Matthew 1:18–20 (NRSV)
18Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.[i]
A Stone Baby.
In 2001, 75-year-old, Zahra Aboutalib was rushed to the hospital with what felt like “birth pains.” It reminded her of 46 years earlier when she was on her way to the hospital with labor pains for her first child. At that time, doctors in Casablanca informed her that she would need a caesarean section. Horrified because Zahra saw a woman in terrible pain die in childbirth, she ran away. Her pain eventually subsided, and oddly, the birth never occurred.[ii]
Forty-six years later, the old familiar pain returned, and Zahra was taken by her son to see a specialist who suspected that her symptoms pointed to an ovarian tumor. After extensive testing, they found a large, unidentifiable mass and concluded that Zahra suffered what less than 300 women in the history of the world have endured . . . an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic means out of place or occurring in an abnormal position or place.
At this point, I want to be sensitive to the fact that many of us have had friends or family experience amiscarriage or even (possibly) an ectopic pregnancy. Mindful of these painful realities, it is my wish only to make a spiritual analogy here.
Ectopic pregnancies are also called “Stone babies” because the remains calcify in the mother, posing a threat to her life.
Zahra ran away 46 years earlier from a dream she was afraid to lose, in this case, her child. The problem was that for almost half a century, she carried something unhealthy inside her.
We are always forced to carry in a detrimental way the dreams we refuse to surrender. Eventually the rigid remains had to be surgically removed from Zahra’s body, saving her life.
Does this sound familiar as you have pursued your dreams? Have you ever tried to hold on to a dream that you know in the depths of your being, God did not birth? Abraham once tried to birth his dream (ectopically) outside of God’s process by producing a child of the Promise – through a surrogate mother who wasn’t his wife.
We know that God does give dreams and visions to his children, and that they should be contended for the way a mother contends for her unborn child. Paul said as much to the Philippian Church, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip. 2:13).
Not All Good Ideas Are “God Ideas”
Though God is clearly the dream giver, there are, however, dreams and visions which God never gave us. You might call them “Pumpkin Dreams,” notions that come from sources other than God’s process. Have you known people who insist on having a gift they do not possess? People who wanted to sing but could not hold a note? What of those who desired to teach or preach but showed no evidence of the gift? There are even some who have fancied themselves “Prophets” or “Apostles” but have not demonstrated the capacity to build or to “see.” On a more practical level, you might have noticed someone at work who wanted to be promoted to a job theywere not qualified to do? Perhaps someone even started a business they believed God told them to begin,but it is possible he did not!
Stone babies are like these dreams mentioned. They sound good, they feel good at the time, they may even seem to flourish for the moment, but they were birthed outside of the womb of God.
The Dangers of Dreams Outside “God’s womb.”
In ectopic pregnancies, the unborn child draws on the body’s resources, blood, organs and other vital systems, giving back nothing in return. This is what happened in Zahra’s case. She became sapped of her strength because she carried her pregnancy in an unwholesome way.
When we try to birth something without God, our vital spiritual resources become drained, we become unfocused, distracted, and our energy is diverted to the wrong place.
In a spiritual sense, this happened to Abraham when he attempted to sire a child outside of God’s will. The whole experience exhausted his spiritual energy, leaving him in an un-blessed dilemma. His dream became toxic, putting a strain on his life, his marriage, the surrogate mother, and her son,and most importantly, the future promise. Just read about all the stress Abraham encountered with his family and you begin to understand the very definition of a “Stone Baby”(Gen. 16:1-15).
In a spiritually ectopic state, we become hardened in a way that is sickly and damaging to our souls, causing our dreams to calcify in our spirit and inhibiting us from God’s true vision for our lives. A similar draining experience occurred during a national emergency in King Hezekiah’s time.“Thus says Hezekiah, this day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth” (2 Kings 19:3).
There are many who walk along life’s road bitter and resigned because their dreams never came to fruition. They stare out life’s proverbial window and wonder, “Where did I go wrong? What happened to me? How did I end up here?”It is possible that they have been forcibly nurturing a stone baby.
Another natural result of ectopic dreams is that our spiritual heart becomes hardened in the process. Just as a stone baby calcifies and hardens through time, inhibiting a healthy life for the mother, so do our hearts petrify when we venture outside of the womb of God.When we insist on holding on to our stone babies, our dreams begin to fossilize in our spirit, thus inhibiting us from God’s true vision and dream for us.I have encountered people through the years who became bitter and resentful because they refused to lay down their dream at God’s feetand suffered spiritual barrenness as a result.On the other hand, whenever we hold our dreams loosely, instead of petrifying in our spirit, the vision flourishes.
What You Birth in Your Own Strength, You Must Sustain
There is a common story told where a famous missionary once visited churches in the United States in the early 19th century. After being taken on a cross-country tour of the churches, the missionary noticed how organized, successful, and efficient so many churches were. He was then asked by the tour- guide, “So what do you think of our churches?” His response sounded more like a formal accusation, “It’s amazing what you people can do without the Holy Spirit.”
This brings us back to the idea of stone babies. When a pregnancy is healthy, and occurring in the right place, the body’s support systems come to bear upon the health of the new child. When the pregnancy however happens in an abnormal place, the body cannot sustain it. How many churches out there are like finely tuned machines, but their success has progressed from an abnormal place that is unhealthy and lacking in the Holy Spirit’s activity?On the one hand, a church can be readily sustained as a business fueled by good ideas. On the other hand, that same church can lack the spiritual support systems to facilitate that which can only be birthed by the Holy Spirit. This is not to say that we should not have vision and excellence in our churches. We should strive to be an example to the world by doing things on a level that sets the pace. Such a quest for excellence and professionalism however should never be at the expense of letting God birth the dream.
Abraham tried to birth his dream outside of God’s womb by substituting Ishmael for Isaac, but there were no spiritual support systems to facilitate the process because Abraham was doing this outside of God’s process. The agony that it caused Abraham, Sarah,Hagar and her son is proof of this. When there are no spiritual support systems to facilitate the life created, we are forced to adapt and innovate and, in the end, settle for cheap knockoffs of true life. We must rely on our own resources, cunning and savvy to simulate something that appears to have signs of life but in fact is lifeless. This explains why Jesus was so adamant about what is born of flesh versus what is born of spirit (John 3:6).
The body of Christ is an awesome support system to help affirm are giftings, our personal visions and spiritual direction for our lives.
Three Telltale Signs That We Are Holding on to a Stone Baby
This is a question we must ask ourselves: Am I producing something out of sheer talent or business savvy, and even succeeding at it, but it’s something God never sanctioned? There is prosperity, but no blessing . . .Success, but no Holy Spirit in the enterprise.Here are three ways that can help us answer such a question.
We are fueling it by our talent, not the power of the spirit. A person can have incredible talent, yet that talent could be flowing out of flesh and not spirit. People’s emotions are stirred, but not their spirit. Their minds can be informed but not transformed. Their focus will be more on the person’s talent then on what God is saying or doing. Interestingly, another person can have unremarkable talent, but if it was conceived by the Holy Ghost, they will bring the presence of God into the situationand lives are touched on a deep level. Our talent can give us the power to do things, but it will not give us the authority.Only God-birthed dreams give us the authority to do things. “I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
We are burning out while doing it is another way we can know if we are carrying a stone baby. Though it is possible to burn out doing something that God called you to do, that should not be the norm. There is hard work and sweat even when God gives us a gift conceived by the Spirit, but there is also a rest and a peace when we exercise our gift in balance.The same cannot be said for someone carrying a stone baby, as “striving” becomes the norm. They become like the Israelite slaves under Pharaoh who were required to make “bricks without straw.” It was a difficult enough challenge to create bricks with straw, but now there commanded to make bricks without straw. This meant that they would have to gather the straw by hand which would multiply their toil. This is how it feels when you burn yourself out trying to do something you were never called to do. There is no flow to it, no peace in it, and things don’t fall into place. On the other hand, when the Holy Spirit has birthed something, there is work and sweat, but no striving.
One final indicator that we are carrying a stone baby is when there is the appearance of success, but no realspiritual blessing. A good business savvy person up on the latest church success models can manage a church like a finely-tuned machine.Success however, is more than growth and numbers or what the eye can see. If we pursue only a successful model of church, our ambitions can outpace the timing and the flow of God.Paul underscored the importance of God’s timing when things are birthed, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:4–5).
For a season, Abraham’s dream became ectopic. Nothing could have sustained his dream outside of God’s process other than his own self-effort. This is the heart of ectopic dreams – SELF.
In the end, we must not only surrender to God our ectopic dreams, but also our God-given dreams. In addition to surrendering Ishmael, Abraham also had to surrender Isaac. He had to give up his ectopic dream to God, but he also had to surrender the dream God gave Him. This eliminates SELF from the equation, rendering it so that Abraham could never boastfully say “I did it! Look at what I left behind.”
What God births, He sustains.
God promises to bring to term the hopes and dreams he has placed in us. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay”(Hab. 2:3).God is not only the Promisor but in fact the midwife of the dreams he places in this. “Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the LORD; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.” (Isa. 66:9).
If there is one way we know that God is behind something it is that it always possesses a perennial quality that endures through anything. When God births something, it outlives dubious fads andleadership paradigms. It remains even through social upheavals, lean times and even persecution. It thrives for one reason . . .God birthed it.
There is no encouragement more profound, no force more sustaining, no thought more resolute, then the certainty that God birthed your dream. You can endure anything, when you are convinced that God is the author and sustainer of the vision.
It was this revelation that fueled Paul’s indomitable language in the face of impossible trials, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”(Rom. 8:37).
[i] All scriptural citations are taken from “The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989.”
[ii] Top Doc. “The 46 Year Pregnancy – Extraordinary People,” YouTube video, 46:11. Posted on Dec 19, 2013. https://youtu.be/gv_lJefoekA.