Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
Psalm 127 stands amongst the wisdom of Solomon but at first glance the question is: “What has this to do with establishing a vision?”
Dig a little deeper and we see there are two objectives in view: One is that the city remains safe and in order to realise this vision watchmen have been appointed. The other is for a house of some sort. There are various interpretations of what this house is, but the bottom line is that someone has vision of a building, possibly a home. They see it in their mind’s eye, they plan it and they build it.
We see in this verse the desire to change the situation and bring about something that is different. Making the city safe and creating the house. As we’ve just seen, a desire to achieve benefits that don’t exist now is as good a definition of a vision as you will get. A vision is about bringing about a change. It is the goal that leads to action. The actions implied by this verse are the planning and building process on the one hand and on the other, the selection, training and deployment of watchmen.
Solomon is telling us, that as a general principle, unless our activities, and hence our visions, are aligned with God then they will be in vain. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “vain” means that they will produce no result. Activities which arise only from man’s ambitions and are not aligned to God are worthless, they will come to nothing. Solomon is telling us that our efforts may be a good attempt, but in God’s view they are worthless because, not being in accord with his plans and purposes, he does not exercise his sovereign power to bring it about.
As members of God’s Kingdom family, seeking to bring honour and glory to him this has massive implications. When we set out in search of a vision we need to turn to God and seek his vision for the need that concerns us. And when we seek to realise his vision we need to bring it about in his way.
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
2 Kings 6:15-17
This passage raises interesting questions, although at first you may wonder what it has to do with vision. The Leadership Bible notes on this passage explain how Elisha’s servant had his eyes opened to see the “Reality” behind the “reality”.
Small “r” reality is about how we normally perceive the world. In this mode the servant saw the Aramean/Syrian raiders surrounding the town of Dothan. Their goal was to capture Elisha. As you might reasonably expect he was somewhat concerned.
Elisha asked God to show his servant the big “R” Reality. God opened his eyes so that he saw the angelic army that surrounded Elisha and he understood why Elisha had said “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” More in number and in power.
It’s a bit like a reflection in a lake. The image is accurate and sometimes it can be hard to tell the reflection from the reality. But it’s only two dimensional and is distorted by the ripples on the surface; it lacks the full substance of the real thing. The servant didn’t see the fullness of Reality until his eyes were opened. The raiders were still there but now he had a perspective that included God and his potential to act.
There was no battle because God, at Elisha’s request struck the Aramean army blind. Elisha then led them to Samaria where they were given a feast and then returned to the King of Aram.
Take a Moment:
- What do the two realities represent?
- In which reality was Abraham operating when he set out for Canaan- Big “R” or little “r”?
- As a Christian leader in which reality do you actually operate?
- What does it take to operate in the Big “R” reality?
We live daily in the reflection of the visible little “r” reality, it’s the world around us. It’s what we see about us and so often we think it is the totality of reality. However, what this story of Elisha’s servant tells us is that this is not the totality of reality. It is visible and it is real but there is much more that is normally hidden from our view.
The big “R” reality is the all-encompassing perspective which includes the invisible God, it includes the realm of his Kingdom. It is the aspect of reality that normally remains hidden from our view but it’s the realm of faith in God. It is real and because it’s the realm where the Kingdom operates in fullness, it is more real than that which is visible to us. May be this was in Paul’s mind when he wrote “We walk by faith and not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7. It always seems to me that Paul is encouraging us to operate in this world by God’s sight and not our own.
Take a Moment:
- Review Nehemiah 1:1 to 7:3 – you can skip chapter 5 if you wish;
- Considering the “two realities” what do you learn about vision and the journey to achieve the envisaged destination?
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” Nehemiah’s Prayer As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. ………
……..In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. ………Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.”
Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:5
Nehemiah operated in the world in the light of the Big “R” realities. He received news concerning the situation in Jerusalem (small “r” realities) and it grieved him so he sought God and in so doing demonstrated his perception of the big “R” realities. Over a period of perhaps 4 or 5 months (Chislev to Nissan) God set in place a vision for Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s heart and led him to develop his plan. Then came the day and God favoured him before the King. Those who served the King were required to keep a happy disposition but King Artaxerxes saw Nehemiah’s grief and gave the opening. This was more dangerous than it seems as it was this King who had stopped the walls of Jerusalem being rebuilt. Hence Nehemiah’s fear. But God blessed Nehemiah’s request.
Here we see the big “R” reality at work as God established his plan which would therefore not be in vain. The source of Nehemiah’s vision and plans was God, therefore the labour in returning to Judah and rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem would not be in vain.
We see also that Nehemiah passed on his vision, God’s vision, to the people. This is summarised in Nehemiah 2: 17&18. But we know he was effective in this because of the commitment we see from the people. They had bought in to the vision and were committed to re-establishing Jerusalem. They chose to embark on a journey that had its destination defined by Nehemiah’s vision.
In the commentary on Hebrews 11:24-26 contained in The Leadership Bible’s we read:
To be a people whose vision for this life is compatible with God’s purposes, we must develop a passion for the things God calls important. Our faith must be characterised by ‘confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1) A Biblical vision is informed by the person and promises of God, which give us stability and focus – a stable perspective and clear direction in an earthly context of uncertainty and changing circumstance”
Words exactly true of Nehemiah.
….. I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4
Paul knew God intimately and these verses tell us how. The words “he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” indicate clearly that God showed much to Paul, which is evident from his teaching, the testimony of his walk and his legacy. Paul was given insight into God’s grand vision and entrusted with his part in its realisation; to share the gospel especially to the gentiles. This, if you like, was Paul’s vision of God’s big “R” reality that was to be worked out in the small “r” reality of the world.
Paul’s intimate knowledge of God led him to know his Kingdom vision and how to work it out in the world. As Christian leaders, we too need to know God well and receive his envisioning that, like Paul and Nehemiah, we may not labour in vain.
As we read of Paul’s journey as an Apostle, we see that he engaged many people in sharing the Gospel to the gentiles. He passed on his vision that was God’s vision and infected others with the desire to bring about that different future.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
The impression given by the experiences of Elisha and Paul is that our vision of a different future can only be received via spectacularly supernatural means.
The specific detail of how Nehemiah’s vision for Jerusalem emerged is missing. However, the text suggests that it arose by ordinary, rather than extraordinary, spiritual means. It would seem that God convicted is heart such that he grieved over the current situation in Jerusalem. Then prayer was the key. In prayer Nehemiah’s vision of a Jerusalem with walls bringing glory to God was forged. God answered Nehemiah with clarity. The account suggests it could have taken months for the vision and plans to be formulate before God. Thus, Nehemiah was assured that his vision as God’s vision and his plans and effort would not be in vain.
We see Nehemiah’s clarity and detail when he responded to Artaxerxes question “What do you want?” This is a well thought out and, therefore we can assume, a well-researched plan. Nehemiah displayed great wisdom both in his approach to the King, which could have been considered treasonable, and the execution of the plan in Jerusalem. Even if God did not provide extraordinary insight as he did with Paul, God revealed his purpose and allowed to Nehemiah to exercise great God-given wisdom in formulating the vision and plan. Nehemiah exercised great faith in God which requires a clear view of his big “R” realities.
James tells us that undivided faith is the only condition of receiving God’s promise of wisdom. Such faith is not tossed on the waves, forever turning. But is firm and unwavering, prepared to follow through on the exercise of that wisdom.
Take a Moment:
- Review the things we have learned from the Bible passages at which we have been looking. What have you learned about vision?
- List 5 things that you find helpful
- What questions do you have about vision?
So, from the perspective of serving God in the Kingdom, what can we learn from these considerations?
- Vision describes the destination of a journey; one which brings about a different, preferable future.
- We need God to be the builder. When he’s not then things go wrong and the labour will be in vain and by implication our vision will also be in vain.
- Therefore, our vision needs to be aligned with God’s vision. It needs to be inspired by him. We need to be on the journey on which God wants us to embark.
- Frequently the vision will emerge from God given wisdom, if we seek it and choose to operate in faith.
- God may reveal the end goal quickly, creating a conviction of his desired outcome as we saw with both Abraham and Paul. He may also bring about that view of the desired outcome through the extended anvil of prayer as with Nehemiah.
- We may be called like Nehemiah to plan the realisation of the vision in detail or like Abraham to walk in simple faithful obedience; one step at a time.
- Underpinning it all, we need to know that while we live in the small “r” reality of this world, God operates in the big ”R” Reality which is not necessarily visible to us, but which is material in bringing about His desired outcomes and is, for us, in the realm of faith.
- Essential to this is the need to know God well and have a close relationship with him. Therefore, we need to test all that we devise against his nature and his will.
- We, need to be sure that our vision and plans are honouring to God and in keeping with character of Christ.