Is It Wrong to Want the American Dream?
Grappling with the ideals of the American Dream and the commands of God.
When I asked for a ride, boy, did I get one.
The car’s owner, Trent, is the wealthiest guy I know. He not only owns exotic cars but also motorcycles, yachts, multiple homes and a helicopter. This business magnate never attended college but worked hard to build a flourishing company from scratch. He married a beautiful woman and his four children are successful in their fields.
There’s no doubt Trent has achieved the American Dream. He has it all.
Or does he?
What is the American Dream?
What is the American Dream? It’s an aspirational concept. Traditionally, the American dream includes landing a full-time job, buying a home with a white picket fence, starting a family and becoming financially secure. The goal is to live a comfortable life and retire without lack.
The American Dream is still intact today, but Generation X and millennials also have a desire to travel and work flexible jobs, according to a World Bank study. For better or worse, our culture is deeply rooted in the American Dream, though we each hold our own version of it.
Is it OK to chase after the American Dream?
A critical question for Christians to ask is, can we have the American Dream and Jesus? In short, the answer is yes. But here’s a significant caveat: God won’t share His throne with anything other than himself. If your goal is to achieve the American Dream while claiming Christ, you’ll never get Jesus. But if you reach the American Dream as a result of serving God, then you can have your proverbial cake and eat it, too.
Let me explain.
First, the American Dream isn’t intrinsically evil. The American Dream and the Bible both value hard work (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10). In addition, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Taking care of your family often includes purchasing a home — it’s usually a better long-term financial decision.
Traits like determination and perseverance are also godly. Consider James 1:2-4: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
God isn’t a curmudgeon. While a life of laziness isn’t OK, God is the author of comfort and relaxation. Remember when God rested on the seventh day after the work of creation? Jesus also withdrew to quiet places when He needed to rest.
One of the allures of the American Dream is the promise of money and wealth. God never says riches are inherently evil. The Bible says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10, emphasis added). It’s an issue of the heart — who or what do we truly love? Dallas Willard wrote, “Riches are not holy, riches are not evil. They are creations we are to use for God.”
Money is a spiritual asset for God to accomplish His work on earth. The Apostle Paul charged the wealthy “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
My friend Lance is another successful entrepreneur. He began selling a few products on eBay and now owns a multimillion-dollar online business. He loves investing in God’s eternal work. Several years ago, I was working for a nonprofit and we needed to raise $50,000 for a missions training program. Donations were only trickling in — then Lance offered to cover the full amount. He was happy to give that chunk of cash. On the outside Lance lives the American Dream but on the inside he understands who owns it all.
It’s a heart issue.
More than anything, God won’t share your allegiance to Him with the American Dream. He’s a jealous God — “You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
Luke 10:27 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nothing else. If we don’t live a life oriented toward Christ, our culture’s ideals will commandeer our hearts.
So don’t get caught up in the trap of evaluating whether it’s moral to own a Ferrari or a Ford, jeans from Ralph Lauren or Wrangler, or a home in the suburbs or the Sudan. God knows what matters, and that’s a heart devoted wholly to Him. The point is that anything — and I mean anything — that competes with the worship of God in our hearts is an idol.
Pastor and author Timothy Keller stated that idols are good things turned into “ultimate things.” They are things we gotta have at all costs. They subvert the Spirit’s reign in our hearts. Money, family, education, businesses, homes and even lifestyles such as veganism or intense workout regimens can become idols.
Even small things can replace God’s rule in our hearts. My pastor in Indiana adored his autographed picture of Michael Jordan a little too much. It became a distraction to his relationship with Jesus. Wisely, he parted ways with that photo. Is there something, big or small, that has taken the place of God in your heart?
It’s never too late to adjust course.
It’s not too late to change your life’s course. Friends of mine were living comfortably in northern Colorado when God interrupted their status quo. The Lord called them to sell their house and attend a missions training program overseas. There, God surprised the husband with a dream that he would help people walk. He obeyed. With the support of his wife, they returned to the U.S. and he earned a degree in biomedical science. He began designing legs for amputees at a leading prosthetics corporation.
Pick your battle. It doesn’t matter if you end up stateside or overseas. Whether it’s fighting for equal opportunity, housing refugees, raising godly children or loving orphans, we each have a battle to fight. Don’t know yours? Keep praying, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours,” and you’ll be well on your way to hearing from God, rather than being swayed by the American Dream.
One problem with the American Dream is that it’s just too small for God. Why would you settle for anything less than God’s dream for your life? Don’t let fear hold you back. Remember, we serve God — “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Remember Trent, the Lamborghini owner who was living the American Dream? I ran into him at a party a while back. I shared with him my story, how I had left my comfortable life with a steady income to join a nonprofit organization. How I was sharing the Gospel around the world and helping the marginalized. He replied, “I’m jealous.”
I guess Trent didn’t have it all.
Follow God wholeheartedly and He might throw in the American Dream. In any case, what your life looks like on the outside won’t matter because you know who you serve on the inside. Pick your battle and let God routinely disrupt your life — for His glory and your joy.
Copyright 2018 Eric Demeter. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Eric’s passion is to invigorate people for Christ and to create opportunities for the marginalized around the world. He also loves teaching on topics such as conflict resolution, identity, relationships, and spiritual formation. He holds an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary science from Purdue University. In addition, he earned a Master’s degree in theological studies from Bethel College (IN), but admits he’s really only a master at jumping rope (in which he can do triples).