Sunday, January 18, 2009

God's Vision vs. Man's Vision

God's Vision vs. Man's Vision

By God’s marvelous Grace, I had the privilege of serving Him in full time ministry for the past thirteen years. Prior to me entering into full time work, I was an insurance agent for about seven years. Back then (and I believe is still very much on going now), it was very common for insurance agents to conscientiously attend seminars and conferences, in a bid to sharpen their skills and upgrade their expertise in their field of work.

I remembered in those seminars, one motivating factor that was often emphasized as being key to us achieving success -- was that of ‘Visioning’. We were always encouraged to have great visions; visions that are big enough to inspire us and spur us on in our work; visions that required us to set big goals and radical sales targets, so as to keep us excited and motivated towards achieving our success.

After I became a born again Christian, it troubled me to hear the same emphasis being made in the kingdom of God. I often heard leaders and preachers exhorting the congregation to have a vision for their life or for the church that they are a part of or even a vision big enough to die for, a vision worthy enough to forsake all so that we can enter into heaven gloriously. Very often, the message seems to be this -- that whatever we do for God, it should be ‘big’ in terms of scale because we serve a big God. And such exhorting messages are often accompanied by powerful testimonies of great accomplishments achieved by men or women of God throughout church history.

For years, this has always been an issue that disturbed my spirit. I felt confused and I struggled to differentiate between world’s values and Kingdom’s values. Because of that, I have constantly sought the Lord for understanding. I wanted to know if there is any difference in how we establish visions in worldly matters and in matters concerning God’s kingdom. Hence, after much research, study and prayer, I would like to share with you what I have learned with regards to this subject. It is important for us to address and examine this issue diligently and cautiously using God’s Word, lest we become deceived by the craftiness of the evil one and lost ourselves in running our course on earth, pursuing in vain -- a false and counterfeit vision from Satan.

Without Vision, We Perish

“Where there is no vision [no revelation of God], the people perish; but happy is he who keeps the law” (Prov.29:18)

This is one of the most common verses used by spiritual leaders and preachers in exhorting people to establish a vision or a goal for their life and ministry. However, in my studies, the word ‘vision’ when used in Scripture, often indicates a divine revelation from God or a prophetic insight, like an open vision, a dream, an oracle, or a prophecy. This noun appeared thirty-five times in the Bible and is from the root word ‘chazon’, which means -- to see, behold and perceive. Thus, what this verse means is that when a society or individual lacks any divine revelation from God, they will cast off restraint and do what is right in their own eyes, which ultimately leads them to perish. We should also take note that the second part of the verse refers us back to the law, which points us back to the divine revelation in the Word of God.

In the Old Testament, people could only receive instructions or divine revelation through Prophets and Priests. However, these channels are often withdrawn by God when the people of God fall into a sinful lifestyle. For example, during the time of Samuel, the priests themselves were corrupted, thus “the word of the Lord was rare in those days, there was no widespread revelation” (1Sam 3:1) and everyone just did what seems right in their own eyes, until God raised up Samuel as a judge and prophet to the nation. And again during the time of Amos, God declared His judgment “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11-12). The people hardened their hearts and turned away from God, and God turned away from them and let them perish by withholding divine revelation from them.

Personal Goals vs. Godly Goals

For believers, our goals and visions should be discovered and not self-established. “For by Him all things were created…things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col.1:16). We exist only because God willed that we exist. We were made by God and for God – until and unless we understand this truth, life will never make sense to us. Like King Solomon of old, we will waste our lives pursuing many things in a bid to satisfy the unmet needs of our souls, but like him, we too will end up in frustration and vanity.

For it is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity -- the very meaning for our existence, as well as our purpose, significance and destiny. Every other path, goal or vision only leads to futile pursuits and total emptiness. Life is all about discovering the plans and purposes that God has for our lives on this earth. It is about fulfilling the mission we were called for. Until we find that true vision and become what God has created us to be, we will never be fulfilled or satisfied.

For a clearer understanding, let us ponder over a few verses from the book of Ecclesiastes (in the New Living Translation version): “God has planted eternity in the human heart” even though “people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl.3:1). Do you know that when God created us, He had already placed in our DNA His blueprint of eternity for our lives?

“Whatever exists today and whatever will exist in the future has already existed in the past…everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be” (Eccl.3:15; 6:10). God dwells in eternity and His plans for us are all laid out for eternity. In other words, what seems to be the future to us -- already existed in God’s eternal plan and He is just waiting for us to fulfill it.

“Notice the way God does things; then fall into line. Don’t fight the ways of God, for who can straighten out what He has made crooked” (Eccl.7:13). As such, the first thing we need to do is to discover God’s plan for us, and then position ourselves to fulfill it rather than resist it. Many people tried to fight against the will of God and end up shortchanging themselves as they lived out the inferior plans for their lives, becoming totally frustrated and unfulfilled. Perhaps it’s time for us to cut down on some of our personal activities and priorities, so that we can focus on what really matters most. Our purpose in life is more than just achieving our own personal vision, be it in the form of personal success or even in the form of achieving “big things” for God. Often times, people can fulfill their visions or succeed in achieving their goals when they gave their utmost and are willing to pay whatever price needed to pursue them. However, if we lack the divine knowledge of God to discern His vision for our lives, even with our great successes, we could still eventually miss the mission that we were created for, that was intended for us by God.

For again in the Amplified version of Eph 2:10, it was declared, “For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live]).

All humanity is God’s workmanship, but believers are born anew in Christ so that we might walk in our predestined destiny, fulfilling the good work He had prepared for us. And by walking out the good work, we will then live a good life. For that reason, Jesus says He came to give us life and life more abundantly. Note that we are not called to just any good works, but to those good works which He had prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. As a Christian, we should view success as the progressive revelation and recognition of God’s plan for our lives and by faith, walk obediently in it.

In Acts 17:26, we learn that God has predestined people and nations, with boundaries and specific purposes in mind “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation”. We also know from Gen 25:23 that the destinies of the present Israelites and the ancient Edomites were also predetermined in Rebekah’s womb “Two nations are in your womb, two people shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other and the older shall serve the younger”.

God knew Jeremiah even before he was conceived and has a predetermined plan for him even before he was born “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer.1:5).

Paul also realized that even before his birth, he had been set apart by God for ministry, this despite the fact that he only experienced his conversion while on the road to Damascus and discovered his call later “God…separated me from my mother’s womb” (Gal.1:15). He was careful in working out his ministry calling, recognizing the boundaries that God has set for him, lest he labored in vain for his own vision. In this, Arthur S. Way aptly translates:

“But I – I do not vaunt of prerogatives beyond my legitimate province. I confine myself within the limits of the sphere of operations allotted to me by God …” (2Cor.10:9)

We can be the most successful CEO of a great organization, a pastor of the largest Church in the world, or even a president of a nation, but these are not a measure of our success in God. Our vision must be in line with His mission, if not, what we have achieved are mere ambitions.

A man with the true vision of God will not be devoted to a particular cause or issue; he is devoted to God Himself. Only true abiding brings forth true fruit. We are not just called to do His will, but to do His will through His life in us. Many people work for God but only a few know how to work with God. Do not just run any race. Listen to the Master, and then run the race He has set out for you. Fake obedience is where we work out a ministry or an opportunity to serve, then end up sacrificing ourselves in service, and in the process, deceive ourselves and others. It is always easier to sacrifice ourselves for a cause than to walk with God in patience and fulfill our spiritual destiny through discerning His heartbeat and vision. The latter is tougher, however it is the right way, as it is better to fulfill the will of God than to perform the greatest acts of kindness, for “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1Sam.15:22).

However, due to the lack of divine revelation from God, many believers are leading futile, meaningless and frustrated lives. They are going to heaven, no doubt, but while they are still on earth, they are throwing away precious hours of their lives pursuing their own vision, literally wasting God’s gift and anointing upon their lives. One of Satan’s major tasks is to distract us through counterfeit visions, make us fail and fall short of our potential in God. For in so doing, we will slow down the Kingdom’s work and prolong Satan’s time on earth.

Let us compare the ministry of Anna and the Apostle Paul to further our study on this issue.

Anna the Prophetess (Lk.2:36-38)

Anna was an aged widow who seemed to have devoted her entire existence to God. She lived in the temple of Jerusalem and served God with fasting and prayer night and day. She had been married for about seven years and after her husband’s death, she spent the rest of her life as a widow. She is humble, faithful, unearthly in spirit; detached from the world; a woman of a strangely expectant faith. She was the first person to proclaim the Messianic hope to those looking for redemption in Jerusalem.

Anna belonged to the godly remnant. As she listened to the reading of the sacred Scripture scrolls (the Bible of her time) she believed fully in the prophecies they contained. Not only did she believe, she watched unceasingly in prayer for the fulfillment of these prophecies – the coming of Christ. In all probability, she will not live to witness the public manifestation of Christ and see the fruit of her labor; nevertheless, she played a very significant role for the plan and purpose of God in her generation, preparing the first coming of Christ through prayer.

She was probably about sixteen or eighteen years old when she married, and after seven years of marriage, she was widowed. As most Bible commentators determined her age to be in the late eighties, this would mean that she had served the Lord faithfully in this lonely ministry for almost sixty years! What an amazing woman!

Anna’s life speaks of the ‘hidden’ intercessory ministry, where one is devoted to fasting and prayer as a full-time calling, until the will of God is manifested on earth. The entire life and ministry is focused on fulfilling only one purpose -- to pray until the promises of God are seen on earth. Anna’s life demonstrated and proclaimed to us a statement of faith, perseverance and steadfast devotion to God’s ordained destiny. She embraced God’s purpose for her life with steadfastness and faithfulness until her eyes see what her heart longed for and believed in.

It is never easy to serve God faithfully and patiently for almost sixty years without recognition and even without seeing the results of the ministry. However, if we are addicted to people’s affirmation, our ministry will be short-lived and the vision that God has placed in us will soon be aborted. Anna was one who was devoted to God’s vision and not to a ministry or even her own vision. If we are only devoted to a ministry, we will get our joy from the fruit of the ministry; but if our devotion is unto the Lord, than the joy of the Lord will be our strength and sustenance.

Paul the Apostle

Paul on the other hand was an outstanding mighty apostle who accomplished great things for the Lord. Apart from Jesus, there is probably no other person who had impacted the history of Christianity like the way Paul did. Throughout his apostolic ministry, he had disciples and he raised several men of God, like Timothy, Titus, Silas, Luke, Aquila and Priscilla. With them he evangelized to almost the entire Roman Empire, which during those times, was considered the world to them. In the three missionary trips that were recorded in the Scriptures, Paul founded several gentile churches and as inspired by the Holy Spirit, he wrote many letters to these Churches, out of which fourteen of these letters became part of our New Testament Scriptures. In his public ministry, Paul moved in and experienced great signs, wonders and miracles. By the power of God, he healed the sick, cast out demons and even raised the dead.

If we are to compare his ministry with Anna’s, hers would seem insignificant, for she seemed to have done so little for the Kingdom. However, would God consider Anna as being unfaithful to His vision and calling for her life?

We have to be careful; we have to always examine our motives in serving the Lord. As Paul says, “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife…from selfish ambition, not sincerely…” (Phil.1:15-16). Are we running someone else’s race? Are we always striving towards a bigger vision so as to satisfy our self-esteem and get rid of our inferiority? A true vision of God demands a life fully abandoned to do His will.

Mary Magdalene

It’s strange, but very sadly, it’s true. Often times, when one commit his or her heart to do God’s will and be faithful to His vision; family members, friends and even leaders in places of spiritual authority may misjudge and criticize. Let’s look into the life of Mary Magdalene as we ponder over this point.

Mary Magdalene was a woman once oppressed by seven evil spirits (Mk.16:9). She was set free by Jesus and later became one of the small bands of women who followed Jesus almost as closely as His twelve disciples did. She had since become a woman consumed by complete devotion and love for Jesus.

She was among the “many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Lk.8:3). Throughout the gospels, Mary Magdalene never seemed to be far from Jesus, always pictured as one waiting on Him (Matt.27:55, 56; Mk.15:40; 16:1; Lk.23:55-56; 24:30). She followed Jesus all the way to Calvary and watched Him breathe His last. She followed him even beyond death; being one of the two women mentioned in the bible who “observed where he was laid” (Mk.15:47) and brought spices to anoint His body on resurrection morning (Mk.16:9). She was the last to leave Calvary and the first to arrive at the tomb. She was not there to expect a blessing (a resurrected Christ); she was there simply out of her love and passion for Jesus. In fact, it seems like between heaven and hell, Jesus made a stopover because Mary’s devotion has caught His attention and merited priority, and thus, she was given the honor to behold the glory of the risen Christ before anyone else did.

Mary is a picture of a true worshipper. She was known in the Scriptures as one sitting at the feet of Jesus, a picture of an extravagant lover waiting upon the Lord. At the home of Simon the leper, Jesus told his disciples that after two days, the Passover would be coming, and He would be delivered up for crucifixion (Matt.26:2), however His words seem to have fallen on deaf ears and nobody seemed to have perceived the meaning behind those words.

Mary seemed to be the only one who understood the implication. Impelled to express her adoration, she took a very costly fragrant oil and poured it on Jesus feet and wiped them with her hair. What she did was symbolic of a Jewish custom in those days, where wealthy people anoint the bodies of their loved ones with costly fragrant oil before burial. We learnt that the fragrant oil could have been sold for more than 300 denarii’s, which was about a year’s wages for a worker back then. Instantly, she was sharply criticized for being extravagant. They felt she could have given this wealth to the poor. In other words, she was accused of being a poor steward of wealth. She is accused of wasting God’s provision.

It sounds like a legitimate accusation, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Through this simple incident, Mary’s heart was revealed, and so were the others’. God often allows the mind to be offended so that the condition of the heart can be revealed. Contradicting the criticisms spat on Mary, Jesus praised her for her gift, and in appreciation, He pronounced a great blessing over her -- that what she has done would never be forgotten wherever the gospel is preached. In other words, she would always be on God’s mind.

If love is like a fragrance, then let us lavish it on Jesus, till every drop is gone. Mary’s message of wholehearted devotion and love to Jesus, brought forth by her broken alabaster vase, continues to fill the world with its fragrance and challenges generation after generation to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.

Throughout Bible history, reproach and stigma seem inevitable when one pursues the fullness of God. David said, “For I am mocked and shamed for Your sake; humiliation is written all over my face. Even my own brothers pretend they don’t know me; they treat me like a stranger. Passion for your house burns within me, so those who insult You are also insulting me. When I weep and fast before the Lord, they scoff at me. When I dress in sackcloth to show sorrow, they make fun of me. I am the favorite topic of town gossip, and all the drunkards sing about me” (Ps.69:7-12). David was being persecuted for his passionate pursuit of God and even his own family members mocked him. Why? Because in comparison, they felt like they were carnal and ungodly, they felt convicted by his lifestyle. Without uttering a word, like Mary, David’s zeal and devotion towards a godly lifestyle often threaten those who are religious in spirit.

John the Baptist also experienced the same reproach in his radical devotion to the Lord. In fact, he had it the worst, they said “He has a demon” (Matt.11:18). Yet it is interesting to note that Jesus considered him to be the greatest man ever born of a woman (Matt.11:11).

However, on a positive note, our total commitment to the Lord can have a profound impact on those who truly love the Lord. It can wake them up from spiritual slumber and help them renew their spiritual fervor. Paul spoke of this principle in 2Cor 2:16 “to the one we are the aroma of death to death and to the other the aroma of life to life”. The lives of the truly godly ones are never neutral; they impact us -- either by igniting the holy flame or evoking anger or inviting rebuke. So be prepared, make sure we have the stamina and grace to endure what is to come.
Committing ourselves to fulfill God’s vision and to become a true worshipper like Mary means that we must be willing “to waste” our lives for the Lord, we must have the strength to overcome whatever misunderstanding others may have of us.

The “Saints’ Movement”

Over the past five decades, we have seen the marvelous grace of God restoring the fivefold gift to the body of Christ “And He Himself gave some to be apostle, some prophets, some evangelist, and some pastors and teachers” (Eph.4:11). However, that was not His ultimate restoration. The restoration of these five gifts is for a much higher purpose, to release the end time move of God – the saints’ movement.

The Scripture clearly says that the gifts are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry…” (Eph.4:12). Equip implies recovering wholeness as when a broken limb is set and mended. It can also imply discovering the function, as when a physical member is properly operating. Thus, the task of the gifted leaders is to grow and nurture the saints into their proper positions in the body of Christ so that they can receive their vision and function in their calling.
When God was establishing the ministry of Prophets, the Lord did not just give us a channel through which we can receive divine revelations and directions, He also provided an avenue for each believer to learn from the appointed Prophets on how to hear and receive from God, how to yield to His Spirit’s leading to speak a prophetic word. The purpose for this is so that we “can all prophesy” (1Cor.14:31) and deliver exhortation and encouragement to one another on a general level.

Likewise, God’s people who are established with the rest of the gifts should go beyond what their office requires them to do, and impart and develop their anointing and gifting in the rest of the believers. These five ministries are to equip all the other members of the Church in doing the Lord’s work.

Evangelists should inspire to impart a love for the lost to the Body of Christ and help all believers to learn to lead others to the Lord, though their primary job as Evangelists is to evangelize. Teachers should inspire to impart a love for the truth and deliver the spiritual tools needed for all believers to search the truths in God’s Word for themselves, though their primary call is to teach and impart knowledge; so on and so forth.

Through their combined ministry, the body of Christ will grow into maturity “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” and stability “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness…” (Eph.13-14).

More importantly, this will ultimately lead them to discover their vision and mission in the Lord and start walking in their destiny “the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Eph.4:16 NLT). This enables the release of the “saints’ movement” whereby everyone in Christ is awakened to their vision in God and function in it.

Those in the marketplace will evangelize to the workforce, students will reach out to others in the school campus and housewives will reach out to other homemakers. We will then be able to witness healing, deliverance, restoration of relationship and emotions; and see many lost souls returning to the Lord through the great outpouring of God’s grace upon His children.
For that to happen, we must be watchful. We must stay spiritually awake. We must not lose our focus or become trapped in the rat race and run for the counterfeit vision.

How tragic, how grievous, how pointless it will be if we wasted our lives in this age through carelessness, passiveness and self-centered pursuit of our own visions. The kingdom of God is worthy of our watchfulness. We must not cultivate any desires that would hinder or quench our spiritual lives, lest on the Day of Judgment, we suffer loss and our lives are judged unfruitful and wasted “for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work…if anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s one work is burned, he will suffer loss…” (1Cor.3:13-15)

In order to be part of this end time army, like Paul, we need to get life’s priority right, “to lay hold of what God had lay hold of him” (Phil.3:12), meaning to pursue the true vision of God and not our own ambition for the Lord, and never lose sight of it so as “not to be disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, everything is not alright, everything is not going to be fine if we continue on this path of insensitivity towards God’s purposes. Spiritual darkness is growing at a fast pace across the earth, it is an hour that God’s people must be able to endure with power in order to illuminate the light of the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, many have lost the sense of urgency to glorify God by living out their mission on earth, to fulfill the vision God had created them for. May I implore you from the infallible Word of God from the book of Colossians, “if then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above…set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth…”(Col.3:1-2). With all our hearts “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which are idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedient” (Col.3:5-6) Let us not grieve our loving God anymore but seek to bring pleasure to Him and “have a walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him” (Col.1:10).

It is our earnest prayer for all, that the Lord of all vision will “awaken you morning by morning, and awaken your ear to hear...” (Isa.50:4), that we may all discover our mission in Him and walk in our heavenly vision, fulfilling all His plans and purposes as He had ordained before the foundation of the earth.

May His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen and Amen!

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