What's your favourite season? If you could look at any nature scene, what month would it be?
Maybe you prefer spring flowers, or summer beaches; maybe your ideal beauty is the glorious colours of autumn, or the pristine white of a snowy winter scene.
Regardless of what you enjoy seeing, if you can't see see well, the what doesn't matter - it will be blurry. When we talk about vision, we're talking about a picture of a preferable future.
Vision = a picture of a preferable future.
The idea of a preferable future is compelling - it attracts our focus and our energy, and if we apply the correct effort in the right way, we can bring a vision into existence.
What We See
But we need to remember that a vision has two parts. The obvious part is what we see, and this tends to get our focus when we talk about vision. It might be a vision for your life - your career, or your finances; your family - your relationships or your children. And together, we share a vision of church.
The Bible gives us a compelling picture of the future by showing us what has happened in the past: Acts 2:4 and Acts 2:36-47 captures key components any church should aim to emulate:
1. Spirit-filled Believers
Jesus promises that his followers would receive power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8), and in in Acts 2:4, we read about the first power encounter God's people had with the Holy Spirit:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:4
If the people who walked with Jesus and personally experienced the resurrected Lord needed the power of the Holy Spirit, how much more do we? The rest of Acts 2 is incomprehensible without the empowering activity of the Holy Spirit.
2. Christ-centred Preaching
Peter concludes his Pentecost sermon by pointing to the death and resurrection of Jesus:
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. Acts 2:36
We never outgrow keeping Jesus at the very centre of our vision.
3. People Responding to God
Peter didn't simply preach so the crowds would think he was a good communicator; he called people to repentance (Acts 2:38), and they responded:
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:41
4. Powerful Christian Community
As we saw in Acts 2:41, people didn't simply make personal commitments to Christ, they were added to the community. And in this community they were devoted to things that made them spiritually strong: apostolic teaching, fellowship with other Christians, prayer, and eating together:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42
5. Consistent Church Growth
If Acts 2:42 paints a picture of what a great church looks like when it prioritises qualitative growth, Acts 2:47 shows us what quantitative growth is like:
And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:47
Some Christians, some pastors, and some churches believe they have to choose between growing in quality and growing in numbers; they believe that the only way to grow numerically is to compromise quality, to back off discipleship, to stop preaching the cross. The church in Acts demonstrates this is completely false and backwards thinking: growing in quality and quantity go together - if we are giving ourselves to the four components of compelling Christian community, our quality will go up, and so will our numbers.
So regarding what we see, as we move in to 2020, we see a Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered church growing numerically as people respond to Christ-centred preaching and are added to the compelling Christian community created through apostolic teaching, fellowship, praying, and eating together.
But what we see doesn't matter if we don't know how to see. I can put the most beautiful picture EVER in front of you, and if you don't know how to see, it won't do you bit of good. This is why many churches read but do not experience what Acts 2:41-47 describes.
Sometimes we focus so much on what we want to see
we forget how to see.
When I was 24 years old, I noticed that when I drove on the motorway, I had to get clsoe to the road signs before I could read them clearly. Until I got close, they were quite blurry. This was a new experience for me because I grew up with really good eyesight - it was tested once at 20/15!
Whether because of age or reading too many books, by the time I was 24, this was no longer the case. So I went in for an eye exam and left the optometrist with new glasses. Driving home was a remarkable experience - I could see the leaves on the trees!
To see all that God has for us, we need corrective lenses - we need to learn how to see. The good news is that the Bible teaches us how to see.
How To See
Here are three key steps to learn how to see the vision God has for us:
1. Vision is based on God’s promise
God's vision for our future - whether personal or family or church - is always based on his promises. The first step in learning how to follow Jesus is simply learning to believe that God's promises are always true, and he will bring them to pass.
Look at the promise that God made to Abraham:
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring for ever’. Genesis 13:14-15
The Lord invites us to 1) Lift up our eyes and see 2) the land that He will give us. His job is the giving; ours is the seeing. And we see when we inhabit his promises.
2. Vision is based on God’s prior provision.
Sometimes, we want to wait until God has already done something before we believe God will provide it. But that's not how it works. Look at what God told Joshua, and look specifically at when God told Joshua:
Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valour'. Joshua 6:1-2
From God's perspective, it was already done; Jericho was already given, God's people had already won. They simply needed to walk in and acquire what God had already given. Our job is simply to see what is already the case.
3. Vision is based on perceiving opportunity.
Sometimes, we want to wait for things to materialise before we believe them. Of course, then it's not faith, it's just observation. The essence of faith is observation before-hand - that is, seeing it as done before it is done.
This is what was remarkable about Jesus: when he looked out at 1st century Israel - a nation so hostile to the gospel they crucified the messiah and persecuted the apostles - Jesus didn't say, 'Oh no, this is going to be so hard!'. No, look at what he said:
Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. John 4:35
The invitation of Jesus is to see what's in front of us. And in front of us is opportunity, in front of us is harvest, in front of us is open-ness. If we can't see it, it's not because it's not there - it's because we need vision correction.
Let me blunt: you are missing out on all God has for you, not mainly because of what you are looking at, but because you have forgotten how to see. You need vision correction - you need the corrective lenses of faith in order to see what God has for you, for your family, and our church.
The best way to correct your vision is to spend time in God's Word. That's why I'm recommending 15 minutes a day. Your job is to spend 15 minutes a day reading the Bible. It takes about five minutes to read one chapter. So in 15 minutes, you can read a Psalm, a chapter from the gospels or Acts, and a chapter from one of the epistles. So tomorrow, get up 15 minutes earlier, read Psalm 1, Matthew 1, and Romans 1. And the next day, keep going.
Do not even for one moment think about telling me you don't have time; you do. It's just a matter of priority. And do not expect to 'feel different' with one day or one week. But I promise you this: do this every day for six weeks, and you will notice a difference. One of the great indicators that this is working is very simple but profound: you'll see better.