Good morning! Take out your outlines. We’re starting a new series today called “Something Worth Living For.” I’m excited about this series because we’re going to learn some practical lessons on how we can live more purposeful and significant lives. Today we’re going to look at how to live a life of vision.
Buried deep within our souls is a desire to live a life of vision and significance. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel a need to live for a higher purpose or calling. Welch poet David Whyte wrote: “I don’t want to have written on my tombstone, when finally people struggle through the weeds, pull back the moss, and read the inscription there: ‘He made his car payments.'” We were made for more than that. We were designed to live lives of purpose.
As I look around, I sense that a lot of us don’t feel like we’re living that life. I talk to people all the time who feel like they’re in the wrong job. They feel trapped inside circumstances that they wouldn’t have chosen. Their dreams have been crushed. I wonder how many times you have asked yourself the question “Is this all there is?” You were designed to live for a higher purpose. There’s more to your life than the day to day.
A vision isn’t something magical. It’s not something for special people. It’s for every one of us. What is a vision? A vision is a divinely given picture of what could be and should be. It’s a picture. Vision is a preferred future. Vision always stands against what actually exists. It’s something that both can be done and should be done.
There are two reasons why we need to learn how to live a life of vision:
1. VISION FULFILLS MY PURPOSE
It’s God’s design that you live a life of vision. This isn’t some self-help pop-psychology. It’s God’s design. When God planned you, before you were ever born, it was God’s intention that you would be you. You’re unique. You were designed to live a life of vision.
Read with me Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” You know what this verse teaches us? You are a product of God’s vision. You are God’s workmanship – his masterpiece. Long ago, before you were born, God envisioned you. He made you. You are a product of God’s vision, and God has a vision and a purpose for your life.
In Jeremiah 1:5, God said to Jeremiah: “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my spokesman to the world.” Before you were ever born, God knew you. God formed you to be exactly the way you are. You didn’t choose your parents, but God did. Out of all the ages of time, God determined the day that you would be born. He custom-designed your DNA. God has a purpose for your life. You were designed to live a life of vision.
God has made you unique. There is nobody else like you. There never has been, and there never will be. It’s ironic that we spend so much time trying to be like other people. God doesn’t want you to be like anyone else. He’s made you an original. There is nobody else with your set of strengths, nobody else with your personality. If you’re not you, who will be you? Who else is going to make the contribution that only you can make? Whenever someone says that you’re a character, you should thank them. You were designed to be a character. If you’re not a real character, you’re missing out. You’re not living out the purpose that God intended for your life.
In fact, we have no right to live visionless lives. You have no right to go through life without asking, “Am I accomplishing the purpose for which God made me?” Missing out on God’s plans for your life must be one of the greatest tragedies this side of eternity. Vision fulfills the purpose for which God has made me.
There’s a second reason why we should learn how to live a life of vision:
2. VISION PROVIDES MOTIVATION
We’re going to see this today. You’re motivated by vision. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy.” I love that verse. When dreams come true, there is life and joy. Show me somebody who’s unmotivated, and who’s heartsick and I’ll show you a broken vision. Show me someone who’s alive and joyful, and I’ll show you someone who’s living a life of vision.
A clear vision, and the courage to follow that vision, dramatically increases your chances of getting to the end of your life and saying, “I did it. I succeeded. I finished well. My life counted.”
Without a clear vision, you’ll probably get to the end of your life and wonder. You won’t know whether you’ve really made a contribution or not. You’ll wonder whether your life really mattered.
It’s the difference between filling bags with dirt and building a dike in order to save a town. Both jobs involve dirt. But jobs are unglamorous. But vision takes your activities and elevates them. Vision brings your world into focus. A clear vision enables you to see everything differently.
Years ago, I got interested in this girl. I lived in Scarborough, and she lived in Newmarket. I would think nothing of finishing school, taking a bus, taking a subway, connecting with another bus, and then finally getting to a bus station, almost two hours away, and waiting another half an hour for someone to pick me up. You couldn’t pay me to do that today. I don’t have to – that girl now lives in my house. I’m married to her. But back then I willingly endured the drudgery of a long trip on public transit, because I had a vision of what I wanted that relationship to look like.
Think back to when you were really motivated to go to incredible lengths to realize a dream. You may have stayed up all night. Even the most lifeless, meaningless tasks become meaningful because of your vision. When you have a vision, even the mundane begins to matter.
One of the greatest tragedies of life is that so many people live without ever living out God’s vision for their lives. They get discouraged, distracted. They start to live their lives driven by money, by convenience, by other people’s opinions. They live their lives by default. They don’t live their lives driven by God’s vision of what could be and should be.
We’re going to spend the next few weeks assembling some building blocks that we can use to make sure that we don’t get to the end of our lives and say, “I missed it. I didn’t discover God’s vision for my life. I just existed. I just got by.” Andy Stanley wrote, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision.”
Yesterday, about 15 people took a course called Personal Refocusing. It’s a process that helps you discover and live God’s purpose for your life. Next month we’re running another session of Personal Refocusing, and if you haven’t taken it yet, I’d really encourage you to sign up.
We’re going to be going through the same process as a church. We’re calling this part of the process Church Refocusing. We’re going to be asking, “What’s God’s vision for Richview? What does God want us to become?” The exciting part is that you will have a part in helping discern God’s voice. You may be a teenager, you may be a senior. You may have been here two months; you may have been here forty years. We all get to play. We all get to participate. We all get to discern God’s vision for our future.
People and churches with vision are able to accomplish a lot more. They’re able to accomplish God’s purpose. A good example of that is a man named Nehemiah. If you don’t know the story of Nehemiah, it’s one of the clearest examples of how vision can change history.
One of the things I love about Nehemiah’s story is that there are no miracles involved. Nehemiah never parted the Red Sea or walked on water. Nehemiah was just an ordinary guy. The only difference is that Nehemiah had vision. He saw what could be and should be. And then he went after it with all of his heart.
Let me give you some background. Around 587 BCE, the Babylonians invaded Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, along with Solomon’s Temple. Thousands of people were taken from Judah and resettled in Babylon. You may know some of the stories of people that were exiled to Babylon – people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Songs were written with lyrics like this: “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem” (Psalm 137:1).
About seventy years after the first Babylonian invasion, Cyrus, King of Persia – who had since conquered the Babylonians – gave the Jews permission to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. They were led by a man named Zerubbabel. These exiled Jews came back and rebuilt the Temple. It wasn’t as nice as the first one, but it didn’t matter. Things were looking up – but not for long.
Soon the old problems returned. The Temple wasn’t being maintained. Sacrifices had ceased. The Jews adopted the religious practices of the surrounding nations. They weren’t serving God. By the time Nehemiah comes along, the political, social, and spiritual conditions in Jerusalem are deplorable.
That’s when we meet Nehemiah. Nehemiah was probably unaware of the impact that he would have. He never would have guessed that he was about to live out a vision that we would be reading about thousands of years later. He gives us a pattern, an example, of how a vision can grow from birth to reality.
How can I begin to live a life of vision? The thrust of what I want to tell you is that a vision will begin with a concern, a burden that God gives you. Here’s the first building block of vision that I want to give you from the book of Nehemiah:
BUILDING BLOCK ONE: VISION BEGINS AS A CONCERN
Read with me Nehemiah 1:1-4:
In late autumn of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had survived the captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been burned.” When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah’s concern over Jerusalem consumed him. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. For days, he mourned and fasted and prayed. It changed the way he looked. Later on, we find out that the king noticed that he was feeling down. This was bad news because the king had the power to kill you if he didn’t like the way he looked. Something was bothering Nehemiah and others, frankly, couldn’t care less. And it’s from here that we learn the first building block of vision: vision begins as a concern.
God’s purpose for you will always begin as a God-given concern. I’m not talking about a passing concern. I’m talking about something that sticks with you. God has a way of planting a desire, a concern, or a burden on our minds. When we pay attention to that concern, a picture begins to develop of what could be and should be. A vision starts to be born.
Andy Stanley writes:
You will hear or see something that gets your attention. A thought related to the future will generate an emotion. Something will bother you about the way things are or the way things are headed. Unlike many passing concerns, these will stick with you. You will find yourself thinking about them in your free time. You may lose sleep over them. You won’t be able to let them go because they won’t let you go. (Visioneering)
You may not have realized this, but God has been at work birthing a concern – a vision – in your heart. It’s not an accident. God always works by giving someone a concern or a burden for a need. He gives them a picture of what could be and should be.
That’s how anything great has ever happened. Somebody saw what was. They saw what God would like it to be. They saw a picture of what could and should be, and they got to work. They paid the price, and began to work to live out that vision.
A few observations about concerns or burdens:
1. NOT EVERYONE WILL SHARE YOUR CONCERN
Did you notice that nobody else seemed to be concerned about the wall? For years, the walls of Jerusalem had been broken down. But as I read Nehemiah, I get the impression that no one else was crying about the broken-down walls. Nehemiah’s concern was Nehemiah’s alone.
It’s that way today. You look around and see what could be and should be, but other people see what is. God hasn’t given them that concern. Don’t let that stop you from listening to what God is telling you. If God has given you a concern, you had better act on it. Others might not even see the problem. They probably can’t see what could be different. But it doesn’t matter. Listen to God. Begin to birth that vision.
It’s possible that God has given you a concern, but you haven’t cultivated it because nobody else seems to share that concern. Stop waiting for other people! God has given you that concern for a reason. It’s up to you to begin to cultivate and to pray about that concern.
A second observation:
2. SOME PEOPLE WILL SHARE YOUR CONCERN BUT DO NOTHING ABOUT IT
Question for you: do you think that anyone else had tried to rebuild the walls? Yes! Some had even tried, but had given up. But I imagine that many had the concern and had done nothing about it. Talking and doing are two different things. Even if others are concerned, they don’t always do anything about it.
The city walls had been in ruins for 140 years. Others had tried to fix the walls before, but had given up. Maybe they lacked the leadership skills. Maybe they lacked resources. It’s likely that they became discouraged by the opposition and criticism. Have you ever noticed every time you try to accomplish something, ten people can tell you why it can never happen? As a result, the walls had been lying in ruins for 140 years. Even those who had a concern were no longer taking any action.
Then Nehemiah came along. Listen to what Nehemiah was able to accomplish:
So on October 2 the wall was finally finished-just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (Nehemiah 6:15-16)
Nehemiah was able to accomplish in fifty-two days what others hadn’t been able to accomplish in 140 years.
God may have given you a vision. You look around and think, “Why me? Why should I do anything about it? God’s given this concern to others. They’re not doing anything about it.” It doesn’t matter. Obey God. You may be the person that God has uniquely placed to do something about it. You may have been placed in your position, with this burden, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).
Not everyone will share your concern. Some people will share your concern but do nothing about it. One more observation:
3. GOD OFTEN GIVES A CONCERN BEFORE HE GIVES A SOLUTION
A lot of you have God-given concerns, but you haven’t done anything about it. Why not? Because you can’t see yourself as the solution to the problem. You may think, “I have this concern, but I don’t know what to do. I’m already busy. I already have a lot on my plate. What difference can one person make?” One thing I know: God often gives a concern before he gives a solution. It’s not our job to worry about the solution. It’s our job to follow that concern and to trust God to begin to provide the solution.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king. He was responsible for ensuring the safety of the king’s food and drink. Nehemiah wasn’t really in a position to do anything about the broken-down wall. He didn’t have the authority to go and rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah could h ave thrown up his hands and said, “What can I do about it?” We’ll begin to see next week that Nehemiah was perfectly situated to do something about it.
Many times God will give you a concern, and it won’t be immediately obvious that you can do anything about it. But God has been preparing you, shaping you, working behind the scenes. God gives the vision. God also gives the means to carry out that vision.
In a few weeks we’re looking at “The God of the How.” We’re going to see that whenever God gives a what, he also provides a how. When God calls us to do something, we never have to worry about how. God takes care of that how when we begin to follow in obedience.
You may not see the connection. You may not see how your concern connects with God’s sovereign plan. But God may be birthing within your heart a vision – a burden, a concern, that will gradually grow to be a burning passion. It will seem like a moral imperative, something that God’s calling you to do.
What’s bothering you? What has God placed on your heart? What do you see that troubles you, and you know it could be different? Pay attention to those things. Vision often begins with the concern. I want you to identify this week that burden, that concern on your heart that you feel God is calling you to address. You don’t have to do anything about it yet, but you do need to listen when God speaks to you.
A priest in tsarist Russia was walking along minding his own business when a royal guard stopped him at gun point. The guard demanded to know: “What is your name? Why are you here, and where are you going?”
The priest gazed quizzically at the soldier and then asked, “How much do they pay you to do this work?”
The solider, somewhat taken aback, replied, “Why, three kopeks a month.”
“I’ll pay you 30 kopeks a month if you will stop me every week and ask me these same questions,” the priest said.
What is your name? Why are you here? And where are you going?
You were designed to live a life of purpose. God has given us all a unique contribution to make. He’s given you a burden, a concern, a passion. And he’s calling you to invest your life for eternity, and to concentrate all your energies on that task.
The most important step that you can take is to give your life for eternity. If you’ve never given your life to Jesus Christ, would you pray this prayer in your heart:
“Jesus Christ, I want to get to know you. And I want you to come into my life and I want to follow your plan and purpose for my life for the rest of my life. I turn away from my sins and follow you, and ask you to take charge of my life, beginning today.”
Father, I pray that as we begin to look at something to live for, as we read the story of Nehemiah – I pray that you would begin to birth a vision within us. Help us to see our contribution to what could be and should be. Help us to get to the end of our lives so that what was said of David would be true of us: “David…served his generation according to the will of God” (Acts 13:36). In Jesus’ name, Amen.