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

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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.

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