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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Vision Thing (1): Seeing God

Eugene Pluchart, God Appears to Moses as a Spirit in the Burning Bush (1848)

When churches (or other organizations or individuals) first grasp their need for vision, when you first hear people in them say something like, “We need vision,” it’s usually closely followed by something like, “ . . . because need to know what to do.” This is both right and wrong.

It is right because, for one, vision (as defined previously) usually (though not always) requires people to do something. It is also right because usually the people who say, “We need to know what to do,” truly don’t know what to do and really ought to be doing something different from what they’re doing.

But it is also wrong. If your attention to vision is entirely focused on what you are supposed to do, you will never find it and you are likely to make great mistakes.

Remember that vision, true vision, is what God sees. And what God sees first of all is himself.

In fact, there is a recurring pattern in Scripture, especially in the first ten books of the Bible, that we can expect of a true vision from God. Let’s look at Moses as an example.

In Exodus 3, as Moses, Pharaoh’s-adopted-son-turned-fugitive-shepherd is tending to the flock in the wilderness, he sees a bush on fire that doesn’t burn up. When he comes closer, God reveals that it is he, intoning, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6) So the first thing that Moses has a vision of is God himself.

Then God continues,
I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the region of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites [vv. 7-8].
Note that what God is telling Moses here is what God has been up to and what he plans to do next. So the second thing that Moses has a vision of is what God is doing.

It is only then that God says to Moses, “So now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (v. 10). Now at last, finally, the third thing that Moses has a vision of is what he is supposed to do.

To repeat, the pattern of vision is
  • God himself
  • what God is doing
  • what we are supposed to do
But this is easy for us to miss. It was even easy for Moses to miss. Because once God finished his statement, Moses’ first words were, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v. 11).

Now see that Moses was both right and wrong. He did correctly hear his assignment—that was truly part of the vision—but he starts at the end: what he is supposed to do. That was the focus, as it ever is with us most of the time.

God addresses Moses’ concern by assuring Moses that he would be with him (v. 12), which also reminded him that God is really the one bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. Then God repeats the pattern of vision over again to see that Moses gets it.
  • In vv. 14-15 God reveals again who he is, God himself (“I Am Who I Am”).
  • In vv. 16-17, he tells Moses to bring together Israel’s elders and tell them what God is doing (“I have attended carefully to you . . . I will bring you up”).
  • Then in v. 18 God tells Moses what he is supposed to do with the elders (“go to the king of Egypt and tell him . . . ”).
Then, as a final encouragement to Moses, God returns to what he is going to do in vv. 20-22 (“I will extend my hand and strike Egypt . . . I will grant this people favor with the Egyptians”). Poor Moses is still wrapped up in what he is supposed to do, so 4:1-17 entirely revolves around Moses’ protests about what he is supposed to do and God’s replies to him about how he is supposed to do it.

You can see the same pattern of a true vision in a number of places. You see it with Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, Manoah, and Samuel. And you see it with Jesus. Jesus, himself God, the only one who had seen God the Father completely (John 1:18), said,
I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and will show him greater deeds than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes [John 5:19-21].
So even the vision that Jesus, the Son of God, had was first of God himself, then of what God is doing, then of what he is supposed to do.

The bent of humanity—the bent of sin—is to focus so intently on ourselves that even when we want to do good for God or others (or are called to it like it or not), we still focus on ourselves. But if you truly seek vision, the first thing is to surrender your attention to what you are supposed to do. Don’t even seek what God is doing. The first and most important thing to see is God himself. That’s where true vision begins.

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