“Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” Jeremiah 45:5 (NLT)
I find myself cringing when I hear people say “You can be anything you set your heart to be.” It is not true. It sets people up for misguided lives fraught with unfulfilled expectations and disillusionment. I understand the reasoning behind such a statement, particularly when it is directed at children and youth. It is important to instill a dare to dream mentality and a can-do attitude in every human heart. But dreams, like everything in life have parameters and exacting conditions that are necessary for their fulfillment. And it is not just a matter of faith and hard work.
A more accurate statement to inspire young and old alike is to say “You can be anything God has created you to be.” That maxim acknowledges the requisite talents and motivations endued at birth. And it also takes into account the times and seasons in which a person is living and the necessity of divinely ordained opportunity.
Michael Jordan is a great illustration. In 1993 Jordan retired as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, after leading the Chicago Bulls to three NBA championships. He quit basketball to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player.
He spent two years bringing his well-documented dedication and intensity to baseball, but ended up being a journeyman player at best with a .252 batting average and never made it to the big leagues. He returned to the Bulls for the 1995-96 season and proceeded to lead the Bulls to another three-peat series of NBA championships.
What was the cause of the disparity in the outcome of Michael Jordan’s pursuit of two dream careers? Obviously the measure of inherent talent was one. Another was the contrast in experience and time for skill development. But an intangible may have been his chemistry with his teammates and his coach. Dream fulfillment is complicated business.
In the waning years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC, Jeremiah the prophet was busy warning both the king and religious leaders of God’s impending judgments. He had a faithful scribe named Baruch to whom he dictated his prophecies and through whom a number of them were personally delivered.
Baruch, who’s name means “blessing” was hoping against hope that the recipients of these prophetic messages would repent and that his ministry would be successful. As a spokesperson for Jeremiah he had dreams and career aspirations of a position of influence in a reformed society. (Not unlike Jesus’ disciples.) It was not to be.
In what appears to be a parenthetical chapter in the book of Jeremiah we find a precious passage of scripture dedicated wholly to Baruch. (Jeremiah 45:1-5) In it Jeremiah delivers a personal prophetic message from the Lord for his scribe. It is both a word of warning and an encouragement. “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to you, Baruch: You have said, ‘I am overwhelmed with trouble! Haven’t I had enough pain already? And now the Lord has added more! I am worn out from sighing and can find no rest.’” (vs. 2-3 NLT))
God begins by acknowledging that He hears and understands Baruch’s weary frustration. Baruch is disillusioned not only by the unrepentant intransigence of Jerusalem’s leaders but also by the negative implications for his own preferred future.
“Baruch, this is what the Lord says: ‘I will destroy this nation that I built. I will uproot what I planted.” (vs. 4 NLT) Now the Lord levels with Baruch. No turn-around is coming. Both the nation and Jerusalem are slated for destruction. Those are tough words for Baruch to swallow.
But God in His great love for Baruch has a word of wisdom and a wonderful promise. Both of them no doubt took some time for Baruch to process; but in the end they insured peace and blessing in his life despite the upheaval of the days in which he was living.
The word of wisdom was “Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don’t do it!” Sometimes wise counsel at first hearing is hard to swallow. We particularly don’t like to be told to give up pursuing our dreams. It seems anathema to who we are and all that we hold dear.
But facing the reality – it is not God’s dream for us, and not to be – can be liberating. Reckoning with it and adjusting our lives accordingly will spare us much heartache and disillusionment. It also helps us focus on doing the things that really matter: what is God’s will and in line with whom He created us to be.
The promise God gave to Baruch was “I will bring great disaster upon all these people; but I will give you your life as a reward wherever you go. I, the Lord, have spoken!’” (vs. 5 NLT) When you stop and think about that promise, particularly in the light of the tumultuous times in which Baruch and Jeremiah were living, it is indeed remarkable. He gives Baruch a freedom of choice in altering his dreams as it pertains to where he lives. I believe it might be a principle that when God limits one aspect of our dreams He may expand others. It was true in Baruch’s life and opened for him new possibilities in the face of dire circumstances.
Are you “living the dream”? Why or why not?
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