When Dreams Should Die

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
by Langston Hughes
When people talk to me, I listen for their dreams. I do it especially when I’m serving as one of the people in our church who talks one-on-one with our new members, to help them get connected and find a good place to serve. As we get to know them, we keep an ear open for their dreams. We might ask about their dreams with questions such as “What would you most enjoy doing here?” or “If you could do anything at all for the Lord, what might it be?”

Dreams can be a window to our gifts and passions. When dreams involve serving other people, the church can be a place where people live out their dreams through ministry in the body of Christ. Someone who dreamed of a career as counselor for troubled youth, for example, but didn’t have the money to finish college, might fulfill their dream by working with the youth group and mentoring some of the teens.

Do you have a dream? Books, workshops and tools for “finding your purpose” or “writing your personal mission statement,” are popular these days. In a sense, they’re a “create your dream” process. By examining your gifts, your experiences, and where God has placed you in life, they help you define a specific goal or aim. Like a dream, a goal or purpose can give you direction, meaning and a feeling that what you are doing is significant.

Dreams are usually good. They can be a God-given passion that drives someone to do wonderful things for God’s kingdom. But dreams can be deadly, too.

Poet Langston Hughes says that if we cannot hang on to our dreams, we are crippled. A bird that cannot fly will have a short and unpleasant life. Dreams and “finding our purpose” are often proclaimed, in both secular and church circles, as the path to personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and even personal worth.

This is where we need to be careful. When our dreams become our primary focus, they have become an idol. When our dreams or our purpose becomes the center of our life and that which gives us meaning and value, they have taken God’s rightful place.

God sometimes topples our dreams for our own good. Phil Vischer, the creator the popular Veggie Tales characters in children’s Christian videos, had a dream, achieved wonderful things, and then saw it crash. Through his experience, Phil learned that our primary focus, the center of our lives, belongs to God and not to dreams.

When we see our dreams or our purpose as callings given us by God, we have things in the right perspective. I have a strong desire to help people in my church serve; I also want to help other churches help their people serve. If those desires become a dream or purpose that runs my life, then my happiness and my view of myself as a success or failure is dependent on the results of my efforts. But if I believe that God is calling me to these tasks, my value and worth come from what He does for me and not from what I do.

Putting our dreams into the context of God’s call to serve challenges us to bring those dreams to the Father who created us, the Son whose death and resurrection reconciles us to our Father, and the Spirit who is our power and comfort and guide each day.

Putting our dreams into the context of God’s call to serve also frees us. If today’s dreams die, it does not cripple me. I am still God’s own, claimed in the waters of baptism. I am still doing his work through the other callings He’s given me: as wife, daughter, mother, employee, neighbor and so on. And I am free from anxiety about results. His love and His call are not at all dependent on my efforts.

Offer your dreams to your Father. Talk them over with him. Then, with God as the center of your life, go for your dreams. Figure out the tasks he has in mind for you to do and get busy. Work whole-heartedly and joyfully. Dream away.

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