Why we should stop chasing our dreams: battling the idol of significance


Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. Ps. 84:10

I am a product of my generation. And we are a generation of dreamers. Everybody (okay, not everybody but you know what I mean) wants to travel the world, or work for an NGO, or start their own business, or pursue more than one career. Everybody wants to make their own mark on the world somehow. And it’s good, so good. I love dreaming. To me, to live is to dream. And I think God loves it when we dream too. It gives Him space to move.

A couple years ago, when I sensed God calling me to stay in Thailand “indefinitely,” I had great hopes and expectations for what that might look like. I had dreamt of impacting culture, or of being part of some world-changing ministry, or of filling a need that no one else could fill. I wanted my time here to count for something significant. So I jumped in — passionate, excited, determined. I spent hours upon hours studying Thai. I rearranged my life to build relationships within the culture. I made space in my schedule to invest in my church and community. I prayed for the lost and hurting like I had never prayed before. And I loved it, and it was good, and God was in it.

But somewhere along the line, something happened. Somewhere along the line, I began to realize that nothing I had hoped for was coming true, that actually — in many respects — I was failing at all that God had set on my heart. I still couldn’t hold a decent conversation with my Thai neighbors. The Bible study I prayed would reach out to the unreached in Bangkok eventually dwindled into a group of teachers from my school. All the things I was doing and roles I was filling were simple, unexciting, and terribly dispensible.

And this is where the truth came out, because as I saw my dreams fall apart before me, I became discouraged and began to wonder if it was even worth it to stay in this city. Yet, this is exactly where God wanted me to be, and it’s the setting He chose to call me deeper in.

I decided to stay in Thailand because God told me to, but — though I hate to admit it — I guess that part of me also wanted a bigger storyline, a better resume, a more exciting testimony. And none of these things are in of themselves bad. My dreams for Thailand and my longing for significance are God-given, and my efforts that have spilled from them are pleasing to Him. May we never stop dreaming, and praying big prayers, and taking leaps of faith. But when all is said and done, it’s not about me or you or our dreams, it’s about Jesus. It is Jesus who defines greatness (in a very backwards way from the world we know). It is Jesus who makes life worth living. He is our joy, He is our prize, He is our delight. Man, I want to be like the psalmist who cried out, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10), or like Paul who proclaimed that his life was “hidden with Christ in God,” and set his heart “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col.3:1-5). I want to take joy in filling cups with iced tea every Sunday at church, or in praying every night for a little girl I know who has nightmares, or in baking cookies for my neighbors, knowing that God uses every step of obedience to accomplish His purposes. I want to do these things not to fulfill a dream, but because of Jesus, because Christ’s love compels me (2 Cor.5:14).

So…the point is this: If you really want to make something of your life, don’t follow your dreams. Instead, follow the One who writes your dreams and plants them in your heart.

I know that my story in Thailand remains unfinished, and I don’t know what God has for me in the months and years ahead. But I pray that I find joy in chasing after Him, and letting my dreams unfold however He sees fit.

Me? A hardened heart?

Oh dear friends, I am writing to you today from a heart that’s been humbled and moved by the living God. I’ve tried for so long to think that I, somehow, am exempt from the “really bad” sins that plague human hearts, that somehow the outward signs of good character and self-control equated to my own earned righteousness to some degree. While saying that out loud seems clearly opposed to the Gospel we know and love, the deceit of pride caused my heart to believe it. I’m not saying this to sound extra-pitiful, and I’m not saying this because I need God more than anybody else. It’s just that no matter how “put together” we are, we all desperately, deeply, undeniably need Jesus and the power of His blood that makes us holy.

And here’s the beautiful thing about our amazing God: if our hearts are willing, even just a little willing, He will have His way with us…eventually.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‚ÄúToday, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness…
-Hebrews 3:7-8 (ESV)

But the question is, how long? How long will it take before we submit fully to the work God is doing within us? How long will we have to roam in the wilderness before we’re able to enter His rest in the deepest places of our hearts?

When I think of the words “hardened heart,” I think of grumpy people, bitter people, cynical, unhappy, unbelieving people. But as it says later in Hebrews 3, we need to protect one another from being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (vs.13). Sometimes a hardened heart can look disciplined, or unselfish, or even righteous.

For me, I can even use kindness to try to manipulate situations to cater to my own needs and desires. For you, maybe it’s anger, or cynicism, or social influence. Whatever it is, if we’re trying to use it to control and change things, it becomes a way of hardening our hearts to what God wants to do — in us and around us. Instead of trusting Him, we’re trying to do it our way…and in doing so, we’re protecting the sin and pride that God so lovingly wants to deliver us from.

It is the prayer of my heart that I will grow in a humility and an understanding of God that will make me quick to listen, quick to follow, quick to let go. As we continue onto Hebrews 4, we’re reminded that, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (vs.12 ESV). It is not up to debate: God will speak to us if we’re listening. The Word of God will convict us and sometimes break us, if we’re willing. Oh that we will admit our need and allow God to do the work in us that only He can do.

This is not a reason for despair or discouragement, my friends, but a reason for rejoicing. We have a real and living God who actively pursues our whole hearts. We have a Father in heaven who speaks to us by His Spirit and changes us by His power. We have a Savior, Jesus, who died to set us free from all things, who is ever-interceding for us and offering us freedom and rest by His grace.

Jesus, we ask of you, speak, and may we not harden our hearts as You lead us through the refining fires of the wilderness.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. -Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)