How to Achieve Your God Given Dream
Spring is for dreamers. My Facebook account reminded me today that I graduated from George Fox Seminary in 2013. It showed the posted picture of me getting “hooded”. I remember that day well! My family and friends were with me in Tigard, OR at Beaverton Christian Church. The ceremony was held in their large auditorium. I was sitting with a handful of other successful students when my name was called. I walked the aisle to the stage and as you see from the picture, kneeled as they gave me the beautiful red hood and medallion, ancient academic signs of my accomplishment.
Earning a doctorate was the fulfillment of a dream that God had given me five years prior, in 2008. During those five years, I continued to work full-time, completed two years of course work, experienced a season of ministry burn-out, changed my dissertation topic twice and finally ended up writing a monster 250 page dissertation on “Redeeming Disruptions.” Did I say I did this while working full time yet?! I was awarded a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from George Fox Seminary (now Portland Seminary). Less than 50% of my classmates every achieved the dream.
I don’t share this story to brag. Instead, I want my journey to be an inspiration to those of you who are chasing a dream. You know the old adage, “If I can do it, so can you!” I truly believe that. I didn’t come from an educated or wealthy family. But I came from a family of pioneers who forged their way west to start a better life for their families through sheer determination and hard work.
Every great dream faces tough challenges. The question is, how do you achieve a dream? Here are a 9 key steps that worked for me:
- Say yes! When given a dream, to many make excuses and starve their dream of oxygen before it ever gets life. Scripture says to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5), that includes God given dreams. Capture it and say yes!
- Verbalize your dream. Once I made the decision to pursue this degree, I began to tell people. That takes a dream from an idea to a goal. I got mixed reviews too. Some said “great”, while others simply asked, “why would you do that to yourself?” But the word was out. Tony was going back to school!
- Visualize the dream. My wife—who was my biggest cheerleader—made a big poster board for me and hung it on the wall directly in front of my desk at home (where I did most of the work). This board included a Photo-shopped picture of me receiving a diploma! I must have looked at that poster a thousand times in the next five years, visualizing the day I would graduate.
- Act on the dream. I did this by enrolling for the next cohort. I bought a laptop computer, backpack, ordered books and started logging assignments and meeting my classmates.
- Expect it to be hard work. I was working full-time when I started the program. Class work added another 15-20 hours to my 50-hour workweek. You can do the math. It made for some long weeks. Hunting and fishing were definitely curtailed for the next two years… that’s not to say I didn’t still do some, but not like before. Big dreams require sacrifice. You have to give up to get.
- Celebrate key milestones. I rewarded myself for accomplishing a lot of little and big goals during the journey. It could be as simple as getting another cup of coffee after finishing assigned reading, or going fishing after I finished writing a chapter (powerful motivation!).
- Don’t quit. I started the program in 2008 with a plan to graduate in 2011. I finished the class work on time. But the dissertation (i.e. monster research paper) took me another two years to finish. I had to take a year off to figure some personal things out. Part of me wanted to quit, but another part of me said, “You’re not a quitter. You’ve got this”. As a dear family friend used to say, “God’s delay is not God’s denial”. During that delay, God redirected my dissertation topic, which later received the title, “Redeeming Disruptions.” My editor later said that no one to her knowledge had ever written specifically about how God utilizes disruption to shape us spiritually.
- Give God the glory, but take a bow. Someone wisely wrote, “God is for you, but it’s not about you!” I like that. God gets all the glory for this project. He made it possible for me to earn the degree without acquiring any debt. The Lord opened the door even though I didn’t have the normal academic credentials. He guided me to see and understand things in scripture I had never seen before. God rescued me from a crisis of faith as a direct result of my writing. I worked like everything depended on him and like everything depended on me. Yoked together, we finished together.
- Grab the momentum and chase a new dream. I look at my desk today and see my first published book, Crazy Life, sitting on a shelf (with a dozen more). This new dream of getting published was achieved three years after receiving my doctorate. I believe it is what God wanted all along—a book to help people navigate through life’s disruptions without losing their faith.
I am grateful to God, to my lovely wife Disa and host of friends and family who believed in this work for Christ. I hope my journey can inspire you today to “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called… (you) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)
May God’s goodness overwhelm any craziness in your life today!