Dear American Christian Teenager,
Are you sitting down?
Because I have some big news for you, that you may be really surprised to hear.
(Seriously, sit down, because this might sting a little).
O.K., here’s the deal: Jesus doesn’t care about your dreams.
Disney, Oprah, GLEE, Hallmark, Donald Trump, The X-Factor, and Lady Gaga all do… but not Jesus.
Your parents and teachers, your grandparents and guidance counselors, your best friends and your lunch lady all might… but not Jesus.
Oh, it’s not that he doesn’t care. (On the contrary, he adores you in ways you can’t comprehend this side of Heaven). It’s just that your happiness, isn’t really part of the plan, at least not in the way that you think.
This may all sound strange to your ears, I know. It might seem foreign coming from a pastor, (perhaps even blasphemous if you’ve been hanging out in most American youth groups for any length of time), but before you throw your smartphone out the car window, hear me out.
You see, somewhere along the way, (long before you were even born), some important church people, decided that they wanted Jesus, just without all the annoyances and inconveniences of his actual teachings. (Kinda like making the football team and suiting-up on Sunday, without ever really having to take a hit).
More importantly, they realized that selling you a Savior whose agenda was your happiness, was a heck of a lot easier than selling you one whose agenda was you dying.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Years ago, when that pastor gave that amazing, inspirational, heart-tugging message about Jesus having a “purpose and a plan for your life”; when he or she talked boldly about him wanting to fix your problems, and give you lots of friends and perfect teeth and a cool car, and when you tearfully walked down the aisle while the band played and the lights flashed, well you unknowingly bought it all hook, line, and sinker.
The only trouble is, Jesus is having none of it.
Jesus is not in the career-building business, he’s in the kingdom-building business.
He’s about making disciples, not manufacturing dreams.
Yes, he’s got that “purpose and plan” for you, but it’s about you giving-up… well… you.
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
Those hearing Jesus speak these words two thousand years ago, understood what a cross was. They knew the imagery, and it was about more than trendy jewelry, or a cool bumper sticker, or a sweet tat.
For those them, the cross meant crucifixion; humiliation, and agony, and death. They got the message clearly, what Jesus’ invitation was all about, and it was about a lot more than having a great job and lots of stuff and “personal fulfillment”.
Jesus, it turns out, is more concerned with your death, than your dreams.
Because it’s in that act of spiritually dying; that surrendering of self; of your plans and your preferences, and yes, even your dreams, to his will, that he promises you will find “abundant life”. (Jn10:10)
In other words, the sweet spot of your existence, may come without fanfare or comfort or applause.
In the nearly 65,000 words of Jesus recorded in the Bible, virtually none of them come with a promise of how much you’ll make, or how you’ll use your gifts, or how you’ll have success, or really about your “dreams” at all, and yet so many of those words are about service and sacrifice and about the “laying down of one’s life”. (Jn 15:13)
Maybe the big idea at the core of all this, is that “you” aren’t the object of your life at all.
Teenager, as you grow in your faith, and as you begin to try to live it out tangibly in your work and family life and social life, you may be fortunate enough to one day do things that you are gifted and wired to do. (I hope so). You may achieve some great things, and some of your dreams may come true as you do these things. (Again, that’s my prayer).
But as you move through this life, and do so following Christ, never mistake your dreams for God’s desires.
One will usually make a name for you. The other will always glorify His name.