Friday, April 07, 2006

My Vision Journey

For the past several weeks, we have been exploring the importance of and principles related to vision over at the Thursday Leadership Lesson. I;ve been sharing some of those thoughts over here, as well, because I think vision is critical to what we do as pastors.

Today, I want to take a step back and share with you some of the most valuable lessons I have learned about vision.

1. God's Vision is Bigger Than My Vision
Isaiah 55:9 says, "For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."

I have learned that God's vision will always be bigger than my vision. As a 4th grader, I thought my vision of producing a live-action video of Carman's The Champion would be the adventure of a lifetime. Thankfully, God's vision is bigger than that. And he wants us to dream dreams that are big enough for him to work in. Once your God-given vision gets to the point where it is overwhelming, ask God to stretch you a little more. God can accomplish more in us and in others than we can possibly imagine.

2. Visions Take Time
I have learned that a vision takes time. A long, frustrating amount of time. Every vision has a waiting room where God prepares us for the work he wants to do.

Nehemiah sat for about 5 months in the waiting room of his vision. David was anointed king as a teenager but only assumed the throne after years of serving, fighting giants, and dodging arrows from his boss. The Israelites waited for 400 years between the prophets and the birth of Messiah.

The story of Abraham gives us great lessons about vision timing. Think about Abraham and the promise God gave him to be the father of many nations. In Genesis 12, God asked Abraham to make a significant sacrifice: "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father's house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will cause you to become the father of a great nation."

So "Abram departed as the Lord had instructed him." (verse 4)

Fast forward some years. In Genesis 15:5, God repeated the promise, "Look up into the heavens and count the stars if you can. Your descendants will be like that-- too many to count."

And "Abram believed the Lord." (verse 6)

Abraham obeyed. He believed. For years he waited for a son. The vision originates from God. It is our job to believe, embrace, and obey. But the reality of the vision occurs in God's time, not ours. If we try to force it outside of God's time, we wind up with an Ishmael problem (read Genesis 16; I could write a whole post just on the Ishmael issue!).

Finally, at the age of 100, Abraham became the father of Isaac.

Waiting on a vision is typically a time of preparation. Don't try to speed through it. Anchor down and ask God to help you become the person he wants you to be.

3. Visions Die Before The Live
I have learned that visions typically go through a death phase before they live. Let's go back to Abraham. He finally saw his vision come to pass when he was 100 years old. Then, in Genesis 22, God came back with another request: "Take your son, your only son-- yes Isaac, whom you love so much-- and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will point out to you."

What? You've got to be kidding me! We all understand the theological importance of this story. We get it-- foreshadowing of Christ and the new covenant and all that. But hundreds of years before Jesus, this was a real story happening to real people. You can see and hear Abraham's shock. After all those years. Leaving everything behind, obeying, faithfully believing, seeing it through...and it all leads to this moment.

Of course, we all know the story. God provides a substitute- a ram in the thicket. But it's so easy to read this story with that in the back of our brains. At this point in the story, all Abraham knows is that God has asked him to kill his vision.

What must have been going through Abraham's head as he packed up all of his altar and fire equipment. What did he tell Isaac? What did he tell Sarah? What did he tell God?

Visions die. Why? I think it's because God wants to test our hearts. He wants to make sure our focus is directed towards him first and foremost. What do we love most-- God or our vision? What takes priority- time with God or time on the vision? What will be sacrifice-- God's presence or the vision?

Don't get discouraged if and when your vision dies. Hold onto God. He is in the business of reversing the irreversible.

4. Visions Need Image Stabilization
I have learned that visions require image stabilization technology. We talked a little about this at the Leadership Summit. Many binoculars now come with image stabilization technology. Canon’s website says, “Shaking occurs naturally when you hold binoculars for an extended period of time. Wind, muscle fatigue, and even excitement can contribute to 'binocular shake.' The more powerful the binoculars, the more pronounced the shake appears. It’s tiring on your eyes, it’s distracting, and it makes getting a good, sharp focus simply impossible.

We need image stabilization for good vision. Over time, we get tired. Or we are blown about by the environment we are in. Or sometimes we just get so excited about the vision that we forget about God!

God gives us SAP image stabilization technology for our vision- Scripture, Accountability and Prayer. Root yourself in the Word of God, immerse yourself in a group of people who love you but love God more, and pray like it depends on God. I am so thankful for the NCC zone leaders because they are a source of image stabilization for me.

5. Visions Come to Those Who Follow Well
I have learned that I must serve the vision of another before God will entrust me with my own vision. In college, I desperately wanted to lead a small group. I loved people. I loved the Bible. My church was cell-based and I had whole-heartedly embraced their vision of discipleship. But they exerted a high-level of control (no free market system there!), and I was passed over twice for small group leadership. When I finally got to lead a group of my own, it happened by default because the leader they put into place instead of me just stopped showing up for group.

That was a frustrating time because I knew the gifts that God had placed in my life and I felt stifled in many ways. But I also knew that God would never entrust people to my leadership if I could not be a good follower. For three years, I tried to faithfully serve under my leaders. Some were great. Some were not so great. And I can honestly say that was one of the most rewarding times in my life. First, it taught me to follow well. Secondly, it taught me patience. Thirdly, God was able to test my heart. And finally, my vision actually grew and became more refined.

Jesus said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." As leaders, our first job is to follow. Christ first. Spiritual leaders second. If you are faithful to follow well the vision of another, God will assemble your own team for the vision he has given to you when the time is right.

6. Visions Make Us Lonely People
I have learned that there is a loneliness in pursuing vision.

Think about Joshua and Caleb returning with the only good reports on the Promised Land.

Think about Joseph sitting in the bottom of that pit. And later in a jail cell.

Think about David huddled in the back of a cave to escape the man who holds the position that should belong to him.

Think about Jesus as he prayed in the Gethsemane.

It doesn't matter how many people buy into your vision or how many people are on your team. You will always go through periods of loneliness in your vision. Why? Because a God-given vision will orient you against the mainstream. You will have to run against the status quo.

No one is ever going to be as excited about the vision as you are. That makes sense and it's okay. Just know that going into it. Leadership in general can be lonely. Pursuing a God-given vision is sometimes the loneliest task in the world.

7. Doors of Opportunity Lead to Vision
I have found that pursuing vision has more to do with stepping through doors of opportunity than it does with setting goals.

Most of you know me. I am a big-time goal setter. You can hear it coming, "You never hit a goal that you don't set." But I have found that next steps in vision generally come in the form of doors of opportunity rather than a goal list. I think we need to set goals because it keeps us moving. It's easier to turn around a bicycle that's going the wrong way than to change the course of one that is stationary.

I set a life goal once: to provide pastoral care to 30 small group leaders. I could have reached that life goal through a series of systematic steps. But in reality, I reached in when Pastor Mark led me to the door of full-time ministry. And I walked through it.

When I think back on some of the key experiences in my life, they were often the result of walking through doors of opportunity. I never pursued a job in the U.S. Senate; I enountered a door of opportunity and walked through it. I always wanted to go to Jerusalem but never had a plan for getting there; an email came to me that became a door of opportunity. Going to grad school-- not a big goal-- I just walked through a door of opportnity.

Ask God to open your eyes to the doors that are around you and to give you wisdom as you make life decisions.

8. The Sustaining Force of Vision: Christ Alone
I have found that there is only one motivation that will sustain us: an intense love for Christ and a desire to see God praised by all people.

Psalm 22:27 provides the sustaining motivation for many missionaries: "People from every nation will bow down before him." Dr. John Piper said, "Missions exists because worship does not." Missionaries may be motivated by love for people, concern for their welfare, or because they feel "called." However, the only motivation that will sustain them is a desire to bring more worship to God.

In 2 Corinthians 5:11-19, Paul reveals his reason for ministry: "It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others." He loved Christ. In verse 13, he says, "If it seems that we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God." He desired to bring God glory.

I am motivated to do what I do by many things- the life change I see in people, the new groups that form, new leaders that emerge, great staff meetings, win sheets, summits, the encouragement I receive from people. But honestly, there are days when those things just don't cut it and will never sustain me for the long haul. On those days, I have to say, "God, I am doing this out of love for you. And that's it."

Puruse your vision. But above all else, pursue God.

Please post anything you have learned or would like to share about vision.


At 12:18 PM, Anonymous "Dangerous_D" said...

Wow, great post,-I needed that. Particulary the part about following someone else's vision, and waiting. That's tough for me because right now I have a pastor who cannot articulate vision very well, and when he does it is something other than small groups. I feel as strongly called to shepherd shepherds of small groups as you do--is this really the guy God had in mind for us? It's hard to follow the leader going in the opposite direction you feel God has told you to go.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Dangerous D- thanks for reading. It's hard to know in these situations whether to stick with it or go somewhere else. We've got to be sensitive to God's calling. I think many times God calls us to serve the vision of another before opening doors for us to pursue our own callings. David was a great example of that.


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