• Scott Watkins

What To Do About Unfulfilled Dreams

I have dreamed of doing a lot of different things. When I was young, I wanted to be a professional musician. In high school, I saw myself becoming an entrepreneur and starting a successful business. After graduating from business school and taking a job at a large corporation, I envisioned reaching a senior level leadership position. After working in middle management for many years, I dreamed of retiring early and doing something more meaningful.

I have other dreams beyond vocation, things I hope to happen financially, relationally, creatively. But I have noticed as time goes by a similar pattern. My dreams become smaller and more practical, until they become little more than a hope that the bad part of life hurries along, so I can get to the good part. Meanwhile, my list of unfulfilled dreams grows.

Our culture has a lot to say about pursuing dreams. The current message says our dreams are the path to becoming the best version of ourselves. Still, as a Christian I am mindful of verses like Matthew 16:24, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’, or Philippians 2:3, ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit’. To me, these verses caution against pursuing what I want.

So, I grapple with the question, what should I do about my unfulfilled dreams?

I recently heard a podcast that offered this helpful insight. To be successful, we must prioritize becoming someone over doing something. (Link to the podcast here.)

Often, we use our dreams, abilities and passions as inputs to determine what we want do for God. But when we focus all our attention on accomplishing a particular goal and become less attuned to God’s desires, we risk becoming like the husband who gives an impersonal gift to his wife. The thought may be nice, but it doesn’t build a relationship.

Peter dreamed of helping Jesus come to power as a ruling Messiah, and Jesus corrected Peter saying, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ Jesus told Peter what was wrong with his dream. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Matthew 16:23, NIV)

The same thing can happen to us when we are consumed by what we want to achieve for God. We can become absorbed with merely human concerns. Our efforts are better spent becoming someone than doing something. A person, as Pastor John Piper describes it, that is radically God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, risk-taking, loving, and servant-like. As we develop, we become more aligned with God. Then, our works are not impersonal gifts, but intimate offerings for a God we love deeply. And in his great love, he leads us to do things that surpass what we dreamed for ourselves.

When I left my corporate job, I discovered God’s pattern through hard experience. I was eager to do things for God, but he was more interested in doing things inside of me. After several vocational fails, I am beginning to understand, God doesn’t need anything from me. He wants to make me into someone who looks like him. And as he is forming me and giving me better dreams.

So, what should we do about our unfulfilled dreams?

If you are aligned with God’s concerns, pursue them. Dream big, have faith, take risks, work hard, don’t settle or ignore the passions inside of you. God has blessed you with good works to do for his kingdom.

But if your dreams are born from ‘human concerns’, understand this. God doesn’t want to kill your dreams. He doesn’t want you to bury them. He wants to transform them by transforming you. If you let him, you will do more than you dreamed.