When George Muller was a young man,
he had a dream--an earnest hope for his life and legacy. He
would become an evangelist, who would take the message of Christ
to the world. But after several unsuccessful attempts in his
twenties to follow this career, he concluded it wasn’t in God’s
will for him. He gave up.
Until age 67. At this unlikely point in life, his dream
finally materialized. For the next twenty years--until he was
87--Muller traveled thousands of miles, carrying out numerous
speaking missions, and becoming one of the nineteenth century’s
foremost Christian statesmen.
Muller’s path to becoming an evangelist illustrates one of
the most fascinating and encouraging aspects of God’s providence
that we experience. It’s the fact that certain dreams we have,
which we assume have failed and forever been denied by God, do
eventually succeed--but at a later point than we expected. For
some of us, a dream is realized much later in life than
we thought possible.
The corollary is that waiting often proves to be well worth
it. By taking a circuitous route to a dream, we are better
prepared to enjoy its benefits--and really do enjoy them
more than if we had achieved our goal quickly and easily.
Often, too, we’re more effective in carrying out the
responsibilities the dream entails. This was clearly true in
Muller’s case. En route to realizing his speaking ministry, he
spent several decades building orphanages for the urchins
(street children) of England. He achieved broad recognition for
this work and for his remarkable faith-based approach to life
and ministry. Through it all, he gained a “platform” from which
to speak that wasn’t there when he was young.
The Benefits of Delayed Dreams
Muller’s example, of course, is unusual, dramatic and
noteworthy enough to make the history books. I’m not suggesting
most of us will experience a late success with such notoriety.
Yet if we remain open to God’s leading, and optimistic about his
possibilities for us, most of us will enjoy delayed
accomplishments that to us are dramatic--in light of the
expectations we have for our life.
Many, for instance, accomplish important vocational or
educational goals later in life than they had hoped--but they do
achieve them. The best openings for friendships and relationships
may also occur when we are well into our adult years. Some find
an excellent opportunity for marriage late in life, even for the
first time. Creative, artistic and recreational accomplishments
can occur at improbable points as well. And efforts we make to
influence someone that seem to fizzle sometimes do bear fruit
over time, long after we’ve given up
It may seem simple enough to say that God brings certain
dreams to pass at unlikely times in our lives. Yet most of us do
not begin to appreciate this aspect of God’s work nearly as
greatly as we should. The result is that our hope for the future
often falls short of what it could be.
It helps us greatly to appreciate reasons that God may delay
the fulfillment of a dream, and advantages we may enjoy by
waiting. Some of these potential benefits include--
Saving something for act three. When we’re young, we
wish we had all of life’s treasures at our feet at once. As we
grow older, we’re grateful that some of life’s best adventures
have been delayed. God graciously proportions his blessings
throughout our life.
Putting success in the right perspective. We may think
of certain blessings of life--such as marriage or a golden job
opportunity--as a panacea, solving all our problems and bringing
endless happiness. In reality, these steps typically bring
incremental improvement to our life but not radical. Putting our
expectations in right perspective takes time.
God also wishes to help us learn to enjoy daily life in the
face of many unfulfilled desires. The fuller our life is apart
from a dream’s being realized, the more likely we are to benefit
from its coming to pass. Because we aren’t banking on the
dream’s being the solution to our happiness, we are less likely
to suffer a letdown when it doesn’t deliver perfection, and are
better able to enjoy the benefits it truly provides.
Handling the responsibilities of success. Any dream we
realize brings new responsibilities into our life. While we
might imagine we’re fully capable of taking on these burdens
now, God often does us a favor by giving us more time to get
ready. One of the best ways we can invest our energy during a
dream’s delay is in preparing more fully for the
responsibilities it will require if it comes about.
Fitting our piece into the larger puzzle. The most
unfathomable aspect of God’s providence is that he fits the
details of our life into an infinitely bigger picture. He not
only has our own needs in mind in the timing of events, but
those of countless others. And he integrates our own life
situation into an endless variety of other circumstances.
The most encouraging part is that, when a dream delays, we
often find circumstances are more favorable to it when it
finally comes about than they would have been earlier. We simply
cannot predict the direction all the external factors will take
in any matter related to our life. When a dream delays, we
should remind ourselves often that circumstances may fit it
better at some point in the future. We do well to stay hopeful.
The growth of anticipation. A friend once took me boat
shopping with him. After we had looked at different models, I
asked if he was ready to purchase one. “I don’t actually intend
to buy a boat,” he confessed, “for then I wouldn’t have this
dream to look forward to.”
My friend’s surprising--and almost serious--remark points to
one of the most important keys to patience and contentment we
can learn. Anticipation has value as an end in itself. Great joy
is possible in the mood of anticipation; it’s an extraordinary
stimulant and motivator for us. If we can learn to enjoy
anticipation, we have the most effective possible antidote to
rushing a dream prematurely and losing heart if it delays.
Patience is natural for us in this case.
If we can become comfortable with anticipation, then it can
grow over time. The result is that we will enjoy the fulfillment
of a dream that delays than one which comes about quickly.
Divine compensation. There is also a more mysterious,
spiritual dynamic to the postponement of dreams that’s hinted at
occasionally in Scripture. God, in compensation for the waiting
process we endure, may increase our elation in a dream’s finally
being realized. Isaiah 61:1 and Zechariah 9:12, for instance,
speak of joy being doubled in return for a long-delayed
blessing. These passages don’t guarantee such an outcome in
every case. Yet they do give us a basis for hope, and remind us
that the delaying of a dream may mean that God will increase the
fulfillment we eventually experience.
A Dream Fulfilled--And Then Another
Scripture also gives numerous examples of those who enjoyed
the fulfillment of a dream well beyond the point when most would
have lost hope. My favorite is that of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk
They were the parents of John the Baptist. The general story
of their conceiving John in old age is well-known, and a staple
of the Christmas story. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah
in the temple and announces to him, “your prayer has been heard.
Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him
the name John” (v 13). Even though Zechariah and Elizabeth are
both “well along in years” (v 7), Elizabeth soon becomes
pregnant, and when her term is finished, gives birth to John.
While the fact that this miraculous birth took place is
inspiring enough, there is more to this story than meets the
eye. Zechariah was a priest, whose division of Abijah was on
duty at the time of his encounter with the angel. Like other
priestly divisions, Abijah served the temple only two weeks each
year. Many of the priests lived away from Jerusalem, had secular
jobs, and traveled to the holy city only by choice when their
division was on duty.
Each day one priest was chosen by lottery to enter the holy
of holies and offer sacrifice. What’s most significant is that a
priest was allowed this honor only once in his lifetime, and
many never realized it at all. When Zechariah was chosen for
temple service that morning, it was the prize of a lifetime.
Here on this one day, late in life, he not only experienced the
angel’s promise of a child, but enjoyed the fulfillment of a
major vocational dream as well.
Zechariah’s experience reminds us of how remarkably our life
can change in the space of a single day. Harvest experiences do
occur for each of us from time to time, and sometimes--as in
Zechariah’s case--we are completely surprised by them. We do
best to begin each day with high expectations for it. While we
shouldn’t base our well-being on whether serendipities occur
that day, a certain hope for them is healthy, for it makes us
more alert to the special openings God may present us.
Hope for the Future
Zechariah’s experience, of course, not only inspires hope for
the day, but hope for the future. His being chosen for temple
service brings out how long-term persistence toward a goal--and
availability--often do pay off. Zechariah undoubtedly had been
making the sojourn to Jerusalem for decades before this
cherished opportunity finally opened up.
Then there is the revelation from the angel. Most interesting
is that Gabriel says that God’s promise of a child is in
response to Zechariah’s prayer: “your prayer has been heard.”
Most likely Gabriel is referring to prayers Zechariah and
Elizabeth had made for a child long before this, when she was in
her childbearing years. This is one of Scripture’s most graphic
examples of how past prayers are not forgotten by God. Time and
energy we expend in praying do bring results--sometimes quickly,
sometimes over time.
Zechariah’s experience shows that prayer can make a radical
difference in our destiny. Unless we have clear reason to know
that God has shut a particular door, we have reason to stay
hopeful that, when we have prayed earnestly, God will bring
about a certain dream. And if the dream doesn’t work out, we can
still be confident that the prayers we have made will bring
benefit to our life in many other ways.
Keeping Our Own Hope Strong
Have you lost heart over a personal dream that hasn’t been
fulfilled? Yet to the best of your knowledge, does it fit your
gifts and interests well? Is it a good match for your life as
God has designed it? It may seem that pessimism about the future
is your best defense against further disappointment. But keep in
mind the benefits of hope. Be careful not to write your personal
history with a gloomy conclusion before it happens. Stay open to
opportunities to move toward your dream that God may make
possible for you.
Ask him to give you the divine ability to live in two worlds
at once--to stay hopeful about your future, yet happy right now
even with certain desires unfulfilled. Through his grace, you
can achieve this balance in your outlook, and it’s a vital part
of the attitude of faith.
Most of all, remember that whatever happens, Christ desires
the best for you and is working out an ideal plan for your life.
That alone is an incomparable reason for hope. Take confidence
from knowing it. And may it give you the courage to take steps