The world we live in continually exalts achievement, finding your impact, and living your dreams.
As a Christian, I delight in the same possibilities, believing that God has plans for my good and has specially designed me to make a unique mark on the world, a mark that bears His Name and makes Him known! However, life doesn’t always seem to play along. Why do we often come to seasons of life where our dreams don’t seem like they’ll ever be realized? Why do we not get certain things we prayed for? And specifically for Christians, where does the concept of “dying to yourself” fit with the idea of fulfilling our God-given dreams and aspirations?
I’ve been seeing a recurring theme around these questions lately, not just in my personal Bible study, but also on social media and in books I’ve read.
It is a biblical reality that in order for Jesus to be King of our hearts and lives, we must die to ourselves—to our way of thinking and living before we accepted the Lordship of Jesus. However, in light of this reality, there is something very important we have to keep in mind: the purpose of this “death.” Remember, God is the Author of Life and all life flows from Him. He is the Fullness that fills all in all. God never allows something to die just for the sake of death. Recall that He didn’t allow Jesus to stay dead. Death on the Cross was not Jesus’ whole story. And it isn’t ours either!
After being resurrected from the grave, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit so we could live through Him! And this new life isn’t just indicative of heaven. It is a new life that begins here and now! Needless to say, dying to ourselves is not the whole story!
So what happens when it feels like our dreams have died or we find ourselves scrambling to keep up with or make sense of a life that doesn’t look much like we planned (or prayed for)?
For an example, I think of George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s famous character in the black-and-white film It’s a Wonderful Life. You’ve probably seen the movie at least once around Christmastime. George is a talented, charismatic, likeable man with big dreams and a strong moral compass. However, his attempts to live out his convictions seem to continually steer him away from all the things he dreamed of doing…going to college, traveling the world, becoming an engineer. George becomes increasingly frustrated until the pivotal point in the movie when, faced with utter ruin and bankruptcy, it seems as though he has sacrificed all of his dreams for nothing. It takes an act of God, literally, to show him that his life has not only been worth something, but has actually fulfilled much—a truly wonderful life. But moments before he will start to realize this, George is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide. This is a harrowing picture of where the enemy wants us when our plans go awry: defeated, despairing, believing that it was all worth nothing and God doesn’t have a plan for us.
Hence one very important truth that we have to keep in mind: God is NOT a dream killer. He’s not a killer of anything, for that matter. He is Life itself. Everything in our lives hinges on His utter and constant Faithfulness. The Bible says that He planned things for us to do before we were even thought of…not works to earn salvation, but talents and gifts, good things to do throughout life, ways to partner with Him during our lives and bring Him glory. Many Christians know the all-time favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
But consider the verses immediately following that one. “Then you will call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me. When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”
The ultimate goal in finding our life’s work, the fulfillment of our dreams, is to connect with God. Our dreams and aspirations, our talents and gifts, are all conduits through which God can display His Glory and bless the world. But, like all of life, they must be given to Him first. And often, in the course of our lives, we see certain dreams fade for a season or take on a new face that we don’t recognize. It’s hard not to feel lost when this happens. It’s hard not to paint a picture in our minds of what our lives should look like or how our dreams will be fulfilled. And there’s nothing wrong with having plans. But if God redirects that plan, do you come undone? Was your hope and trust in that plan or in God?
These are tough life questions, but the way we respond to them will determine the quality and impact of our lives.
So what is happening when we start to feel like George Bailey? (I realize that sometimes we get to certain places in our lives due to poor choices we made, but God is the ultimate Redeemer, and He is never caught off guard or struggling to keep up with our lives.)
What I am mainly talking about here is that point where you feel like your life is just not turning out the way you wanted, like your dreams have been put on hold. (And this seems to be a fairly common place for people to come to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe their lives this way.)
At this point, we must first remember the character of our God. We have to seek Him in order to discern His will, but He is not trying to hide it from us.
If our dreams seem on hold or out of the picture for a season, one of two things is happening.
Either God is fazing a particular dream out of our lives completely in order to make room for something better, something we might not have thought to choose, but something He intended for us to do in His Strength,
Or God is allowing a dream to “die” in the sense that we thought it would be accomplished, in order to raise it up again in the right time to be more than we could have ever fathomed.
Think Joseph in Genesis. His dreams of power and position seemed to die when he was sold into slavery, but God used him and his gift of interpretation to bless not only his family, but the whole known world and the future of Israel…something Joseph would never have pictured on his own.
The point is that dying to ourselves is only half of the equation. Colossians 3:10 continues with the other half. “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”
Remember, the gifts and talents inside you were placed there by God and can best be used by God. Everything you desire in life can be traced back to God, and finds its fullness in Him. God has not forgotten you or your dreams. Don’t give up on them. Bring them to Him. Seek Him and you will find yourself in the process. The goal is to delight in God, finding your purpose and your hope in Him. And holding fast to His Promise: that as you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you, and will give you the desires of your heart.
In these Christian-living posts, it is never my intention or plan to become a preacher or point fingers at any particular person. These posts simply reflect what God is teaching me in a particular season or something that I came across in Scripture that impacted me. They are meant to encourage readers to turn to the Scriptures for new perspective in their own lives. This kind of sharing is part of what it means to be a Christian. In Colossians 3:16, we are encouraged to celebrate the truths in Scripture and spur each other on to focus on the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, for me, these posts represent part of what it means to be a writer. As Sheila Walsh puts it: “I’m not one who writes as an expert on a subject. I’m one who writes out of a hunger to understand.”
So please feel free to comment if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, but know that I’m writing from the middle of the journey.