What do you think about when someone talks about having a dream? I always become curious to know more. Sometimes, people talk about a crazy dream that seems to have no real meaning or substance. At other times, I hear someone describe a dream of developing a new ministry or business, expanding a current one, or making a major move/transition. When I hear that kind of conversation, I listen carefully to the details and look for key components.
To me, dreams that have substance are ones that create passion. An individual who speaks about a dream with amazing passion moves me. You can see it in the eyes, hear it in the voice, and observe it in the body language. The subject comes up often, he/she is relentless that the dream needs to become a reality, and the person begins to consider how it might be financed.
I believe God has endowed each of us with gifts and talents that fit into the plan He has for our lives. At times, our past life experiences can cloud our ability to see just how God might use our gifts. Some may struggle with finding the way to their calling and need to understand the difference between a burden and a calling.
I grew up in church and can remember missionaries from around the world telling stories and showing photos of their work. On each occasion, I would feel a burden for whatever part of the world and ministry the missionary presented. Years later, I realized that a burden does not necessarily mean a calling. We can have empathy for many areas of ministry, but it doesn’t automatically mean that we’re supposed to go there or get involved.
When God calls us to a specific ministry, He puts a dream in our hearts that we cannot shake. It is a burden beyond all other burdens. We think of it often and can see down the road to its fulfillment. We may even have dreams in our sleep that we are accomplishing the goal or are already living it out.
I believe God gives each of us a dream!
D.L. Moody said on his deathbed, “If God is your partner, make your dreams and plans big.”
Conrad Hilton said, “To accomplish big things, I am convinced you must first dream big dreams.” Dreaming big is not enough! We’ve all met dreamers who never take the next step. He also said, “Your dreams must be backed up with much prayer and hard work or it has no hands and feet.”
God wants all the glory!
Our own dreams, visions, or goals often have to die, be crushed, or fail in order to get us out of the way. Why? So, God can revive the vision His way, in His timing, for His glory! This is the hard part for us.
“… for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13, NIV).
“… all things work together for good...” (Romans 8:28, ESV).
The need is the call.
In Nehemiah 1:2-3, Nehemiah had a dream to see His people free. Notice how Nehemiah’s calling came. It did not come from a prophecy seminar, an angel’s visit, an audible voice, or a burning bush. I believe the need was the call! When he heard his brothers sharing what was happening back in Jerusalem, his heart broke and he immediately went to his knees. Our hearts must guide our dreams. Too many people want a divine revelation or heavenly visitation before they will do anything. What’s wrong with this picture? The Word clearly tells us to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, NIV). This is a great time to ask ourselves:
- What walls are broken down in my reality?
- What needs in your community are screaming out for my attention?
- What is this generation searching for and needing?
- And how do we, as Christians, respond to these needs?
This generation is disconnected from the organized church. We must find innovative ways to reach them, by relating, listening, and caring without allowing their indifference to offend us. We cannot force them into a formalized church culture, they don’t relate to that. At the same time, like anyone else, they would love to find out how to have a better life.
We're also seeing young people drop out of school at alarming rates because they don’t see how or why they should finish. We are also seeing record numbers of teen suicides because of hopelessness. Physical and sexual abuse continues to plague kids, with broken homes contributing to the largest percentage of teens who find themselves in trouble in school. Giving in to discouragement and depression, addiction often then becomes a way of easing the pain and escaping the stress of life.
Do you hear the call yet? Those in addiction around the world are calling out to each of us. Whether they know it at this moment or not, they want the Truth and hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
We can use the role model of Nehemiah to consider the needs of this world as he considered the needs of his day. Nehemiah had a dream and paid a price to see his dream become a reality. We, too, must be willing to pay a price to see a dream come to fruition.
Here are some additional truths that surround the cost of a dream:
It requires personal sacrifice.
Nehemiah took action when he received the call. He had to be willing to risk his life by coming before the king with a sad face. He was willing to do so, which is a characteristic that separated him from those who never accomplish a dream.
He was also willing to leave his family, friends, and comfort zone. He had security and a job in the king’s service. He was not personally responsible for Jerusalem’s condition, yet he was willing to fulfill the dream God put in his heart and ask the king for his support. He even asked for timber from the king’s forest and safe travel. That is amazing. He gave up his security and believed God for the provision to meet the needs of his people. He then committed his personal finances and continued to move forward.
Notice that in this story there was no angel giving him instructions. There was no cloud by day or fire by night. There was no resounding voice from heaven telling him how to take each step. No one wrote on a wall with directions. Nehemiah followed his heart and instincts. He followed the voice of the Lord in his heart and spent ample time in prayer and fasting to assure himself of God’s blessings.
Criticism is to be expected.
In Nehemiah 4:1-2, 7-8, we read about Sanballat threatening Nehemiah. This scripture helped me to realize that personal criticism is not new in my lifetime. Many leaders of the Bible and men and women who accomplish great things for God have had to contend with personal criticism. Sometimes, it comes from those you least expect. It saddens me when someone begins to see a dream become a reality and others start to criticize it. Often, it’s because the one with the dream is doing more than they are, and tearing the person down makes them feel better about themselves.
I remember when I overheard one of my peers say, “Jerry won’t be able to sustain all the Teen Challenge centers he is opening. He is moving too fast and he can’t support the growth.” I often have Teen Challenge leaders share about an individual or group criticizing them. I tell them, “Just succeed and pay no attention to the criticism unless the criticism has merit.” Speaking from personal experience, just plan on some criticism, it's part of the process. Knowing and expecting it ahead of time makes it easier to pray through it.
Dreams will always be challenged, tested, and proven. You will be criticized. However, if God has planted a dream in your heart – a vision for reaching the lost or enlarging your borders – keep moving forward and let people say what they want. Focus on the need and hang onto it like a pit bull on a lamb chop! Remember that God will see you through and you only have to answer to Him.
Risk and high personal commitment are involved.
We see in Nehemiah that the people who were helping to rebuild the wall were risking death. Nehemiah felt the responsibility of completing his task and keeping the people safe from harm. In doing so, he shows us the character traits of endurance and tenacity.
Nehemiah ran the risk of failure. To accomplish something great for God, we too must be willing to do so. Risk is the equivalent of faith, and one must learn to know when to take the necessary risks and steps of faith to succeed. It’s what separates good leaders from great leaders.
On top of everything else, in chapter six Nehemiah had to contend with a false prophet who, paid off by Nehemiah’s enemies, prophesied against him. Think about that – Nehemiah had a priest falsely prophesy for personal gain. We, too, must consider the words of someone who, using a spiritual role in the wrong way, may criticize or threaten a dream. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes a Christian leader will be the first to try and stop a dream. I’ve seen it happen.
Nehemiah also had to deal with the practical realities of his workers becoming discouraged, losing their strength, and many obstacles, including too much rubble. “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10, NIV). You’re in the middle of it, your workers are giving out, and there are too many things in the way of finishing the task. Sound familiar? Every building project I have been involved in has had similar issues.
It’s harder to rebuild than to start from scratch. The rubble was too much and it took a personal commitment to God’s call for Nehemiah to get past it. Rubble, though, gives us the opportunity to rebuild the broken, which is the business we are in and the business that God is in… making something beautiful from the rubble.
The Teen Challenge mission of putting hope within reach of every addict is to reach out to the hopeless and give them hope. It is taking the captive and watching Jesus set them free.
Long-term personal commitment means not quitting when the first major crisis hits when the money is tight, or when the laborers are few. Philippians 4:19 (KJV) tells us, “…God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul said, “I’ve finished the course, I’ve kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NASB).
At Teen Challenge, we pray hard, work hard, and believe God to bless the work. We are all about giving sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, and befriending the lonely. Always remember that we’re not alone… God loves rubble! He loves burned-over stones, broken hearts, and drug addicts.
Therefore, your dream is worth it. Just remember that if you are going to see a dream fulfilled, you will pay the price through personal sacrifice, criticism, commitment, and risk. AND, if you are faithful, your dream will one day become a reality! Nehemiah 6:15-16 (NIV) concludes that “… the wall was completed… When our enemies heard about this, and all surrounding nations saw it, our enemies lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.”
God will make a way and He gets all the glory. Someone said, “The poorest man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream." True dreams begin at Calvary.
God bless you as you dream!
Jerry Nance, PhD
Global Teen Challenge