We all have dreams of one kind or another. And in America, pursuing our dreams is a nearly sacred cultural value, a moral obligation even. But the Bible teaches us to be wary of our dreams.
“All of our dreams might be wonderful, or they might be wicked. The determining factor is what desires are fueling the dreams.”
Dreams can be things we desire to become, like a physician, business executive, missionary, or President of the United States. Dreams can also be things we desire to achieve, like earning a 4.0 GPA, making the varsity soccer team, authoring a book, or eradicating malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. Or dreams can be things we desire to possess, like a house, a million dollars, a graduate degree, or a hundred acres of wooded land. Some dream of marriage, or parenthood, or unencumbered singleness. Others dream of preaching, seeing miracles, increasing their public influence, or enjoying anonymity.
All of those dreams might be wonderful, or they might be wicked. The determining factor is what desires are fueling the dreams.
Desires Make All the Difference
Deep wants fuel all our dreams. Values fuel aspirations. Loves fuel longings.
We must never accept our dreams at face value, because dreams are the outworkings of deeper desires. And the nature of those desires makes all the difference in the moral and spiritual quality of our dreams. The Bible gives us numerous contrasting examples of good and evil desires fueling similar superficial actions — the pursuit of dreams.
Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God. Both desired God’s acceptance. God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. We don’t know why. All we know is God told Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). Something was horribly wrong with Cain’s deeper desires that shaped his pursuit of God’s acceptance, and it manifested in his murderous response to his rejected offering.
And then there’s Simon the Magician and Peter. Simon, a signs and wonders celebrity in Samaria, joined the Christian movement when he saw unprecedented spiritual power operating through Philip and the apostles. He earnestly desired such spiritual gifts, but not in the 1 Corinthians 12:31 sense. Simon dreamed of self-glory, which is why Peter called Simon’s desire for spiritual power “wickedness” (Acts 8:22). Peter and Simon both dreamed of seeing the Holy Spirit minister powerfully to people, but their dreams were fueled by very different desires.
Those examples are fairly black and white. But there’s another that perhaps strikes closer to home, for it illustrates the sort of mixed motives that often muddy our own dreams and desires.
When Kingdom Dreams Turn Satanic
“Deep wants fuel all our dreams. Values fuel aspirations. Loves fuel longings.”
Just after Peter made the Good Confession — “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) — he gave Jesus some evil counsel. Jesus had just informed the disciples he must go to Jerusalem, be killed, and then rise from the dead. Peter responded, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus called this counsel satanic because Peter was “not setting [his] mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).
There’s the rub: our fleshly mindset. That’s the core issue. Peter really did love Jesus and wanted to serve him. He got so much right. And yet, “the things of man” were mixed into his dreams about the kingdom of God. He was so blind to his presumptions, and then so confident in his perspective, that he sought to correct the Christ, the Son of the living God.
This account should unnerve us, for we are all like Peter. Mixed into our genuine, Spirit-birthed kingdom desires are “the things of man,” fleshly desires that if we are not discerning will be manipulated by Satan to hinder rather than help the advance of the kingdom. These desires shape our dreams, our aspirations.
Which means we must wary of our dreams. We must question them carefully and pursue the same kind of submission of our desires that Jesus displayed, so that we end up pursuing the dreams of God.
Your Will Be Done
Jesus did share the dreams of God because his desires aligned with the Father’s. But in Gethsemane, those desires were sorely tested. Jesus endured an unfathomable agony of horrific anticipation, agony that might have killed him had he not been destined to die on the cross (Matthew 26:38). As he stared into the cup the Father was giving him to drink, the cup of propitiation, the cup of sin’s condemnation — not of Jesus’s sins, but of ours — every part of his humanity recoiled, and he found himself deeply desiring for the cup to pass from him.
“Even while sweating blood in torturous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, ‘Not as I will, but as you will.’”
But deeper still was a spiritual desire that his human desire be submitted to his Father’s desire. For Jesus trusted that the Father’s desire would result in the greatest good for the greatest glory of the triune God and the greatest joy possible for all the saints — God’s one great dream. And so, even while sweating blood in torturous expectation of his impending execution, Jesus exclaimed to the Father, “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
And this must be our prayer too. But unlike Jesus, sin still lingers in us — “things of man” desires mixing with “things of God” desires — which, if we are not careful, can turn our pursuit of kingdom dreams into satanic diversions. So in addition, let us pray:
Whatever it takes, Lord, align my desires with yours, so that my dreams align with your purposes. Let your will be done through me.