I nearly titled this post 8 Ways to Know the Difference Between a Dream and a Calling, but that sounds too much like I might know what I’m talking about. (Besides, it was way too long). But beauty? Beauty I can do. Because really, the dreams we imagine are simply our longing for beautiful. And many times we don’t pursue them because we simply aren’t called to do so. But other times we don’t pursue them because what if they aren’t so beautiful after all?

Yesterday I asked if you believed there was a difference between a dream and a calling, and nearly all of you said yes, there is a difference. You also freely shared some of your questions (and some of mine as well): What if I’m being selfish? What if I didn’t hear God right? What if my dream is too small or too big? What if I hate my calling? What if I fail? What if I succeed? I think every answer to those valid questions are found, not in the details of dreams and callings, but in the loving arms of God.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”

– John 15:5

God places His dreams in us. And then he calls them out of us. A lot of my frustration comes from spinning my wheels outside of that intimate and organic connection with the heart of God. I believe there is always more. Not necessarily bigger, but more. We have been given everything we need for life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3), but we don’t dare experience it all. There are big dreams of great influence and small dreams, also of great influence. God sees them all, and he calls us out of our fear and into the dream. My friend Holley Gerth talks about God-sized dreams. She says this:

“It’s not the size of the dream or desire that makes the difference–it’s the size of the who One made it, who made you, who takes treasures from His heart and places them in yours. Dream little dreams of a quiet life. Dream big dreams of the spotlight. Both matter. Both make a difference.”

For me, a dream has a floaty aspect to it, a sometime, someday preface. When it begins to emerge as a calling, fear always comes with it. But with the fear, there is a holy excitement, an anticipation for what is to come. And there is a grounded-ness to it, almost like the far-off is being pulled near with a strong hand, like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float.

A calling does not depend on a dream coming true. Contrary to what every American Idol winner in history has said, believing your dreams will come true does not necessarily mean they will. It’s just a statistical impossibility. Whenever I hear a young newly famous person talk about how ‘dreams really do come true!’ I always say under my breath, Well then what about the 100,000 other people who tried out and didn’t make it? A person may dream of being the American Idol. But even if that dream never comes true, it doesn’t mean they aren’t still called to sing.

Escape vs. Influence. Sometimes dreams begin from a desire to escape something: a job you hate, a difficult diagnosis, a longing for love. But if we really examine them, there could be a bit of true calling hidden within the dream. In other words, a dream may be something you think of to escape hard things. A calling is often something you can’t escape no matter how hard you may try. When I dream, I feel more like I’m watching a movie; when I am called, I’m one of the actors.

A dream is something you do with your eyes closed. A calling is something you do with your eyes wide open. – Nikole

A calling may begin as a dream. Not all dreams turn into a calling, but for me, my calling began as a dream. I wanted to write. For many years, I knew I was made to write down deep in my bones. But it took years before a calling to write emerged. It took timing and circumstance and most of all, a message.

You are  called to a message, not a method. If you tell me you are called to write books, I might challenge you on that. Because that calling could require you to convince someone else (a publisher) of that fact, and you may never be able to do so. I still don’t believe I’m necessarily called to write books. But I do believe I am called to share a particular message. Because I believe in my calling, I will share the message in an e-book, in a small group, as a speaker, on a blog, or in any way possible. For me, the opportunity opened up for me to share that message in a book in the traditional publishing way. But no matter what, I was going to share the message.

Pay attention to the desires of your heart. Why do we insist on feeling guilty for those things we dream of? God has placed his desires in your heart, and he is calling them out of you. Are you keeping your dreams locked away in the name of being reasonable? Or are you willing to be honest about them and lay them out in the open before the God who may have actually placed them there?

“Sometimes the dreams are so big . . . I feel they could make me burst. Calling, on the other hand, is like a steady relationship. It’s enormously romantic when they collide.”  – Susie Davis

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. Lilies are called to grow and be beautiful. And God clothes them, these little flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow. How much more will he take care of you? If he brings beauty into the world through these, how much more will he allow wonder and beauty and miracles to be produced in us, through us, from his hand? When we allow ourselves to dream, God takes sweet delight in reaching into them and grabbing by the fistful, shaping, molding, changing, bringing out the beautiful.

Calling often comes from a shattered dream.* Nobody likes this one, but it may be the most important. Sometimes the calling comes out of a beautiful dream and sometimes it comes out of brokenness. Heartache. Death. Loss. Disappointment. Is it possible that God can still bring out the beauty? Jesus says yes, says fruit comes when the seed is planted and broken and dies. The story of God is built upon beauty made, then destroyed, then re-made better. There is bondage, but then freedom. There is blindness, but then sight. There is death, but then resurrection.

*Larry Crabb wrote a book called Shattered Dreams. My husband has read it and says it’s excellent.