The phone rang at an unusually early hour. My hand fumbled around the nightstand, eventually locating the offending device. I lifted it enough to see that the caller was my friend Kristian, who lives several time zones away. I muttered to myself, “He must have forgotten the time difference.” A few moments later, a text: “I’m sorry for calling so early. Need to talk. Call me when you get this.”
I tried to go back to sleep, but curiosity wouldn’t allow it for too long. When he picked up, he immediately apologized for calling so early, but I could hear the seriousness in his voice. Then he said, “Last night I had a dream.”
Now, let me pause right here. One of my biggest pet peeves is people telling me about their dreams. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like watching a poorly made movie that is missing critical sequences; and it has zebras; and people are flying; and they are in their skivvies. Listening to another person’s crazy dream is like a spiritual discipline for developing perseverance.
However, Kris said something that got my attention: “When the dream was over, I heard the Lord say it was for you.”
There’s an exception to my irritation with dreams. I’ll admit. If the dream is about me, I might be more willing to listen. That’s just human nature, right?
Kristian began to explain his dream with vivid clarity and coherence. About a third of the way through, I realized he was right—it was for me. In fact, it was not just for me. It was about me. He was outlining a story that metaphorically echoed a specific season from my past. My stomach started churning.
Grace had become the word I used to define the work God does in spite of me—not with me or in me.
You see, I had walked through a season in years past that involved some assumptions and accusations that still lingered in my mind. It was a rough few months several years ago. The blame wasn’t all mine. But every time I looked back at the scenario, I realized I had blown past warning signs and ignored red flags. In my immaturity and ignorance, I had significantly contributed to the situation—and it’s always there. In the back of my mind.
The more Kris explained his dream the more uncomfortable I became. But I began to realize that the Lord was about to do something.
The aforementioned events were eventually resolved, and life and ministry continued on. But what came next was unexpected. The trajectory of every category of life moved up and to the right—especially public ministry. During the next few years, the church grew from a few hundred people to thousands. Our influence in our city grew. We became the kind of church people came to for answers to their faith questions. We attracted great leaders. We launched a new campus. The list goes on. The evidence of God’s grace was palpable.
But something was deeply off.
As my friend came to the end of his dream, the message Jesus had for me began to emerge: “You haven’t received forgiveness. You proclaim it, you write about it, you talk about it, but have you received it?”
I leaned into His forgiveness and something happened. A beautiful restoration began to take place—immediately. Something shifted. Something moved into my soul.
You see, a twisted perception of God’s grace had grown in my soul over the years. Sure, I saw Jesus at work. But because of past missteps and an overactive awareness of my own imperfection, I had redefined grace. Grace had become the word I used to define the work God does in spite of me—not with me or in me. In spite of me. I wasn’t just detached from the work He was doing. I was detached from Him.
As Kristian spoke, I began to be restored by Jesus. I heard Him say, “I love you. I’m proud of you. I am with you.” In that moment, I leaned into His forgiveness and something happened. A beautiful restoration began to take place—immediately. Something shifted. Something moved into my soul.
May you receive the same forgiveness you have proclaimed over others so faithfully. May you move beyond “resolving situations” and toward the restoration of Jesus. May you become a living, breathing, mistake-making example of God’s grace at work.