Take out your outlines. We're studying the book of Nehemiah. We're looking at how to live a life of vision...how to make sure that your life is significant and purposeful. Last week we talked about the importance of having a vision. Nobody wants to get to the end of life and realize, "I've wasted my life. I've missed God's purpose for my life." We also defined a vision as a divinely given picture of what could be and should be. Jonathan Swift says, "Vision is the art of seeing things invisible."
We also looked at how God gives a vision to us: vision begins as a concern. It begins as a concern that God gives you, and it grows to the point where you have to do something about it. I hope that you've spent some time this week thinking about vision. I hope that you've spent some time thinking about the concerns and the vision that God is developing in your heart.
One of the problems when we begin to look at vision is that reality takes over. We look at what could be and should be, and then we look at what is and shouldn't be. Many people have great vision, but their current situations seem hopeless. You don't have the flexibility to pursue your new business idea. Everybody says that you need more experience. Your family responsibilities don't leave you with any free time. You're in the wrong location. You've got debts to pay. There are all sorts of obstacles between your present situation and God's vision.
A vision from God can seem like an impossible dream. In fact, if it doesn't seem like an impossible dream, it may not be a vision from God. It may be a good idea, but it likely isn't a God idea.
The same can be true for the church. This fall, we're following this process called Refocusing. We all get to play a part in hearing God's voice in terms of our future direction as a church. One of the obstacles we're going to face is that the vision may seem out of reach.
Certainly it was that way for Nehemiah. Nehemiah was 800 miles away from Jerusalem when he developed a concern for the broken down walls. That's the distance between here and Tennessee - at about four miles per hour. He had a job. He had obligations to the king of the biggest world power at the time. He lacked the resources to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem.
What do you do when you have the vision but not much more? How do you move from what currently exists to what could be and should be? What steps can you take once you begin to sense God birthing a vision in your life? We're going to look at Nehemiah to discover how we can prepare for vision.
There are two verses that we probably skip over - these verses are the first verses in chapters 1 and 2. These two verses give two important dates. Nehemiah 1:1 gives the date that Nehemiah first heard about the walls in Jerusalem being broken down. Scholars have studied that verse and figured out that the date was probably about November or December of 446 BCE. Nehemiah 2:1 gives us the first date that Nehemiah did anything about the vision that God gave him. Scholars have studied that and determined that this took place around April or May 445 BCE. For four months, Nehemiah did nothing. Here's the point. This is the second building block that we need to learn about vision. The first building block, last week, was that vision begins as a concern. The second building block is this:
BUILDING BLOCK TWO: VISION TAKES TIME TO GROW
Another way to say this is: God's not in as big a rush as we are. The longer I live, the more I find out that God's a lot more patient than I am. When God wants to build a vision, God often takes time to plant and nurture that vision in a person's heart. A vision doesn't necessarily require immediate action. Vision takes time to grow.
I'm not a patient person. When I decided to become a pastor, I chose the shortest and most direct route to get through school. When my wife and I got engaged, we picked a wedding date that was just short of four months away. When I came to Richview three years ago, people would ask me how things were going. I would say things like, "Good, I think, but it's been two months and we're still not where I'd hoped we'd be." I can be a very impatient person.
I'm not alone. A lot of people in the Bible had the right vision but the wrong timing. Joseph had a vision, literally. He would be in a position of authority over his family. He told his family, and it almost killed him. Good vision; wrong timing.
Moses had a vision of rescuing Israel from Egypt. He took things into his own hands, and killed an Egyptian. This led to forty years of exile. His vision was good: his timing was off. The problem is that vision takes time to grow.
You can't run off and turn your vision into reality. You can't assume that all systems are go, that you can quit your job and step out on faith. A clear vision isn't necessarily a green light. A vision rarely requires immediate action. It always requires patience.
Dan Southerland writes, "The difference in a home run and a long foul ball is timing." Timing is everything. Dan Southerland goes on to define God's will like this: "doing the right thing, in the right way, for the motive, at the right time." You can have everything lined up - the right thing, the right way, and the right motive - but if you have the wrong timing, you'll be off. There's no shortcut to vision. Vision is usually given to those who patiently wait for it.
What was God doing while Nehemiah waited? Why did Nehemiah wait that four month period before he took any action? Because in the waiting period between vision and action, God is doing three important things:
1. GOD MATURES THE VISION IN US
Nehemiah 1:4 says, "When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven." God gave Nehemiah the concern. But Nehemiah wasn't ready to do anything about it yet. In fact, all he could do for days was to mourn, fast, and pray. Nehemiah would have been foolish to get on an animal and begin the long ride to Jerusalem right away. He wasn't ready yet. God had to mature the vision within Nehemiah's heart. The vision had to grow before he could do anything about it.
A vision is like a seed. It takes time to take root, and to grow. God determines the schedule for how that vision matures and grows. That schedule is going to be different for all of us.
When I was a kid, God put a vision on my heart to pastor and to write. I had this vision when I was six or seven. God began to mature that vision in my heart at a very early age. I talk to others who didn't have a clue what their vision was for years. That's okay too. God's schedule is different for all of us. The current president of World Vision was a successful businessman, was president of Lenox China until his fifties. It took that long for God to begin to plant a new dream in his heart. You could be six or seven, or you could be eighty. God has his own timetable for maturing the vision within your heart.
One example of that is Lois McMurray. She retired a couple years ago from the board of education. She's now teaching conversational English here at the church. Last Sunday night, Ed asked her to speak for five minutes on what she's doing in that ministry. Twenty minutes later she was still speaking. Do you think she was excited about something? God has matured a vision in her heart in her retirement. God's timetable is different for all of us.
Here's the thing about vision: vision is a very delicate thing in its infancy. If you move on the vision too soon, you end up killing the vision. Andy Stanley writes, "For vision to survive, it must be mature and healthy before being exposed to the cynical, critical, stubborn environment in which it is expected to survive. And maturity requires time."
Vision takes time to mature. In fact, one of the ways that we know that a vision is from God is if the vision persists long enough for it to come to maturity. You could be inspired one day. You could hear a speaker talk and paint a picture. You're ready to sign on and dedicate the rest of your life to something. But two days later you've forgotten about it. Time allows us to discern between our ideas and God's ideas. God uses time to mature the vision within us.
God is doing something else during the waiting period:
2. GOD MATURES US IN PREPARATION FOR THE VISION
God doesn't just mature the vision - God has to mature us in preparation for the vision. God has to grow us to be ready to carry out the vision. God is at work to make us ready for him to use us.
I told you that I was six or seven when I knew that I would pastor and write. I was the only one who thought I was ready at that age. It was obvious to everyone else that there would be a waiting period for me to mature first. Your case may not be as dramatic, but God will take time to mature you first. God is at work preparing you for what he wants to accomplish through you.
That's why Moses spent forty years being matured before he could lead Israel to the promised land. That must have seemed like wasted time, but it wasn't. God was busy preparing Moses for what he wanted to accomplish through him. That's why the apostle Paul spent three years in Arabia before he began his ministry. Waiting time isn't wasted time. God has to mature us in preparation for the vision.
Nehemiah got off easy. He only had to wait four months. If you fit into the biblical pattern, God will take anywhere between four months and forty years to mature you in preparation for that vision. Don't forget one thing while you wait. Paul says in Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again." God is at work maturing you, and God will continue that work in your soul.
God is doing a third work during the waiting period:
3. GOD PREPARES PEOPLE AND CIRCUMSTANCES FOR THE VISION
While we're waiting, God is behind the scenes preparing the way. When God wants to accomplish something, he has a way of putting the right people in the right circumstances. It may seem like nothing is happening, when in fact God is at work putting the right people in the right places to do what he wants them to do.
My favorite example of this is in the Bible book called Esther. The story of Esther took place about thirty years before Nehemiah became concerned about the walls of Jerusalem, and it took place in the same location. Somebody hatched a plot to kill all the Jews. At the same time, the king decided to search for a new wife. He sent out a decree to bring all the beautiful women of the country into his harem. The one that he liked the best would become his knew queen.
Esther became that queen. God put her in the right place at the right time so she could prevent a catastrophe from taking place. Esther's cousin said to her, "What's more, who can say but that you have been elevated to the palace for just such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Circumstances aren't a result of an accident, but of God's sovereign design. God is at work in history, and we're a part of it. He's arranging us and others to carry out his vision at his time. It's ultimately not about our vision. It's ultimately about God's vision - what God is doing. We get to be part of that.
Whenever I get impatient, I remind myself of Habakkuk 2:3: "But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed." Some of us need to write that down and tape it on our mirror so we see it every morning. It may seem slow, but God is at work. We have to wait for his timing.
Another verse that helps me when I'm impatient is Isaiah 40:31: "But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Waiting on God means that we patiently depend on him to fulfil his promises and strengthen us. We can wait on God to mature the vision that he's given us, to mature us, and to arrange circumstances and people to carry out the vision that he has. Waiting time isn't wasted time.
We're going to see in a few weeks that the time does come for us to act on vision. But you may be in a waiting period right now. God has given you a desire or a calling. You know what you should be doing, but you haven't yet found that next step. You may not be aware of what you should be doing next. Or maybe you do know the next step, but there's no green light. You're not ready. The circumstances aren't ready. What should you do while you wait? Nehemiah teaches us to do two things while we wait:
I love it. That's the first action that Nehemiah took after God gave him the vision. He prayed. Prayer is crucial to living out God's vision. If you have a vision that hasn't been prayed over, at great length, then you don't have God's vision. Prayer is essential to living out God's vision for our lives.
When you become concerned about something, pray about it. Ask God to show you his heart about the situation. Ask God to give you his eyes. The Bible says that God's thoughts are better than my thoughts, and his ways are better than my ways. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be thinking God's thoughts than my thoughts on any situation. I'd rather be living out God's vision than my vision. I have no right to live out my own vision. One of the best ways to begin to live out God's vision is to talk to God in prayer.
Nehemiah's prayer is a great one to study. Nehemiah began by recognizing God's holiness. He asked God to hear him. He confessed his sin. And then he asked for help. Nehemiah prayed to God, "O LORD, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success now as I go to ask the king for a great favor. Put it into his heart to be kind to me" (Nehemiah 1:11). Nehemiah knew that if he was going to be successful, he would need God. Nehemiah prayed. I imagine that Nehemiah spent a lot of time during those four months praying that God would provide him with the right opportunity to talk to the king.
The relationship between vision and prayer is a crucial one. Jesus said in John 15, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). If you're not depending on God, then your vision is dead on arrival. It's the same with the church. If we go through this Refocusing process, and we're not praying to God at every step of the path, then we may as well not bother. Prayer is an essential component of preparing for vision.
What are you trusting God to do? What is so big that if God doesn't show his power, it won't happen? Start to pray. Pray that God would use you. Pray that God would bring glory to himself. Pray that God would remove the obstacles, and that you would be able to play a part in helping God create what could be and should be.
Nehemiah took a second action while he waited:
Nehemiah's second action was to plan. How do we know this? Because God eventually gave him a chance to speak to the king. In Nehemiah 2, which we'll look at in a couple of weeks, you see that Nehemiah was ready to tell the king exactly what he had in mind. He defined the problem and the solution. Nehemiah had spent the waiting time formulating a plan of action.
The praying and the planning went together. This wasn't Nehemiah acting and scheming on his own. While we're waiting, we can begin to ask God to show us what he wants to do. We can begin to do our homework. Without a plan, and without a lot of prayer, we won't be ready when the opportunity comes.
I don't know what God is doing in your life right now. I do know two things. I know first of all that you're here for a reason. You're here this morning for a purpose. You're here because God wants to accomplish something in your life for his glory. It's not about you. You benefit, but you're part of something much bigger. You're part of what God is doing in this world.
I also know that you and I have a choice. We can hear God's calling on our life. We can begin to sense that concern - what people used to call a burden. Others have called it a calling. We can begin to see through God's eyes what could and should be, in our lives, in our families, in our church, in our relationships. We can begin to sense what God wants to accomplish through us.
You may be in that waiting period right now. You may be growing impatient because it seems so long. Don't give up. Waiting time is never wasted time. Wait for God to mature the vision in your heart.
I want to give you three action items today. The first action item is this: if you haven't given your life to God, to live according to his agenda, then you're wasting your life. You could be living out God's vision for your life. Instead, you've got your own measly agenda. I'd like to ask you to trade up today. Start living for something that's better. Start living God's dreams for your life. You can come to God today and thank him for his Son Jesus, who died to give you a second chance. You can start living for him today, and live a much more purposeful life. That's the first action item I'd like you to take.
The second action I want you to take is to pray. If God has given you a vision, begin to ask God to work to make it come true. Pour out your heart to God. Include him in your plans. Ask God to give you success. Without God, your plans are useless.
The third action I'd like you to make is to plan. What steps could you prepare to take that would help you live out God's vision for your life? Because when the time comes for God to act through us, we can be ready. Pray for opportunities and plan as if you expect God to answer your prayers.
Let's pray right now.
Father, thank you for Nehemiah. Thank you that two thousand years after he lived, we're learning lessons on how we can be used to carry out your vision. Thank you that we can have a part in what you're doing in this world.
Father, we want to trade up our dreams for your dreams. We want to partner with you in accomplishing what you're up to in this world. I pray that somebody here would pray today, "Father, I'm giving my life to you. Forgive my sins. As I make you my boss, my CEO, I pray that you would use me and make my life count." I pray that somebody would give their life to you today.
I pray most of all that you would bring glory to yourself through our lives, and what you're calling us to accomplish through you. I pray this all in the name of the one who lived out the vision you gave him perfectly, the name of our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ. In his name I pray, Amen.