There is a growing trend amongst the evangelical landscape to promote, teach and exegete anything to do with our “God-given purpose.” This popular teaching involves shouting at the congregation phrases such as, “now is the time!” “You are given a God given purpose in life, your dreams are planted in you and will give birth when you make them happen by faith,” and “God wants you to achieve His will through you right now! Just reach out and grab your dream now!” This ethereal, dreamy, high and pious sounding speech is directed at uncomfortable, bored, dead, tired and frail people who already feel like they aren’t doing their childhood dreams whilst sitting in church listening to the barrage. As well as everybody who’s actually doing God’s will already. It also appeals to the younger generation who think that they can change the world overnight with limited effort. But there’s a problem… The “everyone’s special and needs to achieve their dreams” speech is for movies. It’ a Disney fairy-tale theology. Now I’m not bashing the willpower and reality of individuals to get degrees, fight for justice, take an adoption journey or start a church – but there are ordinary jobs and tasks that people listening to this are already doing that are perfectly, completely, totally inside of the will of God! Even doing the dishes! This blog is about living out our Christian walk doing what God wants, despite it being difficult and sometimes ordinary.
What does scripture teach regarding dreams?
Scripture says what God’s will is regarding our positions at work, our roles at home and our children’s roles as kids under a parent’s authority. It already makes it plain and clear that we are to evangelise the world, preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus name. We are to baptise those who believe, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teach them all that Jesus commanded us. Which is everything He has taught in scripture. Ephesians is a brilliant place to start to unpack exactly what God’s will for men and women is on earth. But biblically speaking the Bible never mentions Christians being required to “fulfil their dreams,” or even to strive for a “God-given dream.” Anywhere. Now, this isn’t to say that we’re supposed to be aimless despots wandering the streets, but our character and roles are most certainly mentioned, as well as our goals for the whole world to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and come to repentance.
Ephesians chapter 5 perfectly lays out Christian behaviour that is God’s desire once we become saved and indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It tells us how to act as employees, children, wives and husbands, and does a perfectly fine job of promoting those wonderful things that we as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers do to run a household and raise children. This is the antidote for the borderline insane teaching that everyone needs to drop their jobs and go and forge a rock music career touring the globe (or to do their amazing purpose immediately. Drop those kids off to the nearest nanny. You have some real ministry to do…).
Children of Light (Ephesians 5-6 ESV)
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, 9for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. 10Test and prove what pleases the Lord.
11Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes a light itself. 14So it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to reckless indiscretion. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wives and Husbands
(Song of Solomon 1:1-3; 1 Peter 3:1-7)
21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Saviour. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her 26to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.
28In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. 30For we are members of His body.a
31“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”b 32This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church. 33Nevertheless, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Children and Parents
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2“Honour your father and mother” (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3“that it may go well with you and that you may be long-lived on the earth.”a
4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; instead, bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Slaves and Masters
(1 Timothy 6:1-2)
5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and sincerity of heart, just as you would show to Christ. 6And do this not only to please them while they are watching, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve with good will, as to the Lord and not to men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
9And masters, do the same for your slaves. Give up your use of threats, because you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with Him.
The Armour of God
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11Put on the full armour of God, so that you can make your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
13Therefore take up the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth fastened around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, divine utterance may be given me, so that I will boldly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it fearlessly, as I should.
21Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know about me and what I am doing. 22I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about us, and that he may encourage your hearts.
23Peace to the brothers and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
24Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
This scripture passage is full to the brim with practical knowledge on exactly what good works God has prepared for us in advance to do. Obviously the first and foremost is to work hard with our hands and minds – supporting our families and honour God with our bodies. We are to preach the gospel to every creature also, wherever and whenever we can. But the scriptures also make it abundantly clear that we are, whilst doing these things, sitting right in the middle of God’s will! His revealed will regarding a specific task, idea, movement or location for us may not be evident. That comes by just doing Biblical good works whilst trying out different things to see if they go well. God gives us desires to teach, play music, reach nations for Christ, give gifts or use hospitality for others, but if they’re done out of a love for the lost or edifying believers then there’s no reason to believe that they’re not the “big plan” God has for us. Our desires to do “great things for God” may actually be delusions of grandeur some of the time also – such as teaching people when we’re unqualified or simply not ready, or wanting to become a famous preacher when really we have responsibilities elsewhere that God is already watching us do, such as parenting, helping relatives or simply preaching the gospel to co-workers or strangers. If we think that we’ve been given a God-given dream and it directly contradicts scripture (such as doing evangelism inside of strip clubs, for instance) then we are running into a problem from the get-go. I have seen many, many people who felt they were “called” to preach, yet every sermon they’ve given has been something completely heretical or downright silly, and others who have neglected their actual household entirely to pursue a business career with potential to franchise given the profit whilst ditching motherly responsibilities to train up their children in Godliness and character of a Christ ambassador. There are actually boundaries that God specifically gives for certain positions in church – such as senior pastor. Anyone who feels called to pastor a church simply needs to look at 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to see if they fit the bill:
Qualifications for Overseers
1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (ESV version, emphasis mine).
The truth is that we – including those of you reading who are mothers at home educating your children, gardeners mowing lawns for a living, fathers tired and resting at home with your children on the couch before tea – are right where God wants to minister to you and to others. His “dream” for your life is to simply do what is laid out in Ephesians 5! And this isn’t a bad desire! There is a certain guilt trip being perpetrated today that if you are slugging it out in a respectable job, raising your kids and teaching them God’s law and the gospel from scripture, obeying your boss and running your business well – that you’re not really living. This dangerous obsession with “big visions” and “thinking big” really can just be a front for some quite selfish ambitions that completely fall flat compared with God’s written word and neglect the already revealed will of God in Ephesians. We may even believe it to be sinful if we don’t fulfill our gigantic vision of running a multi-million dollar business by the time we’re 30. This is wrong to lay on people. And dangerous, as it is a complete diversion from the gospel and the good works prepared in advance for us to do. Take, for instance, the story of Elizabeth Gilbert from the famed book entitled “Eat, Pray, Love”
“At 32 years old, Elizabeth Gilbert was educated, had a home, a husband, and a successful career as a writer. She was, however, unhappy in her marriage and initiated a divorce. She then embarked on a rebound relationship that did not work out, leaving her devastated and alone. After finalizing her difficult divorce, she spent the next year traveling the world.
She spent four months in Italy, eating and enjoying life (“Eat”). She spent three months in India, finding her spirituality (“Pray”). She ended the year in Bali, Indonesia, looking for “balance” of the two and fell in love with a Brazilian businessman (“Love”).“
Can you see the resemblance here to the most popular sermons about “following your dreams,” and, “not living a mundane life, but a fulfilled life.” These catchphrases are blurted out without any real thought to the implications time and again, and the results are a huge guilt trip on the hearers who are actually completely devoted to Jesus and doing exactly what He wants! Daily! Like this woman who wrecked a marriage that should’ve been worked on, left a great career that was probably suitable for life, and a superfluous second relationship that should’ve not happened if she’d worked on the first one, she created a narcissistic, self-absorbed idea to live a “fulfilling life,” doing what most young people want to do today: traveling, loving up in foreign countries, eating fine food and generally wasting time that could’ve been spent on glorifying God and proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus… She wasn’t saved, but obviously the parallel is identical to that of the modern message most preachers have continued to perpetuate: that every believer needs to do big things for God, and fulfil their God-given potential that is inside of them. This, of course, is found absolutely nowhere in scripture! We are actually to die to self-interest and self-seeking behaviour, and to devote our lives to doing what God wants us to do. This usually involves hard work and perseverance, not flashy lights and comfortable sun baking by the Greek islands. Most of what God truly wants us to do is with a degree of hard work, or self-sacrifice. Any parent, employer, evangelist, Christian missionary or grandparent will tell you that. God’s interest is in His own glory, not our self-satisfaction. He wants us joyful – but not at the expense of His name being slandered and snuffed out by fame or ease.
Yes, God gives us desires and giftings, so using those to work well and serve others is a must, but some very “specific, undeniably special, huge, important, life-changing purpose” that is meant to be audibly given by God Himself is actually an aloof idea that was concocted to provide guilt for those ordinary Christians who are actually already doing God’s perfect will. Hitting people over the head with the purpose doctrine only encourages false notions of grandeur, not a Godly reverence for the ordinary, yet necessary things He daily wants us to do in our Christian walk. It’s a legalistic pull towards striving for more pleasing things for God that we aren’t currently doing, and a doctrine that paints people working, ministering to others and evangelising as “not good enough.” It’s quite an alarming trend that’s, quite frankly, taught in almost every pentecostal and liberal modern church. And it is spreading very, very quickly.
One example of guilt tripping believers
Here are Jesus last words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven – our mission and goal as believers:
The Great Commission
16Meanwhile, the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17When they saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some doubted.
18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The answer to this super special purpose doctrine is the simple re-telling and promotion of the actual things Jesus has told us to do as Christians! To reclaim the beauty of motherhood and raising kids as believers, to promote and train Biblical manhood and fatherhood once more – especially the role of mini-pastor that Dad’s are to their family, to refocus the church on the great commission of preaching repentance from sin and forgiveness in Jesus using whatever means necessary to get that message out to strangers. To recommit the church to planting more churches that preach verse by verse scriptural truth to multiple generations at once. To rediscover those Biblical roles for men and women in the home and church again and properly engage with what they are. To highlight the importance of a good job, stable work, consistent Bible teaching from Mum and Dad to the children, teaching young women to love their husbands and keep the home, to the promotion of evangelistic endeavours that really speak to the culture with truth, to not be afraid to delve into those scriptures that deal with sin, judgement to come, God’s holiness, creation, hell, heaven, the end times, apostasy, money hungry preachers and the role of the believer in their everyday living as a student or boss. These things are almost gleaned over as “boring,” and “useless” topics for the modern church because they are seeking super heroes with capes to fly in and do mighty works from a place of importance. The truth is that every major Bible figure didn’t “achieve their dream for God,” they obeyed Christ’s command to preach the gospel to every creature, whilst also doing the good works prepared for them as laid out in Ephesians! They actually forsook their dreams and desires to follow Christ and preach Him crucified. This is far different to the doctrine today of doing big things for God that He tells us to. Often our carnal desires get in the way of true good works, and this is evident by the way that some “dream doctrine” preachers have actually fulfilled their dream of having a large church, great sounding worship, good multimedia and a comfortable congregation whilst actually neglecting to preach anything about repentance, Jesus, the cross, laying down our lives or anything of the sort! They’ve actually usurped God’s authority and the commands of the Bible to pursue a seeker-driven model of church and achieved it completely off their own backs, with the fruit of false theology the only thing notable after doing so. I know of no “dreamer of dreams” preacher who actually teaches sound doctrine! Which is the alarming thing I’m trying to get through here. All “dream destiny” preachers teach that we can do whatever we want, and have it blessed by Jesus because we are a champion, when in fact the exact opposite is true – we are to die to ourselves and do the hard things that Jesus commands us to do. Those things bring God glory. Those things reach the lost. Those things really do change nations for the gospel. Not any old dream we concoct for ourselves, but God’s actual revealed will!
Seeds of Greatness
The “seeds of greatness” doctrine needs to go. It’s harmful. It takes our eyes off the crucified Saviour and onto ourselves. Our desires. Our dreams. Our need to want to make a difference in the world that involves recognition for something. And the grand old heresy that we as believers were somehow “great” and simply needed to be shown how great we were by having someone die for us on a cross… This self-esteem doctrine was birthed out of a hatred for Christ and His message of repentance and forgiveness exclusively in Him. Robert Schuller made sure of this & spread the self-esteem gospel to America and the world.
The truth is that when we become Christians we are given the sufferings of Christ as the mark that defines us. His cross-carrying act before He died is what marks our life. Our devotion now is to make Christ known by preaching repentance from sin and forgiveness in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins to all creation. That’s our new goal. Whatever means possible that this would occur. That is God’s ultimate desire – that as many souls as possible would enter heaven and God can declare to us at our death, “well done thy good and faithful servant. Come and enter the joy of thy Father’s house.” Any desire we have to preach, teach, start an orphanage, rescue people from the sex trade, save animals, cook for the homeless or visit Nepal on a mission trip is to be completely bolstered to the idea that during all of these if disciples are not being made by preaching the law and the gospel, then it’s actually probably our own idea and not God’s. This interesting article from Ministry Today’s Tommy Barnett gives us an insight into how this dream doctrine language has infiltrated the church, by perpetuating it further:
“6. Journal your dream.
Once you are able to define your dream, write it down. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.'” If you want to move ahead in your dream, you must write it down–inscribe it indelibly.
That shows resolve, definition and form. It is not enough to have an idea of what you want to do; you must have a plan for implementing it. Dreams do not come true by fantasizing–you have to write them down and let them become a guiding force in your life.
It has been said, “No individual has the right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” But most people have lost their dream.
It seems impractical in this world to believe you were born for something great. Somehow it becomes more important to have a steady job, pay the mortgage, keep things moving forward with the least amount of disruption and the highest possibility for what our society calls “success.” But the fulfilment of your dream has little to do with what our society considers success–it’s much bigger than that. Are you dreaming big enough? (Charisma Media, 2016 Emphasis mine).
Now…this passage in Habakkuk actually has nothing to do with dreaming up a plan for our lives, writing it down, then showing it to people to pray over and be jealous of… it’s about a prophetic vision that one of God’s Holy prophets saw and was to write down, regarding God raising up the Chaldean people to judge Israel with strength. Funny how Tommy has taken one tiny verse about “writing a vision down” to mean that all Christians have to physically write down their destiny and show it around. It’s missing the entire point of the passage – which is primarily about Israel’s rebellion and God’s nature. A good doctrinal lesson here is the Christ-centredness of the Old Testament – it primarily deals with God redeeming a stiff-necked and stubborn people who haven’t deserved favour, not a lesson in how to have an improved life.
Did you spot the rest? Having a job, paying your bills, moving forward with your career and not disrupting others is a cursed thing! Now granted, there’s much more to life than paying stuff – but this neglect of the very things God calls us to do (being good fathers and husbands, keeping house, providing for our families and others, praying for one another, serving in our churches) is totally in vogue right now. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that there is a perception out there that any Christian who isn’t touring globally with a band, running their own celebrity ministry, opening a Bible college or receiving millions of reads for a blog is considered “lame, man,” by these dream destiny preachers. They constantly want every church member to give more, do more, be more, rise higher, go further, climb faster, push harder, dream bigger, stare at their naval more until all they can think about is just how they measure up against God’s Holy “dream standard,” for us. This places pressure on us so far as to say that we may even be sinning if we’re not living up to our “potential…” as if that’s the mark of sanctification! The seeds of greatness doctrine says that no Christian should live an ordinary life. At all. Joel Osteen best describes it in his blog from August 21, 2015:
“God never created you to be ordinary. He created you to leave your mark on this generation. He wants you to go further than anyone in your family. You have seeds of greatness on the inside.
I declare that yoke of average that’s been around your neck is coming off. God is about to thrust you to a new level of destiny. It’s going to be exceedingly, abundantly above and beyond. You’re going to see the yoke-destroying, burden-removing power of our God like never before. This is a new day. Yokes of depression that have robbed you of your happiness are being destroyed. Yokes of sickness and chronic pain are being destroyed. Yokes of fear, lack of confidence and intimidation are being destroyed. That yoke of compromise that keeps getting passed down—”like father, like son”—no, they’re being destroyed. From now on, it’s going to be “like heavenly Father, like son.”
If you will receive this into your spirit and not talk yourself out of it, it will ignite your faith and become a reality. Then reinforce the truth by meditating on the Word of God. Declare, “This is my destiny. Something new is being birthed. Yokes are coming off of me. Chains are being broken. I am stepping into the fullness of my destiny in Jesus’ name!”
Teeth! Those teeth!
So nobody should be sick, in pain, have debt, be out of work, should ever die, be worried, have problems or limitations of any kind whatsoever. Hmm… This doesn’t really work in the face of cancer, disease, poverty, war, famine, tsunamis, tyrants, dictatorships or religious persecution, but hey… it makes a great blog… The problem lies with the application of this doctrine. If this is the case, then pretty much every believer I know who’s ever lived hasn’t actually lived up to their full, proper, maximum God-given potential. Are they sinning? Are they believers? Are they saved? Has God left them? Are they not carrying the Holy Spirit inside of them? What happened? Answer: The ordinary, hard, good fight of Christian faith happened. They fought the fight and are aiming to have won the race, striving for the imperishable crown in heaven that’s theirs upon dying and having believed in Jesus for their forgiveness. I’ve seen countless people who don’t believe this doctrine actually doing much , much more important work for Jesus than those who do. That’s for sure. Our very own pastor preaches and teaches from scripture every Friday night and two services on Sundays faithfully and expositionally… and doesn’t buy into this nonsensical grandeur theology of self aggrandizement or “dream destiny doctrine.” He simply believes the gospel and wants it proclaimed to nations truthfully. This is the job of a pastor. And he does it well. Others I know who don’t believe this doctrine have been preachers or evangelists that biblically proclaim the gospel even to the Vatican in Rome…. and God hasn’t struck them down dead for sinning against their dream destiny… It’s a farce. And a guilt ridden doctrine that actually puts Christians into bondage through fear of not fulfilling their full destiny. And it has to end. Everybody who hears it could be searching for their destiny for eternity, only to have neglected those God-given moments that present themselves to us to do His will whilst we do our good works!
There are ordinary people like you and I that can promote Biblical works as the ideal. Those lofty dreams that sound great when we say them may actually be antithetical to the gospel. Lets promote what Jesus said we should do, and what God says we should do on earth instead of any far reaching dream that may well be the death of us should we worship it instead of our God and Saviour instead. Will you help the church end it? Will you gladly promote those seemingly ordinary acts that believers do daily that are, in reality, supernatural miracles from God to the world? Will you?
P.S. I once dreamed of being a cartoonist as a kid… that was my own idea. Then I dreamed of being a famous worship leader in my 20’s… this also fell flat when I had kids. There’s countless things I could be doing instead of looking after and caring for my family, but these are practically all selfish desires. I have learned this lesson the hard way myself… to embrace where I am as a Dad – a mini-pastor to my family and overseer of a household of God! So I’m in your shoes!