The popular messages of our culture tell us that if we work hard, we can achieve anything. But this isn’t the truth of the Christian gospel, says Geoffrey Thomas. It’s much, much better than that


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Last year, The Times columnist, James Marriott, wrote a column with a provocative title: “Do not follow your dreams. They will serve you ill.”

Yet, everywhere we look, people are being exhorted to become zealous followers of their own wild ambitions. Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, Anna Quindlem, told college graduates: “The only right way is to feel your heart hammering inside you and to listen to what its timpani is saying.”

Tennis superstar Serena Williams ‘preached’: “If they think your dreams are crazy, show them what your crazy dreams can do.”

Even sceptical Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker gave ‘a word of peace’ to the Glastonbury crowd thus: “If you want enough for something to happen - then it actually will.”

Dreaming the impossible

This ubiquitous celebrity gush has left a growing generation brainwashed by a mantra of believing that they are certainly going to get what they dream of.

Most teenagers are getting their ‘gospel’ from Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. “Their world is increasingly visual…The trouble is, we’re far more likely to be manipulated by images than we are by words” says Laura Dodsworth and Patrick Fagan in Free Your Mind (HarperCollins).

The Son of God did not exhort: “Follow your dreams!” He said: “Follow me!”

This new ‘religion’ has planted seeds of materialist expectation; it has nurtured a relentless conviction that we can obtain all that we desire. We accept as our right this ‘good news’, whatever the cost to common sense, family life, health and relationships. What need do we have of Jesus Christ, therefore?

Counting the cost

Many of us dream of fame, wealth, travel, mansions, sports cars, dressing rooms lined with the latest fashions, handsome hunks and Hollywood girlfriends – but that is all a fairy tale for most.

How I wish there were more people to kindly but firmly help kids learn realistic lessons, instructing them how to deal with disappointments and rejection as they grow up.

A better way

How many people toil away, always hoping for the big break, the top ten record, the phone call from the West End, the letter from the Welsh rugby coach, the lottery win? The conventional advice is: “Never give up!”, “keep going” or “fail better”. But aren’t our failures useful to us Christians? Helpful signals that it’s time to try something else? What opportunities might we be missing?

Gospel hymn 'Our God, our help' describes the living God as: “Our help in ages past / Our hope for years to come”. Then the hymnist reminds us: “Time, like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away / They fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day”.

The Son of God did not exhort: “Follow your dreams!” He said: “Come, follow me,” (Matthew 4:19). We must all think hard as to what we will follow in our brief and uncertain earthly lives. 

The promise of purpose

The first step in finding an authentic purpose in life is bringing all our dreams to Christ. We lay them before him and say: “Lord, from now on I am following you. Give to me what is best for me, my family, my friends and the world. Use and form these seemingly impossible dreams of mine. Weed out all that is unworthy and unattainable. Show me the dreams that come from you, those that are for your honour and for the good of others. Not my will but yours be done.”

Aren’t our failures useful to us Christians? Helpful signals that it’s time to try something else?

Hearing and receiving the real gospel means that, day by day and every happy moment, we are following the son of God, and all our plans and hopes are being shaped by his gospel.

When we choose to become his followers, our dream becomes to be like him. He is henceforth the rich and inspiring presence at the heart of our daily lives, our thinking, our living, our words, our work, our business, our hobbies, our sport, our music, our pains, our griefs, our anxieties, our hopes and our fears.

Following him is to place the Lord Jesus at the centre of everything, so that all else is enriched, enlightened and strengthened by him. Increasingly, we experience the growing joy and peace which this gracious indwelling brings – he to whom we enjoy the privilege of illimitable access – the living Jesus Christ’s presence within us, and a growing expectation of the life of heaven.