Your Dream Must Die

So, lately my church family has been talking a lot about our “wish-dreams.” Our what-the-whats, you may be asking.

Our wish-dreams.

What’s a wish-dream? I know, it sounds like some sort of hippy-dippy, new-age malarkey, but it is so not. The term “wish-dream” was coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and has proven to be one of the most challenging ideas to my faith in a very long time.

A few weeks back, the consistently awesome Frank Viola, posted an excerpt of Bonhoeffer’s explanation of a wish-dream (if you have time, I encourage you to read the full excerpt. It is just too good not to). Many of those in my church family read it and we began sharing with one another our own wish-dreams.

So what is a wish-dream already? It’s definitely not what might assume….

Bonhoeffer begins, “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Our wish-dream, is essentially the idea of what we think Christian life should be. It is the clear vision we have in our minds that we bring along with us, into every Christian gathering. Which, at first reading doesn’t sound so bad…or dangerous. But, Bonhoeffer goes on:

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

And this is where it stings. This is where our pride, our expectations, and our own preconceived notions come into play. This is where we begin to feel our flesh object. We don’t want to let our wish-dream die. It is ours.

We are so often told by the world that our dreams are important. Our dreams are our own. We must follow our dreams. Pursue our dreams. Chase after our dreams…

But, as Bonhoeffer goes on to explain, God does not like the visionary-dreamer because he says, “The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. ”

Instead, we must lay our visions to rest. We must surrender our own picture of community, in order to fully embrace and receive the community that God has for us, whatever that may be.

In doing so, we must learn to not only accept our church community for what it is, but also learn to appreciate it for what it has to offer. We shift from a place of impossible expectations to a place of thankfulness and humility.

As Bonhoeffer explains, “We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?”

I entered my church community with plenty of expectations and a rather clear and definitive wish-dream. God, however, explained to me that the things I thought were crucial–numbers, size, speed of growth, and multiplication–were anything but. I also thought that being a part of a community guaranteed me certain experiences, like a wiser older woman to disciple me. But again, God had other plans.

I watched as the Lord systematically, yet graciously crushed my wish-dream and now, on the other side, I have such a deeper, more profound, and richer love for the community I am blessed to be a part of. My family. My brothers and sisters, who without which, life would seem far darker and much less sweet.

So, the obvious question: What is your wish-dream? What vision of Christian community do you hold onto, whether right or wrong? What wish-dream has God crushed in your own life? What has been the result?

(Like I said above too, if you have a couple of minutes, hop over and read the full excerpt of the wish-dream explanation. It will add so much to the discussion here too)

28 thoughts on “Your Dream Must Die”

  1. Amazing. Definitely not where I thought you were going. :) In a good way.

    I think Christians have two choices, really. We either accept a church for all its faults and invest into it, or we live as nomads, continually church shopping, trying to find the “perfect” church (read: the church that “suits” us.) The latter only makes demands of churches and other Christians.

    Question, can Christians have affairs of the heart with other churches? If we can, I know I’ve done it. Labored, sometimes bitterly, in a church, while I dream of the church I’d really like to be with, and faulting my own church for not living up to my ideal of church beauty.

    1. Matt,

      John the Baptist was a nomad of sorts. I get the ‘church shopping’ reference, (we have all seen those people), but what does one do when the American churches, to include house churches and fringe fellowships bordering on heresy, fail to gain our acceptance?

    2. Thanks Matt. I’m glad it didn’t go where you thought it would.

      As for church shopping, I think it is symptomatic of a larger problem, that Donald touched on. Firstly, yes, we as American Christians are often looking for the next best thing.

      Secondly, however, I know that many of us have a nagging feeling that there is something more–something better–something that more fully reflects Christ. We just can’t seem to find it, so we wander from church to church in the hopes of finding something…

      Thirdly, I would suggest that we are also really bad at listening to the Lord and being patient. I wonder how many people have left churches because they got their feelings hurt, but they never stopped to ask if God would have them leave.

      Family hurts. It isn’t perfect. It’s broken and messy, lovely and wonderful, all at the same time. We can’t just up and go when we get our feathers ruffled either.

      And to your question about love affairs with other churches. I think that is a great and intriguing question. Can we really or is the church, the church, no matter what the congregation.

      I’d love to read your response to that question in a post!

  2. I’m patiently awaiting one of the rockstar churches to formulate the Perfect Jesus for me to come and worship. Remember, it is all about church reflecting the culture, not The Body defying it. Somewhere out there, there is a cool church that has the Jesus I am happy and comfortable with. He looks like me, speaks like me, shares my politics (yikes) and never hurts my sensitive feelings.

    That’s my wish-dream. I want a more approachable, hip, cool, relevant, in-tune, trendy, emergent, feminist, pro-homosexual Jesus who loves loves loves everyone equally, without all that ‘sin nonsense’.


      1. Oh, goodie! Where do I sign up for membership classes!? And I’ll need to go clothes shopping- I simply haven’t a thing to wear! And I’ll need a new Bible with some highlight pens! And of course, I’ll need to get some cutting-edge “Jesus Tattoo” prominently slapped upon the side of my neck, cuz I’m extreme like that, yo.

        I really shouldn’t mock, but….it’s not like I’m being too wrong, here.

        1. Oh my gosh, it’s too much. I’m dying over “I simply haven’t a thing to wear,” and highlighters! Oh man!

          How about a “Turn or burn” t-shirt too?

          Mocking is okay sometimes, I think. at least, I hope so because I’m guilty.

    1. There it is right there – “formulate the Perfect Jesus” is what we all like to do. We all have strong opinions over who Jesus is and what the right way to follow Him is, which seems opposite to Paul saying “everything I learned, all of my religiousness, all the blameless doctrines I had, I count as a loss, so that I may gain Jesus and KNOW Him.” If we would get past trying to define Him and instead seek Him out, to really know Him, we’d probably do a lot better in the whole dream-wish department. It’s not our Kingdom at the end of the day, we don’t get to come up with a plan for how it’s run.

      GREAT post Nicole, changed my own ideas of what the perfect church would be.

  3. Oh my, this is great. I have been offline for the past month, taking a break from everything, and it’s funny that in the 24 hours that I’ve been backing everything I’ve seen is a continuation of what God’s been telling me these 30 days. Amazing. I had a wish dream once. And I guess you could say I was seeing it lived out. It was for a church full of boundaries. A group of people of like mind and belief and doctrinal interpretations who worshiped together, and didn’t mix it up with other denominations. I thought that was how it should be. Boy did He crush that sucker. Big time. I’ve returned to the internet to find my southern baptist brothers warring with one another over “traditional” soteriology vs Calvinist soteriology, and I want to grab each one and shake him! I’m sick and tired of labels and boundaries and boxes. Sheesh. I need fellowship that centers around Christ, not men’s interpretations of hefty theological issues. Unity. Where is the unity? Anyways, great post, Nicole!

  4. Maybe one day I’ll write how our culture is the dying venom of all Christian thinking. We have adopted so many “cultural” definitions of dreams and hopes and success that we have often put a carbon paper under it and traced it with a “Jesus pen”. I think we all need a big reset button. Then we can see things as He sees them and we can build the church on the true and faithful Rock, not a coney island version of it.

    P.S. I’m from Brooklyn and I have a special love for Coney Island, so I can say this. If anyone trashes Coney Island, watch your back! :)

    1. “We have adopted so many “cultural” definitions of dreams and hopes and success that we have often put a carbon paper under it and traced it with a “Jesus pen”.”

      Moe! Ouch! With those words, there are several hundred “pastors” who just fell off their chairs, clutching their chests. Nicely said, sir. Seriously. Nicely said.

    2. Moe,
      So well said! And I love that visual–us drawing up our own visions and dreams, only to “trace” them with Jesus and hope that His outline, as it were, is enough.

      P.S. extra points for somehow weaving in Coney Island into this discussion. How do you do it?!

  5. This is a very interesting subject and one I have struggled with lately more strongly, but have struggled with off and on in my walk with God. This is mainly due to the fact that I am a single woman in her 30s and I’ve found most churches lacking in their inclusion of singles. This is especially true where I live now (Ohio) where the majority of people get married in their 20s.

    I have been going over in my mind how to word an email to the pastor of my current church in away that doesn’t offend but points out the seemingly inocuous things that are done that make singles feel excluded. An example would be adding the word family to every event. “Family Movie Night,” “Fall Family Festival.” Without knowing it, the church staff has excluded several people who do not have a family. It’s just them.

    But as your post points out, we have got to be at peace with the church we are attending. In my case I shouldn’t pout every time I’m excluded from an event. I should try to understand the other point of view. But I think this goes to a point. I think it is healthy to include imput if you are brave enough to do it because there could be things that aren’t biblical that are being done that should be changed. I would hate to think that speaking up (iron sharpens iron) is discouraged.

  6. Where can you find unity? The historical, apostolic church that has guarded the faith, Scripture, and Sacred Tradition from Christianity’s earliest days. Like all human institutions, it is flawed, but it stands as a bulwark against secularization and the philosophical whims of the age. This conversation — and the phenomena of “church shopping,” making God into our own image, and establishing a new congregation that adheres to our personal theological views — whatever they may happen to be at a given point in time — painfully underscores the crippling lack of unity in the body of Christ among those who have wandered away from the church Jesus established “upon this Rock.” While you may not agree with that assessment, you are stil left with the question of how the Kingdom of God is served by the splintering of His Body into thousands of denominations, all holding firmly to Sola Scriptura. It has been said that an infallible Bible is useless without infallible interpretation. And the fractured state of a good chunk of Christendom starkly illustrates that point.

    1. Hey Matt,

      I wanted to comment on what you said before I comment. I think that while most Protestants believe that the fracturing of the church is not at all what we would have desired, we find unity in a single place: Christ. The doctrine that you are promoting is (I would guess by the language you use, and the way in which you talk about Peter) Catholic, and I think is held together by your belief that Apostleship is passed down by the laying of hands and by the work of the Holy Spirit through papal succession, which Protestants (including myself) do not agree with. We believe that the Holy Spirit provides the unity that He desires for His body, and that His provision is sufficient, and not dependent, even partially, on our works, including the leadership of our churches, though He does call us to do good works, and to lead, and to obey. I think that the Catholic faith gets a lot right with regard to avoiding “church shopping” so to speak, but that they avoid this out of the power of man, rather than through total dependence on the Lord, which seems a little more like Old Testament obedience, and a little less like total freedom in Christ. And as far as infallible interpretation goes, even though I understand what it means, and the function of it to some degree, that is an incredibly bold claim that there is anything infallible other than the Lord, His Son, His Spirit, and His Word. Just some thoughts.


      This is probably one of the best pieces of writing you have done in a while. Maybe I’m just partial because it is so meaningful to me currently, but I think you have reflected here something of great meaning and value to the church at large. Beautifully done, my friend.

      1. I was raised Protestant and became Catholic later, so I appreciate the arguments against the Church. Thanks for your thoughtful response. Just a couple of points. First, the Holy Spirit is, of course, the cource of unity. One point where there is a doctrinal split is between those who believe that unity is ONLY mystical and those who believe that it is both mystical AND concrete. Second, it is no more bold to assert that the Church established by Christ has the authority to interpret Scripture than it is for an individual believer to claim under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that they are correctly interpreting Scripture. The first is an authority informed by Sacred tradition and historical interpretation through the ages and affirmed by councils. In the second case, every Christian is his own authority, a major cause of the vast diversity within Protestantism.

        1. “The first is an authority informed by Sacred tradition and historical interpretation through the ages and affirmed by councils.”

          Tradition? Hm. Didn’t Jesus say people would be nullifying His Word for the sake of their traditions? Oh, that’s right. He said that to the Pharisees.

        2. Absolutely! I have a few Catholic friends who I discuss this with now and then, and I’m always glad to do so. I respect a lot of what they have to offer in terms of a more reverent view of the Lord and his ordinances. I would argue two things however. The first, that the Holy Spirit is not only mystical, but does in fact concretely dwell in us in (possibly not in the physical sense, though I don’t know that we would ever understand the indwelling on that level if it were so…).What’s more, the act of Christ coming to the world, living, dying, and conquering sin and death would be what I consider the concrete, physical part of God in our faith. In terms of the church, I do believe that heads of churches have authority, given to them by the Holy Spirit through the person of Christ as a good gift from the Father, but that they are fallible, and can be corrupted. Usually in times of corrupt leaders, those who lead the church, though placed there by the Lord, were not meant to be a part of the “church”, or are not yet a part of the “church” in the unseen, timeless sense of the word “church.” I believe that you could agree on that since papal succession has had great corruption from time to time. The difficult part is that, for functional and unifying purposes, your church goes about establishing not just authority, but “infallible” authority that is reminiscent of the Levitical line during the time of blood offerings and law. One high priest to stand in the gap for the sake of the people. Only they would have never called it infallible.The difficulty is that while the Catholic church very apparently believes in the need for some kind of mediation between the Lord and man, at least with regard to His revealed word, I, nor any other Protestant, though unified in Christ, believe that anyone needs to stand in the gap for us, save Christ, even with regard to scriptural interpretation. However, if we are aligned with the Lord, we understand that the Spirit leads us to one another because scripture was meant to be read and interpreted collectively so that we do not wander into heresy and darkness. And, what’s more, that we are called to submit to one another in community to cast vision under God, collectively, as a church, to forward the glory of God.

      2. Josh,
        Wow, your response to Matt has got me thinking. What would individual Christians say is the uniting factor/idea/belief/event among the Body?

        I wonder how many would say the Holy Spirit? How many would simply say Jesus?

        Interesting observations too, about the Catholic church being less influenced to church-shop, bit for quite different reasons.

        Thanks also for the kind words. I agree, that this wish-dream idea has greater meaning to church at large. I have been pondering this idea for weeks and still feel the Spirit moving and shifting my thinking and better yet, my expectations.

        I hope you are well! I owe you an email!

        1. “Wow, your response to Matt has got me thinking. What would individual Christians say is the uniting factor/idea/belief/event among the Body?

          I wonder how many would say the Holy Spirit? How many would simply say Jesus?”

          I see a blog topic there. What do you see, Nicole?

          It must be, definitely has to be, totally needs to be The Holy Spirit as uniter. Word to my mother.

        2. Nicole,

          I agree with Donald, but would say that the Trinity as a whole is what glues the church together. And what is foundational for a working Christian faith. Having a working view of the Father, Son, and Spirit working as God in their distinct yet perfectly interwoven substance for the Body of Christ, justified by the blood of the Lamb, which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit to serve the Father.

          As an interesting side note, I was in a group that talked about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit one week, and I realized that an incorrect view of the Holy Spirit as His own distinct person in the Trinity could lead to us viewing one another as members of the Body of Christ in a lesser way. Because if we see fellow Christians as temples of the Spirit of the Most High, and understand the great weight of that indwelling, it would be a natural byproduct of that view to rejoice greatly in your interactions with fellow brothers and sisters. Because the Spirit of God is very much in your midst. (Matthew 18:19) Matthew 18:15-19 is incredibly trinitarian, and should, if read in the spirit with which it was written, cause us to very purposefully and gratefully engage with fellow Christians. Especially in disagreement.

          I’m flying out to Phoenix tomorrow, actually! I’m going to be driving straight to California the following day, and will be there till 7/10, but I’ll be back in AZ ’til 7/18 and would love to visit if you and Jon are around. And I am well; I pray you and your family are well.

          1. Josh,

            Your first paragraph in response to what I said to Nicole sounds very Frank Viola-ish. My answer was not meant to divide The Trinity or seek to assign a hierarchy. But while The Triune God is one and the same, it is The Spirit who is Jesus’ stunt double this side of Heaven, and He has a distinct purpose and role, not which divides Him from The Father or The Son, but one that cements The Kingdom in the here and now.

            I am a Kingdom First, Covenant Son, Josh. (Just to clarify my ‘theology’)

  7. This is a really interesting idea. I visited a church on Sunday and though I really liked it there were still things I wanted to ‘tweak’. I think I have pretty high expectations about the sort of music and prayer style, preaching and fellowship I like. However, for the past 10 months I have been attending a church which wasn’t a perfect fit (being the only person between 20 & 40 for example!) but there were many riches from that (knowing mature Christians) so it was the right place for me at that time.

  8. i’ve learned to let my so-called “dreams” die. there’s a lot of misconceptions: finding purpose, receiving blessing, achieving dreams…and i fell into a lot of them at first. all i ended up with was a lot of disappointment and confusion.

    i had to ask myself that if the sun were to never shine upon me again, would i still be able to live and love with the joy that comes from knowing the promises of God are real? would i be content not ever receiving anything i wanted or desired? is it enough for me to know that He is enough, that an Eternity with Him is the promise my entire existence hangs on?

    i had to realize He is enough. i had to learn how to live one day, one moment at a time; that every moment matters, everything i do can be used to bring Him glory. one of the profoundest things i realized was that His church isn’t limited to building or denomination – they are everywhere. it doesn’t matter how discouraged i get in my own church, i know i’m not alone.

  9. Great post! I think the longer you stay in church and the longer you walk with God, the more dreams you have to give to God for His fulfillment in His timing. And by doing that, the more you experience His grace, both for you and through you. And the more you experience His grace, the more you understand it. Perfection is highly over-rated. :-).

  10. In the last 5 or so years, God has not only shattered my wish dream, he has shattered my entire view of Christianity. All my preconceived ideas about God, the Church, my theology, everything – gone.

    And I’ve never been happier.

    Almost every week i come across someone who is going down a similar path. The best quote i’ve heard recently is from a lady who said; “I actually like [non-Christians] now.”

    I think that God not only crushes our wish dreams, he also crushes the wish dreams that others have for us. This is a concept that Bonhoeffer has also written about: he refers to it as Religionless Christianity. To be free of not only our own preconceived ideas about God, Community, etc. but to realize that others preconceived ideas may not be correct also, is very liberating.

    This is not to say that I have tossed out Christianity. Far from it. My belief and faith has never been stronger or more alive. And, it’s not to say that I have some sort of free-for-all type of spirituality. I still have very strong beliefs about some things. I need some sort of frame work in order to make sense of the small part of God that I think I know. But, it is to say that I recognize that I might be wrong about a lot of things, and i may need to change my mind. And I recognize that I can only know a small part of the mystery of God.

    Peter Rollins makes the argument that the shear number of different Christian traditions out there is evidence that God can not be known in his entirety.That in fact God chooses to not reveal his entire self so we don’t end up making an idol of our beliefs – or wish dreams.

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