“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.”
This was what I told my second-grade teacher when she asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. At eight years old, I was determined to earn good grades with a long-term view of gaining access to a prestigious university.
I was fascinated by the sciences and mathematics, always looking forward to perusing through science magazines and learning new math skills. I knew that becoming a doctor required excelling in academics, so I applied myself diligently, worked with determination, and even studied in advance of the next grade level.
My dreams of becoming a doctor looked promising.
“I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”
Now, exactly two decades later, after the growth spurts, puberty, college graduation, countless nights questioning life, and landing my first “real” job, I would be remiss to say that by now I’ve graduated from Harvard Medical School and am well on my way to becoming a heart surgeon. Instead, through a series of twists and turns I never expected, with countless questions accompanied by eye-opening discoveries along the way, I eventually landed in the Silicon Valley working in the tech industry (far from being a doctor!) (no, I’m not an engineer, either).
Looking back at the journey that brought me here, did I ever expect to land where I am? Not in a million years. Am I working my dream job? Not quite, and that’s okay. Do I know 100% know what I want to do with my life? Not entirely, and that’s fine, too.
STOP PURSUING YOUR DREAMS.
When we live with a tight grip on the first draft of our dreams, we are sure to be disappointed. Being too enamored by our dreams, even dreams that appear God-glorifying, may cause us to reject any opportunities that don’t fall within our ideal blueprints, and therefore missing out on God’s unique calling and work for our lives.
However, if we allow for iterations of that first dream, or circumstances that may not look exactly like that dream, it leaves us open to the workings of the Holy Spirit. Holding onto our dreams closes us off from being sensitive to how the Spirit is leading, along with what God is doing in the world and in you.
You may have amazing, well-intended dreams to positively impact the world … but is that what God wants for you? You may have dreams of going into vocational ministry … but perhaps God wants you working at a 9-5 desk job to bring the gospel to your coworkers, or in education to help empower and shape the next generation of leaders with Kingdom perspectives. The possibilities are endless, but only through prayer, dedicated quiet time with God, and most of all an open heart to his will, not our own, will we be able to better understand God’s calling for us individually.
A lot of opportunities in my life have literally moved me from one city to another, one career path to the next. During those times, I thought God wanted me there for a specific reason, but it turned out that God had other plans way bigger than even my own imagination.
When I was working in my first job after graduating from college, I often felt antsy wanting to do “something more” in the world. I wanted my life to have a larger, more significant, more “important” impact on more people. I longed to use my God-given gifts for his purposes. After all, what good is my life if I’m not stewarding my talents, right?
I felt like David, tending his sheep, except I was bored of being “just” a shepherd when I felt like I was supposed to be doing something greater with my life. A little more than halfway through my tenure at my first company, I began applying for different jobs. Interview after interview, God closed each door. I became frustrated, while my desire to do “something more” grew.
Little did I know, despite my own restlessness, God was still working in the background.
One of my coworkers shared with the team that her husband was dying of cancer … and it was quickly spreading. Week after week, the news increasingly grew more dejecting, and her husband only had a few months to live. Realizing time was scarce, she would spend many days and nights in the hospital by her husband’s bedside. When she was in the office, I noticed she looked sadder by the day, and reasonably so.
Seeing and sharing in her sadness, one day I realized that instead of looking for a wider ministry impact, I had been placed by God right where I was to be a minister, support and friend to this coworker—and that reflecting his love to one was just as equally important as doing it to many.
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
On my way to the kitchen area, I would often stop by her desk and ask her how she and her husband were doing, taking every opportunity to just do one thing: love.
We grew closer over time, and a deeper friendship began to form. The topic of faith eventually came up, and I had the privilege to share more about my faith and beliefs. I learned that her church attendance had been inconsistent, and her faith had become weak. It was then that I knew for sure that God had put me there to be his ambassador to her.
I took many opportunities to pray for her and her husband. Knowing she didn’t have too many friends in the area, I visited her and her husband in the hospital.
Over the following months, she began to pray more fervently, attended church regularly again and revived her relationship with God! She told me she was starting to read the Bible to her husband as he was laying in bed. I saw how she was like the lost sheep had been found, and I had gotten the honor to be just an instrument of God’s work in my office.
After a few months, her husband passed away, yet my coworker, in her confident faith, had peace that he had gone home to be with Jesus.
Through all of this, there had indeed been a purpose to my placement.
God calls for obedience.
“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’” (Luke 11:28).
You can fulfill all of your dreams and still miss the true purpose for your life. God can most use those who are yielded to him and will do what he commands. Our purpose is not to do grand things for God, but simply to obey him.
David never asked to be a king when he was tending his sheep. He had numerous seasons and roles in his life, from tending sheep and playing music in the fields, to delivering bread to his brothers in the battlefield, to escaping Saul’s unwarranted wrath, to becoming king.
Through it all, God was working on, preparing, and testing David’s character and faithfulness. 1 Samuel 13 describes David as “a man after God’s heart,” which is the kind of person God wanted to appoint him to be Israel’s king.
Wherever you are now, appreciate your season for what it is. Be faithful and tend to what or whomever in front of you, with character and integrity. Love people unconditionally, for you might just be the only reflection of God to them. Live with relentless faith and an open hand to what God wants to do through you to bring his Kingdom on earth and into the field you have been placed in.
Alex Tran was born and raised Orange County, California. He now resides and works in Silicon Valley, and is a member of Echo Church. Professionally, he is a Client Outcomes Manager at Gainsight, advising businesses to be successful using technology. Alex enjoys encouraging and mentoring his peers and younger men. He loves writing topics in the intersection of faith and lifestyle. Follow him on Instagram @reachalextran