Dreams are not merely the nightly thoughts you experience as the brain sorts out the day's events. They are the goals and visions that fire your heart and saturate your soul with joy at the very thought of them. They are those continuing visions of what you want your life to be at its highest level of fulfillment--what you want to do, how you want to do it, what kind of person you want to become in the process.
Your destiny and reason for living are wrapped up tightly in your dreams and desires, like the genetic information inside a seed. That dream in your heart contains your spiritual "DNA," the very blueprint for who you are. Your dream is that idea, that vision for your life that burns inside of you--something you can't ignore for long. It keeps coming back to your mind because it is part of who you are; it will never leave you alone.
A dream doesn't drive you; it draws you. It is like a big magnet that pulls you toward itself. I don't believe that there is a man or woman without a dream, because God designed every member of the human race to have dreams. Without a dream, a person will be frustrated in the present and will miss his or her future.
Your dream did not even originate with you. It resides within you, but God put it there. He is the source of your dream. When people dream without God, they find it hollow and unsatisfying. Every person must come to Jesus for his or her dream to make sense. In fact, without Jesus, you might follow a dream for your life that God never put in your heart.
Not every dream is from God. There is such a thing as godless dreams. But when your dream is God's dream, it's unstoppable.
Jesus said that apart from Him we can't do anything and that all our dreams will be frustrated. The power, energy and creativity needed to fulfill our dreams must flow from Jesus.
The most common and most crucial question is, "How do I know which dreams in my heart are from God?" Here is the answer. You will know it's God's dream if:
1. It is bigger than you.
2. You can't let it go.
3. You would be willing to give everything for it.
4. It will last forever.
5. It meets a need nobody else has met.
6. It brings glory to God.
Let's unpack each of these. First, any dream God put in your heart will be much bigger than you. Most children start out with big dreams of being a major league baseball player or the first woman president of the United States. But people and circumstances whittle those dreams down to size. We reach adulthood, and we voluntarily trim our dreams to manageable proportions so we won't be disappointed.
That's the opposite of what we should do. We should set higher goals, not lower ones. God is the author of bigness, not smallness. We may not reach the highest dream, but we will go a lot farther by aiming high than aiming low.
The first test you can apply to your dream is: "Is it too big for me to fulfill without God's help?" If you can do it without His help, you are not dreaming big enough. If it's much bigger than you, you are on the right track. The Bible promises that all things are possible with God. Is your dream impossible enough? Does it go beyond you enough to qualify for God's help? Your dream should be so big that it takes your breath away, makes you temporarily weak in the knees, and makes you cry out to God for help and guidance.
Next, are you able to let this dream go, or does it keep bugging you? A God-given dream is a bothersome thing: it won't leave you alone! It keeps bobbing to the surface of your heart, clamoring for your mind's attention. If that's how your dream behaves, then it is probably from God. You also know it's a God-given dream if you are willing to devote every ounce of energy and every minute of your days to it. A dream inspires devotion like the devotion a parent has for a child: you would give your very life just to see it grow and find fulfillment.
Will your dream last forever? Many people pursue dreams built on things that will fade away. They dream of fame, but fame never lasts. Others build dreams on wealth, health or power, but none of these last more than a few decades at most. A dream cannot be built on ego. It cannot be built on tradition--because the company expects it or your family expects it. None of these foundations will support your dream.
You must build your dreams on something that will last. Only two things in the entire world will last forever: truth and people. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God's Word will never pass away. You have to build your dream on that never-changing foundation.
The second thing that lasts forever is people. God made human beings to last forever. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, to die for people. That's how we should spend our lives, too. If God Himself thought people were worth dying for, shouldn't we follow His example? In fact, the only way to minister to God is to minister to people, as He said, "When you've done it to the least of them, you've done it to Me" (see Matt. 25:40).
Your dream must be built on human need. Will it help people? Improve lives? Alleviate human suffering? Does it fill a need nobody else is filling? If so, you can be sure that dream is from God. The secret to happiness in life is pouring into other people, giving without expecting anything in return.
Finally, your dream should bring glory to God. The most horrible thing in life is to realize you have wasted months, years or decades following the wrong dream. Life is too precious to fritter away by building on a crumbling foundation. Many people lose their lives, not by dying, but by squandering their time.
So, you've identified your dream. If fills all the criteria of a dream from God Himself. How do you bring that dream to fruition? It's not about brute force, mindless energy or human calculation. Here are some steps that I have noticed people take on the road to reaching their dreams:
1. Get alone with God.
One reason people never discover their dream and purpose in life is that they never stop long enough to listen. They are like the World War II pilot who became lost over the ocean and radioed back, "I have no idea where I am or where I'm heading, but I'm making record time." Someone else said, "It's an ironic habit of the human race that we double our speed when we've lost our way."
We have to get alone with God and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still, and know that I am God." To get a vision from God, turn off the television. Get quiet. Let God talk to you. An Indian tribe in Oregon used to send young men out, when they came of age, with the instruction, "Don't come back until you have a vision." Those who got discouraged came back early. Those who stayed until they had a vision became the leaders of the tribe.
Paul spent three years in the desert listening to God before he began his ministry. That was his seminary education. He said: "God, what is the overarching, all-consuming passion of my life? What will I do until I die?" Once he discovered his dream, he lived an extraordinary life.
2. Review your gifts and talents.
Romans 12:6 says we each have gifts. God gave you the gifts you have; you didn't choose them. Fulfillment comes when you use those gifts for Him in service of your dream. Your gifts are the key to discovering God's will in your life.
Desire points us to our dreams. God uses desire to accomplish what He wants on this earth. How did He make sure the world was populated? He gave men and women a desire for each other to produce children. How did He make sure we cared for our bodies? He made us thirsty and made two-thirds of the planet water. He made us hungry and caused food to grow all around us.
God speaks to us through desires. Many Christians have come to think that their motives and desires are corrupt and untrustworthy, but the Bible says that if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things pass away, and all things become new (see 2 Cor. 5:17). That includes our desires! The Bible says you can have the mind of Christ within you. So what does it say about your desires? It says your desires, when you become a new creature, are changed. That's why God can say, "I want to give you the desires of your heart."
3. Review your experience.
We pay attention not only to our desires and talents, but also to our past history. This is a powerful thing. Romans 8:28 says, " ... All things work together for good. ... " God uses all things.
God can use your desires and talents to serve your larger goals. Even if it's a skill you don't particularly enjoy, you may find it opens doors for you at key times. Not everything in our past is bound to be good. Some people reading this may have lingering pain in their lives. Some went through a divorce, grew up with angry parents or struggled with alcohol. Some had abortions, filed for bankruptcy or endured hurts that cannot be easily explained.
But each of these problems falls into the category of "all things." God wants to integrate your hurts and difficulties into your life message. He never wastes circumstances, even bad ones. Before you became a believer, God was working to redeem the problems you faced. Not all things are good, but all things will work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Rom. 8:28).
Second Corinthians 1:4 says God helps us in our troubles so we can help others who have troubles, using the same help we ourselves have received from God. When you grasp that, it will change the way you view your life circumstances, and it will help you discover your dream.
4. Decide what's really important in life.
Paul wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful ... " (1 Cor. 10:23). Some things are not wrong, but they're just not necessary. They waste time. We might not have time to pursue every dream, so we must choose to spend time on what's important. Successful people learn to eliminate nonessentials, those things that won't matter 10 years from now. Invest your life in those things that will outlast you.
5. Begin to explore different avenues.
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 fulfillment of your dream has little to do with what our society considers success--it's much bigger than that. Are you dreaming big enough?Enlarge Your Tent
Tommy Barnett's cure for small-minded dreamers.
"Why is it that everyone else can think big, but pastors?" Tommy Barnett asked in a recent interview with Ministries Today. "When a man of God starts thinking big, people start praying, 'May God humble them.' "
In his new book, Reaching Your Dreams, Barnett, pastor of Phoenix First Assembly (PFA), encourages leaders and laypeople alike to "have a vision that's bigger than them."
"If we're going to reach the Donald Trumps, Bill Gates and Ted Turners of the world," he contends, "We're going to have to have a vision bigger than we are."
Whether it's an outreach, a building program or a long-term goal for growth, Barnett encourages pastors to keep people-- not programs--at the center of their vision.
"These are the dreams that ultimately build dependence on God," Barnett notes, citing a time as a boy when he attended a crusade in a municipal auditorium where 5,000 attended.
"I turned to my dad and said, 'Someday, I'm going to build a church this size,' " he recalls. "My dad said, 'If you keep your motives right, someday that will come to pass.' "
A dream must be about expanding the kingdom of God and bringing sinners into the fold. So when Barnett casts a dream, he's not just throwing it out to believers.
"The message of Reaching Your Dreams crosses a barrier," he says. "It meets the needs of Christian people and unbelievers."
This message is that, if a dream is not connected to God's purpose for one's life, it will never be fulfilling--even if it is reached.
Late in 2004, PFA launched 500 small groups on a seven-week study using material that will appear in Barnett's new book.
Small-group participants were specifically encouraged to invite unbelievers to their homes for one hour to watch a short video message from Barnett and discuss how God has placed dreams in everyone that only He can help us reach.
"In a lot of the home groups, unbelievers were crying," Barnett notes. "People are disappointed that they haven't reached their dreams."
Soon after beginning the outreach, reports started coming in of people being saved as a result of participating in the small groups.
But the most distinct difference between Reaching Your Dreams and other books designed for small groups is probably its emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit.
"The Holy Spirit is the one who helps Christians reach their dreams," Barnett says. "It is through fellowshiping with the Holy Spirit that we grow to understand what God has in store for us."
Reaching Your Dreams will be available April 1. For more information or a copy of the book, call 1-800-599-5750, or visit www.charismahouse.com. For information on the Reaching Your Dreams small-group starter kit (with DVDs, leaders' guides, outreach invitations and more), visit www.toreachyourdreams.com.
Tommy Barnett is the pastor of Phoenix First Assembly, an innovative congregation he has served for 24 years. Barnett is the author of several books, including his latest, Reaching Your Dreams (Charisma House), from which this article is adapted.