While in Port Shepstone, South Africa I came across a book by Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest church in America titled: It’s Your Time: Activate Your Faith, Achieve Your Dreams, and Increase in God’s Favor. In the first chapter, he writes:
God promises your payday is on its way. If you’ll learn to be a prisoner of hope and get up every day expecting God’s favor, you’ll see God do amazing things. You’ll overcome every obstacle. You’ll defeat every enemy. And I believe and declare you’ll see every dream, every promise God has put in your heart, come to pass.
While many can spot the flaws in Osteen’s message, I think he captures a hidden conviction of American Christianity – God is all about us and our dreams.
Those of us in the United States have more resources, more opportunities, and more encouragement to achieve our dreams than almost anyone else in the world. “Achieve your dreams” is preached to us from the television, the classroom, the magazine rack, the sports field, the internet, the family, and even the church. We watch people achieve their dreams every night on Sportscenter, American Idol, the Biggest Loser, or America’s Got Talent. Updated every second on Facebook we watch everyone we’ve known in life succeed at achieving marriage, children, jobs, promotions, awards, vacations, bigger homes, newer vehicles, and smarter phones. We achieve pieces of our dreams as we graduate from school, buy that thing we always wanted, and find relationships that satisfy us.
Everything we see and our own desires tell us life is about achieving our dreams. We see those around us achieve their dreams, feel the potential within us to do the same, and experience frustration and even depression when we don’t.
Many of us wouldn’t articulate it as boldly as Osteen does in It’s Your Time, but when we subtly accept the idea that life is about our dreams we come to believe it is God’s job to help us achieve them. Successful people will buy the book and work hard to earn their dreams from God. They are convinced they have what it takes and that God will respond by giving them what they desire. Struggling people will become frustrated and even angry with God because He is impossible to please and seems to be withholding their dreams from them. Whether we are working to earn our dreams from God or are frustrated with Him because our dreams have failed, we are believing in a small, imaginary god.
The idea of God existing to help us achieve our dreams seemed incredibly empty to me as I browsed through that book in South Africa. While in Africa, I had the opportunity to preach the gospel in one of the schools. According to the missionary we worked with, the unemployment rate in the area was about 70% and the HIV infection rate was around 50%. As I looked out over the 930 students who had walked miles to attend school that morning, I realized most of them would never come close to achieving their dreams. While many of them studied, worked hard and were very intelligent and talented the best their reality could offer was to be one of the few with any job and to not die before the age of 45 with AIDS. Believing in a god who was about them achieving their dreams would be about as useful as belief in the Easter bunny.
The true God is not about us and our dreams, but about Himself and His glory. God does what He wants and accomplishes His purposes, not ours. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.” In John 17:4 Jesus prays, “I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work You gave me to do.” The goal of Jesus’ life was the glory of God which should be the dream of our life as well (1 Cor. 10:31). Jesus said even His death, while beneficial to sinners, was ultimately for the glory of God in John 12:27-28, “For this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” Our lives should result in glory for God, not in dreams achieved for ourselves, as seen in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father.”
This is a God worth believing in. He is not pacing heaven desperately trying to give his children all of their dreams in a broken world. He is confidently ruling and guiding all of history for the display of His glory. He is not an idolater, exalting His human creation above Himself. Instead He loves us enough to exalt Himself above us so we might hope in Him. What those students at the school in rural Africa needed wasn’t the promise of a god who was going to give them a payday and make all of their dreams come to pass. That god would have sounded good in a sermon but would have failed them. We need the God who came to earth and died for us so our lives and all of history, good and bad, may point to Him and His glory.
Is it wrong to have dreams? No! It is wrong to let them control your life, your attitude, and your view of God. Are you blessed with the achievement of your dreams? Hold onto them loosely and hold onto the glorious God of the Bible tightly. Dreams may fade, but His glory and His endless love for you remain.
Are you frustrated by unrealized dreams? Have you remained single longer than you hoped? Did the children fail to turn out the way they were supposed to? Are you stuck in a miserable, dead end job? Are you struggling to make ends meet instead of flourishing? Are you tired of watching peers succeed while you remain mediocre? Then let go of your dreams and live for the glory of God. We are not promised we will achieve our dreams and most of humanity, like those students in Africa, will never have the luxury of dreaming. Let’s stop worrying about our small, insignificant dreams and embrace the God whose love for us goes beyond our failures and whose glory endures forever.