Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated 52 years ago, at age 39. The impact of his life is undisputed. Few presidents warrant national holidays; one King scored that distinction 18 years after his death. Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays were merged into one day’s observance; King is the only person in the American era whose birthday evoked a work-stoppage for honored remembrance.
King died at 39. Most notable figures in history are, at that stage of life, just getting started. Major accomplishments typically occur in life’s second half… and the vast majority of people bracing for their 40th birthday strongly resist the notion that they are at Halftime (trust me on that one).
Do your own research. Find someone in their early 40s and pose the question: “What’s your Dream?” Avoid the temptation to rescue them from the embarrassment of the silence that follows. Here’s what you’ll find, quickly: despite claims of leadership, people who are often regarded as exemplary live – day by day, year after year – with no Dream.
Don’t get me wrong: they can have lots of dreams (note the lower case). These inadequate substitutes complicate the conversation with frivolous alternatives to the significant distinction of a real Dream. Get the promotion; launch the business; marry the trophy spouse; buy the hilltop house; pay Singer to get the kids into the elite university; book the private expedition that costs what you paid for your first home; retire to sloth before your country club buddies: those might be stimulating goals that win the Envy Cup at next year’s round of holiday parties, but they don’t hold a candle to a real Dream.
If God allows human history to run another century – and, if America avoids the political implosion that is underway now – King will still be remembered for his signature message: his Dream Speech that will still be echoing through the canyons of culture.
He was 34 when his voice rang through the Capitol Mall: “…I say to you today, my friends, 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…’ ”
Allow me a moment of personal coaching: if you allow short term goals – most of which are insignificant in the eyes of Eternity – to preoccupy your life, you’ll outlive your notoriety and leave your Eulogizer grasping to find bullet points at your Memorial Service. Without a Dream – with your life, from now until then, invested in that Dream becoming reality – the footprints of your life will have been left in beach sand, destined to disappear with the next wave.
What qualifies a Dream? John Maxwell: “A Dream is an inspiring picture of the future that energizes your mind, will and emotions, empowering you to do everything you can to achieve it.”
People follow Leaders; Leaders pursue a Dream. The day the Church was launched, Peter quoted the Prophet Joel when he described the power of the Holy Spirit operating through those who would lead the Movement birthed by the Son of God: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17).
Here’s God’s Dream, for you and me: find and fulfill your Kingdom Calling. Live like the leaders who came before us. It was true for Paul: “…the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off…” (Acts 13:2-3). Paul’s Dream was to fulfill God’s Calling.
King had a Dream; he died while pursuing it. What’s your Dream? Is it worth dying for?