Should I pursue my dream? Or should I pursue obedience? It’s a question a lot of Christians face when thinking about career options or career changes. And today it comes to us from a listener to the podcast named Josh. “Hi, Pastor John, and thank you for the Ask Pastor John podcast. Recently, I’ve been thinking of a career change. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts that talk about creating your ‘dream job’ or simply call us to ‘follow your heart.’ Some of these podcasts are even hosted by Christians. I don’t want to get caught up in pursuing the ‘American Dream’ of being successful, making more, working less, and achieving my ‘full potential,’ especially if all of it is from a heart of earthly gain. But I also don’t want to ignore what I believe are God-given passions and talents in my life — or are they? — that would simultaneously give me a significant pay raise and lifestyle improvement. Is there a difference between pursuing our dreams and being obedient with the gifts and passions God has given us? Or are those the same thing?”
Well, let’s start like this: the Bible never says that the way you decide what you ought to do is by following what you want to do, and the Bible never says that the way you decide what you ought to do is by following what you don’t want to do. Or to say it another way: the Bible never teaches that if you want to do something, it’s wrong to do it, and the Bible never teaches that if you don’t want to do something, therefore it’s right to do it. Or let’s put it positively: the Bible teaches that you ought to love doing what you ought to do; it is right and good to love doing what is right and good.
Right to Delight
Moral action and satisfying action can be the same. For example, Romans 12:8 says to let the one who leads, lead “with zeal,” and let the one who does acts of mercy do them “with cheerfulness.” In other words, it’s right to lead and it’s right to do acts of mercy, and it’s right to love to do these things.
“We should pour our energy into becoming radically God-centered people, radically Christ-exalting people.”
Or 1 Peter 5:2 speaks to pastors like this: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” In other words, it’s right to shepherd the flock and it’s right to exercise oversight, and it’s right to do this willingly and eagerly. It’s right to love doing them, to enjoy doing them. Which is precisely what it says in Hebrews 13:17: “Let [your leaders lead] with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” In other words, it’s right for church leaders to lead, and it’s right for this leading to be joyful. They should love to lead God’s flock.
Or as the psalmist says in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” So, it’s right to do God’s will, and it’s right to delight to do God’s will.
But the Bible never makes our delight in doing something the sole criterion for deciding whether that something is right to do. That’s why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Until the day that we are perfected in the presence of Christ, there will be aspects of our desires that have to be denied in order to be faithful followers of Jesus. The life of obedience to Jesus will never be a life of only doing what we love to do. There will always be some measure of denying ourselves. The world is too harsh, pain is too real, and we are too sinful to think otherwise.
Every Christian’s Vocation
But it is just as wrong to think that all our natural gifting and all our natural passions should be stifled, or will be stifled, in the path of obedience. To use the words of Josh’s question that he asked, it is possible to be “obedient with the gifts and passions God has given us.” Those are Josh’s words, and that’s right; it is possible. Some dimensions of those gifts and passions may need to be denied. Some dimensions of those gifts and passions may need to be reoriented and transformed from man-centered pursuits to radically God-centered pursuits.
There’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? There’s the key: Are my dreams and my passions and my gifting — are they all being transformed by a radically God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated vision of reality? In other words, the key to living a life that is pleasing to God and fruitful for man is not to think you can calculate from your dreams or calculate from your gifting or calculate from your passions what precise path will be most fruitful for people and most faithful to God. I don’t think such calculation is possible for finite human beings. Only God can calculate things like that because God can work miracles through us in paths and in places we thought would be utterly pointless and fruitless, and bam — God works a miracle; they become tremendously fruitful.
Instead of that kind of calculation, I think we should pour our energy into becoming radically God-centered people, radically Christ-exalting people, radically Bible-saturated people, radically loving people, radically risk-taking, servant-like people. In other words, the lion’s share of our efforts in life should be to become a kind of person. Then, in ways that to me appear increasingly mysterious, God guides his people — his radically crazy, God-entranced, Christ-treasuring, Bible-permeated people — he guides us into some of the most surprising vocational pathways that we can imagine. It’s a great mystery to me how he does that so differently for so many different faithful Christians.
Dreams Drenched with Gospel Zeal
Sometimes, just hearing the passions and the ambitions of God-centered people stir us up to make changes in our lives that are mind-boggling. So, let me close by having Paul tell us about his dreams and ambitions from the Bible. Listen to Paul.
Acts 20:24: “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Romans 15:20: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named.”
Philippians 1:20–21: “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 3:13–14: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
So, my answer to Josh is this: if your dreams become as drenched with gospel zeal, and your gifts become as fervently bent toward magnifying Christ, and your passions become as thrilled with the glory of God as Paul’s, then yes, you can follow your dream.