Holiness and the American Dream

I sat down at the new church, flipped through the bulletin, and noticed their mission statement was to help people "realize their dream and begin to live in it." (*1)

My first response was, Well that's an interesting way to word Mat 16.24. But the more I thought about it, the more it disturbed me. Their scriptural basis for the statement was Ps 37.4, which I believe is the proof text for every Prosperity Gospel message ever preached. But I'll come back to that later.

This "fulfill your dreams" message is alarming to me, because I simply don't see any such effort being made in Scripture; I see the opposite. When Christ gives an altar call it is a call to come and die. He doesn't promise to make you a better painter, singer, filmmaker, cook or interior designer. He promises two things: eternal life and a cross to die on (Jn 5.24, Mk 8.34, Lk 14.27).

Now, I'm a fan of the American dream as much as the next gal. I'm not the "Jesus-was-homeless-so-we-should-all-be-homeless" type. But I do believe Scripture presents us with a crystal clear road map of where God wants us to go and how he wants us to go there. And "realizing our dreams" isn't the goal. Check it out... Peter gives us a blueprint for how we are to think as Christians:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Pet 4.1-2, emphasis mine)

When Jesus called His twelve, did He say to the fishermen, "God wants you to be happy. What's your dream? If you could do anything, what would it be? Oh, you want to be martrys? That's a weird life goal, but ok... I can help you fulfill your dream," or did He say, "Leave your nets and follow Me?" (Mk 1.17,18; Lk 14.33)

He's not trying to improve the life you have. He's offering you a new one.

That's why Paul teaches that we've died with Christ (Ro 6.3,4) and in our new life we're slaves to righteousness (Ro 6.8,18 *2). "Slaves?" Don't you think that's a little harsh, Mr. Paul? What happened to God giving me the desires of my heart?

Let's return to Psalm 37.4 and take a quick look into the Hebrew. As you know, the English word "desire" can either refer to a yearning or the object we are yearning for (*3). But the Hebrew word for desire (מִשְׁאָלָה, mish'alah) doesn't have that same double meaning. Mish'alah only means the desire itself. The actual petition, prayer, or request; not the thing being requested (*4). Do you see where I 'm going with this?

"Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart" means He will literally be the source from which your desires come. He will put desires into your heart. His desires. His will. Why do you think Christ taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done" (Mt 6.10)? It's a plea for Psalm 37.4 to be fulfilled in us. A cry to possess the desires of God's heart.

Bob Pierce once prayed, "Oh, that my heart would be broken by the things that break the heart of God!" And it was that same Spirit who led Paul to write:

"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things 
and count them as rubbish, 
in order that I may gain Christ... 
that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, 
and may share his sufferings, 
becoming like him in his death, 
that by any means possible 
I may attain the resurrection from the dead." 
(Php 3.8,10-11)

At the end of the day, the question isn't "Will God bless me?" but "Will I bless God?" He can carry out His sovereign will without me (Lk 19.40), but He's given me the privilege of being part of His grand display of glory. Will I grasp His vision and refuse to let go of it?

During this especially patriotic time in America, I wonder if the church would pause our prayers for God to "restore our nation" long enough to pray He'd restore our hearts to His Nation (1 Pet 2.9).

*1 - Well, that was the second half. The first half said something about discovering Jesus, which is good, or I'd probably have taken issue with their use of the label "church." Since then (it's been almost a year), I've learned that the Pastor actually does interpret Ps 34.7 the same way I do. So what they mean by the mission statement is not to have people realize their own dreams but the dreams God gives them. Still, the idea that God is more concerned with our wills than His will is disgustingly popular in our nation today.
*2 - The Greek word δοῦλος (doulos, "slave") is used to describe our identity in Christ more than any other word in the New Testament. The way the apostles saw themselves was not primarily as "believers," not "Christians," not "Sons of God..." but slaves.
*3 - http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desire
*4 - http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H4862&t=ESV

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you Kristi. I actually cringe every time Psalm 37:4 is mentioned because of how grossly it is abused to justify selfishness.

    However, when it comes to the dreams part you are speaking of, it is important to note the entire statement reads: "URBAN exists to be an access point for people to discover Jesus Christ, realize their dream and begin to live in it." and it was written with Philippians 3:12-14 in mind.

    I believe dreams look different when one has truly gotten the revelation of who Jesus Christ is (discover Jesus Christ). No longer is it about my desires and what I want, instead it becomes about Him and what He wants to do with and through me (realize their dreams). Once you truly meet Him, you start living for Him, doing what He's called you to do, it's much like what Paul states in Galatians 2:20.

    So, when part of the mission statement is to help people "realize their dream and begin to live in it" it is important to note, the dream is actually not their own, but Christ's dream that it is now theirs. Which is why it is important that first people discover Jesus Christ.

    All of that being said, you are absolutely right, the invitation is to death, ministry is about dying so others may live, it has nothing to do with our own personal, selfish desires (which is why I love 2 Corinthians 4:11-12).