Vision is a tricky thing. We recognize great leaders as people of vision, people who could see farther than the rest of us. We sometimes get the idea of vision confused with appearances of God or Christ to men and women throughout Scripture and throughout history. These far-too-limiting notions of vision are dangerous for us because, if we embrace them as all that vision means, it becomes a rare and inaccessible commodity, like prophesy or speaking in tongues. But, vision is way more common than that, and vital to how we live. We need it to survive.
Vision is, quite simply, a picture of the future: of your self, your family, the groups or organizations you lead. If you lead any of these groups (and everyone leads themselves) vision drives your present action. For example, how you parent your children is guided by a vision of who and what they will become. Is your vision that they will be passionate disciples of Jesus Christ? Division I athletes? Successful businesspeople or professionals? Alumni of the same university you attended, or one even better? If you think about it, you have either intentionally or by default created a mind picture of what your child will be on that day. Chances are (if you are an intentional parent) the actions you are taking now– the choices you make for them, the opportunities you create, the conversations you have, with whom you surround them– are driven by that vision. Whether it’s your kids, your business, or your ministry, vision is crucial. If, as Stephen Covey famously said, we should begin with the end in mind, then vision is that end.
Burt Nanus, a noted leadership theorist, gives a common definition of vision, “a realistic, credible, attractive future for your organization (or your family, self, etc). It is your articulation of a destination toward which your organization should aim, a future that is better, more successful, or more desirable for your organization than is the present.” While this definition may be good for business, it’s not a good one for you- the man, the woman, the follower of Christ who is trying to lead his or her children, marriage, or people at work or church well. Definitions like these are all man-centered, originating from our hopes, dreams, and thoughts. They are far too limiting, and we’re too easily misled by pride, ambition, and overprotectiveness.
For the Christian, Henry Blackaby notes, vision isn’t man-centered. It’s God-centered. Vision is actually revelation– God speaking to us and showing us a vision for the future. God is not bound by time and space; He lives apart from it. Everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen in human history, in your history is laid out before God like a sheet. He sees it all. Doesn’t it make much more sense, then, to seek out God’s revelation, His vision for your life, your marriage, your work, your kids, and then order your life around it, instead of dreaming up your own future and asking God to baptize it, to get on your team? If you have access to the omniscience of the Holy Spirit, why would you try to cook up your own vision like those who don’t have that access do? Is your plan really that much better than God’s? When is working against Him ever a good idea?
Finally, if you read this and think, “God never gives me any revelation like this. I never receive vision from God,” and you are a follower of Christ with the Holy Spirit in you, the problem is almost always that you’re not listening. I have to remind myself over and over again that, in Scripture, God never reveals Himself to people when they’re in the middle of the chaos of day-to-day life, surrounded by people, and endlessly distracted. Where did Moses, and David, and the prophets, and Paul, and, yes, Jesus, receive revelation? In the desert. On their own. If you are not quietly alone with God, away from the distractions of the crowd, listening to His voice through the means of grace–prayer, Bible study, fasting, and solitude–you can’t be still enough and intimate enough to hear from God.
At least quarterly, I go off for the day to be alone with the Lord. I get still, and listen for His voice. I have to fight to do it, because there are always distractions and important things to do here. When I break through and do it, however, He gives me vision for our school, for our family, and for my ministry. The intimacy I develop with Him during those times positively impacts my relationship with Him in the in-between times, as well. The vision I receive brings clarity when I actually have to execute on the vision, which always involves resistance, like dragging a boulder up a hill. That’s when clear vision from the Lord means everything.
When my girls were younger, it was a hassle for my wife to allow me to take this time away, for her to be left alone with the kids. She never complained; in fact, she pushed me out the door to do it. She knew that if the leader of our family didn’t have God-directed vision, we wouldn’t have made it. Yet another thing I love about that woman.