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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Vision Thing (8): Seeing God "with" Someone

Antoon Claeissens, The Judgement of Solomon

I have maintained that in order to have true vision—which is seeing what God sees—we first need to see God himself. Very often the glimpse that people have of God—thus getting them started on their path to vision—is seeing God "with" someone else.

Let's take Joseph, for example. His master Potiphar's first vision of Yahweh, the true God, was "observ[ing] that the LORD was with [Joseph] and that the LORD made everything he was doing successful" (Gen. 39:3). This man who didn't worship Yahweh was seeing what God was doing for the first time. He saw that God was going to keep blessing Joseph, so it was wise for him to get in line with that.

A few centuries later, Balaam, who had been hired to curse Israel, refused to do it but rather blessed Israel instead because he saw that Yahweh was with Israel. His "eyes were open" to God's favor on that nation; he saw what God saw and got in line with it.

When King Solomon made his famous verdict between the two prostitutes, word got around throughout Israel, and "they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice" (1 Kings 3:28, NIV). With God in Solomon's mind, no one could get away with anything, so they got in line with God's intentions.

Not everyone in your world will see the vision that God gives you or your church. In fact, most will not, at least not initially. But if your vision really is from God, then you won't just have God's vision but God himself. The first glimpse people get of the vision is the powerful, prospering presence of God with you.

In order to properly communicate vision, we must communicate God by revealing him through our impossible power and success. When people wonder, "How could someone so ordinary do something so extraordinary?—it must be God," they have started down the path to catch the vision.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Vision Thing (7): Dreams

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Dream of St. Joseph (1650-55)

Have you noticed that in the Bible, a lot of the time when people get a vision of what God sees for the world it's in a dream? I'm not talking a metaphorical (though very real), Martin Luther King, Jr.-style dream. I'm talking about a literal, I'm-physically-sleeping-when-I-see-it kind of dream. Abraham had one; so did Jacob (actually twice, not counting his vision of God), not to mention Joseph, Jacob's son, Joseph, Mary's husband, and many others. And this isn't just a before-Jesus thing either, because Paul had at least two.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone teach much about acquiring a vision from God by dreaming, perhaps because it's hard to know how to apply it practically. But if we're going to be biblical in our approach to vision, I guess we had better be open to it. Attend to your dreams, because you never know when the Lord is going to show up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Vision Thing (6): Right Now

Anyone who has received true vision must remain open to new vision. Vision may be augmented. It may also expire. It's not enough to have seen what God sees in the past if there is something he intends to show you right now.

Past vision was not enough for the Exodus generation of Israel. They had seen all the signs of God's power in Egypt and in the wilderness, but it was not enough for them the first time they reached the promised land. They did not see his glory going ahead of them in power if they would only obey and march into the land to take it.

Past vision was not enough for Nathan the Prophet. As a seer he had probably seen numerous visions of God and his ways. When David shared his plan to build a permanent temple for God, Nathan thought it was a fine idea and blithely told him to go ahead. But God had an entirely different plan—David wouldn't build God a house, but rather the other way around—and God confronted Nathan in the middle of the night to tell him.

Understand: when God gives you a vision, don't quit following it, no matter how long it takes. Sometimes a single vision lasts for years. But always remain attentive to new vision for new circumstances. And never rely on past faith or past experiences to serve you in the present. Always seek God for his vision for right now.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Vision Thing (5): For God's Glory

Ferdinand Bol, The Messenger of God Appearing to Joshua (1640-44)

When you actually get vision, it's pretty awesome. Paul the Apostle experienced an extreme example of this. He once got a vision from God so awesome that God allowed "a messenger of Satan" to afflict him ever after so that he wouldn't get full of himself. Vision can be that exhilarating. That might partly explain why it's so rare.

For this reason, it is crucial that everyone who seeks vision from God is focused like a laser on the glory of God. Vision is empowering, but ironically it can also distract from the Vision Giver. Those who are fired with zeal over the wonder of God's vision but get distracted from the Visionary God do more damage than a person with no vision at all. These people have much more energy than the average person, which makes their inadvertant misdirection that much more destructive. (Does this explain certain heresies and cults?) That's why God always starts the vision with a vision of himself.

Also for this reason, the vision doesn't just come from God but goes to God. He is both the beginning and end of true vision.

Joshua learned this lesson. Like other true visionaries of the first few books of the Bible, when Joshua met God as "the commander of Yahweh's army," he saw God (Josh. 5:14-15), then he saw what God was going to do (6:2), then he saw what he was supposed to do (6:3-5). The thing that God did—toppling the wall of Jericho in one instant with no siege equipment—was so far out there, so astonishingly impossible, that no one but God could get the credit. God gave Joshua that vision for God's own glory.

The next episode proves the point. Joshua led Israel to attack the small city of Ai, believing that it would fall without special assistance. To the contrary, without God helping the Israelites, the defenders of Ai routed them. Why? Because Israel did not adequately give the glory of the previous vision to God. One way this happened was through Joshua's failure to inquire of God how Ai was to be captured. But the bigger issue was that a guy named Achan took plunder from Jericho rather than leaving it for the Lord. The whole city, its inhabitants, and all it contained was to be devoted to God like a whole-burnt offering of the firstfruits of the conquest of Canaan—putting all the valuables in Yahweh's treasury, slaughtering everything that breathed, and torching the remainder. Achan's sin was attributed by God to all Israel as a failure to give him the glory he deserved. The glory he deserved, you see, was all of it. The barely noticeable fraction that Achan took for himself entirely compromised the whole. God's vision is for God's glory.

True, "the glory of God" is not specific enough to constitute vision in the concrete—that vision is about how God gets glory for himself, the specific way he intends masterfully to use frail and clumsy people as his instruments. Also truly, every person, church, or whatever should have as its ultimate objective the glory of God. So the glory of God is a given. But taking it as a given does not mean taking it for granted.

There is a grave temptation to fail at just this point. In fact, only those who have experienced the euphoria of truly grasping a vision and implementing it are allowed to reach the place where this temptation arises. It is they who have the greatest power to harm by failing at it. And so it is crucial on the front end, even before the vision is revealed perhaps, to be firmly convinced that God's vision is always, ever, only for God's glory.

When the only glory the visionary craves is to bask in the glory of the Vision Giver, then he or she is on the right track.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Vision Thing (4): Misapplying the Vision

William Blake, Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind (1803-05)

I have proposed that when people seek vision most of them are seeking what they ought to do. Some thoughtfully seek a vision of what is as God sees it. But I have argued that before seeing either of these, a person needs a vision of God himself. This is not only because God generally does not give a vision of what is or what we ought to do before displaying himself. It is also because people who see the world as God sees it without seeing God are liable to misapply the vision they have seen.

The Book of Job is a prime example of this. One of Job's erstwhile friends, Eliphaz, describes a vision he had in which it was revealed to him that not a single human being is righteous before God as evidenced by the sudden deaths that afflict humankind. But Eliphaz could not apply this true principle properly to Job. In fact, God angrily rebukes Eliphaz "because you have not spoken about me what is right, as my servant Job has" (42:7).

But Job himself had received his own rebuke from God. Job had seen that God destroys and renders impotent the mighty and important and uncovers their supposed wisdom for the foolishness it is. But that true vision of Job did not prevent God from reproving him as one "who darkens counsel with words without knowledge" (38:2).

What Job, Eliphaz, and the rest were missing was not a grasp of true principles but a vision of the God of truth himself. Once Job saw God in his dreadful majesty, he despised himself and repented in dust and ashes (42:6). Then he really saw, and then he was saved.

Knowing what the world is and how it works form an important element of vision. But these, even if correct, will lead us foolish humans astray if we lack a vision of the God from whence they come. We are bound to misapply the principles if our eyes wander from the God who speaks them.

There are so many people and churches with no vision at all. But of those who have grasped God's vision, how many succumb to the temptation to apply it with such singleminded enthusiasm that God himself moves offstage? What havoc visionaries without a vision of God can wreak.