“We have a big God, therefore you should have a God-sized dream!”
“Is your vision as big as your God?”
“We serve an extraordinary God, so stop living an ordinary life!”
There’s a constantly flowing river of Christian living books that try to convince us that the immensity of God is actually a communicable attribute. They say that if our God is big, then his plans for us must be big as well. Our potential is limited by the infinity of our God – that is, not at all. The possibilities are endless. If you can dream it, you can do it. And on and on. Though not a “Christian” book, Christians love what Jim Collins in his book Built to Last calls the “big, hairy, audacious goal” or “BHAG” that every successful company must have. Christians in the form of books, seminars, and conferences have poured themselves a bowl of this idea and eaten it for breakfast. It’s the Christian version of the McDonald’s Super Size — it’s the “God-sizing” of our dreams and goals.
And I say, “Yes, but…”
Big Idea and Bonhoeffer
Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales, tells the story of Veggie Tales’ parent company Big Idea:
I read the book Built to Last, a classic business study of what makes great companies great. The analysis of the Walt Disney Company struck me as particularly relevant, and I found myself asking the question, “Do I just want to make a few films to leave behind when I’m gone, or do I want to build a company that can keep making great films for the next 100 years?” The answer seemed obvious. I wanted to build the next Disney.
By the time I finished the book I had a new vision for Big Idea. We would attract top artists from all over the country. We would build a culture of biblical values and great storytelling. And then, the big one: The book said you needed to pick a “Big, Hairy Audacious Goal,” or a “BHAG” in Built to Lastparlance. Golly gosh… what was my “BHAG?” Hmm. I wasn’t sure. I had always felt that God wanted me to tell the stories and teach the lessons he laid on my heart, but he hadn’t given me any particular big, hairy audacious goal. But the book said I needed one to inspire and focus my employees. Okay… deep breath… “We will build a top-four family media brand within 20 years!” Huh? Where did that come from? I had no idea. All I knew was that now I had my “BHAG.” And if it was going to come true, we were going to have to get a lot bigger. What I didn’t know was that my new path would take us right smack through “No Man’s Land.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the same vein, explains, “God hates visionary dreaming.” Bonhoeffer clarifies this provocative quote by saying that a visionary ideal (call it a “God-sized dream” in our kind of talk) creates a standard apart from Scripture by which we judge God, others, and ourselves.
If or when the God-sized dream doesn’t happen, we question God and think God unfaithful for not fulfilling something he never promised to begin with.
The Real Issue
I know you’re probably going to think I’m a hypocrite when I say that I have no problem with big dreams, big goals, or a big vision. I have one for my life, for our family, and for our church. The issue is whether or not this dream, goal, or vision truly comes from God. We should triple-check the Bible to make sure before we grab a BHAG and claim, “God put this dream in my heart!” Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. The only way to tell is to test it against Scripture. Actually, let’s quadruple-check, just to be sure.
And while we’re checking, we should remember that our Messiah’s big, hairy, audacious goal was to carry a wooden beam up a hill to be crucified. Success for Jesus looked like failure. Maybe that will restrain our quickness to proclaim that God has given us a dream that anyone would recognize as success. After all, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging from piano wire strung around a meat hook only 11 days before Americans liberated his prison.
Maybe, he was right, and sometimes God does indeed hate visionary dreaming.