“Follow Your Dreams?”
Bradley Trout, GWC ERF (Evangelical Research Fellowship) PhD student
I remember once attending a talk at a high school where the speaker – some accomplished athlete – was telling the story of how he overcame great odds and succeeded. His message basically came down to this: “Don’t let fear hold you back; follow your dreams.”
“Follow your dreams” is common advice today. But there’s a problem with all this talk of your “dreams”, “goals”, or “resolutions” – and the problem is this:
Your dreams and God’s dreams for you might not be the same thing.
The real question is not “What are your dreams, goals, resolutions for 2017?”; the real question is “What does God want for you?”
A good way to answer this question is to look at the prayers of Paul. For example, Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians shows us what his dreams for the church were. The prayer helps show us what our real goals/ambitions/dreams/resolutions should be this year.
Here’s the prayer:
For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
There is much we must skip over, but let’s look at what Paul basically asks God to do for the people of this church. Here are the kind of things we should dream for and ask God to accomplish in us.
First, Paul prays that they might be strengthened to be Christ’s dwelling place:
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
The prayer could be asking either for the inner strength that is Christ living in their hearts, or for the inner strength that results in Christ living in their hearts. (Greek nerds: it depends on the nature of the infinitive katoikēsai here. Does it act epexegetically or denote a result?) In 2:22 Paul has told the Ephesians that “you too are being built together to become a dwelling (katoikētērion) in which God lives by his Spirit”. So here he seems to be asking that they would be strengthened so as to be a suitable dwelling place for God. “This project God is doing in you; he is making you his temple… May you receive the strength you need in order to be Christ’s temple.” That’s what God wants for us.
Second, Paul prays that they might grasp Christ’s love:
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ…
If the first prayer was for power to be Christ’s dwelling place, this prayer is for power to grasp the vastness of Christ’s love.
(Greek nerds: the phrase “being rooted and established in love” consists of two participles related to the verb “may have power,” so they are not ideas in their own right, but qualify the verb, perhaps instrumentally [“by means of”] or causally [“because”]).
It is a prayer that they would know – really know – Christ’s love. Earlier Paul has prayed that they might know God better and know the hope to which they were called (1:17-18); now he prays that they’ll know Christ’s love, which is demonstrated in the fact that he “gave himself up for us” (5:2).
Have you ever put money in a vending machine but not had the coin drop down properly? There is no effect until that coin drops – hence the expression “the penny dropped,” meaning that someone put two and two together and understood something. Here Paul prays that the “penny would drop,” that they would get it, that the wonderful extent of Christ’s love would overwhelm and transform them. That’s what God wants for us.
Third, Paul prays:
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
This could be either Paul’s third request or a summary of the previous two requests (it depends on how we understand the conjunction hina here). Paul has used this “fullness” language at several other points in Ephesians. In 4:13 he talks of attainting to the “fullness” of Christ as we mature. In 5:18 he refers to being “filled” by the Spirit. And in 1:23 we read that the church is “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” So being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” seems to mean being spiritually mature, being filled with the Spirit, producing the fruit of the Spirit, and again being God’s dwelling place in this world – effectively demonstrating his presence through our love and good deeds.
That’s what God wants for his people!
So let us lay aside our dreams – whether they be acquiring degrees, finding partners, making money, or whatever – and ask with Paul that God make us into a dwelling place for Christ, that God enable us to grasp Christ’s love, and that we attain to the maturity of Christ.
In short, may we be like Jesus. What more could we dream of?