I love reading biographies and stories about visionary people. The thing that is most striking about visionary people is how crazy they seem at the time. Truly visionary people are rarely seen as visionary when they start out. They’re the crazy ones, the ones that spend just a little too much time day dreaming about the future. The ones predicting a future that no one else can see, and no one else can touch. They can touch, smell and taste their world, it’s as real to them as the real world is to us.
Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid instant film camera, described it exactly this way: “I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me before I had ever built one.”
All throughout history we can find visionaries that can clearly see a different future than the rest of us. In their mind, that future is already there, we just have to go out and create it. Visionaries are the essence of the saying, “The best way to predict the future is to go out and create it.”
But here’s the deal: vision isn’t just for visionaries, and vision isn’t just for leaders. Vision is for all of us.
We can all be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Because, let’s be honest, if our biggest idea, our biggest picture of the future is all about us, and all about what we’re doing, our vision is too small. If our life is all about acquiring more and more stuff, we’re not going to ever be satisfied. Dream bigger. Pray bolder. What does it take to have vision? What does it take to be visionary?
Vision takes alignment. Vision takes alignment with God’s plans. Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it’s the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21) You can have many dreams, many fantasies about the future, but if they aren’t aligned with what God is doing, they’re going to fail.
Vision is about the past. Everyone thinks that vision is all about the future. You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are and where you’ve been. Don’t write off your past. Your past is a gift—a stewardship—that is a part of your future. Even if the only thing your past can serve to do is illustrate what not to do, it’s still a valuable resource.
The other reason vision is as much about about the past as the future is because what God has done. I often think back to Moses and the Hebrew slaves for this point. God gave Moses an impossible vision, “I want my people to be free. I want them to be their own nation. They will be my people and I will be their ruler.” This wasn’t Moses’ idea, this was another crazy idea by God. These people were slaves. They knew nothing about freedom, or building a nation, or anything. And, oh by the way, God, do you think Pharaoh is just going to let them walk away?
All good objections to this crazy, crazy idea. And God moved forward anyway. The Hebrew people saw God perform one miracle after another. He freed them like he said he would. When they got to the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s army was chasing them, there appeared no way out. But the Maker of the Seas who keeps the oceans in jars (Psalm 33:7) parted the seas and allowed every one of them to pass through unscathed.
They make it through to the other side. It’s a desert. God miraculously provides for their food every day. They don’t know where to go so God shows up in a cloud at day, and a cloud of fire at night to lead them exactly. Their only command is to follow the cloud.
Yet, all of this is not good enough for them. When Moses goes up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the people get this big idea that they’re going to make a god out of all the gold they have, then go back to Pharaoh and beg them to let them come back. All of the miraculous things God has done for these ungrateful people, things that caused fear and trembling to everyone else that witnessed them, and they want to go back to being slaves. Even with God being the communicator and sustainer of the vision, these people just couldn’t get on board with it. And so God gives up on this generation. He can’t work with such doubting people, and causes them to wander the desert for 40 years until every last one of them is dead.
If we forget the past, the times God has parted our Red Sea, the times God has provided Manna in the desert, the time and time and time again God has come through for us, we will lack the perspective to carry out the vision. We forget that God has already done big things for us. For the Hebrews, walking on up to the promised land, and kicking out a few armies that were occupying the land God was giving them should have been a cake walk. That’s certainly more straight forward than parting a sea!
Yet they forgot what God had already done for them. They forgot they had already done impossible things. They forgot just how big their God was. And because of their forgetfulness, God did not allow them to be a part of what he was doing in the world.
Vision takes trust. Despite ample and repeated evidence that God was with them, the Hebrews lacked faith that he would take care of them.
This always reminds me of my cat Lokie. I’ve had him for 7 years now. He was full grown when I got him, about 18 months old. He was a rescue from the Humane Society, and from what I can tell, his old family wasn’t very good to him. To this day, any time I take my belt off, or get the broom out, he runs away scared to death. I have never ever touched him with either, but evidently his previous family did. Even after 7 years of nothing but love and kindness, he still can’t have faith and trust in me when it comes to belts and brooms.
I often wonder what belts and brooms exist in my life. Areas where God has always been faithful to me, but that I just can’t get over to trust to him. Vision takes handing them over to God, having faith that he will do the right thing, and trusting that God will work out the outcomes for our good. (even if it’s not what we would consider good in the moment)
Vision takes sacrifice. Even with the best, most kickin’ vision in the world, there are always other things you could be doing. In economics class, we called those things an opportunity cost. You can always be doing something else. That something else may involve considerably more money, more relaxation time, more fun, fewer limits, looser rules. Whatever it is, you’re giving it up. I like the way we say it at LifeChurch.tv: “Sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love more.” In that way, sacrifice is more like an investment. Every investment means forgoing something now to get something better later. That’s a great picture of what sacrificing to God’s vision really means.
Vision takes forward thinking. There’s almost a prophetic bent to vision. You have to be able to see the future. In some cases, it may truly be prophetic. God came to Moses and said, “This is the future. I am making it. You are leading it. Get up and go see Pharaoh.” You best not resist if God gives you a vision of the future. In some cases, it may not be truly prophetic—you may not actually see the future, but you do see the potential.
That potential is why I love love love student ministry. When I look at a 14 year old boy, I don’t see an awkward 14 year old kid. I see somebody when they’re 24—my age—doing more than I ever could. I see them when they’re 34 and raising a family, pushing forward in the faith with all boldness. I see them when they’re 44 and raising their own 14 year olds. I see the potential, not the present, and I just want to take what little I know and help them get there and unlock a better future.
Vision takes faith. God’s vision for your life is enormous. Whether you’re 17 or 117. God has a good purpose and a great vision for what your life could be. It’s so big, so huge, so amazing, so unfathomable that I guarantee that you can’t do it if God’s not in it. If you sat down to figure out all of the expenses, all of the stars that would need to line up, all of the people that would have to get involved, all the moving parts and logistics, you’d probably pee yourself and never want to do it.
I think God likes to give us huge visions of the future. Hugely impossible, unfathomable visions. Things we don’t think we could ever do, or ever be capable of doing. I think he loves this for two reasons. First, it just shows us how awesome life will be if he’s in it. As Jesus said, he came here not to make us miserable, but to give us life, life to the full. Second, to show the world his glory through us. The things God is doing through his people are amazing, grand and huge. Impossible without him. That these visions are happening at all just goes to show the powerful work God is up to through his people.
Where there is no vision, the people perish -Proverbs 29:18
Epilogue 9/15/11: I wrote the post above more than 4 months ago, and it’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. It was finished and ready to go, but I felt like a fraud publishing it because I had lost my vision. Beyond getting involved in student ministry again, I didn’t feel like I had any longterm vision with what I should be doing in my life, and I felt like it would be fraudulent to post something on the topic even though I really believed in what I was writing.
In the 4 months since, a lot has happened and changed. I have been diligently praying and imagining my future and asking the question what life looks like in the next 5, 10 and even 15-40 years. My heart has been caught on fire with something I have thought about for a long time, and I’m now moving towards a big, holy, audacious goal I couldn’t have imagined even contemplating seriously 6 months ago. I don’t really know how it’s going to work out, and it’s so big and crazy I’m not even comfortable going public just yet. But I have faith, and I’m looking back on the many amazing times in my life that God has come through in enormous and unpredicted ways, and I’m eagerly anticipating the future. It has consumed my mind and my heart, and I rarely think about anything else. I honestly can not wait. I hope and pray that you won’t stop pursuing God, and that you find an awesome, holy, and enormous vision that is guaranteed to fail if God’s not in it.