Chase the dream God has for you.
by Trevin Wax
Be true to yourself. You do you. Follow your heart.
These slogans capture the widespread view in our day that the purpose of life is to look deep inside yourself, get in touch with your desires, and figure out exactly who you want to be (and expect everyone to affirm and applaud your identity). This passes for common sense these days. You find these sayings on bumper stickers, in graduation ceremony speeches, and in pop songs and TV shows. It’s the cultural water we swim in.
I call this the “Look In” approach to life, because according to this way of thinking, the priority in life is to look inside yourself in order to discover who you truly are and then to take hold of your authentic self and emerge with it intact and uncompromised.
We’ve gotten so used to this kind of message in our world that many of us don’t even question it. The apostle Paul tells us, however, that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds. (See Rom. 12:1.) We should stand out and be different. And we need to teach our kids the same, to know the difference between “being true to yourself” and being true to Jesus, between “following your heart” and following Jesus.
The Power of Easter
The best place to start is at the center of the gospel message: the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We live in a world where everyone wants to be the best version of themselves — to look within and find and celebrate their deepest self — and so we expect the message at church is going to line up with that view. We expect the church to help us be better people, to help us chase our dreams and become truer to ourselves, and to give us good advice on being a better person.
Easter morning upends all our expectations for how the world is supposed to work. We expect an infomercial but get a newsflash. It’s news. We must remember that the heart of our faith is the stunning announcement that Jesus of Nazareth died for our sins and then walked out of the grave. This isn’t an explanation for how to be a better you. It’s not information about how to have a better life. This is the good news about resurrection life.
The gospel tells us that God is reclaiming this fallen world and will restore it one day to unimaginable glory. God is rescuing people from their sin, changing hearts and minds, and setting us on a path for greater glory, where we will grow into the image of the Savior who redeemed us.
The world says, “Look inward to find salvation.” The gospel says, “Look up.” Look up to the God who loved you while you were still a sinner. Look up to the God who in the person of Jesus Christ came to rescue you. Look up to the God who can save you when you can’t save yourself.
Only God is strong enough to withstand the weight of all our hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties. Start with yourself and you’ll collapse. Start with community and you’ll conform. Start with God and you’ll come into your own by finding your truest self in relation to Him.
A Neglected Message
One of the biggest challenges we face in the church today is a rising generation of believers who, yes, look up to God, but they do so last in terms of priority. They’re still captive to the “Look In” approach. The problem, then, is when you’re the one who defines who you are, your relationship with God gets established on your own terms. You may have a spiritual side, but you’re living as if you’re the ultimate authority in your life.
Those of us who love Jesus and long for our children and grandchildren to follow Jesus shouldn’t settle for raising up children who will just have a “spiritual side.” We want to see the next generation be Spirit-filled. We want the next generation to be radically, extraordinarily driven by a passion for knowing and loving God. Church isn’t just a place of moral instruction where we babysit kids and tell them how to be nice to each other. It’s the place where our eyes and our ears and all of our attentions are to be reoriented, week after week, to the God who created and saved us. Let’s not teach our kids how to make God in their image, but remind them that they’re already made in His.
So, what can we do? Here are three suggestions.
SPOT THE “LOOK IN” APPROACH
As parents, we should be aware of the music, movies, and books our children are engaging. We need to learn to spot the “Look In” approach to life in all sorts of entertainment and in many of the messages our children are hearing constantly. For example, “I can be whatever I want to be or do whatever I want to do” is a common theme. “Do what’s best for you and don’t let anyone stifle you, including your parents” is another.
These themes are most evident in kids’ entertainment, especially Disney movies. I’m pointing this out not so we will boycott popular media, but so that we will learn how to engage the messages in these films critically. Let’s discuss films, music, and books with our kids so they’re not swallowing uncritically everything they hear on all the platforms they consume. Our children need to understand what the Bible truly says concerning the purpose of life.
REGULARLY REINFORCE A GOD-CENTERED VIEW
Everything in the world is geared toward making us think about ourselves. It’s the natural drift of the human heart, and more than that, it’s what appeals to us. What we need to teach our kids is a deliberate and counter-cultural emphasis on God — who He is, what He is like, and what He says in His Word.
A God-centered view of the world must be evident in both our messages and our modeling. When we tell Bible stories to our kids, God must be at the center. We don’t teach our kids Bible stories just so that they get a moral basis for their lives. We don’t give the gospel to our teenagers just so they can develop a spiritual side. We want them to see God for who He is, to show how utterly compelling and awe-inducing and frightening and beautiful God is.
Everywhere else in the world, messages are tailored to what kids and students feel they need the most. In the church and in the home, though, we must tailor our messages not to what they feel but to what their hearts crave more than they even know: The God who made them, who loved them, and who is at the blazing center of all things.
Kids don’t learn to put God first just by receiving a message; they need to see it modeled. Are we showing them what a life devoted to God looks like? Are we demonstrating that we look up before we look in? Are we as parents modeling a God-first way of life? Kids and teenagers can sniff out hypocrisy faster than many adults can. They know when our lives don’t line up with our message.
POINT OUR ATTENTION UPWARD
There are two ways to go about this: One is through spiritual disciplines, making church attendance a priority and helping our kids and students develop plans for Bible reading, prayer, and using apps that keep them accountable. Of course, it’s all well and good to give them general spiritual disciplines.
But something better for them, as we parent kids and teenagers, is that we realize the primary temptations they’re facing. We need to introduce specific, subversive spiritual disciplines to combat the temptations that would lead them to put God in second or third place instead of first.
For example, if their temptation is popularity, perhaps suggesting they take breaks from social media would be a “subversive spiritual discipline.” If the desire for material possessions is their vice, maybe the discipline would be going above and beyond the tithe. If spending time for oneself is the temptation, perhaps the response would be to babysit for free for single moms in your church. Talk with your children about what they hold on to most tightly and figure out ways together to help loosen those grips on things they feel they need, but, in reality, are idols in their lives. A “subversive spiritual discipline” is a habit that subverts a temptation that would lead us to “look in” before looking up. And what we want most for our children is for them to look up first.
The Greater Adventure
Remember the good news: The “real you” isn’t the person who continually stumbles and falls in the pursuit of your dreams. The real you is when you look most like yourself and most like Jesus, when you’re everything God made you to be, following the goals and purposes He has for you. Our kids are like kings or queens who wait for the day of coronation. They, like all believers, are in a procession toward the moment when they will wear a crown. We’re defined by our future, not by our past.
So whenever we hear the common-sense wisdom of the world telling us to chase our dreams and follow our hearts, telling us that we’re enough and should be true to ourselves, take a pause. It’s time to remind ourselves and our children of the greater adventure: Be true to your future self, know that you aren’t enough — but Jesus is. Follow the heart of God and chase the dream He has for the world.
Trevin Wax is senior vice president of Theology and Communications at Lifeway Christian Resources and a visiting professor at Wheaton College. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin hosts a blog at The Gospel Coalition and regularly contributes to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today, which named him one of 33 millennials shaping the next generation of evangelicals. Trevin is the general editor of The Gospel Project and an author of many books, including This Is Our Time, Eschatological Discipleship, Gospel Centered Teaching, and Rethink Your Self. He and his wife, Corina, have three children and live outside of Nashville.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (March 2021). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.