Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Is My Dream From God?" is the Wrong Question

Image source.

A recent article from Relevant tells us 3 Ways to Know Your Ambition is From God. The writer, Jonathan Malm, has some useful advice about dreams in general, but I'd like to question the idea of having dreams "from God" in the first place. What exactly does that mean?

The article never exactly defines what a "God-given dream" is or how/why exactly God "gives" dreams, but let's take a look and see if we can piece it together:
No, I don't think God placed those dreams in my heart. But I do believe there was a thin line connecting each of those silly professions that spoke to the real dream God had for me. He had put certain drives and dispositions inside me that would ultimately lead to the plans He had for me. 
So it's assumed that God "has plans" for God's followers, and Malm says that God then gives us dreams that lead us in the direction of those plans.

I was thinking along these lines a few years ago, after I visited China for the first time and started to have wild ideas about moving there. (Or rather, here. I'm in China now and it's great.) Before, I thought that when God "calls" someone to move to a different country, it would just be this random thing that pops up out of nowhere and that you don't want to obey, and it would be a huge sacrifice. But instead, I really really wanted to go to China, and I was praying and begging God to let me out of "the plans God had for me" and send me to China instead.

However, after a while, I came to a point where I believed what Malm seems to be saying in this article- that God gives us desires and dreams to point us in the direction of God's plans, rather than forcing/calling us to do something we don't want to. I started to believe that since God made the world- including China- then God was really the reason I loved China so much. And if God's plan was for me to move to China, what better way than to make me really really want to move to China? You know, instead of just a "call" that came out of nowhere, which I would see as a huge, divinely-commanded inconvenience.

Moving along:
If your dream isn't from God, it isn't worth pursuing. It would be a waste of time and energy. It would ultimately lead to frustration and discouragement.
I'm not exactly sure how to understand this part. By itself, it seems to be saying that, given 2 seemingly equally good dreams, one from God and one not from God, the one from God will be successful and the one not from God will fail. This cannot be predicted based on the content of the dreams themselves, but by trying to decode which is from God.

Which is TOTALLY a common idea in evangelical Christianity. Maybe you think God told you to do something, for example, move from the US to China. Now, that's something that could work out well, or maybe not. The key to making a good decision is figuring out if this dream is from God or not.

I'm kind of suspicious of this way of thinking, because it doesn't allow for uncertainty and risk. It just says if you follow God's plan (which can be known, at least vaguely, if you pray hard enough) then you will never have a major life decision turn into a failure.

However, later in the article, Malm gives the "3 ways to know your ambition is from God" which are "it will ultimately bring glory to God," "it will benefit others," and "it will seem bigger than what you can handle on your own," so maybe when he says that dreams not from God will fail, he's talking about plans that harm others or otherwise don't meet his 3 criteria. In other words, mainly dreams that are more or less self-evidently bad ideas.

From the next part, about dreams that bring glory to God:
God made everything for His glory. So a God-given dream will bring Him glory in the end....For instance, a dream that skirts legal lines and flirts with something unethical isn’t from God. God will never ask you to do something contrary to His Word. But a dream that demonstrates hope, love, peace—God gets glory in that.
This seems to me like "how to tell if something is a bad idea" rather than "how to tell if a benevolent supernatural force directly intervened in your life to plant an idea in your brain" which is the definition I'm assuming for "God-given dream."

Then step #2, check if your dream benefits others:
Instead, God will ask you to do something that meets people’s needs. That might mean writing a book that offers hope. It might mean creating a truly decaffeinated cup of coffee. It might mean becoming a foster parent. Look for ways others can benefit from your dream, and you’re one step closer to reaching the dreams and plans God has for you.
Yes, I like this advice. I believe that Christians should work to bring the kingdom of God to the earth- and by "the kingdom of God" I mean a world where there is justice and freedom and love and nobody is treated wrong. I believe that's what heaven is.

But I think this is what God wants us to do in general, and God doesn't necessarily give you a specific dream/command for the exact role that you personally are divinely-mandated to play. I would rewrite that last sentence as "Look for ways others can benefit from your dream, and you're one step closer to working with Jesus to bring the kingdom of God to the earth."

Not because God "has a plan" for how it should happen, but because anything that's consistent with "love your neighbor as yourself" is worth doing.

I'm not sure what to make of Malm's third point, "it will seem bigger than what you can handle on your own." I totally get that this is a "stepping out in faith" thing, and evangelical Christians love that. Doing something that sounds kinda crazy so that God can get on board and show what big things God can do.

Yep, totally consistent with that perspective, but doesn't really fit with my view. I think we have a lot of freedom, and that's a good thing. I don't believe "God has a plan"- I think there are a lot of possible directions one can go with one's life, and a lot of them are very good. Human freedom and creativity are very important in the kingdom of God.

But this doesn't really fit with the "when you obey God and step out in faith, God will reward you" line of thinking. There's nothing to obey. I don't agree with the terminology of God "asking" you to do something.

Image source.

In other words, "is my dream from God?" is the wrong question to ask. It produces too much worry- we have to get the right answer or we're totally ruining the plan. You have no idea how much I worried about whether or not I "was allowed" to move to China or whether God was "okay with it."

It doesn't have to be such a personalized thing with a correct answer. God wants us to act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God. If you dream is in line with that, then go for it.

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