Q: How do you keep hope alive when it feels like all the dreams that you thought were good, God-given, and biblically sound seem to have been taken away by God Himself? I feel too old to be dreaming new dreams (How does one even come up with new ones?), and frankly, it now feels too dangerous to do so anyway.
A: How do you keep hope alive when dreams are dashed to pieces? All of your dreams, you say? While I don’t know your circumstances, I certainly can remember deep discouragements while pursuing what I felt to be the will of God. Unlike the cliché, I didn’t find that when God closed a door, a window automatically opened. Instead, I was left to wrestle with God in my disappointment.
There are examples of human discouragement/weariness peppered throughout Scripture as well as exhortations to not grow weary. And while it’s all fine and good to exhort someone not to be weary, discouraged, or disillusioned, how do we practically ward off these feelings and press on?
Look unto Christ, Not Your Circumstances
Pastor John Onwucheka recently noted at a conference, “If you want to figure out what God is doing, your present circumstances are probably the worst place to look.”
Right now, it may indeed seem as if God has taken away your dreams. It can feel crippling when Christ strips you of everything and you are left with only Him. When that happens, however, it can be one of the sweetest invitations he will ever offer. He is the dream. In all our missions, plans, and service, don’t miss Christ Himself, who is altogether lovely.
The most “God-given and biblically sound dream” you could offer to God is true worship from the heart: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23). Sometimes in our zeal to serve and build a ministry that central focus can get lost. It has been the kindness of God to call me back to this when I have forgotten my first love. That may not necessarily be your experience, but while your dreams seem to be on hold, do not neglect to linger at his feet. What Christ wants most from us is . . . us.
Rest in Offering Empty Hands
One of my greatest fears is to be seen as useless in the kingdom of God. I’m one of those women whose Martha-ambition fights against her Mary-devotion. God in His kindness has not allowed me to trade my works for sitting at His feet in worship. Once I made the mistake of lamenting to Dr. Ray Ortlund that I feared I was destined to be nothing but a “pew-sitter” in Christ’s Church. Instead of sympathizing with my self-pity, he challenged me: “if Christ is calling you to sit in church, then follow Him into the pew. If He is there you will not suffer harm.”
One Sunday as I sat in that pew, I read Proverbs 30:8: “Give me neither poverty nor riches but feed me with the food that is my portion.” I began asking God to give me a heart that rejoiced in what He gave rather than resenting what He withheld. As a writer, I have prayed before I submitted any article, “Lord, grant the editor discernment. Don’t let me be overly pleased with acceptance, nor take rejection too much to heart. If my hands are empty yet I am filled with more of You, I will rejoice.”
Die to Self
Peter had head/heart disconnect struggles, too, especially when Jesus told him he would die a martyr’s death. Martyrdom wasn’t on Peter’s “5 Steps to Success” plan. He wanted another option. What sort of plan did Jesus have for his other disciples? Peter looked at John, the “favorite.”
“Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus replied, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:18–22).
Our dreams will have more meaning when we see them through the lens of Christ instead of our own aspirations. It may take dying to self many times. Or, to quote John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”
Consider Supporting Another’s Dream
As I, too, am growing older and dreams seem to take more energy than my aging body grants me, God seems to be encouraging me to look for where He is already at work and invest in the younger generation who need our encouragement, counsel, and prayers. Do you remember what it was like to be young, full of hopes and dreams, and yet unsure? What would you have given to have an older, godly woman at your side cheering you on? Perhaps that looks like funding a backyard Bible club or providing oversight for a women's Bible study? It might mean meeting with one young lady every Saturday morning for breakfast. Don’t be afraid to do the small things for the Lord and call them dreams, too. If God can feed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, imagine what He will do in and through a willing heart that serves faithfully, year after year.
I believe that in heaven, we will enjoy the greatest movie night of all time (complete with buttered popcorn of course) where we’ll sit back and play a movie called Life, and we will get to see something hidden to us now—what the Lord was doing on a thousand fronts that seemed, on this side of heaven, to be pointless. We will watch through tears how the Lord used every drop of pain and suffering in our lives for His glory, and we will say, it was worth it.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner endured the loss of her marriage, a child, and even her own health. She writes, “When dreams are shattered, when faith is shaken, when there’s no easy way out, God is doing his most important work.”
We need reminders that this life is passing away, and that our “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18).
We need reminders that in all our plans and dreams, we must remember Christ.