"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
A week ago, my wife and I had the privilege of reconnecting with a young couple who had been a part of our church during their college years. I was encouraged as they recounted their experience at with us, and how they look back on that time with fondness and appreciation. They had their two children with them, and at one point their son was encouraged to enter into the conversation. In a tongue-in-cheek manner he said, sure I’ll share my memories of being at this church. (This couple left for the Twin Cities when he was less than one year old.)
That conversation has rattled around in my mind and jarred a few thoughts loose. When we are young, and our life stretches out in front of us, we are full of dreams. We dream about all of the exciting possibilities that are out there. We dream about what we want to do with our lives, even if we don’t have a clue. When we get older, we spend far more time looking back and recounting memories of how life turned out. They think about what worked and what didn’t work. We celebrate our successes and mourn our defeats. When we are young, we dream. When we are old, we remember.
When I began my ministry at our church, I was carried along by enthusiasm. I didn’t have a clear cut plan for where God was leading us, but I was committed to discovering it, to the best of my ability. I took some bold steps along the way, always with an eye on the possible. Growth and expansion were not a wish, they were an expectation. Now 30 years later, I find myself spending much more time looking back than forward. I rejoice in how far God has brought us, and how much of my dream actually materialized. I also reflect upon all of the things that did not turn out the way I expected them to turn out. Disappointment is a part of life. We cannot avoid it. We can decide what we are going to do with it. It can either be a catalyst for change or a millstone that immobilizes us.
The other day, as I was reflecting upon some of these things, Joel 2:28 came to my mind. In that passage, God gave the prophet Joel a glimpse of the future. God told him that a time was coming when God would pour out his spirit on all people. The outcome would be a significant change in perspective. I want to focus on just one phrase: your old men will dream dreams.
We live in a youth oriented culture. Almost everything is geared toward engaging young adults. One outcome of this is that people are trying to hang onto their youth as long as possible. As people get older, they are doing some pretty crazy things to look young on the outside, even as they age on the inside. This focus on youth has permeated the church as well. Many of the loudest voices within church culture are young voices, filled with great enthusiasm, big dreams, and little perspective. The age of honoring those who have walked the journey the longest seems to be passing. Age has become a liability, not an asset.
Lest I sound like I am whining, I think that a big part of the problem is that many of us who are on the other side of life’s crest have stopped dreaming and have spent too much time looking back. It is time to start dreaming dreams again.
I am always challenged by the worlds of Paul in Philip. 3:10-14.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul understood what we often forget. The race of life is not over until we cross the finish line. As long as we have breath in our lungs, our race is not over. The greatest gift that age gives to us is the gift of perspective. It allows us to cut through the fluff and the clutter of life and zero in on what is most important and most valuable. Looking back can help us to see what has paid dividends and what has not. With this perspective, it can help us to make better decisions in the future. We all have many years of fruitful ministry ahead of us, if we will tap into the power of the Holy Spirit and dream dreams.
The church needs the enthusiasm and vitality of the young. The church also needs the wisdom and perspective of the “old.” I think that is a part of what God was saying through Joel. It is as we couple the visions of the young and the dreams of the old that we can see amazing things happen.
Paul wrote to Timothy and encouraged him to not let people look down on him because he was young. If I may take the liberty to rephrase that for today, Don't let anyone look down on you because you are “older”, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
Satchel Page was a star baseball player in the old Negro Leagues. After Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Page got his chance to shine. He was signed as a pitcher with the Cleveland Indians. Page had no birth certificate, so people always questioned his age. He had a classic response. “How old would you be, if you didn’t know how old you was?” The issue for all of us is not age, it is attitude.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.