Summary: Vision is a God thing. It has to do with finding out what God is up to in our world and then joining Him in doing it.
This is our 4th and final message from Proverbs. Behind each of the sayings in this book is a vision of a community committed to living God’s way. This ideal community contradicts the foolish, immoral tendencies of the world, encouraging us to live productively and harmoniously to carry out the purposes of God.
In fact, this verse could serve as the central theme of the entire book, because if God’s people don’t claim God’s vision of community for themselves and instead disregard the ordered life God desires, eventually they will no longer be called God’s people, they will perish. The older wording of this verse says, Where there is no vision, the people perish. The NRSV says Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint.
Today I want to preach about this thing called vision. Vision is not just a day dream that we hope will come true some day. When I was in 4th grade, I imagined becoming a good basketball player. I knew it would take practice. We lived on a farm, so I made a backboard out of old boards, found a hoop of metal, and decided to mount it on the pole that held our bird house. It was too heavy to lift up there, so I got a ladder, fastened a pulley up high, put a rope through it, and started to pull this contraption up. I got it about half way up and the pulley let loose, coming down on my head. A good conk on the head was all it took to convince me to give up my hope of becoming a great basketball player. Today I’m not talking about a childhood dream that soon disappears. I’m talking about vision that comes from God.
When the Bible talks about vision, it means something higher than we can reach by ourselves. Vision is a God thing. It has to do with finding out what God is up to in our world and then joining Him in doing it. In the Old Testament, the role of the prophets was to “see” what God was going to do. Habakkuk said, “I will keep watch to see what God will say to me.” And the Lord “Write the vision. Make it plain.” Vision that comes from God sets our direction. It keeps us focused. It helps us to know where to concentrate our energy, so we can fulfill God’s purposes for us. Biblical vision comes from God.
The other part of our verse from Proverbs tells us what happens when there is no vision, no word from the Lord. It says, “the people cast off restraint.” When people lose their desire to work with God, they turn to their own pursuits and no longer live by the guidelines that God set out for them.
Remember the story of Moses when he went to get the 10 commandments? During the few days he was gone, the people turned away from the vision that had carried them across the Red Sea toward the promised land. They shrugged off the laws and guidelines God had given them. They persuaded Aaron to make a golden calf and when Moses came back down, things were a terrible mess. They had cast off every restraint.
There is nothing sadder to see than a church that has lost its vision. My wife and I have been asked to assist congregations that have lost their way. In one case, a pastor who had been there many years lost his passion for church growth and as a result the vision of the congregation suffered. Some members began talking about what was happening and some talked about what wasn’t happening. Some blamed the pastor; some blamed other members. Some members refused to talk with each other and some talked too much. On Sunday mornings the organist and the pianist tried to see which one could play louder. Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint. And before long, the vision of that congregation slipped away and so did the people. The conflict got bigger, the church got smaller and its witness in the community nearly disappeared. That’s not what God intended for the church.
Last month, the adult Sunday school class studied Acts 2. Every time I read the end of that chapter, I get goose bumps. Here was a community of believers who were so totally committed to Christ and to each other that they experienced really deep Christian fellowship as they prayed, ate, laughed and cried together. They shared not only their spiritual lives, they shared their material lives to the point that social barriers melted away and cultural and ethnic differences didn’t matter anymore. Their fellowship was so irresistible that people who saw it were drawn to them. And v. 47 says “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” That picture of the church has inspired me ever since I was a teenager. I’m so grateful for the times I have seen elements of that description become a reality.