We’ve been looking at how to live a life of vision and purpose. You were born with a desire to make a difference, to be part of something bigger than yourself. Every person has a desire to live a life of vision, of purpose, and significance.
We were all born with certain hungers and certain desires. Fast Company magazine reports that psychologists have identified three hungers that are common to all of us: to connect to the creative spirit of life; to express our gifts and talents; and to know that our lives matter:
Everyone wants to leave behind some kind of legacy, some kind of personal mark. It doesn’t have to be great or magnificent. But human beings know that at one level, we each have a own unique thumbprint, and we all want to leave that print behind for others to see that we’ve been here. (February 1998 issue)
If you’ve been with us so far, then you’ve probably come part way to defining and living out God’s vision for your life. This isn’t a formula – you’re too unique to fit into any easy-step formula of how to live a life of vision. With some of us, we could simply be seeing the next step. God doesn’t always reveal the full picture of what he wants us to do with our lives. But we can enter into a relationship with God in which we sense his direction, the burdens and concerns that he places on our hearts. As we follow God in that relationship, we can know that our lives are part of something bigger than us. We can play a role in building God’s kingdom.
One of the best examples of somebody who lived a life of vision is Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s taught us that vision is a divinely given picture of what could be and should be. Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down. Right away, Nehemiah saw what could be and should be – that the defenses of the city could be restored, and the walls rebuilt. A vision is always a picture of what could and should be from God’s perspective.
We’re offering a process called Refocusing that can help you discern your vision. I’m excited about a similar process that’s taking place at the church level. We’ve schedule three summits that you’re invited to, and the first one is on November 10. We’re going to be asking, “What could and should be at Richview? What is God’s vision for this church?” God has a vision and a purpose for this church. He’s been at work in our past, and he’s at work today. We want to discover God’s perspective on what could and should be in our church – not from my perspective, not from Ed’s perspective, but from God’s perspective. I invite you to be part of that process.
Nehemiah’s also shown us that vision begins as a concern. God has given each of us different concerns or burdens. Nehemiah’s was for the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Dwain Cline’s is for the inner-city of Hamilton. Dave Cook’s is for the Muslim population of Thailand. Yours could be for a certain people group or a need that you’ve observed. What do you get excited about? What do you dream about, laugh about, cry about? God has given you some burden, concern, or passion that will eventually grow into a vision.
Nehemiah’s also taught us that vision takes time to grow. A vision isn’t necessarily a green light. You’ve got to wait until you sense that it’s time to move on that vision. Waiting time isn’t wasted time. Last week, Dwain did an excellent job of showing us that what God originates, God orchestrates. Nehemiah didn’t have the resources to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He didn’t have the money. He didn’t have the freedom. He didn’t have the authority. In fact, his life was in danger, because kings back then had this funny habit of killing employees who looked like they were distracted. But when God originates a vision, God always orchestrates the how. God is the God of the what, but he’s also the God of the how.
Some of you may be thinking, “I’m not a visionary. I don’t even believe that God will give me an overarching plan for my life. I don’t buy this vision stuff. God is calling me to walk with him – nothing more.” You may be right – God may not give you the full plan for your life and what he should be doing. But he will give you a picture of what could be and should be in different areas of your life – in your marriage, in your family, in your business. That picture will come directly as a result of your walk with him.
There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Joseph. Some people say, “God didn’t give him a vision for his life – that he would become prime minister of Egypt.” You could argue that God did give him this vision. But even if he didn’t, God gave him a picture of what could and should be in each phase of his life – that he would be a faithful prisoner, a servant with impeccable integrity.
The vision may not be a plan of what you’re going to do. The vision may that you would develop the character qualities of a person that God can bless. It may be specific and lifelong; it may relate to a specific area of your life, either lifelong or temporal. But God does give his followers promptings, stirrings, pictures of what could be and should be in the various areas of our lives.
If you’ve been following along, you’ve begun to define your personal vision. You’ve been praying and planning. You’ve trusted God and watched as he has orchestrated events and people to accomplish the vision. If it’s of God, you’ve seen God’s thumbprint all over that vision. But we’ve now come to a scary point. We’ve come closer to the implementation of the vision, but before you can implement, there’s one important step left. You’ve got to share the vision with others.
The last time we saw Nehemiah, he was doing cartwheels down the hallways of the palace. After months of waiting, Nehemiah finally had the green light to proceed. The pace was picking up. The vision had been launched. Nehemiah was given permission to use trees from the king’s forest. He was given permission to travel back to Jerusalem, along with an armed escort. After years of routine and menial service, Nehemiah must have felt like a caged bird set free. For the first time in a long time, his abilities were about to be put to good use.
But there was one step left. Nehemiah knew what God had put in his heart to do. He even had the green light and the resources to proceed. But there was still one crucial step. Nehemiah had to share the vision with others. Two things are true of every God-given vision: it always involves others, and it always affects others. Before Nehemiah could proceed, he had to share his vision with the residents of Jerusalem. Without their support, success would be impossible. Before you can begin to implement God’s vision for your life, you need to share your vision with others who can partner with you and support you in accomplishing that vision.
You may sense God calling you to change your vocation. He may be leading you to a new area of ministry. There may be a prompting to make some sacrifice, or to change something about your marriage, or your own character. Whatever God calls you to do, there’s likely going to be a time that you have to share that vision with others.
Nehemiah 2 is an example of how to share your vision with others. Nehemiah 2 teaches us building block number 4 of something worth living for: Share your vision with the appropriate people at the appropriate time. We’re going to spend the rest of today looking at how to share your vision appropriately, because if you don’t do this, your vision is as good as dead. How can you share a vision, which you believe to be God-given, with others?
There are two types of people here. Some of you tend to under-communicate. I know this because I’ve talked to some of you on the phone. I consider myself lucky to get two words out of you. If you tend to under-communicate, you need to learn from Nehemiah how to get others on board. You need to learn how to share your vision so that others will buy in.
Others of you tend to over-communicate. Y ou’re eager to share your vision before you’ve even thought it through. You’re so eager to share your vision that you sometimes share visions you didn’t even know you had.
Nehemiah teaches both groups three important lessons on how to share your vision in to the appropriate people at the appropriate time:
1. INVESTIGATE BEFORE YOU INITIATE
Investigate before you initiate. Walk before you talk. Before you ever open your mouth to share the vision, you’ve got to do your homework. When God first gives you a vision, don’t tell anyone. Investigate before you initiate.
Nehemiah 2:11-12 describes Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem. “Three days after my arrival at Jerusalem, I slipped out during the night, taking only a few others with me. I had not told anyone about the plans God had put in my heart for Jerusalem. We took no pack animals with us, except the donkey that I myself was riding.” If it had been me, I would have probably arrived in Jerusalem and called a town meeting, and said, “Here’s who I am. Here’s what I’ve come to do. And here’s a letter from the king that says I have the authority. Let’s get moving.” But that’s not what Nehemiah did. Nehemiah waited three days without telling anybody about the plans that God had put in his heart.
Instead, Nehemiah spent three quiet days carefully assessing the situation. On the third day, he went for a midnight ride around the walls to survey the damage. Why? Up to that point, he had no first-hand knowledge of the situation. He needed first-hand knowledge of the situation before he could roll out his vision. Only then could he present a realistic strategy. One person writes, “It is neither heroic or smart to take bold, uninformed action to further a vision…It is not evidence of a lack of faith to ask the hard questions wisdom dictates you ask” (Andy Stanley).
Before you can move ahead with the vision, you need to know everything possible about that can be known before moving ahead. Jesus once said, “Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills?” (Luke 14:28). It’s not a lack of faith or a change of heart to do some research. We need to get the facts.
Nehemiah 2:16 says, “The city officials did not know I had been out there or what I was doing, for I had not yet said anything to anyone about my plans. I had not yet spoken to the religious and political leaders, the officials, or anyone else in the administration.” If you speak to others about the vision prematurely, it’s very possible that the vision could be squashed by doubts and questions. By the time Nehemiah announced the vision, nobody could accuse him of being blind to the magnitude of the task. Nobody could accuse Nehemiah of not having done his homework. Before you share your vision, ask yourself, “Have I investigated the vision properly? Have I discovered all that I can?” The investigation may not reveal all the answers, but at least you’ll have a pretty good grasp on all the major questions.
When you begin to share your vision, you’re going to find that there are a lot of skeptics out there. Nehemiah found this. The walls had been torn down for 130 years. The people of Jerusalem were used to that sad state of affairs. It was all that they had known. Unless Nehemiah did his homework, he wouldn’t be able to paint a compelling picture of what could be and should be. You need to be prepared to handle the skepticism that you’ll encounter when you begin to share your vision.
You may even find that your vision needs adjusting. Very few people are able to implement a vision without some adjustment. Nehemiah’s original plan probably involved rebuilding the walls to their initial specification. After examining the debris, he revised his plans. You may find that after some investigation, you need to revise your plan. A realistic plan will be much easier to communicate when the time comes.
Let me ask you about your vision. I’m assuming you haven’t announced your vision to the world yet. Have you completed your investigation? Is there somebody that you should talk to? Are there books you should read? Is there a location you should visit? Don’t let impatience, pride, or fear get in your way. Investigate before you initiate. I’d encourage you to take some time this week to investigate more fully what God is calling you to do.
Once Nehemiah completed the investigation phase, he took action by beginning to share his vision. Here’s the second lesson on how to communicate vision to the right people at the right time:
2. COMMUNICATE THE VISION AS A SOLUTION
Every vision is a solution to a problem. In Nehemiah’s case, the problem was the broken walls of the city. The time had come for Nehemiah to communicate the vision to the people. He had no idea how they would respond. They had been content with those broken-down walls for generations. They could have run him out of town. They could have laughed. They could have ignored him. Nehemiah needed their cooperation if he was going to succeed. How do you communicate the vision when you want to get other people on board?
Read Nehemiah 2:17-18 with me:
But now I said to them, “You know full well the tragedy of our city. It lies in ruins, and its gates are burned. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and rid ourselves of this disgrace!” Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.
You may have to share your vision with your spouse. You may have to recruit help from those with more resources than you have. You may have to recruit help from others to carry out the vision. You’ll have to share the vision with somebody. A compelling vision always includes four components: the problem, the solution, the reason, and the timing.
THE PROBLEM – “You know full well the tragedy of our city. It lies in ruins, and its gates are burned” (Nehemiah 2:17). Nehemiah began by stating the obvious. A vision is a solution to a problem. The problem isn’t the vision, but identifying the problem will engage the interest of others. Begin by defining the problem. Help others to see the problem the way that God sees it.
Nehemiah told the people about the walls being broken. Why did he state the obvious? Didn’t he realize that the people already knew about the walls? Human nature is funny. After a century of living with a problem, the problem stops being a problem. The problem becomes normal. It helps to see the world again through fresh eyes.
The people of the Jerusalem had become so accustomed to the walls being torn down that they hardly noticed anymore. They had learned to live with it. They had lost sight of what could be and should be. They had to see the problem through Nehemiah’s eyes in order to see the solution.
A year ago, my wife pointed out that my schedule made it impossible for my children to see me for about two and a half days straight. I knew this fact, but it had become reality to me. It took her perspective to get me to say, “You’re right, that is a problem!” It’s amazing what we get used to. We get used to churches that have no impact. We get used to families that barely function. We get used to bodies that get out of shape. We get used to an apathetic walk with God. A vision always begins by challenging us to see past what we’ve come to see as normal, to see what could be and should be.
What problem does your vision address? Your vision could address a current problem. It could address a potential problem – “If we don’t do something, this may happen.” It will help people see the world in a new light. What’s the problem? As long as your answer to that question lacks focus, don’t say a word. Define the problem that your vision addresses. Then include the second component of a compelling vision:
THE SOLUTION – Everybody in Nehemiah’s audience agreed on the problem: the walls were broken down. Having establishe d the problem, Nehemiah went on to propose a solution. “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem,” he said (Nehemiah 2:17). The solution is obvious, but it took somebody to verbalize it. Nehemiah was able to communicate clearly and succinctly what exactly God was calling him to do. “Let’s rebuild the wall.”
Solutions always inspire imagination. I can see the people who heard Nehemiah speak look around and think, “I can see it. These walls can be rebuilt. When you speak of a solution, people around you will begin to think, “Things could be different.” Your family could be different. Your business could be different. Your marriage could be different. This church could be different. A clear and compelling vision will include a solution – God’s solution – to a problem that you’ve helped other people to see.
Nehemiah’s vision included another essential component:
THE REASON – Problems don’t always require solutions. There are more problems in this world than we can solve. Just because somebody presents a problem doesn’t necessarily mean that there should be a solution. Why should anyone act on the problem and the solution?
Nehemiah said, “Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and rid ourselves of this disgrace!” (Nehemiah 2:17). Nehemiah knew that the walls were an insult to the residents of the city, but even worse, they were an insult to God. God’s reputation was at stake. This was supposed to be God’s city, but the Ark of the Covenant was missing. Sacrifices had ceased. The glory was gone. Nehemiah gave them a compelling reason to rebuild the walls: for their own good, but mostly for God’s glory.
Nehemiah concluded with another component of vision:
THE TIMING – The walls had been in ruins for years. Why rebuild now? Nehemiah told them why. Nehemiah 2:18 says, “Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.” Did you catch that? Nehemiah argued that now is the time to rebuild because of God’s sovereign engineering of circumstances. Why rebuild then? Because God had paved the way. God himself was on the move to rebuild those walls. It’s an exciting thing to realize that God is on the move.
What happened when Nehemiah presented the problem, the solution, the reason, and the timing? Nehemiah 2:18 says, “They replied at once, ‘Good! Let’s rebuild the wall!’ So they began the good work.” It sounds too easy! It sounds so unrealistic. You can guess that this isn’t the end of the story. In fact, we’re going to see in a few minutes that there were problems. But I’m learning that people are hungry to follow a God-given vision – not because somebody is charismatic or persuasive, but because they sense that God is on the move.
Listen to what two leadership experts have written:
When relating our hopes, dreams, and successes, we are always emotionally expressive. We lean forward in our chairs, our arms move about, our voices sing with emotion, and smiles appear on our faces. We are enthusiastic, articulate, optimistic, and uplifting. In short, we are inspiring. (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner)
You don’t have to be the most charismatic person around. But if you have a vision, you need to prepare to communicate that vision as a solution to a problem that must be addressed immediately. There is power in communicating what could be and should be from God’s perspective.
People are longing for vision. They’re ready to follow someone who communicates vision, especially if they do so with integrity and humility. What steps do you need to take to clarify your vision? How can you prepare today to communicate the vision? When it comes time to communicate, investigate, and then present the vision as a solution to a problem that must be addressed immediately. There’s one more lesson on how to communicate vision to the appropriate people at the appropriate time:
3. EXPECT CRITICISM
Nehemiah 2:19 says, “But when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab heard of our plan, they scoffed contemptuously. ‘What are you doing, rebelling against the king like this?’ they asked.” We first met these people in Nehemiah 2:10: “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of my arrival, they were very angry that someone had come who was interested in helping Israel.” In fact, we’re going to look next week at how to protect the vision from critics. Whenever you share your vision, expect criticism. Opposition is the price of vision. Just expect criticism right from the start.
Nobody likes criticism. But you’ve probably figured out that you’ll be criticized no matter what you do. Even if you do nothing, you’ll still be criticized. You may as well be criticized for living out God’s vision for your life.
You may remember that until recently, John Hull was pastor of the People’s Church here in Toronto. When it came time for him to leave, I received a copy of the farewell issue of that church’s magazine. One of the staff paid a tribute to him that went like this, “I still remember John preaching on the subject, ‘Don’t let the turkeys get you down.'”
In every life, in every church, in every business, there are people that you could call turkeys. They will criticize, they will de-motivate, they will discourage you from living out God’s vision for your life. You have a choice. Are you going to listen to the Sanballats and Tobiahs – the turkeys in your life, or are you going to listen to God? I’m not telling you to ignore the wise council of others. But don’t be surprised that as God confirms the vision, some will try to get you down. Expect criticism. We’re going to look at how to handle criticism next week.
There’s nothing more exciting than following God’s leading in our lives. There’s nothing more exciting than sensing and obeying God’s promptings on your life.
I believe that God is calling some of you to follow his promptings. It’s time to share with others what God is calling you to do and to be. It’s time to share the character changes that he’s asking you to make. It’s time to share the new vocation that God’s calling you to. Whatever it is, follow Nehemiah’s example. Investigate. Communicate that vision as a solution. And expect criticism.
If you’ve never signed on to the adventure of following God, then I invite you to do so today. Why wouldn’t you want to live out God’s vision in your marriage, your family, your business, your calling?
I wonder if you would join with me right now and ask God to help you, and together to help this church, live out his vision right now. Let’s pray.
Father, some of us are sceptical. We don’t really believe that you have a purpose for our lives. It’s hard to believe that we could be used by you. Give us a picture of what could and should be in our lives, in our church. Bring us close to you so we can hear your leading. When we hear that leading, help us to communicate it to those around us and not to be discouraged by criticism.
There may be some today who have never given their lives to you. They’re not living out the adventure of faith. Thank you that they can receive new life – forgiveness for their past, a purpose for the present, and hope for eternity – by receiving the free gift offered through the death of Jesus Christ. They can simply pray, “God, I want to follow you. Thank you that Jesus came to seek and to save me. I give my life to you. I turn from my sins, and thank you for the forgiveness that’s offered through Jesus Christ. I make you the Lord, the director – the one who gives me direction – for the rest of my life.”
“Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)