The Twin Disciplines of Dreaming and Failure

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is currently hosting an exhibition based on the work of filmmaker Tim Burton.  Burton–whose artistic vision is part Gothic horror, part Dr. Seuss and part teenaged angst sketched on a notebook cover–has produced some of the most singularly intriguing films of our generation.


Beetlejuice (1988)

Edward Scissorhands (1990)




  Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)






The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)  

  Big Fish (2003)




Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)



Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The exhibit shows the sketches, cartoons and other artwork that have comprised the process of the movie-making.  Burton’s works tend to be dark and/or quirky. They celebrate misunderstood monsters or misfit people who dream of showing everyone that they are more than their appearance.  The consistency of that vision has had remarkable staying power with the movie-going public over the years.

            But in a post last week, Seth Godin noted another interesting part of the exhibit.  There was a list of projects that Burton had proposed over the past three decades — but never made it.  They weren’t produced or green-lighted, investors and studios didn’t buy the idea, etc.  As Godin notes, “Every year, he spent an enormous amount of time on failed projects.”

            This idea has grabbed my mind and heart: a creative impact in any area of life requires more dreaming and more risk of failure than most of us willingly embrace.  

            For a disciple of Jesus, more dreaming means setting aside time to think and pray through some area of your life from a Kingdom and gospel perspective. Jesus was always pushing the boundaries and horizons of His followers.  He urged us to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”(Matt.6:10) God’s kingdom is always beyond what we can see in this moment.  It’s bigger, for “He is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power at work within us.” (Eph.3:20).

 It’s a blue sky session—with a blank sheet of paper or a whiteboard. If there were no limits, what would you do or relate or change or participate with or invest in or start or stop or adjust or ________ for the sake of Jesus and the spreading of His fame?  In your marriage and family, in your workplace, at your school, with your time, with your friends, in your faith-family, in your community,  with __________ need?

            Yes, there’s a risk that some of those things won’t work or won’t work out. Yes, we will run into limitations of resources or ability; times where it seems the Lord just simply says “no”; or where what seemed to be a good idea in our dreaming place turns out to be dumb in practice.  But that’s ok.  Failure that is simply the result of trying more for Jesus (as opposed to disobedience or ignoring His Word) is not a bad thing.  Failure itself is not fatal.

In fact, my guess is the more disciples and churches prayerfully dream for Jesus’ sake and try big things in the service of His gospel, the more impact we would see in lives around us. The Lord gives dreams—and honors them, too.

And I also suspect that sometimes, our failures may signal a larger faith than all those disciples and churches who play it safe, keep doing the expected thing, and make no ripples.

So, discipline yourself to dream big for Jesus.  Don’t just let life roll over you.  And make sure the dreams are big enough that you risk failure for Jesus, too.  

Trust Him with both the dreaming and the failing.  The combination makes for an intriguing life of faith that is compelling to our generation


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