May 23, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Isaiah 40:4-5 (KJV)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., expressed his “dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Monument in 1963, he was inspired by the redemptive imagination of Isaiah. Dr. King’s example shows us how Scripture can shape our own imaginations and motivate us to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting with you on Isaiah’s redemptive imagination. His inspired visions stir our hearts and encourage us to be open to ways God might be stimulating our own imaginations.
I wanted to come up with a recent example of redemptive imagination inspired by Isaiah. As I thought about it, I heard in my own imagination words that echo throughout American society to this day, even though they’re now almost 60 years old. I’m thinking of perhaps the most well-known section of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered on August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt from the address:
So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right down in Alabama little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
Dr. King’s kaleidoscopic dream was a profound expression of his redemptive imagination. What he said was redemptive in that it envisioned the end of racist injustice and the dawn of a new day of “freedom and justice” for all people. What he said was imaginative in that his dream bore little resemblance to the racist reality that plagued the United States at that time, especially but not only in the South. Dr. King saw in his dream a day when, in Alabama, “little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers” even though this was scarcely possible in the racist world of 1960s Alabama.
Dr. King’s dream was not completely his own, however. The final paragraph of the “I have a dream” section of his speech was borrowed from none other than the prophet Isaiah. Of course, Dr. King, who was an ordained pastor with a Ph.D. in theology, knew this. He intentionally based his own redemptive vision on that of the ancient Hebrew prophet, who once said, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (40:4-5, KJV).
The example of Dr. King illustrates the fact that our redemptive imaginations will be instructed and inspired by what we find in Scripture. The more we read, study, and meditate upon the Bible, the more we will “see” new possibilities for God’s redeeming work. Moreover, as we meditate upon Scripture, we should feel encouraged to allow our imaginations to engage the biblical text. As we read the parables of Jesus, for example, we might picture a sower scattering seed or a father running to embrace his prodigal son. James K.A. Smith shows how worship can prime and calibrate our imaginations. I would add that Scripture can function in similar ways, especially as we use our imaginations to “see” the biblical passages in living color.
You and I will probably never express our dream with the poetic passion of Dr. King. But, if we follow him by taking to heart the redemptive visions of Isaiah, God will ignite our imaginations so that we might see how can participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
When you read the portion of Dr. King’s speech quoted above, how do you respond?
In your life, whether at home or at work, in church or in your city, what might happen if “the rough places were made plain and the crooked places made straight”?
How might the redemptive visions of Isaiah inspire your own redemptive imagination?
Read Isaiah 40:4-5 several times, slowly and thoughtfully. What does this passage spark in your imagination?
Gracious God, once again we thank you for the redemptive imagination of Isaiah, who “saw” what you revealed to him. Thank you for all the ways Isaiah’s visions have affected our lives, not to mention human history.
Thank you also for how Isaiah’s imagination inspired the multifaceted dream of Dr. King. Help us, we pray, to share in this dream, to long and work for a society in which racial injustice is no more because your justice prevails.
As I meditate upon Scripture, may your truth and your vision stir within me. May my imagination be shaped and inspired by what I find in your Word. Show me, Lord, how I might share in your redemptive work, dreaming dreams of your justice, seeing the future when your peace fills the earth. Amen.
Banner image by Unseen Histories on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Enduring Word.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.