There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with the American dream. It is simply the idea that all Americans can have happy and successful lives if they work hard and persevere. In fact, the Bible encourages people to take responsibility for their lives and to work hard. Unfortunately, many people (even many Christians) equate the blessings of the material world with the blessings of God. This is not necessarily true. In some cases there will be some overlap. That being said, there are wealthy and powerful people who are far from God and many in lesser circumstances who are being used mightily by God. The American Dream and the Christian worldview are not interchangeable.
The truth is, it is possible to follow the American dream based on very different motivations. One motive is to work hard in order to become successful so that one may have an easy and comfortable life. This is, perhaps, the prevailing point of view in modern society. The only problem is, that it is a totally self-centered point of view with the goal being to have an easy life for self.
A Christian worldview, on the other hand, has an entirely different focus. Rather than a focus on self, it centers on accomplishing the purpose of God.
In order to make this a bit more concrete, lets take a look at the contrasting motivations of a worldview focused on the American dream and one focused on the purposes of God.
Giving vs. Getting
A Christian worldview is based on agape (selfless) love. It is always looking to put others above self. As such, it is not trying to see how much can be accumulated. Rather, it is trying to see how much can be given to accomplish the purpose of God. This does not necessarily mean we must give away all we have. The particulars must be discerned by each individual believer. God has his particular purpose for the life of each person. The focus here is the attitude, not the particular amounts which one has.
God’s Will vs. Self Will
When we talk about God’s will, we are looking at life purpose. The motivation for a Christian worldview looks to God’s will as the reason for thinking or doing anything. It is God’s will which should determine how we make and use money, what career path we pursue, and what activities we participate in. We should not be looking merely for what will “make me happy.” When we filter our thoughts through “God’s will,” all of the things we do become ministry rather than merely a means to gain personal satisfaction.
God’s Work vs. Our Work
When considering our jobs, the most natural approach to doing work is to do whatever necessary to get the job done. Interestingly this results in different outcomes from different people. For some, this means getting by with as little as possible to make life easier. For others it may be working hard so as to move further up the ladder in order to make more money or exercise more power.
A Christian worldview approach is different, however. Here, we still want to work as diligently as we possibly can, but for an entirely different purpose. A Christian’s purpose should be to do excellent work in order to glorify God, regardless of the outcome. When this results in material gain, this gain, once again, is to be used based on God’s purposes, not our own.
So, in practical terms, what does this mean? It means that our motives and the use of our “stuff” gets filtered through a biblical lens rather than through mere human desires. Let’s look at a few examples of how this might work. Obviously these are meant only to be examples of possibilities and not a definitive word on what any particular individual ought to do.
There is nothing inherently right or wrong about buying a vacation home. The rightness and wrongness is housed in the motivation for doing it. How does it please God and further his purposes? If it is just for selfish enjoyment or to show off one’s wealth, it does nothing to further God’s purposes. If God leads in it to accomplish some purpose of his, it could be a very good thing. Otherwise, not so good.
There are also many different reasons for vacation travel. And, once again, the purpose of God is the key to determining whether it is good or bad. There are legitimate reasons for vacation travel such as refreshment, education or even ministry. There are also self-centered reasons for doing it. The goodness of it is all in the motivation.
Is it good to become involved in the community? Maybe, or maybe not. Again, it depends on the motivation. If it is merely to gain some kind of self-gratification or for self-aggrandizement, then it may be good for the community but perhaps not good for the work of the kingdom. This does not mean that every foray into the civic arena has to be a direct witnessing campaign. But God does have a purpose for us engaging the world, and a Christian worldview has this purpose of God as its primary motivation.
Time on the Computer
Is use of the computer a good or bad activity? As with the other things we have looked at, it depends. Does its use accomplish God’s purpose for our lives or is it a totally self-centered activity. This is not to take away from the possibility of a purely recreational use of the technology. We actually need down time on occasion to keep our minds and bodies fresh and sharp. Again, it all comes down to our motivations. Are we doing it as a means of accomplishing the purpose of God for our lives, or is it all for self?
In the End
To summarize the whole point of this article, it needs to be clearly understood that I am not saying we should just stay poor and not strive to advance our lives in various ways. It is not saying we should never do things for fun and enjoyment. However, we should always filter what we do through the lens of God’s will and God’s way.
In every part of life we should always strive to do our best, whether it is to make money or advance in our business or career. But the motivation is critical. God is not only interested in the material result, but in the motivation that gets us there. Any motivation that does not have God at the center is not capable of producing a result that is of God. Of course, he can use bad motivations to accomplish his purpose. He is God, after all. But in that case, he has to work around the deed in order to turn something bad into something good. When that happens, the blessing of God is not on the person with the bad motivation. The best he or she can hope for is the temporal material outcome.
It is apparent that Americans have become very materialistic. It is even an issue in many churches. This does not mean that materialistic Christians are not saved, but does mean that many are living lives which run contrary to the purposes of God and are not receiving the blessings that he wants to bestow.
God has his own ways and his own purpose. We walk in God’s will and way to the degree we are able to line up with it. To make that a reality, it is essential to actively pursue a full understanding of the Christian worldview and diligently seek to conform our lives to the image of God.
© 2012 Freddy Davis