In my twenties, I am finally beginning to claim my dreams. Whether it is working on a ministry project, drafting a business plan or praying for a marriage plan, I must own my desires. Stand my ground. Go for it. I admit it took a while for me to trust God enough to untie the knot and leave the dock. But Henry David Thoreau said it: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”
So I’ve spanked myself with champagne. I’m out on the mighty waters. And it feels great.
Dreams are expressions and extensions of us. It feels great to go after them because the quest for the yet-to-be convinces us that we are taking risks, becoming somebody, coming alive. And doesn’t God ask us to walk by faith? Yes. However, when we are not busy speeding along, when we slow down long enough, we are confronted with a reality check. What if I never get there? What if I run out of gas? What if I sink out here? Fear washes over us like a tidal wave and we are gripped with insecurity. At this point, some of us will turn around and abandon the dream. Others of us, like myself, will decide to press on. I must get there. At all cost, I will get there. The question is: Why do I want this dream so badly?
Perhaps it is because I am expecting my dream to give me what only God can: satisfaction, significance and security. The danger inherent in every dream is believing that its coming true will offer us salvation. King Solomon, a man who pushed his vision and resources to the extreme,discovered this at the end of his life. After erecting the Temple, building several houses, planting vineyards, accumulating wealth, wisdom and women, he reflected:
“When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
Dreams, no matter how noble or godly, can turn into gods who preach a false gospel and promise false salvation.The false gospel tells me, "You will be complete if you accomplish this goal." The true Gospel tells me, "You are complete whether or not you accomplish anything, because nothing you do can override what Christ has already done for you." There is a fine line between loving our dream and loving our dream-giver. It is the difference between seeing God as a means, and seeing God as the end.
Any good thing can turn into a god. It is easy to expose our gods by filling in the blank: "If only I had [X], I would be satisfied." How long would it take for us to fill in the blank with Jesus Christ? For the apostle Paul, life was no more and no less than his intimate relationship with Christ. He writes in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, a success or a failure, Paul’s passion was to “gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8-9). To Paul, every other desire was a nice-to-have; Jesus alone was the need-to-have. Knowing Christ was Paul’s greatest dream.
You see, there is a greater Dream that underpins all dreams. The dream of every dream is being able to say, I don’t need my dreams to come true. The way to say this and mean it is not by devaluing our dreams, but by assigning more value to our relationship with Christ. Only when our every other desire is trumped by our desire is to gain Christ and be found in Him can we know that our worth, security and happiness will never come from reaching a goal. Rather,they will come from believing the radical Truth that declares we are complete in Christ, regardless of what we accomplish. Yes, even what we accomplish for God.
If we take an honest look at the role our dreams play in our lives, if we are courageous enough to admit that too many times we would rather have a dream come true than a closer walk with Christ, we will realize that the bad news is worse than we thought. We are more sinful than we’d like to confess. At the same time, the good news is better than we could have imagined. The good news assures us that happiness does not depend on what we accomplish, but on what Christ has accomplished for us. Therefore, if I never find the right person, if I never land the dream job, if my body fails, if I never realize even one dream, but I know Jesus deeply, then I am living that abundant life that Christ promised to all who believe in Him.
Don’t get me wrong. We are a royal priesthood called to do great and mighty works for God. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” As we live out our dreams in faith, let us guard our hearts from believing false gospels.
I’ve always admired King Solomon for his ability to dream big. He put more on his plate than many of us would dare. But in the end, the king concluded, "Remember your Creator … fear God and obey Him, for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:1,13).
At the end of the day, I must take each hope in my heart, hug it and then hang it. Who knows whether my dreams will make it past infancy? It doesn’t matter. I have my marching orders: Remember my Creator. Respect and obey Him because He made my greatest dream come true— 2,000 years ago.
[Brenda Choo is a full-time student at Westminster Theological Seminary in California.]