By embracing a God-inspired vision, we can live purposefully — by design and not by default.
Steve Jobs had the uncanny ability to foresee what consumers wanted. Even before they knew it themselves. His innovative products — the iPod, iPhone and iPad — have transformed the way we keep in touch, work and play. A true visionary, he was certainly a man before his time.
Like Jobs, the movers and shakers in society and church are those with clarity of purpose and vision. Unless we have a mental picture of a desired outcome in the future, we will never arrive there.
In his book “Visioneering”, best-selling author Andy Stanley writes: “Vision is a preferred future. A destination. Vision always stands in contrast to the world as it is. Vision demands change. But a vision requires someone to champion the cause. That someone is you!”
Why do we need to have a personal vision? The Bible reminds us, “Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint …” (Proverbs 29:18). Without a revelation from God, a sense of calling and urgency is absent. If we have no vision, we tend to drift along in life like flotsam.
When Helen Keller, the blind activist, was once asked what could be worse than being born blind, she replied, “To have sight and no vision.”
Many are just focusing on the pleasures and concerns of the immediate: the must-watch TV serial drama, the flood of emails clamouring for our attention, the not-to-be-missed business deal or our foodie friends’ latest discovery on Facebook.
Now don’t get me wrong. All these things are part and parcel of life. They may even be legitimate and positive (1 Corinthians 6:12). But let’s not get caught up with the mundane and trivial and lose sight of a higher purpose.
As believers, we are here on earth to live out God’s purpose. This sets us apart from those who espouse the world’s values. It’s not about our dreams or fulfilment — though ultimately we’ll be fulfilled if we live out God’s purpose for our lives.
A personal God-inspired vision is important in that it directs, energises and galvanises us into action.
Before considering God’s calling for our lives, we have to trust that His way is best.
Do we believe He has a unique plan for us — that our destiny was predetermined while we were yet in our mother’s womb, and that each of us has been endowed with distinctive gifts and resources (Jeremiah 1:5)?
Do we believe He will lead — that He is the ultimate Guide (Proverbs 3:5-6)?
Do we believe He will provide? Hudson Taylor, the missionary who founded China Inland Mission, said, “God’s work done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply.” When God gives you a vision, He also grants you His provision.
The apostle Paul had a supernatural encounter with God that turned his life completely around. Most of us cannot recall a defining moment when God thrusts upon us His calling and implants a vision in our lives (Acts 9:3-18).
The vision God inspires in our hearts usually develops gradually as we spend time with Him in prayer and immerse ourselves in His Word through study and meditation.
Long ago, a select few (prophets) received visions from God, which they then shared with the people (Amos 3:7). But after Pentecost, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, personal vision comes to us directly (Joel 2:28-29).
God desires to show us His will and reveal His secrets to us because we are His friends (John 15:15b). So let us boldly approach Him (Hebrews 4:16) and let His Holy Spirit reveal His plans and purposes to us (John 16:13).
A vision may arise out of a need. Paul went to Europe (instead of Asia) after he had a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help. But a need does not necessarily justify a calling or vision. We have to listen to the Holy Spirit’s instructions (Acts 16:6-10).
Many well-meaning believers are deeply involved in a particular ministry — meeting diverse needs, spreading themselves thin, “fighting fires” with leaky hoses and blunt axes. But if they haven’t clarified their vision, they won’t be effective.
Philosopher and theologian, Dr Ramesh Richard, once challenged some leaders to reduce their life work to one word, which to him is “proclamation”. We too need to find that “one word” that best describes our life work.
Sometimes God uses mentors to help us birth our vision. But they should merely undergird and confirm — not replace — what God speaks to us in a “still small voice”. If you’re married, your spouse may help you clarify your vision or even be your co-labourer in fulfilling your vision.
What happens if we aren’t absolutely sure about our calling even after a period of waiting and deliberation? Just as nobody learns to drive without taking the wheel, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be stalled by “paralysis of analysis”. We should step out and act — by faith. If we make a wrong turn, “God’s GPS” will redirect us along the correct path (Isaiah 30:18-21).
Vision casting is the process of making a vision known. This is in line with Habakkuk 2:2: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.” Leadership guru John Maxwell says, “All great leaders share their dream with others.”
In Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, Aubrey Malphurs shares six essential elements of a vision. A vision must be clear, challenging, comprise a mental picture and relate to the future. It must also be seen, understood and lived out in the life of the church and have a sense of urgency.
Sometimes a vision is best kept secret. At first, Nehemiah told nobody what God had placed in his heart to do — rebuilding the ruined city walls (Nehemiah 2:12). Whilst sharing a vision enables a leader to unite and galvanise a church into action, premature sharing of a vision may be inadvisable. Naysayers and detractors may snuff out a vision in its critical stage of formation.
Star or scar
Vision may focus on an area where we shine like a star. Or it may be an area where a scar, a painful experience, resides.
As a star, we may be gifted in making complex theological truths easily understood by the masses. The vision God inspires in us might then be ‘effective communication’.
God can even “use” the scar of a sexually abused woman. Her vision is to minister to prostitutes. Having gone through the pain, she can empathise with them (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Obstacles and Obedience
Sometimes we may get discouraged that we’re not moving any closer to the vision God has placed in our heart. We may even think of giving it up. However, if a vision seems slow in materialising, wait patiently; for it will surely take place (Habakkuk 2:3).
William Carey, who had a vision for lost souls, faced this predicament. After labouring many years in India, his printing establishment and manuscripts were destroyed by fire. But he persevered. Later, this self-educated cobbler translated and printed God’s Word into 40 different languages and dialects. If Carey lacked the faith or patience to cling on to the vision God gave him, he would not have seen the fruits of his labour.
Paul’s life made tremendous impact because he held on tenaciously to his vision till the end and lived it out. Before King Agrippa, he declared, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). Nothing — persecution, imprisonment or shipwreck — could dampen his resolve to finish the race. Paul pressed on to win the prize (Philippians 3:13-14).
Vision is powerful in that it not only directs but sustains our ministry. It helps us to stay the course.
We get jolted from our complacency when a close friend or relative dies suddenly. We’re reminded of our mortality and a chilling realisation sets in. Time is precious. Fritter it away and it’s gone forever. How many of us live intentionally, making our lives count?
Pastor and public speaker Dr Tony Campolo cites a sociological study in which 50 people over the age of 95 were asked one question: “If you could live your life all over again, what would you do differently?” The answers that repeatedly came up were:
If I had to do it over again, I would reflect more.
If I had to do it over again, I would risk more.
If I had to do it over again, I would do more things that would live on after I am dead.
If we embrace our God-inspired vision, live intentionally and seize the opportunities to glorify Him, we won’t be shedding tears of regret in heaven. Instead, we’ll hear the Master’s commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, Dec 2011, issue 43.6