Vision. The word stirs the hearts of millions of people who are longing for some direction in life, some sense of purpose in life. You can put the word “vision” in the title of a book and it will fly off the shelves. You can hire a coach who has vision and is willing to lead his players towards the fulfillment of it, and team morale will skyrocket. You can hire a CEO who is able to communicate his or her vision and that company will thrive. Don’t believe me? Listen to what others have to say. Businessman Bob Shultz wrote these words,
When you do not have a vision of where you want to go, then which path you take doesn’t matter. Any road you travel will get you NOWHERE. One does not have to be a BOSS to be a leader. In fact they might not always be in the same person. The world is hungry for someone to step forward that knows where he or she is going. A leader is a person who has a destination. She has a plan, a road map. He has seen tomorrow and knows how to get there. A leader knows that not all of the stoplights have to be green before he can leave the garage. (Bob Shultz, “A Leader Without A Vision Is Only A Boss.” http://www.tpmonline.com)
Vision is also integral to the health and growth of a congregation. In his book, “Shooting The Rapids,” W.G. Garvin wrote these powerful words about the importance of vision for church leaders.
Churches grow when they ‘articulate a distinct and winsome identity.’ They develop a ‘unifying vision.’ Developing this vision is the primary task for leadership of these growing congregations. The task falls primarily on the shoulders of the minister who is head of staff and secondarily on the leadership core of the congregation. (W.G. Garvin, Shooting the Rapids, 116,117).
When talking about teams and the difference that a visionary coach can make for the success of the team we only have to watch, Remember The Titans, to understand the truth of what I am saying. If you will remember, “Remember the Titans” is based on the true story of Coach Herman Boone and Coach Bill Yoast of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA in 1971. The school board named Coach Boone, a black man, the head coach in the first year that they integrated the school. The former head coach, Bill Yoast, was nominated for the Virginia High School All-Star Hall of Fame for leading his team through fifteen winning seasons, but he was replaced by Coach Boone and named an assistant on the team that was his for fifteen years. Because of his frustration, Coach Yoast was going to quit until he found out that all of his players had decided to quit in support of their coach. Coach Yoast decided to accept his new position as assistant head coach in order to get his team to play.
Most of you have probably seen the movie so you know what happened when Coach Boone and Coach Yoast came together, worked through their differences, and the team’s prejudices, and led the team in Coach Boone’s vision of what could be. A team was formed. A championship was won. A community thrived. Vision matters. Clay S. Nelson illustrates for us how important vision is for all leaders.
It’s been my experience that a great leader is a person who has creative vision. What is “creative vision” and why is it important to you as a leader? Most of us live our day-to-day lives on “automatic pilot” without giving much thought to a larger purpose or meaning for who we are or what we do. Business Leaders often get so caught up in daily operations that they spend no time looking ahead or even looking around! This way of being can quickly lead to discouragement and financial failure. It’s actually dangerous, imagine your employees are a group of people traveling in a car, each with their heads buried in their AAA road maps, and no one, not even YOU, the driver, is looking out at the road! If they haven’t crashed yet, they soon will. (Clay S. Nelson, Vision: A Key to Leadership Success, http://www.concretenetwork.com)
Vision is important, but where do you go to gain a vision for your future? A sweat lodge, a seminar, or a bookstore? How do you determine whether or not your vision is the right vision or even achievable? What if your vision is misguided? How do you know if your vision is truly a vision or merely a mirage? How you answer these questions will determine much about your future. Let’s turn to our Scripture for today to see if we can gain some answers. Turn with me to Proverbs 29:18 and let’s read together.
18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18 NIV)
The New Century Version translates the same verse in this way.
18 Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled, but those who obey what they have been taught are happy. (Proverbs 29:18 NCV)
Where there is no word from God people are out of control. Without the guidance of God’s Word we will live however we feel, we will do whatever we want to do, and we will suffer the consequences of those choices that we will make. This was exactly the way the people were living when we come to the end of the period of the Judges. In Judges 21:25 we read, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25 NIV)
The nation had turned away from the Lord. The Word of God was not revered, nor followed, and as a result the people were left to figure life out on their own…they made a mess of it. I thought about this during the week as I was studying the Scripture from Proverbs 29:18.
We live in the one nation of the world where the Word of God is most available. We have the Word of God broadcast over the radio, television, and internet. We have endless magazines like Christianity Today, Discipleship Journal, Today’s Christian Woman, and on and on the list goes. We have more churches in America than you can count, but books, magazines, computers, radios, and steeples do not make a godly nation.
Do our problems in this nation stem from not having a vision? I don’t think so. You can go to the local bookstore and find tons of books on the subject. There are motivational speakers who can teach you how to have a vision for your life. During every election period we hear politicians communicate their vision for America. Has this really made a difference? Are we a better nation as a result? Has this type of vision-casting changed anything in America during your lifetime? I don’t think so.
There is an alternative to society’s way of gaining a vision for you and me this morning. We can gain a vision for our lives that will make a difference, a definite difference in our lives. The vision that we are to pursue is not “our” vision for our life, but God’s purpose for our life. Where do we go to gain this vision? Simply put, we go to God’s Word. We must go to God’s Word. If we do not pursue God’s vision for our lives then we will find ourselves on an endless search for something more, some sense of meaning or purpose, and we will experience much frustration through the years. Let’s read the Scripture one more time and then let’s take some time to break it down into bite-sized chunks.
18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18 NIV)
First, let’s take a look at what Solomon means by “revelation.” As I mentioned earlier, the Hebrew word is translated, “word from God,” in the New Century Version of the Bible. The New Living Translation uses, “divine guidance” to translate the same Hebrew word used here. The word that is used means, “vision, oracle,” or “divine communication.” The word is used 35 times in the Old Testament and I want to show you a couple of places where this word shows up. In 1 Samuel 3:1 we read,
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Samuel 3:1 NIV)
“The word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” Samuel was a prophet and in the days of the prophets God’s primary way of communication with His prophets was different than the way God communicates with us today. He spoke to them through dreams, visions, and direct communication. When Samuel was a young guy the visions and “thus saith the LORD” was rare.
In Lamentations we learn that the people of God were in exile. They were being disciplined by God for turning away from His instruction for them as His Chosen people. Jeremiah wrote about the state of Israel during this time in Lamentations 2:9. Read along with me.
9 Her gates have sunk into the ground; their bars he has broken and destroyed. Her king and her princes are exiled among the nations, the law is no more, and her prophets no longer find visions from the LORD. (Lamentations 2:9 NIV)
This was a very sad time in Israel’s history. While Israel was being disciplined by God there was a famine of the Word of God. What was true for Israel is also true for any nation, and any person for that matter. If we turn away from godly instruction and choose to do life the way we want to do life, then tough times are sure to come. We’ve already read in Proverbs 1:23-27 that if we reject God’s counsel that disaster will come. Let’s read that section of Proverbs again.
23 If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. 24 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, 25 since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you, 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. (Proverbs 1:23-27 NIV)
The Good News is that we don’t have to experience the calamities and troubles brought on by turning away from God. We have God’s Word at our disposal every single day if we will simply take the time to learn of His ways.
I want you to notice that in Proverbs 29:18 Solomon doesn’t say that trouble will come where there is no regard for God’s teaching. He says that people will “cast off restraint.” The Hebrew word that is used here, means, “to let go, let loose,” or “to show lack of restraint.” It is an interesting word, a word that is used in Exodus 32:25 when Aaron allowed the people to make idols and run amuck while Moses was on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God. Let’s read together from Exodus 32:21-25.
21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 24 So I told them, “Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” 25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. (Exodus 32:21-25 NIV)
Aaron let the people get out of control. God’s representative refused to lead, he refused to remind them that they were the people of God, and they twisted off.
In Proverbs 13:18 the same Hebrew word is used by Solomon to describe those who ignore God’s discipline. Read along with me.
18 He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. (Proverbs 13:18 NIV)
Discipline is instruction. It’s not just getting sent to your room. That comes after we refuse to learn the lessons of instruction. The instruction that God desires for us comes through His Word. Let me use this verse to illustrate for us how trouble comes when we cast off restraint and refuse to heed God’s instruction.
In Proverbs we’ve learned about finances and how to handle our finances. One of the lessons we’ve learned is that we should never co-sign with someone on a loan. If we refuse to listen and then put into practice God’s Word we will cast off restraint and go ahead and co-sign that loan for a buddy or family member. It probably won’t happen the first time, but eventually you’ll get sold down the river. You may end up like the dad who co-signed for his son and daughter-in-law for a new truck. The dad put his boat up as collateral. One year later the daughter-in-law divorced the man’s son, took off with the truck, and left dad holding the debt for the new truck. Dad lost his boat, defaulted on the loan, and his credit and name took a huge hit.
God’s Word is a restraining force. It counsels us not to give in to the urges of our flesh, but to be led by the Spirit of God. God’s Word counsels us to tell the truth when it would be more convenient to lie, to get a job and put in a hard day’s work to provide for our needs rather than steal, to forgive others when they hurt us instead of harboring bitterness, and to be faithful to our mate instead of acting like animals. God gives us this instruction so that we can avoid many of the heartaches that many people have to go through in life because of their bad decisions. If we do not keep the Word of God before us then we will cast off restraint. When that happens you better brace yourself and get ready for the consequences.
There is an alternative to casting off restraint and it is to keep God’s Word, to treasure it, revere it, and allow it to be the vision for your life. Solomon says that the man or woman who keeps the law will be blessed. The word for “keeps” means, “to keep, guard, observe, give heed.” In Deuteronomy 4:9 Moses the people were told,
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV)
Ezekiel was a prophet of God who urged the people to turn back to God. In Ezekiel 18:21 we see the same Hebrew word for “keep” used. Read along with me.
21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. (Ezekiel 18:21 NIV)
To keep the Word of God we must make it a priority in our life. We must meditate on God’s Word, tuck it away in our hearts, read it, implement it, and seek to live it each and every day. You don’t keep God’s Word simply by going to church. That would be like an athlete thinking that he is an athlete because he shows up for the games. Real athletes are made on the practice field, in the off-season, not on the day of the game.
This is such practical wisdom for you and me. You want to live out God’s vision for your life? Get in God’s Word and let it instruct you, convict you, change you, and shape you into the man or woman God wants you to be.
The problem I have with so many of the so-called visions that people have for their lives is that they devalue tough times. People say, “I have a vision to be a millionaire by the time I’m forty. I have a vision to own my own company. I have a vision to grow this church to 5,000 attenders on Sunday morning.” The difference between these visions and God’s vision or you and me is that God’s vision includes the tough times, the hardships of life, and the setbacks. Joseph couldn’t have ever led the nation if he had given up in the prison cell. David could have never shepherded the people of God if he hadn’t first excelled at shepherding sheep. Paul could write about joy while sitting in a lonely prison cell because he believed in the Sovereign hand of God that is at work in prison as well as in the palace. Paul knew that suffering was part of God’s vision for his life.
When Paul was struck blind on the road to Damascus a man named Ananias was instructed to go and lay hands on Paul so that he could have his sight restored. Ananias had heard stories about Paul and he was scared to go to him. God said,
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 NIV)
Suffering would be an important part of God’s vision for Paul’s life. Paul knew that God was at work in his life in all situations, all circumstances of his life.
We are looking for the “big,” God is looking for the obedient. We make a commitment to really dig in and get serious about our new found vision, but as soon as we encounter a setback we want to throw in the towel. A page from John Wesley’s Diary reads as follows:
Sunday morning, May 5, preached in St. Ann’s, was asked not to come back anymore. Sunday p.m., May 5, preached at St. John’s, deacons said, “Get out and stay out.” Sunday a.m., May 12, preached at St. Jude’s, can’t go back there either. Sunday p.m., May 12, preached at St. George’s, kicked out again. Sunday a.m., May 19, preached at St. somebody else’s, deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return. Sunday p.m., May 19, preached on the street, kicked off the street. Sunday a.m., May 26, preached in meadow, chased out of meadow as a bull was turned loose during the services. Sunday a.m., June 2, preached out at the edge of town, kicked off the highway. Sunday p.m., June 2, afternoon service, preached in a pasture, 10,000 people came to hear me.
I’m so glad John Wesley didn’t give up when the people didn’t hoist him on their shoulders and throw him a parade. Rejection and suffering were part of God’s plan to mold John Wesley into the man He intended for him to become.
Helen Keller was an incredible human being who was born both blind and deaf. She didn’t let these things hold her back from living life. On one occasion Helen Keller was asked, “What would be worse than being born blind?” Helen said, “Having sight without a vision.”
How many of us have 20/20 vision but we can’t see beyond today? We don’t see that God has a purpose and a plan for our lives. We can’t see God’s hand at work through our tears, through our heartache, through our suffering. We need a bigger vision! I’m not talking about something grandiose, I’m talking about something glorious–a biblical vision for our life.
Many of us are like the little 5th grader who was in Sunday school the day the teacher gave her class an assignment to go home and count the stars in the sky as part of their next Sunday school lesson. The kids came back the next Sunday with different answers. Some said 100, some said 1000, and some said a million. Finally the teacher asked a little boy who had said nothing, “How many stars did you count?” He replied, “3″. The teacher asked, “how did you only see 3?” He said, “I guess we just have a small backyard.” Many of us here this morning have a small backyard. Our vision only includes the good, the grand, and victorious. We need to be able to see God at work in all aspects of our life. We need to be able to see that God’s vision for our life is the only thing that will endure, the only thing that will satisfy, and the only thing will enable us to truly live in the fullness that God desires for each of us.
If you are here this morning and your vision has become clouded or you don’t have a vision for life at all then I want to invite you to come to Jesus this morning and allow Him to open your eyes. Won’t you invite Him in and allow Him to show you the marvelous plan that He has for your life?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 22, 2013