I am becoming increasingly convinced, as I get older, that God does not demand our obedience simply because it honors him. That is, of course, a true and healthy reason to do it; and I wouldn’t even bothering arguing with someone who insists that it is the primary reason. Still, as I come to more deeply experience God’s love, I’d suggest that God demands our obedience because he wants us to become the people we were truly created to be.
Because only God sees the final picture, he’s therefore the only one capable of making it happen. Without our obedience—our submission to God’s vision of us, which is far bigger than anything we can come up with—the end result is a tragedy that only God can comprehend and experience the full depths of. The suffering we see and experience is but a rough fragment of that. In fact, I think that’s why Jesus became so angry with the Pharisees. They saw a broken law as an excuse to claim superiority. Jesus saw it as a sin so profound that only he could die to remove it.
Yet we insist on pursuing our own ways, our own visions of life. After all, we live in the Land of Opportunity, Where Dreams Come True®. All sarcasm aside, sometimes our dreams are genuinely God-given. Even then, however, they are God’s to dispense with as he pleases.
God has often blessed us by giving us the desires of our hearts. The thing about following Jesus, though, is that he keeps us moving. We’re never going to reach our destination here on earth. If we’re following Jesus, we’re always going to be moving forward, even if it doesn’t feel that way much of the time. And moving forward almost always means leaving things behind—even good things. At the very least, as Jesus changes us, our relationships with whatever or whoever comes along with us will also be changed.
As Jesus changes us, we also begin to let go of whatever keeps us from following him wholeheartedly. As we’ve seen, sometimes that’s sin; sometimes it’s our personal agendas or ambitions; sometimes we need to let go of lifelong dreams because they’ve become our idols. Sometimes, however, we even need to let go of good things, so that God can give us something even better—or transform those good things into something even better. In fact, God often doesn’t show us “the better thing” until we’ve given him what he’s asked us to give him.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in The Cost of Discipleship, “The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. . . . We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life.”
We must be careful not to love our dreams for their own sake. We are to love the One who gives us those dreams and takes joy in fulfilling them, and share in his joy. Our joy and our longing are not always related. The joy produced by longing also delivers the promise of fulfillment, while longing without joy usually devolves into depression, decadence, or both, depending on your moral inclinations. It is the joy of God’s fulfillment, not the longing toward the dream’s fulfillment, which should be desired.
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7–11)
We have a long way to go. Whatever dreams we have right now, even the ones God has placed in our hearts, are but “see[ing] in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). They’re an infinitesimally small part of an infinitely larger picture. So lay down your dreams, so God can create what he intends from them.
Lay It Down Today
Reread Philippians 3:7–14. What’s the one thing—no matter how good or bad it is in itself—that you sense God is calling to you to surrender? What better thing(s) do you sense, even now, God may want to give you? And even if your answer to one or both of those questions is “I don’t know,” are you willing to trust God anyway?
If something came to mind in response to that first question, commit that thing to God now. Decide that no matter how many times you might fail—how many times you take that thing back—you’ll trust God more and more to help you to let it go. Then, ask him to help you receive what he wants to give you. If you’re comfortable doing so, turn your palms downward as if you’re releasing that thing. Then, turn your palms upward to receive what God wants to give you—even if you have no idea what it is. It might even be that same thing, only changed. But let God have his way with it.