The power of a well articulated and compelling vision is undeniable. History’s pages are loaded with thousands of examples; pioneers, explorers, reformers, authors, artists and inventors that have shaped the world in which we live.
Researcher and author George Barna describes vision as a ‘clear mental picture of a preferable future’. Visionaries are seers. They see past the circumstances, beyond the horizon and into the future. They look through a lens which has a Kingdom auto-focus, continually imagining what could be if God were in control.
I have been constantly instructed and inspired by the story of Nehemiah. We can learn some valuable lessons about casting vision from the first two chapters of this ancient book.
1. Vision starts with Dissatisfaction.
Nehemiah was deeply and profoundly affected by what he heard and saw at Jerusalem (Neh 1:4). All visionaries respond passionately to a cause, a crisis or catastrophe. When David the young shepherd heard how Goliath was threatening the future of his nation he cried out in defiance ‘Is there not a cause!’
Vision often begins with the inability to accept things the way they are. The visionary leader is angry at the status quo and finds it hard to accept the acceptable. Consider Wilberforce and his fight against slavery, Luther King Jnr and his fight for equality, or Mandela and his fight for freedom.
Most visions manifest themselves as solutions to problems, improvements to life and breakthrough innovations that benefit a multitude of people and leave a legacy for generations to enjoy. In this regard vision has been described as ‘the solution to the problem that everyone else has learned to live with’.
We cannot accept the irreligious trend away from church and the rejection of Christianity as being normal and acceptable. As disciples and leaders we cannot be satisfied with dwindling numbers and decreasing churches across our country. Great Britain needs Jesus! The statistics paint a grim picture of the moral state of our society. May we again be provoked by what we hear, impassioned by what we see and pushed out of our comfort zones but what we witness.
2. Vision is God given
True vision is birthed in you by God through prayer. Seven times in the first two chapters of Nehemiah it makes reference to him praying. Moses went to a mountaintop to receive his vision, Habakkuk to a watchtower, Jesus to a wilderness, Peter to a rooftop. We all need to find that place where God imparts vision into our hearts.
God given vision is redemptive by nature. It seeks to buy back and reclaim what is rightfully God’s. All divinely inspired visions are in some way linked to God’s master plan of rescuing the world. Nehemiahs vision was much more than rebuilding a wall, it was reestablishing a nation. Israel were ordained and commissioned by God to be a light to all nations. It is through these people that God would eventually introduce the Saviour of the world.
Tommy Barnett, pastor of First Assembly Phoenix and father of Matthew Barnett, Dream Centre Los Angeles said, ‘When a vision is in synchronisation with Gods eternal plan it succeeds.’ However many visions fail to reap results because they are rooted in personal ambition rather than Kingdom advancement. Many leaders are giving first class allegiance to second class causes. Their vision is too self centred, too small and too safe to inspire followers or attract the favour of God.
3. Vision grows in clarity
Nehemiah surveyed the broken down walls of Jerusalem. He analysed the situation and sought God for a strategy. What God wanted to accomplish in Jerusalem grew in clarity within Nehemiahs heart. Are we really aware of the needs in our communities? Are we casting vision that is disconnected from the realities of the community in which we live?
Someone once described vision as ‘foresight with insight based on hindsight’. Strategic vision appreciates the historical journey of a community, is acutely aware of their current situation and can see what the possibilities are for them in the future.
Vision is a clear mental picture of a preferable future. It is describing and declaring what a person, people group, community or nation can become. When Jesus met Peter he wasn’t Peter the rock, he was Simon the reed. Abram the exalted father became Abraham, the father of many. Jacob the deceiver became Israel the Prince with God. God is the ultimate optimist, He always sees our potential.
What future do you prefer for your community or city? Have you described it, clarified it and written it down? The prophet Habakkuk was instructed by God to ‘write the vision and make it plain on tablets, so that he may run who reads it.’ Please note vision attracts followers and progress comes to those who have articulated and clarified what their vision is.
We often wrongly think that God only speaks in big picture terms. That He is vague in describing His plans for us. This is a misconception. Consider the intricately detailed instructions given to Noah for building an ark, to Moses for preparing a tabernacle and to David for the construction of the temple. It’s true God is creative, mosaic and panoramic in language. But our God is also accurate and detailed, nothing escapes His attention. He is not just a God of the ‘what to do’ but also the ‘how to do’.
Vision lifts people’s eyes off todays realities and points them towards tomorrows possibilities. Your vision should inspire people to greatness. To see beyond the mundane and mediocre. To motivate them to think higher and go further. It should add a Kingdom perspective to their daily life. It should have enough clarity to inspire them to take immediate and intentional action. If you read the next 2 chapters of Nehemiah you will witness strategic leadership at work. People were positioned, teams were built and resources were released. He clearly articulated a way forward for everyone. That’s why the walls were rebuilt in 52 days. Not because he was prophetic (only) but because he was strategic.
As we cast vision for the future of our church or organisation it must be strategic. Vision without implementation is nothing more than a noble intention. It must demand action and buy-in from all key stakeholders. It will require sacrifice and effort.
4. Vision is incarnated
All visionaries embrace and embody the change they want to see in their world. They not only speak it but they model it. Visionaries take personal responsibility for the cause they are promoting. We observe this pattern throughout the second chapter, Nehemiah said, ‘I prayed, I ask that you send me, I went, I came, I arose, I told no one what God put in my heart, I went out, I viewed, I went on, I went up, then I said “You see the distress that we are in…”. He identified with the cause, he made it personal, he owned the plight of his people.
I am convinced that nothing changes in the world until someone takes the issue personally. Someone has to take ownership, count the cost and intentionally bring about positive change. In this regard Jesus stands out as the supreme example. He alone came to seek and save the lost. Not to condemn the world but to save it from sin. His sacrifice is the pivotal point in history and altered the eternal destiny of humankind.
We cannot divorce ourselves from the chaos in our communities. We cannot sit on the periphery Sunday after Sunday pretending to care or merely verbalising our concern. We must engage our communities and demonstrate the love, kindness and forgiveness that comes with knowing Christ. We must model for them what the Kingdom of God looks like and what our communities could be if we embraced His master plan.
Incarnation is the most powerful form of communication. When God wanted to show the world what He was really like, He came from the heavens in human form. He was incarnated, he put on flesh. Likewise we must incarnate the message of Christ to our communities. I love the way Eugene Peterson renders the verse in John 1:14 ‘The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.’
Vision is not just slogans and rhetoric. Its about words and deeds. It’s more than intentions, it’s about actions. Whatever hopes and aspirations we may have the future of the church in Great Britain or in Europe, it is not enough to pray, preach and program. We must model the life of Christ to our communities.
5. Vision is cast
Vision is powerless unless it has been propagated. How can vision help anyone if it’s hidden in a filing cabinet, or on a wall down a corridor or worse still, inside a heart? Vision must be communicated to those it is meant to help. The various methods and mechanics of vision casting are well documented, it is not the aim of this article to speak on that. However whatever methods are employed there is a universal principle in vision casting: it is consistent.
It is consistent with God’s plan. It is not changing year by year. It has legacy and longevity of influence in mind. It is consistent with the season you are in. Everything works in seasons. Therefore our priorities in any given season can change without losing sight of the vision. And finally it is consistently communicated. Not just on Vision Sunday at the beginning of the year, but all year long, it is declared and reaffirmed.
Without a vision people perish. Helen Keller said the only thing worse than being blind is having no vision. Let’s give our communities are vision of a preferable future.