Concern; International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law; and Voice Of The Martyrs).
When you are beaten, shot at, driven from the security of your homes, and forced into filthy refugee camps, do you think you will find comfort in your Christian fantasies? Or will you see the vanity of it all and instead firmly ground your faith in the eternal hope of Jesus Christ, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and the direct, reassuring word of God? Are you really so arrogant as to think your peaceful slumber in America will save you from a similar calamity one day?
Surely now is the time to wipe the sleep from your eyes. Do you not hear the alarm, Christian dreamer? “Awake, sleeper! Arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” (Ephesians 5:14). Indeed, it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed (Romans 13:11). “Behold, I am coming like a thief,” Jesus warns us, “Blessed is the one who stays awake…” (Revelation 16:15).
Wake up, believer, and turn your eyes away from gazing at worthless things (Psalm 119:37). Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you (Proverbs 4:25). Let us, who are of the Day, rise up, go forth and serve our Lord with gladness.