God’s Dreams Are Bigger
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Trevin WaxTrevin Wax is vice president of research and resource development at the North American Mission Board and a visiting professor at Wheaton College. A former missionary to Romania, Trevin is a regular columnist at The Gospel Coalition and has contributed to The Washington Post, Religion News Service, World, and Christianity Today, which named him one of 33 millennials shaping the next generation of evangelicals. He has served as general editor of The Gospel Project. He is the author of multiple bo...more
What place does God have in the plan for our lives? Trevin Wax reveals the limitations in our own understanding and the limitless God whose dreams for us are bigger and better than we can ever imagine.
God’s Dreams Are Bigger
Dave: Okay, I want to find out if you ever really listen when I preach.
Ann: Oh, no! I’m going to get it wrong!
Dave: You always say you do; and you come up, “Oh, honey, that was great!” I wonder if you really ever listen.
Dave: And I’m wondering if anybody in the congregation ever listens.
Ann: I’m sweating; I’m sweating right now.
Dave: Oh, I think you’re going to know the answer to this.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: I’ve said many times, in 30 years of preaching, that there are two beliefs—
Dave: —that we hold. Again, this is just my perspective; but I’ve said there are two beliefs that we hold that determine every decision we make every day. Those two beliefs are—
Ann: What we think about God, which is theology; and what we think about ourselves, which is identity.
Dave: Give me five!
Ann: Yes, I’m so glad I got it right.
Dave: Now, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. There’s just 30-40 years of walking with Christ and looking at my life, and looking at Scripture, and looking around, and seeing how people live; I think I could make a case that how you think about God—and this is, you know, the attributes of God/who He is and how you think about yourself; so that’s theology and identity. I really do think, when you pull back—“Why did they say that?” or “Why do they make this…”—I think it comes down to theology and identity.
Today, we’ve got Trevin Wax with us, who has written a book, really about both; but it zeros in on identity, called Rethink Yourself. We’ve already started a discussion on it. It’s a wonderful way to look at how we build our theology and how we build our belief about identity. I want to dive in more today on identity.
Ann: Yes; Trevin, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Trevin: It’s great to be back with you.
Ann: It’s been fun already, having this conversation with you, because we’re living in a culture, which really is looking inward. We have hot topics like: “identity,” “Be true to yourself,” “This is where you find your source of joy and happiness…” Listeners are thinking, “Well, yes, that sounds good.” You’re saying, “Oh, yes; that’s been culturally building for years and years,”—that we’re finding our identity and our happiness as we look inward. That’s what we talked about previously.
Dave: Yes; give us a real quick summary of: there’s three approaches.
Dave: We hit two really hard previously. Hit those; and then I really want to camp on number three, which is sort of the best way.
Dave: But hit the first two real quick.
Trevin: Most people in our culture, according to the surveys—and different sociologists and people who [study] our culture have said this is the case—most people look at the purpose of life as: “You need to look inside yourself to then find and express yourself.” So you: “Look in first to discover who you are/to find out what your deepest desires are; then you look around to the people around you to affirm you, to support you, and to cheer you on in that self that you have constructed; and then, if you feel like you need to, you look up to God or to some higher power for inspiration in your life/some sort of spiritual dimension.”
Dave: The second way is: “Look around; look up; look in.”
Trevin: That’s right.
Dave: That doesn’t work either.
Trevin: No, that’s the community-based way.
Trevin: You know, the community defines you—the family tells you who you’re going to be—that’s dominant for most parts of the world.
But even the very notion of adding Jesus to your life sounds like we’re just—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Trevin: —you know, we’d love for Him to take part in our lives—
Trevin: —but Jesus comes to take over!
Ann: Right; “Just bless my life, Jesus;—
Trevin: That’s right.
Ann: —“but don’t take over!”
Trevin: Right; “I want to still be in control.”
Trevin: And that leads us to that third way, which is what I believe the Bible teaches: “Where the purpose or life is first to look up first to God. That question you brought up before about: “What do you think about God?—who He is; what He is like. What are His attributes?” “What does the Bible teach us about God?”—He’s at the center. We’re not the center of the universe, with Him revolving around our plans; He’s at the center of everything, and we are a part of His big plan. “God coming first; then looking around to others—to the people of God/the family of God that we are called to be a part of—then looking in to see that unique contribution that God has for us to make to His kingdom.”
You know, the Apostle Paul talks about how, in the church, it’s one body; but there are many different parts. We all have different roles to play. I think, as a parent, I know my kids are unique; I want to celebrate the unique aspects of those kids, but I want to celebrate them in a way that’s going to have them asking questions: “Where does my identity—my gifts/my talents and the things that God has given me—where is that going to fit in His overall plant?”—not—“How can God fit into my plan for my life?”
Trevin: “How can what God has given me fit into His plan for the world?”—that’s the bigger question that I think we have to wrestle with.
Dave: Yes; so what happens, in a sense—I think we all know, because hopefully we’ve experienced this—but help the listener understand: “If I take that approach, I’m going to start the opposite of what I did in college:”—
Dave: —you know?—“’I’m going to add a little God to my life.’” No, no, no; I’m going to center my life on looking up, as you call it: “God is going to be the Rock/the Foundation. I don’t even know what that means at this moment when I do it, but I want to look up and start my approach to life there.”
What does that look like? What do we do? What happens?
Ann: “What do I see when I look up?”
Dave: “You know, what happens to our mindset when we really understand who God is?”
Trevin: Well, when we look to God, and we put Him first, there is going to be a definite change in priorities in our life; you know? And I remember this, when I was a freshman in high school—you know, I was saved as a young child; and I’m thankful that the Lord saved me so young—but I remember being a freshman in high school at a Disciple Now weekend that our church did, you know, with the youth group.
I remember that particular weekend, coming to the realization: “If everything that I say I believe about Jesus is true—that He really died for my sins, that He’s been raised from the dead, that He really is King—my life’s going to be different for the rest of my life!”—like—“If that’s really true, I’m not in charge!” I remember coming to that feeling, as a freshman in high school, realizing, “I’ve got to own this for myself. This can’t be my parents’ faith. This can’t just be something I’m going to add on to my life.”
That has led to different life decisions that would look weird to the world/very strange to the world. We could go into some of them just in my own life—I’m sure you all would have yours as well—where sometimes the Lord asks you to do something that don’t make any sense from a worldly way of thinking; well, that’s because you have a different way of thinking.
Trevin: You have a different way of looking at the world.
Dave: Yes; it’s interesting, when you said that would look weird or strange to the world, we now know what you mean by “the world,”—it’s a mindset.
Trevin: That’s right.
Dave: It’s the sort of a mindset that’s usually: “Look in, look around, look up.” The worldly mindset is like, “What is that [in response to a godly mindset]!?” Even a parent might say to his child—like my mom said to me—“What are you doing?!
Ann: Mine too.
Dave: “Why are you giving your life to Jesus?” and “Why do you want to go into ministry? That’s a waste.” My dad told me, “It’s an absolute waste of your life!”
Ann: He said to you, Dave, “It’s a waste of your education—
Ann: —“and all of your gifts.”
Dave: —“and your gifts.”
Ann: And my parents were like, “You’re not going to make any money! How will you be happy?”—[Laughter]—which is interesting; isn’t it?—like that connection of money. I mean, money is important; but money isn’t the source of our happiness.
Trevin: That’s right. You know, we should all want to live in a way that makes other people: “That doesn’t make sense,” without Jesus.
Ann: Yes; like, “You’re dumb!” [Laughter]
Trevin: Yes; I’d rather—I mean, that’s the kind of thing—when you’re in conversations with people who don’t know the Lord, that is going to make them ask questions. You know, Peter says to be ready when someone asks a question about the hope that is within you. At some point, we definitely want to have the right answers to people that ask questions. It’s important to do apologetics and, you know, have good answers to questions that people may have.
The bigger, more haunting question for me, though, is: “What if no one’s asking questions about the hope that is within me, because it looks like my hope is just like everyone else’s hope?”
Trevin: That’s the bigger question that I think we have to wrestle with.
Dave: Is our life different?—
Trevin: Is it different?
Dave: —in a positive, beautiful way that people want to know—
Ann: Well, yes—
Dave: —they’re asking questions.
Ann: The people notice; like, “Whoa! Why is he…”
Dave: Well, what happened to you?—I mean, you said you were 15. By the way, that’s a revelation for a 15-year-old! Because it’s so look in, at that age, you don’t even consider anything else. But at 15, you were like: “Wait, wait, wait! If the resurrection’s true, that means He’s God—He rose from the dead; He’s alive; He’s in charge!—my whole life’s different.”
Play that out! What happened as you went through high school and college? I mean, this is the implication of looking up; right?
Trevin: That’s right.
Dave: Just one life, but man, it changed everything; in what way?
Trevin: Well, it definitely gave me a different perspective of what my mission in life was to be about. I immediately began to see myself as, you know, an instrument of God’s purpose in all sorts of different areas. Our church would do mission trips. The very next year—and this was all God’s timing—but the very next year was the first time I went to Romania, which wound up being a country that, when I was 19 years old, I bought a one-way ticket and moved there and lived there for five years.
Dave: Wait, wait; why? What happened? Why would you do that?
Trevin: Looking back, now that I have a junior in high school, I think it took more for my parents’ faith for me to go to Romania than it did for me as a 19-year-old. [Laughter]
Trevin: The Lord really gripped my heart with a passion for ministry and missions. I just had this overwhelming sense of calling to steward gifts for a season/to steward my gifts there. I had gone every year, as a young person, whenever we would have a mission trip. We did medical missions, and evangelistic missions, and things. But then, when I got to that season, where I felt like God was calling me to a Christian university there and to do ministry in the surrounding villages, I needed to learn the language.
It was all of those cultural things that I had to learn; but it was very, very strong in my life. I’m thankful that I had parents, who were supportive, even though I know it was hard for them. I was the oldest and “[You’re] going to college where?”—you know?—it was one of those things.
You know, God doesn’t call everyone to cross-cultural missions. God doesn’t call everyone to the kinds of things He called me to do, but God has a particular calling for everyone. The question is to constantly be asking yourself: “Where can I go? What can I do, where the gifts that God has given me will be most exploited for the kingdom of God?” “What is it that God wants from me?” “Where can I be light? Where can I be salt?” “In what field has He planted me, and how do I plow that field?”—whatever field it may be.
Those are questions that we have to ask, as Christians, because the ultimate goal is not that we follow our heart, but that we follow God’s heart for us and for the world. What He says to be true takes precedence over how we may view our lives.
Dave: Yes, and what you just explained basically was: “If you really look up”—and that’s your term; in some ways, it could be ‘Look down at the Word of God,’ or whatever way you want to say it; in our book, we call it ‘Go vertical,’”—you know?
Dave: It’s like: “Your marriage is never going to find satisfaction in one another,”—that would be look around or look in. “You’re only going to find it vertically,” so Vertical Marriage means that. You’re saying the same thing: “Look up!”
You just explained how it changes everything; because as a 15-year-old, you realized He’s the King; He rose from the dead; it’s real. You now look in differently. You explained, just there, “I’m looking in now to say, ‘What are my gifts? Who has He made me to be? How can I use these to bless others?’” That only comes—right?—from a look up perspective. Is that what happened in your life? Is that what we’re sort of hoping happens with our lives and with our kids?
Trevin: Well, I think this is a—it has happened, but it’s always still happening—right?
Trevin: It’s a lifelong process.
Trevin: Sometimes you’ll hear songs or statements in Christian circles, where we’ll say, you know, “I want more of Jesus and less of me.”
Trevin: And I know what people mean by that is what, you know, John the Baptist was saying.
Trevin: “I must decrease; He must increase.”
Ann: “He must increase!”
Dave: —John 3:30; yes.
Trevin: That’s right. In that sense, that’s absolutely true.
But there is a sense in which, at the end of time, when God remakes the whole world—and when we are finally, not just sanctified/made holy, but glorified—where we are the most perfect versions of ourselves that we can be, I am not going to be less Trevin. I will be more Trevin; and yet, more like Jesus than ever before. I will be more Christ-like, but in a Trevin-kind of way. Because, you see, Jesus is going to get glory from all of His people, not being clones of Him—
Trevin: —but of being like Him—foundationally, at the heart level—but also gloriously unique. Everyone has their own part to play in the symphony that is going to echo God’s praises for all of eternity.
Ann: And now, we’re talking identity.
Trevin: That’s right.
Ann: Let’s talk about this identity that you’re talking about right now, because you’re getting your identity from Christ alone. What’s different—and that word is so hot right now; we’re all talking about identity in songs, and movies, and everything—what’s the difference?
Trevin: Well, the world is going to tell you to base your identity in yourself—
Trevin: —whatever you think or in your achievements.
Ann: —your preferences.
Trevin: There are all sorts of things in your life that can become the dominant thing that you then say, “This is who I am inside.”
Trevin: Where Jesus challenges us is that, when you come to Christ, you’re coming to a Savior, who says, “If you want to follow Me, you have to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Me. Whoever would find his life must lose it; whoever loses their life is the one who’s gaining their life.” Jesus is turning that way of thinking on its head completely—but He’s not doing so just in the sense of, “Well, I have to deny my identity,”—He’s doing it and saying, “No, I’m going to give you a new identity. This identity is going to be paramount; it’s going to be prominent. The most important part of you is that you’re redeemed—that you are a child of God—that you belong to His family.” And that identity is one that no one can take away from you.
Trevin: See, all the other identities can be flexible/they can be fluid: your achievements can fall away; you can lose possessions; your career—maybe you put your identity in your career—that career could go away; you know, you could lose your job/there’s an economic downturn; who knows what it might be! But when you have God establishing your identity, then you have something solid/something substantive that’s going to be there no matter what the circumstances in life are.
Dave: Yes; and I think it’s so critical for us, as believers—married/many of us parents—that’s why I said, at the beginning; and again, I probably preach this way too much—“What you believe—theology—about God, and what you believe about yourself—identity—determines everything.”
I’m thinking, “This is what I, as a parent—it has to be one of my driving passions—to get this into my son or daughter.” You know, especially as they’re going—you know, 10, 11, 12, or now 14/15 years old—because they’re listening to other messages and voices, which we all are. I want them to know—and I can’t do it—but I can live it and speak it out in the home, who God really is: “He did rise from the dead; He is alive; He is present right here, right now,” and “You are uniquely wired/created by God,” and “He has a purpose for your life.”
It’s everything you’re saying and trying to bring it down now to like practical theology. It’s like I’m driving, and I’ve got my son with me; I’ve done this a hundred times. I never had this vision of: “I want my boys to be well-rounded,”—which, by the way, is most parents’ vision—“Yes, I want them to be well-rounded.” What for?! You know, so they put them in every school activity and every sport. It’s like, “No! God made them really good at something, or they have a passion about something! You want them singularly focused and good at that”; right?
So as a parent, you’re coming alongside them and going, “Do you know that God made you?” Like our oldest son was a tech guru from day one! We would camp out in the woods behind our house with a tent. CJ would have a VCR—this is how old it was—wired from the house with 18 extension cords. We’d pop in a movie in the middle of the woods. My other sons didn’t do that; they were like, “CJ, how’d you do that?” I don’t even know how he did it; you know?
Ann: Well, I was like, “Isn’t this defeating the purpose? Aren’t we getting away from all of that to be in solitude?” [Laughter]
Dave: It was in some ways; but the beauty is that, as you raise a son like that—or a daughter, who is artistic—or you name it; it doesn’t matter!—God has made that; He has put it in them! That’s part of their identity. I wasn’t trying to say to CJ: “You need to be an author”; you know? That was not his thing; he reads the encyclopedia for fun! [Laughter] That’s what he does; right? As a parent thinking of this, what you’re saying is, “When I’m looking up first, I understand who God is; it changes the way I view myself as a parent.” It’s like I want to call that out of my kids!—right? It’s like: “Man, I want to birth in them their identity, created by God,”—that’s where what you’re talking about comes home to the family.
Now, am I saying [what’s] true? Or how would you verse that out?
Ann: Yes; because we’re thinking about the 34-year-old mom in her minivan, with the two kids in the backseat. You know, she’s thinking, “How is this relevant to me?”
Trevin: Right; I just gave a mom of a good friend of our oldest son a copy of Rethink Your Self, because we were having this very conversation about identity. She was saying, “I don’t want my boys to make some of the same mistakes that I made, growing up,—
Trevin: —“where I based my identity in something else. It’s not what brings happiness; you know?” I think this is such a critical thing to say, but I love your illustration of calling out what you see in your son. See, that’s different than—it’s so easy for us, as parents, to want to relive our own childhood—
Dave: Like calling it in; yes.
Trevin: Calling it in.
Ann: —or “This is what you should do.”
Dave: Yes; putting it in.
Trevin: That’s right; or saying, “Oh, because I’m passionate about this, you must be passionate about this.” I know this temptation for myself, as someone in ministry. I’ve seen other ministry families, where it’s sort of just assumed, “Well, if you’re the son of a pastor, you’re going to be a pastor.” You shouldn’t put that pressure on a kid!
Trevin: You’ve got to see: “What has God uniquely wired them to do?” And then want to fan the flames of that, but to do so in a way that it’s connected to God’s bigger purpose for the world. It’s not just about making money; it’s not just about achieving earthly success; but it’s—
Ann: And those things aren’t wrong;—
Trevin: Of course not; right.
Ann: —but if it’s the source of your identity, it will only lead to frustration or maybe even unhappiness.
Trevin: —and disappointment, because none of those things can withstand the weight of our quest for happiness. They just can’t.
I mean, I want my kids not to be “true to themselves” but to be true to their future selves: the self that God is making them; the ideal version/the Christ-like version that I know is there. God, when He calls them to become Christians—is just like that for all of us—we want to be true to the future person that God is making us to be.
And so, when I sin, or when I fail, or when I struggle, I’m not being authentic in that struggle—I’m actually being inauthentic—because my identity is as a child of God. When you come to faith in Christ, God the Father says over you what He says over Jesus in His baptism: “You are My beloved son/you are My beloved child. In you, I am well-pleased.” Because we have Christ’s righteousness over us/because we believe in Jesus Christ, God sees us the way He sees Jesus. That is the foundational identity that we have.
Trevin: And when we sin, we’re not being more ourselves. We’re actually being less ourselves; we’re being less of the person that God has called us out to be. We’re sinning against that newfound identity, and it’s that identity that has to be prominent in our thinking and in our lives.
Ann: That’s so good.
Dave: Good word.
Ann: Thanks for being with us today.
Trevin: Thank you for having me.
Bob: Stop and think for just a minute how counter-cultural what Trevin Wax has been sharing with Dave and Ann Wilson is. To live authentically, as a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s going to stand out in this culture. That’s going to cause a lot of people to pull back and scratch their heads and say, “I need to hear from you what it is you’re doing. How do you live like this?”
Trevin has written about this subject in a book called Rethink Your Self. It’s all about identity. It’s a book that we’re thinking would be good for parents and teens to go through together, or you could engage with your young adults around this subject. We’re making the book available this week to anyone who can help support the ongoing ministry of FamilyLife Today. FamilyLife Today is, every day, reaching hundreds of thousands of people with practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families—through this radio program/this podcast; through our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; our resources; the events we host—all of that comes together to help effectively develop godly marriages and families.
We believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time. If you would help us with a donation to increase the impact—to help us reach more people, more often, with practical biblical help and hope for their marriages and their families—we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift, a copy of Trevin Wax’s book, Rethink Your Self. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And thank you, in advance, for your financial support.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about how you find God, and His purposes and His glory, in the midst of the mundane/the ordinary stuff of life. How can you have that kind of a God-centered focus on all that’s happening in your marriage and your family? Courtney Reissig is going to join us to talk about that. We hope you can be with us as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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