Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Under the Microscope

Bars or Stars?

Once upon a time ,there were two men who were both sentenced to one year in prison for crimes they had committed. The prison cells that became their home were ten feet square with ten-foot walls. They were made of cement, damp most of the time, dark even in the middle of the day, and cold. Located high up on the wall of each cell was one small window with bars.

At night these two men would sit in their cells and look up at the window, longing for the day of their release. One prisoner, angry and bitter, saw nothing but the bars. His thoughts were always about how rotten life was and how God had given him a raw deal.

The other prisoner, however, knowing that he had been rightly judged and convicted, looked past the bars and saw the stars in the night sky. Each night he would dream of the life he was going to have after his release. He would talk with God about the company he was going to start, the wife he would marry, and the children he would raise. He dreamed of the life that one day would be his.

One prisoner saw the bars, and the other prisoner saw the stars. One wasn’t able to look past his present circumstances, but the other had a vision of what would be and the future that awaited him.

Just as those prisoners had a choice, we as believers have a very important decision to make. We can look to God, embracing His vision for our lives, and move forward into our divine purpose. Or we can blindly focus on our present circumstances and miss out on experiencing the fulfillment of His promises to us. You see, vision is all about the future. It is looking past our present circumstances and envisioning what can be. It is going before God, listening attentively to His voice, and then passionately pursuing the words He speaks to our hearts.

Habakkuk 2:2,3 (Message) states:

And then God answered: “Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming -- it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.”

God’s words are vision; therefore, all true vision comes from God. But after God gives us vision, what is our part? What are we supposed to do? To see our God-given vision come to pass, there are four basic principles we must have active in our lives.

1. Faith To Believe - What Others Can’t Believe

Then the Lord took Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky and see if you can count the stars. That’s how many descendants you will have.” Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord was pleased with him.

Genesis 15:5,6 CEV

Every year I lead groups of believers on short-term mission trips overseas. Many times there are people who sense God’s leading to go but don’t because they can’t believe — or are unwilling to believe — that He will provide the finances for them. As a result, they miss out on the life-changing experience He intended for them. You see, to see a God-given dream fulfilled, one needs the faith to believe what others can’t believe.

For five years, God provided the opportunity for me to go on a mission trip with my church. Each year the cost of the trip was approximately 2,000 dollars. At the time, this amount seemed like a lot of money, but I had a vision for world evangelism and a deep desire to go the uttermost parts of the earth and share the saving message of Jesus.

One year God told me that my wife and I would both be going overseas, which more than doubled the cost. As we prepared for this trip, people would tell me that we would never raise this much support, but we continued to stand in faith. Of course, the finances did come in, because finances always follow a God-given vision when it is pursued by faith.

Today I am the mission director who organizes mission trips for our church, and I have watched as our ministry overseas has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount we have to believe God for has gone from 2,000 dollars to 150,000 dollars each year. Yet God has always provided for us because we have the faith to believe what no one else will believe.

2. The Ability To See - What Others Can’t See

Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.”

Nehemiah 2:17 NASB

In Nehemiah 2:11-16, Nehemiah traveled around the city looking at what remained of the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed years earlier by the Babylonians. As he rode around the rubble, Nehemiah envisioned a new wall built in place of the ruins that were before his eyes. He could see what no one else could see.

Vision is, after all, seeing things the way they can be and not being stopped by the way they look today. It is looking past barriers, public opinion, and one’s own shortcomings. God has no barriers or shortcomings, and He isn’t concerned about public opinion. He has purposes He wants to see fulfilled, and He wants to use us to fulfill them. Whether or not we hold fast to the vision of fulfilling those divine purposes in our lives is a choice we make. However, this is a quality that all true leaders possess — the ability to see what others cannot see.

3. Having the Courage To Do - What Others Won’t Do

And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

Numbers 13:30

Now look at me: God has kept me alive, as he promised. It is now forty-five years since God spoke this word to Moses, years in which Israel wandered in the wilderness. And here I am today, eighty-five years old! I’m as strong as I was the day Moses sent me out. I'm as strong as ever in battle, whether coming or going. So give me this hill country that God promised me. You yourself heard the report, that the Anakim were there with their great fortress cities. If God goes with me, I will drive them out, just as God said.

Joshua 14:10-12 Message

You have to love Caleb — that man had courage! One of my favorite Bible teachers, Dr. Ken Stewart, defines courage as the bridge between faith and hope. The courage to step out to do what needs to be done produces the action that brings faith into reality.

To reach your God-given goals and see your vision move from future tense to present tense takes courage. Gathering the personal strength to move forward in the face of obstacles, opposing opinions, and your own weaknesses also takes courage. If you’re going to live as a person of vision, you must develop the courage to do what others will not do.

4. The Hope To Endure - What Others Won’t Endure

Let’s break down this principle. The first part of the principle is hope. Romans 8:24 tells us that hope is an expectation of the future, which simply means that if you already have something, you no longer need to hope for it. Verse 25 then goes on to add that hope includes the patience to wait for your dream to come to pass. In addition, hope is full of enthusiasm; it is excited to the point of being almost overwhelmed by the idea that you will one day see your vision manifested.

The second part of this principle is endurance. You have to be ready and willing to endure the passage of time, criticism, failure, and disappointment. When God gives vision, it always comes with a timeline. As Habakkuk 2:3 stated, your “…vision-message is a witness pointing to what’s coming. It aches for the coming — it can hardly wait! And it doesn’t lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It’s on its way. It will come right on time.

In my life, God’s timeline seldom matches my own preferred schedule. Although I know His timeline is always correct, it isn’t always easy for me to accept. I have had to learn to endure the time it takes to see a vision come to pass. And I must also be willing to endure the criticism that often accompanies that time of waiting. (People always have their own opinion, and they’re usually eager to give it to you!)

If you think the road to success will be easy just because you have a God-given vision, think again. The most difficult part of this fourth principle is working through feelings of failure or disappointment between the moment the vision is imparted and its time of fulfillment. As Galatians 6:9 (Message) states, “…Let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.”

With every vision comes testing. You must be willing to endure the trials that will come to try to block your vision from coming into fruition. You must have the hope to endure what others will not endure.

Make the Decision To See Stars

In closing, let’s return to the illustration of the two prisoners, which is, in fact, a true story. After the angry, bitter man was released from prison, he didn’t stay a free man for long. He soon ended up back in prison, cursing God and man for his situation — seeing only the bars of his imprisonment. On the other hand, when the other prisoner was released, he went on to start a successful business that he called Brown Bag Tomato Company (another story for another time). In time, he married and had three wonderful children. Why was this man’s outcome so different from the first prisoner’s? Because in a time of testing, he chose to look at the stars — not the bars.

So what are you looking at in your situation? Do you see “bars” or “stars”? The choice is yours to make. Remember — the vision God has given you is a witness to what is coming. Hold fast to that word He has spoken to your heart, and you will see it come to pass.