Believe in yourself.
You can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Reach for the stars.
There’s no limit to what you can do.
Make a name for yourself.
These are the mantras of the American dream.
I bought into this dream at a very young age. Like many other immigrants, my parents came to America for better opportunities and a chance to achieve great things. I clearly remember sitting on the swings as a child, slowly rocking my feet, and looking up at the sky dreaming of how one day I’d build an empire. A business empire. While some girls dream of being a princess, I dreamt of becoming the queen of advertising. I’d be successful, rich, live comfortably, and have everything I ever wanted.
In my youth, I set out to achieve this dream. I studied hard, and I got into a good college. Upon graduation, I found myself heading up the marketing department for a design-build firm in the DC metro area. It was exciting at first, but 2 years later, I was stressed and burnt out from the long hours, tight deadlines, and the ever-growing pressures of the job. And just as clearly as I remember sitting on the swings dreaming as a child, I vividly remember sitting in the office late one night, agonizing over how miserable and empty I felt. Could I imagine doing this for another 20 or 30 years? What would it all be for and what would it matter in the end?
All that I had worked hard to achieve up to that point left me unhappy and unfulfilled. It all felt meaningless. The job wasn’t so much the problem. Nor was it wanting to be good at what I did. As pastor and author, David Platt, points out in his book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, “Certainly hard work and high aspirations are not bad, and the freedom to pursue our goals is something we should celebrate. Scripture explicitly commands all these things.”
But (and yes, there is a but) . . .
Platt continues to say,
“the dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability. The American dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves, and we are drawn toward such thinking. But the gospel has different priorities. The gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.'”
There was very little fruit in my life as a 20-something. Even though I proclaimed Christ as my Savior, I was much more preoccupied with making a name for myself than exalting God’s great name. Platt sums it up well: “While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.”
He goes on to say,
“The name of Jesus had the power to cause evil spirits to flee and to bring the most hardened hearts to God. The question for us, then, is whether we trust in his power. And the problem for us is that in our culture we are tempted at every turn to trust in our own power instead. So the challenge for us is to live in such a way that we are radically dependent on and desperate for the power that only God can provide.”
As God’s people, we need to ask ourselves these questions (I wrestle with them regularly as I examine my own heart):
Are we dependent on His power in our lives or are we dependent on our own?
Are we working to make much of ourselves or is it to make much of God?
What drives and motivates us each day as we go to work, as we raise our families, fill our calendars, plan our futures, build our investments?
Is it to live comfortably, to achieve success by man’s standards, to build a nice nest egg for ourselves so we can relax and enjoy all that this world has to offer?
Jesus’ sobering words in Mark 8:36 come to mind: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” None of what we achieve for our own glory or accumulate for ourselves in this lifetime will matter in the end.
It is the life Jesus offers that is lasting and eternal. It is the life we live by Him, in Him, and for Him that will matter for all eternity. If we believe this, then let’s dream big. Dream big for God’s kingdom purposes. Dream for His glory to be known. For His gospel to be proclaimed in all the earth, including our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities. For our children and future generations to know Him follow hard after Him. For His healing power to radically transform lives. For His name to be magnified and lifted high. For His truth and power to reign over all the world. Dream that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Dream big!