When I was younger, my goals were not well formed. I followed my perception of the crowd, and I didn’t necessarily know who or what the crowd was following. I realize now that the overarching, and often unspoken, intention of many people was to achieve the American Dream.
The American Dream is the culturally endowed belief that Americans can improve their lives through hard work, that this achievement is available to anyone of any background or ethnicity, and that each generation will flourish in greater wealth than the previous. Furthermore, every individual can reach the full expression of his or her talent and ability and will not be impeded by social or class barriers. It has its roots in the Declaration of Independence, that all men and women are created equal, and that every individual has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Whether the American Dream is accurate or not is debatable, and recent years have given more weight to its fallacy. Recent events have made clear that there are people who face significant racial or social barriers to success. The millennial generation as a whole is not at all sure that it will see greater prosperity than their parents. However, the slightly tarnished dream persists.
The ambitions of those who follow the American Dream are different from the desires of a follower of Jesus in a few important ways. When they diverge we can only follow one. Which one will it be?
Three differences between following the American Dream and following Jesus
To achieve the American Dream one must work diligently in the hopes that it will pay off. The dream is that nothing will get in the way of our work and its reward, and for some people it works well. As dreams are not always reality, however, there are also people for whom that has not been true. This world does not always recognize work well done.
Jesus, on the other hand, offers us unimaginable blessings of eternity with him by his grace alone. We can do nothing to earn it. Our work won’t make it happen. The gospel is the truth that Jesus has already done everything for us.
The American Dream encourages work, and we dream that our rewards will be worth our effort. Jesus, in counter-cultural truth, has done it all for us and we can add nothing. For people used to the mindset of the American Dream, this is a huge mental shift.
The biggest difference between the American Dream and the gospel of Jesus Christ is where we look for our salvation, satisfaction, and identity. Are we in charge, or is Jesus?
The goal of the American Dream is wealth and upward mobility, and there are many Christians who have achieved tremendous riches in their lifetimes. God loves to bless his followers, and there is nothing wrong with financial success. To improve the lives of children and grandchildren is also a worthy goal. God gave us the task of working, improving, and creating on this earth, and I believe he enjoys and blesses our work.
However, eternal life goes on far beyond this world. As a Christian, therefore, it is important to examine how God’s blessing’s have been, or are being, used. Are we sharing our wealth with those who are in need? Are we using our skills and talents to serve God and other people? Every individual must answer those questions for herself/himself.
Achieving the American Dream is limited to life in this world, whereas Jesus offers us unlimited time in which to enjoy him, the work he has given us, and his blessings. Have you thought beyond your life on this earth when you are planning your work, your giving or your service?
We have each been given talents, education, opportunities, and we have the responsibility to develop our minds and our skills to the best of our ability. What is our target?
To become a doctor to become rich is a completely different goal than to become a healer. One is serving oneself and the other is serving others with God-given skill. Contrast the individual who gets an MBA and starts a business to make a fortune with the person who pursues the same agenda with an idea that will serve other people. Which one do you think will live a more satisfying life?
The American Dream is, after all, a dream. The eternal blessings Jesus offers us may seem like a dream at times, but they are absolutely real.
Do you think the American Dream is still a part of our motivation? Have you faced situations in which you had to decide between following the American Dream or Jesus?