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I was buckling myself in for a four-hour layover flight from Dallas to Nashville, when I noticed the thirty-something guy sitting next to me. Actually, it's more accurate to say I was noticing his stylish, brown leather computer bag he was stuffing under the seat in front of him.
"Cool bag..." I commented. "Where did you get it?"
Somewhere between him telling me the source of his shopping find and me telling him I was on my way to speak at a spiritual retreat for the military and their spouses, a more important question entered into our conversation.
"So, how do you know if the dream you have is the dream God wants for you too?" It turns out my fellow passenger was a Christian too.
When I told him I published a book recently exploring this idea — thinking it was too late for my dreams to come true – he told me about his own dreams. "But, it seems selfish to go and pursue your dreams when there are so many more important needs out in the world," he said.
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My fellow sojourner of faith was asking questions we all struggle with.
I call it The Dream Dilemma: how do we know if the dreams we want to pursue are the ones God wants us to invest in too?
We all have dreams we once longed to explore -- or maybe we've never even given ourselves permission to consider what our God-given dreams are.
If that’s true for you, here are 5 questions I asked my new friend. They may also help you break out of the dream dilemma and pursue your own God-given dreams:
1. Is God prompting you to re-engage with your dream? The first dream may have to die in order for you to discover a new version of your dream. Different audience. Different slant. Different place.
Before the dream God gave Joseph as a child could come true (Genesis 37), his dreams of a happy childhood had to first die. Joseph's dream also came true under the most unlikely place of pain and betrayal. Don't look at numbers or past failure. Be aware of opportunities to re-engage in your dream, even if it doesn't look like it could lead to anything. Follow God's prompting.
2. Do you need to try something radically different? Sometimes we stick with what's safe and known, but God may want you to exercise your faith instead choosing certainty.
It’s too late, you tell yourself. You’ve moved on. But Jesus sees the empty nets you’ve left.
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Jesus says, “Cast the net on the [other] side of the boat and you will find a catch” (John 21:6).
Bring your heart back to life by responding to God's invitation to walk by faith rather than hiding your heart behind what' safe and known.
What are the empty nets Jesus may be calling you to pick up again? Try something radically different. It's not too late.
3. Is it time to make new friends to explore your God-given dreams? Sharing your dreams with the wrong people can kill your spirit, but soulful friends give us encouragement and comfort.
When Jesus sent his disciples two by two on a missionary journey, he told them not to take anything unnecessary, but he made sure to send them off with a kindred spirit -- a friend to experience the journey together. Maybe like me, there have been toxic people in your life who have wounded your heart and you’ve lost your voice.
Make new friends who share a common interest in what you're passionate about.
4. Are you wearying yourself out trying to figure out a plan? Instead of striving to make your version of the dream come true, create spiritual whitespace to rest and refresh. Take time to rest. Feed your soul. Listen for God's invitation for you.
When two of John the Baptist's disciples asked Jesus where he was staying, instead of an answer, Jesus extended an invitation -- inviting them to experience a new way of living with him.
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"Come and see." Jesus said. (John 1:35-41)
Make rest your one ambition (1 Thess. 4:10-11). We often strive to make things happen. But if you surrender you plans and nourish your soul, you can hear God speak and guide you.
Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard said, "Now with God's help, I shall become myself."
5. How can you choose presence over performance? Your God-given dreams are connected to being God's child, not his project.
Growing up in a traditional evangelical church culture, I had been exposed primarily to one expression of a life surrendered to God: vocational ministry, missions, working in a church or working for non-profit service organizations.
I had often felt guilty for wanting to pursue anything outside of vocational ministry. I thought loving God with my whole being meant giving up my dreams in order to serve others.
But, I've recently discovered a deeper, spiritual journey of the heart.
God values our presence over our performance.
God doesn't want a carbon copy of recruits, filling job openings in His Kingdom.
After Jesus healed the man from Gerasenes from a legion of demons, you'd think Jesus let the man leave with him and follow him on his many kingdom journeys.
Instead, Jesus asked him to return to his everyday life -- to shine as His light, in his own way.
The God who creates a different sunset every night, longs to shine for Him through our unique ways.
Faith should enable us to break out of stereotypes and the pressures of conformity to gain acceptance or to people please.
The people Jesus wants to reach in this world may very well be the people connected to the dreams He puts on your heart.Because God's mission field isn't out there. God's mission field is in you. And me. We are His new creation. New in this very generation. New in such a time as this.
Make space in your life to explore the God-given dreams in you.
Make space to be you.
Bonnie Gray was named as Publisher’s weekly top 6 new religion authors. She is the author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest. For more encouragement on uncovering your God-given dreams, grab a copy of her new book to rest or visit her at FaithBarista.com, where Bonnie serves up shots of faith for the everyday grind.