Sep. 5, 2013 at 9:04 AM ET
In "God's Dream For You," Matthew Barnett delves into ways to affect meaningful change in your life through exploring faith. Here's an excerpt.
What Is Your Dream?
It’s the one question they never expect.
You can see their eyes widen when we ask them. They suddenly look up as if to say, “Did I hear you right? Did you really just ask me what I thought you asked me?”
Most of the time, when a homeless family arrives on our Los Angeles campus, they’ve lost just about everything. They have their car, whatever they’ve been able to cram into it, and nothing much else except the clothes on their backs.
Someone on our staff takes them into a room and sits down with them. They’re expecting all of the usual questions they’d get from most social workers. Here wego again. Another person with another pen and another clipboard. I know the drill: “Name? Marital status?Children? Ages of children? Previous address? Previous employer? Previous occupation? Health status?” Etc., etc.
But we don’t do that kind of intake here. We have a different first question, and it almost always takes people by surprise.
“What is your dream?”
The question stuns them. Confuses them. Then often their eyes narrow a little with a flash of suspicion. Is this a joke? Is this sarcasm? Is this person mocking mewhen I’m down?
What is my dream? Are you kidding me? Coming here isn’t about dreaming! It’s about surviving. It’s about staying alive and keeping body and soul together. I didn’t show up on the front porch of a place like this because I’m chasing my dream. I’ve ended up here because I don’t have anywhere else to go. I want to keep my family together. I want to keep my marriage together. I want my hungry kids to be fed. I want to get off the streets! I don’t want to end up in prison like some people I know. I don’t want to live with abuse or threats. And I don’t have the energy any longer to fight the alcoholism, drug abuse, and the prostitution that are all around me.
And you ask me, “What is your dream?” Why do you even ask me that when I’m just trying to survive?
So right up front we ask the people who come to us, “What is your dream? What do you want to see happen in your life? What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to go?”
“Well,” they may say, “we’re just trying to survive.”
And we answer: “But what if we took survival off the table? While you’re here, you won’t have to worry about that. This is a safe, clean place, and we will give you the food and shelter you need. So let’s start thinking about your potential.”
The fact is, when you’ve been disappointed again and again, you become afraid to dream. After all, how could you bear another disappointment? But in the power of Christ, you can begin to dream again.
Even in marriages, there comes a point where people lose hope. A husband and wife may be committed to staying together for the rest of their lives, but as they imagine the years ahead, it looks to them more like running an endurance test or slogging along on an endless marathon under gray, rainy skies. Life looks more like grim survival than anything else. The idea that they could ever thrive in their marriage seems so far out there that it doesn’t even seem real.
Asking people “What is your dream?” is almost like lifting them to a whole different plane. We’ve found that most people really do have something in their heart they would love to do or pursue, but they have suppressed that dream for so long that it doesn’t seem like a possibility at all. Maybe the dream is getting free of addiction. Maybe it’s finishing high school or going to college. Maybe it’s being trained for a certain occupation or specific career. The desire is still there, but it’s buried so deeply beneath their setbacks, pain, and loss that they’ve forgotten they ever had any aspirations.
But once we hear their dream, we tell them, “We’re going to help you get to your dream”—and they can hardly believe their ears. Maybe they expected to have to prove themselves first or completely clean up their life before we would start talking to them about their future.
This “What is your dream?” interaction is based on a concept that the Lord has impressed on us through the years as we’ve worked with people in crisis. We call it “belong and believe.” In the Gospels, Jesus said to a number of men, “Come and follow Me,” and at that point these men were in no way ready to be disciples of Christ. They were just regular guys. Some of them fished for a living. Matthew had been a tax collector for the Romans, a traitor hated and resented by virtually everyone. But Jesus called each one of them, inviting them to be close to Him, to walk with Him, to get to know Him better, and to serve Him.
That’s what Jesus did, but that’s not what religion usually does. Instead religion will say, “When you believe what we believe, then we’ll let you belong and be involved in what we’re doing.” But Jesus allowed people to belong first, to see what He was doing, find themselves drawn to Him, and then believe.
Jesus allowed people to belong first, before they believed. Then, as they walked with Him, they began to believe. For some of them, coming to faith in Jesus took a long time. Two disciples didn’t believe until after the resurrection when Jesus directly confronted them and said, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25 NIV). He didn’t justify their lack of belief or make excuses for their behavior while they were learning, but He allowed them to belong in order to believe. They didn’t have to clean up their lives first.
And then, maybe sooner, maybe later, as men and women see Christ and His followers up close, they realize that God Himself has a dream for their lives. Belonging encourages believing.
Excerpted with permission from God’s Dream For You (Thomas Nelson Publishers, ISBN 9781400320806, September 10, 2013, $14.99) by Matthew Barnett.