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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Vision Thing (20): One for Others

Louis Cheron, Le prophète Agabus prédisant à saint Paul ses souffrances à Jérusalem (1687)

In my last post I asserted that since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, true vision is available to everybody. But that doesn't mean that it's available to everybody at the same time. Sometimes one person gets the vision for everyone, and everyone else has to trust the visionary.

That one-person-speaking-to-all-people model isn't just an Old Testament thing. The activity of Agabus in the early church bears this out. Even in that assembly that was full of people who saw visions and had dreams from God, at least twice Agabus received messages for the whole church that no one else received directly.

The most amazing example of this in the Bible in my opinion is the crisis Judah faced under King Jehoshaphat when they were threatened with invasion by the combined forces of Moab, Ammon, and Edom. Jehoshaphat calls the people together to pray for deliverance and guidance. God answers their prayer right away by filling a Levite named Jachaziel with his Spirit. In front of thousands of praying Israelites, Jachaziel informs the nation exactly where their enemies will be positioned and also that they won't have to fight because Yahweh will do all the fighting for them.

Can you imagine the guts it would have taken for Jachaziel to break the silence and effectively take responsibility for Judah proceeding on this unusual course of action? And can you imagine the guts of Jehoshaphat, who so believed Jachaziel's message that instead of placing elite warriors as his vanguard on the way to meet the enemy, he had his worship team go first! (Think about your church's worship team. Would you do that?)

Even today, sometimes God only gives the vision to one—not necessarily the expected leader either—but he expects the rest to trust and follow.

As I read the Old Testament, I am struck by how prophets emerge and people just know that they're legit prophets. (See Samuel for one of many examples.) Sure, after a while a prophet could develop a track record. But in Jachaziel's case for instance, the assembly (or at least Jehoshaphat) knew that he was the real deal just by hearing it the first time.

On the other hand, there are many examples in the Old Testament of false prophets, prophets who say whatever people want to hear, whom people believed even though they hadn't really seen a vision from the Lord. (See a good example of the contrast between false prophets and a true one here.)

So when someone says to your church, "I have a vision; here's what God wants us to do," how do you know that it's true? Paul gave practical instructions about this kind of situation, which he expected to be routine in the church. He wrote, "Do not extinguish the Spirit—do not despise prophecies—but test everything: hold on to what is good; stay away from everything that looks wrong" (1 Thess. 5:19-22, my translation). In 1 Cor. 14:29 he says that as a general rule, prophets should be allowed to speak when the church gathers, but once they do "the others should evaluate what is said."

Without going into much detail here, suffice it to say that the primary criteria for evaluating the vision that someone recounts are (1) does it cohere with what we already know to be true, especially from Scripture? and (2) does it enjoin an action we're supposed to take or adjustment we're supposed to make that glorifies Christ? Beyond these criteria there is also a certain gut-level sense that believers full of the Spirit have. Like in Jachaziel's day, when a true vision is recounted, the Spirit-filled believer often just knows—and they often just know when it isn't true.

So what does this all mean for vision in our churches? First it means, when you get a vision, don't expect someone else to go first. Don't hold back until someone else has seen the same thing. Sometimes God gives the vision to one person for the sake of all the others, and that one person might not be in charge either. It might just be ordinary you. If you don't speak it, it won't be spoken, and the church will stumble into danger. Speak up!

Second, be open to hearing the vision coming from only one person, including someone you don't expect. Leaders, be open to the vision coming from a person outside of the leadership circle. Be as wise as Jehoshaphat was—listen to your Jachaziel wherever they're located on (or off) the organizational chart and submit to the message even though you're the king.

Imagine how nimble and faithful the church would be if everyone was prepared to adjust and obey as soon as a mere one of us received a vision from God.

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