Read an Excerpt
By Andy Stanley
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2001 Andy Stanley
All right reserved.
* * *
The soul never thinks without a picture.
What is a vision?
Where do they come from?
Visions are born in the soul of a man or woman who is consumed with the tension between what is and what could be. Anyone who is emotionally involved-frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry-about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo.
Vision often begins with the inability to accept things the way they are. Over time that dissatisfaction matures into a clear picture of what could be. But a vision is more than that. After all, what could be is an idea, a dream, but not necessarily a vision.
There is a always a moral element to vision. Vision carries with it a sense of conviction. Anyone with a vision will tell you this is not merely something that could be done. This is something that should be done. This is something that must happen. It is this element that catapults men and women out of the realm of passive concern and into action. It is the moral element that gives a vision a sense of urgency.
Vision is a clear mental picture of what could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.
Vision is a preferred future. A destination. Vision always stands in contrast to the world as it is. Vision demands change. It implies movement.
But a vision requires someone to champion the cause. For a vision to become a reality, someone must put his or her neck on the line. Vision requires visionaries, people who have allowed their minds and hearts to wander outside the artificial boundaries imposed by the world as it is. A vision requires an individual who has the courage to act on an idea.
And that brings us to our story.
Once upon a Time ...
Around 587 B.C., the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, along with Solomon's temple. This was the third of three campaigns into that region. On all three occasions the Babylonians took a number of Israelites as captives and resettled them in Babylon. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken during the first invasion.
About seventy years after the first Babylonian invasion, Cyrus, king of Persia (who had since conquered the Babylonians), gave the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.
Under the leadership of a man named Zerubbabel, these exiled Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. Things were looking up for a while. It seemed as if Israel was on the verge of becoming a blessed nation once again. But the people refused to turn away from the very sins God had judged their ancestors for in the days of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar.
The temple was not being maintained. Sacrifices had ceased. The Jews continued to adopt the religious practices and culture of the surrounding nations. By the time our story begins, the political, social, and spiritual conditions in Jerusalem were deplorable.
Meanwhile, back in Persia, a Jewish fellow named Nehemiah heard about the plight of his homeland-and he felt something. In fact, what he felt, he felt so deeply that he wept. And as we will see later, Nehemiah was not the sort of man who wept at the drop of a hat. He wasn't weak. And he certainly wasn't emotionally unstable. But he was burdened. And his burden drove him to a prolonged period of prayer and fasting (Nehemiah 1:4).
Little did he know these deep feelings were the initial birth pains of a vision that people would be reading about thousands of years later. The point is, Nehemiah's vision didn't begin as a vision. It began as a concern, a burden. A burden for his nation and its people.
Building Block #1
A VISION BEGINS AS A CONCERN.
A God-ordained vision will begin as a concern. You will hear or see something that gets your attention. A thought related to the future will generate an emotion. Something will bother you about the way things are or the way things are headed. Unlike many passing concerns, these will stick with you. You will find yourself thinking about them in your free time. You may lose sleep over them. You won't be able to let them go because they won't let you go.
Nehemiah's concern over the condition of Jerusalem consumed him. It broke his heart. Thoughts of what was as opposed to what could be brought tears to his eyes. It changed his countenance. Everyone who knew him was aware that something was botherng Nehemiah. This was not a casual concern. This was a vision in the making.
So what did he do? Nothing. He did absolutely nothing. He didn't steal away across the desert in the night. He didn't fabricate a reason to leave Persia. He didn't even share his burden with other concerned Jews.
But neither did he allow his daily responsibilities to distract him from the burden that had gripped his heart. No, Nehemiah chose the third and most difficult option. He chose to wait. Nehemiah knew what so many of us have a hard time remembering: What could be and should be can't be until God is ready for it to be. So he waited.
Building Block #2
A VISION DOES NOT NECESSARILY REQUIRE IMMEDIATE ACTION.
I talk to a lot of people with a lot of good ideas. In many instances I sense God is in the process of birthing a vision in their hearts. In almost every case, they are ready to start NOW! Once they feel their idea is from God, they assume all systems are go and they need to quit their jobs, step out on faith, and begin. But the story of Nehemiah, along with numerous other biblical accounts, illustrates the truth that a clear vision does not necessarily indicate a green light to begin. In fact, I have witnessed a good many people with what seemed to be God-ordained visions charge out of the starting gates too early. And the result is always the same. Failure. Discouragement. Disillusionment.
A vision rarely requires immediate action. It always requires patience.
\ Why is this the case? Why can't we just plunge ahead?
Developing or discovering a vision for a particular area of our lives takes time. Visioneering is a process. Sometimes it is a painful process. Because of the time required, it can be agonizing. But it is a process that yields a product worth every bit of the agony along the way.
Revving our vision engines at the starting line feels like a waste of time. After all, there are things to be done. People to rescue. Organizations to begin. What is the use of waiting?
This sense of "time is awasting" is the very thing that compels people to move out too soon. The assumption is, since we aren't moving on, nothing's going on. But that is not the case at all. Three important things are taking place while we wait.
1. THE VISION MATURES IN US.
Not every good idea is vision material. But every vision begins as an idea. Not all burdens are vision material. But every vision begins as a burden. Time allows us to distinguish between good ideas and visions worth throwing the weight of our life behind. Waiting gives us a chance to examine our emotions and sort our minor concerns from major ones. After all, if what concerned you yesterday is of little concern today, odds are that was not vision material. I will give you several tips on distinguishing good ideas from God ideas at the end of this chapter.
Just as you cannot rush the development of a child in the womb, so we cannot rush the development of a vision. God determines the schedule for both. Acting too quickly on a vision is like delivering a baby prematurely. They are always weak. And in some cases a preemie cannot survive the rigors of life outside the womb. So it is with a vision. Immature visions are weak. They rarely make it in the real world.
The world is hard on a vision. After all, a vision is about change. And change is not welcomed in most arenas of life. For a vision to survive, it must be mature and healthy before being exposed to the cynical, critical, stubborn environment in which it is expected to survive. And maturity requires time.
As a college student, I had two friends who felt called to career missions. Chip felt the call during a missions conference in our church. For David, it was a sequence of events that tipped him off as to God's call on his life.
Knowing these guys as well as I did, I'm sure that if they had had the opportunity to sign up and ship out on the day they sensed God's call on their lives, they would have both headed for the airport. Fortunately, the system didn't work that way.
During the process of finishing college, Chip slowly began to lose interest. After college he got married and took a job in another city. His explanation? "I thought that was what God was calling me to do at the time. I realize now I am to be a missionary in the corporate world." Of course, that just sounded like a good excuse at the time. But Chip has followed through with that vision. He is very active in his local church and is effective in the ministry of lifestyle evangelism.
David, on the other hand, went to the Philippines and planted a church. As I write, he and his wife Kathy have just begun their second church plant in that area of the world.
Let's face it, a good motivational speaker can cast such a compelling vision that before you know it you feel like it is your own. And in some cases, it may become your own. Time will tell. With time, you will be able to distinguish between God's ideas for you and other people's ideas. As we wait, God will shape and mature ideas into visions that can survive in the real world.
2. WE MATURE IN PREPARATION FOR THE VISION.
Not only does our vision mature, we mature as well. Often, we are not ready to move out in pursuit of a vision. The tendency is to assume that since I know what I am to do, I'm ready to do it. But the two don't always coincide. God has to grow us into our vision. Like a child trying on her mommy's wedding dress, it doesn't fit-yet. But in time, after some growing up, it will look like it was made for her.
If you saw The Empire Strikes Back, you remember the scene in which Luke wants to go rescue his friends before he has finished his Jedi Knight training. Yoda begs him to wait". Luke, you must complete the training."
But Luke has seen the future, and he knows his friends' lives are in danger". I can't keep the vision out of my head. They are my friends; I must help them."
Yoda finally issues a dire warning, "If you leave now, help them you could, but you will destroy all for which they have fought and suffered."
But Luke is determined to go. He is so locked in on what could and should be that he feels compelled to leave immediately. So he does. And do you remember what happened? Everything worked out great! But back in this galaxy, action before preparation usually spells disaster.
In the case of a divinely ordered vision God goes to work in you to prepare you for what he knows lies ahead. Like Luke, the need often seems so urgent it seems foolish to wait. But God is sovereign. Keep that in mind. Your vision is simply an extension of his vision. And his timing is perfect. The apostle Paul said it this way:
For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure(Philippians 2:13)
He is working in you to prepare you to act on his purposes. And I think we can assume his purposes are in accordance with his timetable. Maybe that's why he inspired the apostle to write the next phrase: "Do all things without grumbling or disputing" (v. 14).
I assume all things includes waiting on him. Don't you hate that? The complaint most associated with the process of visioneering is God's timing. Once the vision is clear we assume we are ready. Otherwise, why would he have given us the vision in the first place?
My guess is that without a vision, our willingness to allow God to prepare us would be greatly diminished. Who would suffer the headache of college or graduate school without the vision of job opportunities? Your vision will enable you to endure the preparation. Vision always precedes preparation. Initially, your vision will exceed your competency. Within the context of that tension, God will go to work on you.
Good Idea/Bad Timing
Remember Moses? Poor guy. He had the right idea, but his timing and methods were terrible. His vision was to free his people from Egyptian slavery. And that was a God-thing if there ever was one. So what did Moses do? He went to work. He killed an Egyptian.
Now I don't know if he actually sat down and calculated how long it would take to deliver Israel by killing one Egyptian at a time. But at best, it would have taken several lifetimes.
So what did God do? He sent him to the University of Sinai. This was not a four-year study program. He was a freshman for ten years. His sophomore, junior, and senior experiences were equally as long. And there were no spring breaks.
It took Moses forty years to grow into the vision God had designed for him. Forty years! Meanwhile, back in Egypt, another generation or two dies at the hands of Egyptian taskmasters. What was God thinking? Didn't he know the urgency of the matter? Israel didn't have forty years to wait. Why give a man a vision and then send him to the desert?
We could spend pages speculating as to why God does the things he does. Suffice it to say, that is the way he works. He did the same thing with the apostle Paul. He told him specifically that he would be used to reach the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16)And then he sent Paul to the desert as well (Galatians 1:17-18).
So what's the deal with the desert? I don't know. But I do know the time between catching a glimpse of what God wants to do through us and the time when we are led to move out often feels like a desert experience. The desert always feels like a complete waste of time. It is only when we are able to look back that our desert experiences make sense.
Nehemiah, on the other hand, got off pretty easy by comparison. By his account, he only had to wait four months before the wheels started turning. But he had to wait nonetheless. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident his service to the king of Persia was in fact his desert experience. For this was a man with immense leadership ability who awoke every day to do a job that tapped little or none of those skills.
Excerpted from Visioneering by Andy Stanley Copyright © 2001 by Andy Stanley. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.