Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Cautions About Following Your Dreams

Chasing a dream

by Dennis Pollock

If there is one area in which the church and the world seem to be in perfect agreement it is in the area of dreams. Nearly everywhere we turn, we are told that we must by all means and at any cost follow our dreams. "Follow your dreams" is the name of various paintings, it is the title of a radio program, a movie, a TV series, a Disney children's book, an adult inspirational book, a Facebook page, and a scholarship foundation. If you enter "live responsibly" on Google as a phrase, you get about 75,000 results. "Follow Christ" gives you over a million results. But if you type in the phrase "follow your dreams" you get nearly five million results.

In the church we have essentially Christianized this concept of following your dreams, mixed in a little faith and prayer, and come to the same conclusions as the world. Do what you will, but by all means follow your dreams. It never bodes well for the church when the world seems in perfect harmony with the people of God. God's ways are so radically different than our ways that we should feel more than a little uncomfortable when our non-praying neighbors who get their theology and philosophy from the talk show hosts believe exactly as we do on almost anything.

Before we go much further I must make an acknowledgment: God does indeed give dreams and visions to His people. He speaks promises and words of encouragement about our future; He sometimes gives us an advance notice of good things to come. One of the most popular verses in the Old Testament is from Jeremiah: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11). Everybody loves this verse – I don't know of anyone that hasn't felt the need to quote it and claim it for themselves at some point in their lives.

A classic example of God giving dreams to His servants may be found in the life of Joseph. In this case they were literal dreams, but they also served as dreams in the sense of which we are speaking, an expectation of future blessings and greatness. God knew that Joseph was going to go through some really tough times for a long season in his life, and would need some encouragement to carry him through. And so at the age of seventeen Joseph dreamed of his eleven brothers' bundles of wheat bowing down to his bundle. Not long after he dreamed of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. This didn't do much for his relationship with his brothers, but it did a world of good for Joseph when he found himself laboring in Egypt for years as a slave, and then in a miserable Egyptian prison.

This was not the kind of dream the world talks about. He wasn't dreaming of becoming a famous singer or a great artist or athlete. He was simply encouraged by the knowledge that God had some form of leadership and greatness planned for him in his future. Nearly all the details were left out. This was pretty general in nature, but it did serve to boost his morale as he endured thirteen miserable years in slavery and prison. He didn't know exactly what lay in store but God had assured him that there was "a future and a hope" for Joseph. Nor was there much Joseph could do to try and make this dream come to pass. He simply did the best he could in the situations he found himself. God took care of the rest.

Problems with Dreams

While God can and does give us dreams, and whisper encouraging words about our future, we cannot embrace all our dreams without recognizing some of their dangers. Firstly, dreams are often totally tied in with our ego. We want greatness or fame or success, not for the glory of God or the good of others, but to satisfy the parched thirst of our own ambitions. We want the world's applause; we crave the euphoria that comes when we are riding a tidal wave of success and fame. These kinds of dreams are tainted with the stench of self and are not pleasing to God. Should we achieve them in our present state of immaturity and carnality they would do us far more harm than good. Until our character has been so crafted in the likeness of Christ that we can carry our successes with humility, God is usually in no hurry to hasten the process.  Delay and difficulties are some of His favorite tools in preparing the dreamer to achieve his dream and be blessed by its fulfillment.

dreamer

Sometimes dreams are pursued at the cost of relationships and responsibilities. A man with a wife and four children forsakes his well-paying job in business to pursue a career as an artist. While he vainly attempts to turn his mediocre talent into artistic success, his wife and children must suffer. Bills are unpaid, the children can no longer afford their school supplies and are forced to wear worn-out clothes, and there is no longer any health insurance when little Jimmy is sick and desperately needs medical care. Eventually there is a divorce and the family is scattered, while the man keeps on doggedly attempting to get the art world's acclaim for his second rate paintings. He justifies himself by the thought that he is following his dreams, but in truth he is forsaking the priceless gift of his family. Sometimes ministers have placed their ministry dreams ahead of their families with tragic consequences. Paul writes: "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). Solid relationships and living responsibly may not sound as exciting as following your dreams, but in truth this is the ultimate dream, as we live our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

When I was a teen I used to love a television program called Then Came Bronson. It revolved around a young business executive who decided to chuck his 9 to 5 job, buy a motorcycle, and tour the country. Every week you could watch him in a new and exciting adventure. At the program's opening each week they showed him as he was just leaving for his grand adventure. He pulls up to a stoplight and a harried business man in a car in the next lane asks him if he is taking a trip. When Bronson tells him that he is, the man asks where. Bronson replies, "Wherever I end up, I guess," to which the tired, jaded businessman says wistfully, "Man, I sure wish I was you."

Many of us can identify with that. How we would love to drop all our responsibilities, throw deadlines and alarm clocks to the wind, and head for the open road. But of course, for nearly all of us that would be a complete disaster. We wouldn't have all those adventures that Bronson had. We would spend a lot of money, eventually get bored and lonely, and sheepishly head back to our jobs and homes. Men and women were made to work, to live in loving though imperfect relationships with others, and to lead disciplined lives.

Don't Be Gullible

We can be deceived by our dreams. John writes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). If we assume that every passion, every whim, every strong desire we feel inside of us comes straight from the heavenly throne, we are incredibly naïve. Regardless of how spiritual we are, how many times we have read the Bible, how often we pray, and the number of consecutive Sundays we have been in church, we are all quite capable of passions and dreams that have no roots in God whatsoever. Until our Heavenly Father signs off on our dreams through multiple confirmations, we had better hold them lightly.

We can be right about the dream and dead wrong about the timing. At age 40 Moses assumed everybody would recognize him as Israel's deliverer. Stephen declared: "And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand" (Acts 7:24,25). Moses had it right – he was indeed God's man to deliver the children of Israel from bondage, but he was about 40 years too soon. He had a lot of sheep-herding to do before God could shake the dust and smell of Egypt off his spirit, and craft him as a vessel fit for divine use.

If God calls us to a ministry in a certain area, we must believe God's promise and prepare for that calling – but the timing of His plan and the degree of success to which God will raise us are totally in His hands. Joseph had no idea when he would be raised to leadership, nor did he have any clue as to the measure and degree of that leadership. Certainly he could never have guessed that he would end up leading, under Pharaoh, the great nation of Egypt. His job was simply to follow God, live uprightly, and allow God to do as He pleased with him in His time and His way. So it is with us. A man called to pastor should prepare with all his might for that role, but he will never be able to see the exact dimensions of God's plan until it unfolds before him. Whether he ends up pastoring a small church out in the country or a megachurch of 30,000 in New York City, his destination is firmly and completely in the hands of Jesus Christ, the Head and Builder of the church.

Cliff Barrows

Billy & CliffThere are times when God's dreams for us and our dreams for ourselves are not a perfect match. In such a case you can guess whose dreams for our lives should prevail. Cliff Barrows is a good example of this. Cliff joined Billy Graham's evangelistic team as the music leader, and stayed with Billy for over fifty years. But before he joined Billy he wrestled with surrendering his own dreams of preaching. Cliff was an excellent preacher in his own right, and had enjoyed considerable success in evangelism. He had a winsome personality and could have made a fine pastor. He stated in an interview many years later, "I struggled with that decision for a couple of years, because I wanted to pursue preaching." Finally he became convinced God wanted him to join Billy's team and serve the Lord and Billy in any way needed. He told Billy, "I'll be content to be your song leader, carry your bag, go anywhere, do anything you want me to do."

He said in an interview long afterwards, "I was willing to settle for that situation…  to do what the Lord wanted me to do." The idea of settling for something less than your original dream would probably sound revolting to most of the secular "follow your dreams" folks, but it was clearly the will of God for Cliff and he made far more of an impact through his music in Billy's meetings than he ever could had he been an evangelist or a pastor. He went on to say he would not trade the course of his life for anything in the world. And, by the way, he also had opportunities to preach from time to time.

As Christians we are servants of the living God. We are not our own. Our morals and lifestyles, our dreams and hopes and plans must all be submitted to God for His confirmation and approval. And He reserves the right to adjust or cancel our dreams at His own discretion. We are not called to seek greatness or fame or wealth, but simply to abide in Jesus Christ and bear fruit pleasing unto Him. In the course of our abiding, the Spirit of God will begin to speak to us about His calling on our lives and the direction He wants for us. As He reveals His plan, we must pursue it with diligence and look for every opportunity to serve Him and His people. As we trust and obey we will be led into a fruitful life of service. Whether this makes us well known in the eyes of the public or we live out our entire lives in obscurity, if we are walking with Jesus and He is producing His fruit in us, we will be content.

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