Unbuilt Futures

I don’t watch much television. Occasionally, however, a series comes along that grabs the attention. One of those was Dreaming the Impossible: Unbuilt Britain, a BBC production.

A series based on architectural history is not likely to set the pulse racing for most of us, architects, of course, excepted. This series was, however, a bit different. It explored building plans and projects that, on the whole, never got any further than the drawing board. They included a scheme to dig a canal through the centre of Scotland, a covered glass walkway in Victorian London, Sir Christopher Wren’s vision of a London as a model city, and the Bruce plan to bulldoze most of Glasgow after the second world war and replace it with severe modernist concrete tower blocks.

Whether the failure of these plans was a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of debate. What it does remind us is that we have an incredible capacity to imagine and envision a different future.

It led me to think about the unbuilt spiritual futures of individuals and even whole cities and nations. What dreams and visions never got further than the imagination of God’s people? How would the spiritual landscape be different if even some of those dreams had become realities?

How would the spiritual landscape of your life or your church or town or city be changed if what the Holy Spirit has put or is putting inside of you began to be turned into reality? Indeed what would our nation look like if we paid more attention to turning vision into reality?

Why is it that, given the importance of dreams and visions, in many cases they never get further than our own minds or a discussion with friends or a church leaders’ meeting?

At least three elements conspired to scupper some of the greatest dreams of the greatest visionaries of the architectural world, and they have their spiritual counterparts.

Firstly, cost. Some of the unbuilt futures never happened simply because there wasn’t enough money.

It costs to bring about a different future, either personally or collectively. Jesus made this point in Luke 14.28:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”

The cost might not be wholly financial. It might be the currency of time and energy that is demanded. Nevertheless, vision costs.

Secondly, sometimes the failure of a project was down to a lack of political will. The decision makers just couldn’t see the point, or they could see the point, but were unwilling to prioritise the project.

Making vision reality requires focus. Paul, the man who described himself as not disobedient to the heavenly vision also said:

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, 14 I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.13-14)

Finally, sometimes it was just circumstances. Just life. Joseph Paxton, who designed the Crystal Palace, had a plan for what was called the Great Victorian Way. It was a glass covered walk way that extended for over ten miles throughout London. It had the approval of the decision makers, but unfortunately a heat wave hit London that summer and Paxton’s scheme was shelved in favour of a plan to develop London’s sewers.

The realities of today can very easily shelve our visions of tomorrow.

Jesus said as much in the parable of the sower:

22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. (Matthew 14.22).

If we can count the cost, keep our focus and manage our worries, we have the potential to change the spiritual landscape.


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