God has given humans the incredible ability to dream.
We can imagine the fun we’ll have on vacation, or hitting the ball over the fence and rounding the bases. We can imagine heaven, seeing Jesus’ face and hearing the thunderous waterfall of the praise of multitudes. We can imagine our children growing up to serve God. What an amazing gift to be able to hope and dream.
But we must be on guard, for our idol-factory hearts can so easily turn dreams into demands. Our hopes can easily begin to drive our lives. We can subtly shift from living for God’s glory to living for our idols.
We can unconsciously embrace certain ideas of the way the world is supposed to be. We can buy into the “American Dream”, and then when life doesn’t turn out the way we think it should, we can become disillusioned, depressed, and an easy target for temptation.
Our dream might be as simple as thinking when we turn 16, we’ll get our driver’s license. Or that we’ll graduate from college, have a great career, marry, have children and a home, go to little league games and take vacations at the beach. Or our expectation might be a long, healthy life.
But what if these things don’t happen? What if we never marry, or we lose our health or our job? What if we retire and our wife gets Alzheimer’s?
Actually, the Bible says we should not be surprised when we suffer. Peter tells us we will be suffer all kinds of trials and they will reveal that our faith is genuine and bring glory to Jesus when he returns:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 PE 1.6-7
We are usually surprised by pain and suffering, like they are strange things that shouldn’t happen. But Peter tells us we shouldn’t be surprised:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 PE 4.12
Suffering isn’t something strange for believers; it is normal life. And when we go through trials we shouldn’t be shocked. In fact, James reminds us that afflictions actually produce endurance and the character of Christ in our lives:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
The only way to grow in steadfastness, faithfulness and perseverance, is to go through situations that require these things. The only way to grow in patience is to go through things that require patience. We grow in love by living our lives with those who like ourselves, have many faults and weaknesses.
If we have expectations that life should be easy or always go our way, we will certainly be disappointed.
A member of our church for years dropped out when his son got a girl pregnant and then they got married. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he said. “I did everything I should and look what happened.” He had a certain EXPECTATION that if he did everything right, his children would never sin, grow up perfect. When his dream failed to materialize, he became angry at God.
Though Scripture contains many promises that give parents great hope their children will follow him, it doesn’t guarantee a painless pleasure cruise. The Bible has many promises that believers will experience deep joy, peace and contentment in him. And following Jesus as a disciple is the only path to true and lasting joy. Yet we will also go through dark valleys. In fact, hard times and suffering makes our joy in Christ even sweeter. It’s like an old movie, when a villain ties a woman to the railroad tracks and at the last minute, just before the train runs her over, the hero comes riding in on a white horse and sets her free. The momentary suffering makes the rescue even sweeter.
God doesn’t owe us our dreams. He doesn’t owe us long life, health, wealth, a marriage partner, or godly children. In his lavish kindness he gives us many of these blessings but he never owes them to us. God doesn’t owe us anything. And we owe everything to God.
Every blessing we enjoy is an undeserved gift of God’s grace. I expect God to be gracious to me because that is his nature and he promises to be gracious. But he doesn’t owe it to me. If God owed us grace it wouldn’t be grace.
Thank God for every blessing he gives you. Years ago, by God’s grace, I began the practice of writing 1 page a day (most days) in a moleskin journal of things to thank God for. It might be as simple as thanking him for a good night’s sleep or for saving me. It only takes about 10 minutes but it brings me great joy and sets the tone for me to be thankful during the day.
Remember, our dreams will never fulfill us even if we achieve them. Only Christ can satisfy. He alone must be our portion.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer in this fallen world. Things break, people get sick. We sin, our children sin. Others let us down. But someday Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and we will see how momentary and light our sufferings here were, compared to the eternal joy they will produce in heaven.
God’s “dream” should be our dream. God’s “dream” – well, actually, God’s purpose and plan – is to glorify himself through a rescued people who are increasingly enjoying Jesus and becoming like him. We can live for this dream no matter what our circumstances are.
So whose dream are you living for?
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Saving Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have five children and five grandchildren.
Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.