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Dr. Ramesh Richard has been called the layman's Ravi Zacharias. He speaks directly to those who wrestle with the meaning of life. In a hustle and bustle world, we scurry around with little time to catch our breath, let alone seek out our passion and mission and vision for our life. Ramesh believes that in order for us to embody our true selves and become what we were designed to be, we must reevaluate that passion, mission, and vision and conform them to God's will. This final book in the Intentional Life Trilogy...
Dr. Ramesh Richard has been called the layman's Ravi Zacharias. He speaks directly to those who wrestle with the meaning of life. In a hustle and bustle world, we scurry around with little time to catch our breath, let alone seek out our passion and mission and vision for our life. Ramesh believes that in order for us to embody our true selves and become what we were designed to be, we must reevaluate that passion, mission, and vision and conform them to God's will. This final book in the Intentional Life Trilogy orients the reader to the future, through guidance from the Divine Visionary.
The Taj Group of hotels boasts the finest traditions of Indian hospitality. They back up their boast with performance. Ranked among the best in the travel and tourism industry, you can count on the staffs of these luxurious shelters to show off Indian sights, sounds, smells, services, and splendor. The Web site of the Taj Mahal Hotel, which is on Marine Drive in the city of Mumbai (formerly, Bombay), declares that it is "a gracious landmark facing the Gateway of India. Reputed for its unique architecture, with corridors that resemble art galleries, no two rooms in this [old] wing are alike. The old wing has standard rooms, sea-facing rooms, and superior rooms, all adorned with original artifacts."
Guests arriving at the hotel frequently notice an abnormality. The stately front of the hotel does not face the ocean. It's the rear of the hotel that overlooks the sea. To access the front entrance, guests take an unimpressive backstreet.
Credible tradition provides reason for this curiously inverted building. During the British Raj, the architect sent the design of the building from London. The builder took great pains, spent enormous resources, and used the finest materials to erect the imposing and handsome structure. Except, he failed to take the architect's vision into account. After it was built, folklore has it that the architect decided to view his extraordinary design from the deck of the ship that brought him from England. As his vessel made a grand entry into the waters of India's gateway city, he realized what had happened. The hotel had been built, but backward! He saw the unadorned rear of the building facing the ocean. Despondent, he jumped into the waters of the Arabian Sea.
You can access this hotel from the back, but its front faces a common city street, not the magnificent ocean. The builder had followed the flawless design with excellence, but he had not shared the architect's vision. He wasn't "orientated" aright. Yes, as the ads tout, they can arrange rooms inside that provide the guests an ocean view. But the back of building is the front, and the front is the back. The builder was clear about the architect's mission, to build a great building and a lasting tribute, but didn't consider the architect's vision, a building that faced the ocean.
In the same way, a random or misorientated life vision is not an appropriate vision for the Christian. Only when our vision and God's Vision parallel each other do we build a beautiful and useful life facing the right direction.
Various options present themselves as "valid" future visions. But not all visions for the future are appropriate. Consider the following faulty visions that are built with wrong reference points—well designed but wrongly orientated.
Length of Life
A long life gives you a longer time to accomplish your vision, but life lacks a longevity guarantee. Beyond this reality, even an abundance of years does not guarantee a worthy vision.
"You are ninety-six; your wife is ninety-four. You've been married seventy years. Why think of divorce now?" queried the judge.
The wife piped up, "Actually, your honor, we've been wanting a divorce for fifty years. But we wanted to wait till the children died!"
Living a long life is oriented to the future, as all visions must be, but prolonging life can become an obsession. I know one case where a man contributed to naming a hospital building after himself so he would receive priority of admission and care when he was sick. The Dedman Hospital in Dallas, named after its industrious benefactor, had to be shortened to RHD Memorial because superstition abounded as to how medically helpful a hospital could be with that kind of a name. Indeed, the vision of a chronologically long life without attending morality could justify living simply for its own sake.
Kurt was my age. Had he lived we would still be insulting each other in male jest. Along with his wife and kids (they are the same ages as my wife and kids), I mourned his premature death. He dropped dead while shooting baskets during a lunch break. He seemed to live life to the fullest. A short life but a full life. I also know of those who seek the assistance of suicide doctors because they believe they have lived too long or are petrified of what they may have to endure before death. A long life, with no desire or will to live, cannot be an adequate life vision. Methuselah lived 969 years and not much is said about him. Mere chronological extension cannot validate the vision of life, though a longer life does allow for maturing, at least a maturity forged from mistakes.
Abundance of Possessions
Having lots of stuff—there's a justifiable vision! At least on the outside. A bigger home, better car, finer jewelry. My boys are into cars right now. Later, they'll be into girls. And then they will come to the third stage of the American male—cars again! They know every exotic automotive model in production and can even describe the touted characteristics of futuristic prototypes. Some of their friends drive the cars my boys drool over. I've met the parents of the boys who own the cars my boys covet. They come to me for counsel during marital misery, for life mess ups, for important decisions. Anguish and wretchedness in the richest part of our city is as intense as it is in the poorest neighborhoods. The wealthy experience a different kind of misery, but it is misery indeed.
When the poor are rid of envy and the rich get over greed, they seem to live life better. I have sensed a zest for life in destitute economic situations and a disgust for life in the wealthiest of economies. Net worth doesn't intrinsically enhance life, though a healthy bank balance provides options for repressing circumstantial physical misery. Scandinavian countries boast a hundred times the personal income of the Caribbean and a hundred times the suicide rate. A definition of the future shaped merely by the abundance of possessions blurs lofty life vision.
Form of Appearance
I once attended the Cirque Ingenieux. The music hall was filled with people from every walk of life showing off formal splendor. At intermission, I thought I saw circus costumes worn by members of the audience. With the right lighting, music, and movement, my senses could have been dazzled during the break as well. A vision that sets its sights on beautiful appearance doesn't validate life, though the rest of us would rather have you beautiful than not.
Fine clothing allows others to admire you, but an enviable wardrobe doesn't help you view yourself rightly. That's why you've gone after the "personal beauty" vision in the first place. Despite your erroneous premise that clothes make a person, dressmakers make clothes, not the person. Haberdashers make a person look better, but they don't make a person better. They don't make the person at all. Can a vision for beautiful appearance, the need to look good, justify expense of life's energy?
Breadth of Power
Because power carries an aura, some people make the gaining and keeping of power the essence of their future. The hubris that permeates capital cities, from inside the Beltway in Washington to the courtyards of the Parliament House in New Delhi, makes the rest of insignificant humanity sick. Is power the real yardstick of life? Does life really exist inside the intestines of political powerhouses?
The saying goes: "In Bombay, it's where you live; in Delhi, it's whom you know!" Except "whom you know" always changes! In the mid-1990s, India featured three prime ministers in eleven days. Argentina played musical presidents in 2002. No one is permanent, anywhere. Check the growing list of ex-presidents, ex-maharajahs, and ex-prime ministers worldwide. Ex-power brokers are good for ornamental presence as chief guests at social functions, charity balls, and building dedications. If power is perceived by political connections, the links are too weak. Gaining influence and keeping control drives power mongers but is not a worthy vision for life. Your vast connections can make life for others, but they cannot reliably make life for yourself.
Size of Budget
Increasing the budget by a certain percentage each year often becomes a force for living. What a defective gauge of effectiveness! I don't know who really measures life in this way, but one of the first questions leaders ask in measuring the success of other organizations involves the size of the budget. The size of your budget reveals nothing about your income, let alone your stewardship or effectiveness. Revenue is not equal to profitability. The issue is not whether you live within your budget but whether or not you can live within your income. Increasing your income is a better vision than devising a larger budget, but beware of either goal becoming a vision for life.
These revenue increases reveal your ambitions, but putting up large numbers in a budget is not that difficult. What's a billion dollars here or there when you get to be the largest debtor nation in the world? Just because your budget is larger than your neighbor's income doesn't make you better than her—especially if your bank debt is larger than hers. You might as well retreat to "the abundance of possessions" yardstick if you can dole out cash for what you need to have or do. You may not have time to open or play with the toys, but at least you can keep them in storage waiting for life to slow down. Budgets, like fast money, are imaginary, ephemeral figures.
Rate of Growth
Artificial percentage goals are thrown at us as the vision of life's work for next year's performance. To set out a percentage growth goal draws us forward but does not secure performance or results. Every financial prospectus alerts us to "rate of past performance as no guarantee of the future." This philosophy of growth, for example, "doubling next year because we doubled each year over the last five years," will burn you and your company out of life.
Even informed planning does not match prediction. Witness the Asian Tiger economies, whose envious rate of growth burst like a bubble, quaking the world markets at the turn of this century. They boasted incredible rates of economic growth in the late twentieth century. Though they exhibited strong work and money values, they acknowledged lack of character infrastructure (i.e., gross corruption), spelling disaster in the late 1990s. As I write, the global economy is going through market shudders. I've thought of starting a MisFortune 100 list, made up of former top-rated companies! Driven by arbitrary growth goals and artificial paper wealth, they live without the direction of character. While goals can motivate and facilitate action toward evaluation of accomplishment, there is no point establishing rates of growth without a valid, ultimate umbrella vision for personal, family, and vocational life. Unfortunately, drivenness itself can become a destination, a vision for life. Rates of growth can be a goal to pursue, but not a vision to live by. Faulty visions face backward and eventually plow into life's brick walls.
Pace of Life
I am finishing up a splendid summer as I write these chapters. Extensive travel on four continents rendered me tired in body but refreshed in soul. I saw thousands of people derive energy from what I shared with them. But I can't take pride in busyness. During my hectic academic year, people ask if I am busy in the summers too, away from professorial responsibilities. Summer changes routines, but the pace remains. I can't measure effectiveness by busyness. Busyness in life is not sufficient evidence of effectiveness in the business of life. If you do not have the vision for your life already growing, you will tend to equate motion with meaning and mistake activity for purpose. A fast pace in a tough race without direction doesn't bring you the gold medal. You may win at work with busyness but lose life in the process. Measure your pace. Is it a measured pace after the right vision?
Kinds of Recreation
Golf keeps life from becoming a groan. A lake house with boats, four-wheelers, and Jet Skis provides variety in an otherwise monotonous life. Vacation travel on cruise ships feeds body and soul but primarily body. The opportunity to indulge in recreation, whether windsurfing or net surfing, are privileges not given to most of the world. If we equate worthy vision with the kind of recreation a person can pursue and possess, then most of the world is left out of living a worthy life. People I meet in other countries often point to their lacks as reasons for a morbid existence. I grant their complaint. Yacht people have it better than boat people. However, I know some boat people who wake up every morning brimming with intentionality, and I know some yacht people thwarted by purposelessness. When "play" becomes a desperate diversion from frustration rather than the simple enjoyment of a good thing, then life has stopped being meaningful. When recreation becomes a necessity, then it has turned into the very monster from which it was supposed to bring relief—the lack of choices. If our "toys" don't re-create energy for work but instead bring on dread at the prospect of work, then our vision for recreation must be evaluated.
Note that the value of recreation in the structure of life can be good for the basement/foundation. A soul's passion can be energized by the reality and sheer beauty of God's creative handiwork as revealed during a long walk over eighteen holes of golf. Recreation can even provide the means for revitalizing ongoing missions. Yet, for all its temporary enjoyments, recreation cannot be the reason for life. Enjoy your recreation, vacation, and toys because God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment," but don't live for them by justifying your fondness for luxury with that verse. You could wrongly turn them into a vision of life.
Significance of Ministry
I raise this issue of ministry, and two attendant philosophies of life, because Christian leaders often make positive judgments from the apparent numerical and geographical extent of my ministry. The assumption is that "small" ministries in remote places are not successful. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For instance, I know ministers who make vocational decisions based on "how many more people" one can reach in a given situation. The principle of "joining God where we see Him working" or "where He is blessing us" can make our prejudicial interpretation via personal satisfaction or eventual significance the criterion for decisions in ministry focus. I like that principle for a start, but not as a way to determine "stay" or "stick-to-itiveness." That criterion helps identify, test, and confirm one's gifts but does not do much to enable long-term usefulness for God. "Seeing where God is working" serves as a wonderful slogan—except we can't see where God is working most times. Further, we can justify anything we see as "God working," only we can't trust our judgments. Worse, our definition of "God working" is often defined by pragmatic ideas or results—e.g., God doesn't seem to be working where the results are few. Unfortunately, "God's blessing" or "working" often is evaluated by quantity, numbers, and externals—more by circumstances than by calling. Then leaders and their boards go on to say, "God doesn't seem to be working here so it is time to quit," thereby missing out on the key character issues of perseverance and faith.
If a person is looking to begin to serve God, he or she should look for where God is working as a start but then should go on to consider the less perceivable, less obvious, or less easy options for more effective service—but all in the overflowing use of spiritual gifts under His calling. Neither Abraham nor Paul (nor Moses or Isaiah) used the methods of finding significance or God's direction where they saw God working. Most often they did not see God working at all. Instead, they "joined God" in the most difficult of circumstances according to His calling, regardless of sight or cost.
Missionary William Carey, at great personal disadvantage, joined God in a place where God didn't seem to be working—at least no one could discern it in the "resistant" fields of India—and his efforts with God continue to bear fruit two hundred years later. Finding significance by joining God in His obvious work is not a philosophy to practice but merely one proof of God's providence, looking backward. You can later say, "Now I see that I joined God where He was working!" rather than strive to find God's locale for ministry by that principle of discovery.
Not only does this "significance" yardstick leave out millions of faithful Christian workers in hard and small places; it puts extraordinary pressure on us to somehow make ourselves significant for God. God doesn't want you to bring the significant life into being. He wants a faithful and abandoned life that He may cause to become significant in His way. Your way to your significance is not His way, and His way to your significance may not be your way. His ways are higher than your ways and may be contrary to your ways. You may actually settle for less than He intends for your life by attempting to create your significance.
Excerpted from Soul Vision by Ramesh Richard. Copyright © 2004 Ramesh Richard. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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1. Flawed Visions
2. Focused Vision
3. Soul Vision, Sole Vision
DISCERNING GOD'S WILL: GUIDANCE ON GUIDANCE
4. A Theology of Guidance
5. Sighting God's Guidance
6. Finding God's Will
IMPLEMENTING VISION: TOOLS FOR ACTION
7. Renovating Life
8. Reorienting Life
9. Processing Your Present-A Resource Inventory
10. Processing Your Present-An Opportunity Inventory
11. Pursuing Personal Vision