Increase Your Capacity for Vision
As I read the scriptural account of the Old Testament prophets, it seems as though God is very interested in a person's capacity for vision. Repeatedly in Scripture God asks people this question: "What do you see?" "What do you see, Jeremiah?" "What do you see, Zechariah?" "What do you see, Ezekiel?" "What do you see, Amos?" It's the question God presents to prospective prophets. To be a prophetic person who has some sense of what God is doing, you need a certain capacity for vision.
How do you improve your spiritual vision? By saturating your mind in Scripture. This enhances your capacity for vision. Disciplined reading of Scripture is an exercise in reading God's thoughts after Him, and it expands your capacity to think the God thoughts necessary to transcend convention and move beyond present limitation. You will never go further than your vision, and if you have moles' eyes instead of eagles' eyes you will be very limited. To move beyond the ashes of your worst day you need a new vision. If you can see the invisible, you can do the impossible.
In my life and ministry there have been times when I attempted new things that seemed risky at the time. But I had seen something, and I was going to be daring enough to move in the new direction of a new vision. This doesn't mean that everything I have attempted has been successful, but one thing is certain: without a new vision, you will never have anything new. You will be perpetually stuck in the vicious cycle of the religion of the wheel. This is what makes life seem like an exercise in futility, and this frustrating absurdity is what is depicted so poetically in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
"Everything is meaningless," says the Teacher, "completely meaningless!" What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.14
Many people misunderstand the purpose of the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a revelation of a life lived without a personal relationship with God. The personal name of God, Jehovah, never appears in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is a depressing book, not one to turn to when you need encouragement and need to have your faith built. The recurrent phrase, "under the sun," is euphemistic of the idea that there is no God in heaven. It is a description of the futility of life without a vibrant connection with the living God.
Ecclesiastes describes the religion and philosophy of the wheel. Life goes in circles, but nothing ever changes. Everything is vanity. Everything is absurdity. What has been is what will be. What has been done is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun. It's the idea that life is ultimately an inescapable cycle, a vicious circle. It's the philosophy that dominates Eastern religion and Eastern philosophical thought. It is the system of religion and thought out of which God called Abraham.
Abraham originally lived in the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) in the cosmopolitan city of Ur. The Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia were no backwater primitives. They built one of the first advanced civilizations. They were the first to utilize a written language and advanced mathematics. Ur in particular was a city of culture and sophistication. I've seen the ancient art of Ur in the British Museum, and it leaves you with the distinct impression that these were a highly cultured people. The city of Ur had the largest library in the ancient world, an advanced sewer system, and considerable understanding of medicine and mathematics. But despite the intellectual and technical sophistication of Ur, God called Abraham out of Ur as He began to form His alternative society. Why?
The primary deity worshiped by the Sumerians was Nanna-Sin, the moon god. Nanna-Sin was the god of the cycles (as in the lunar cycle). At the heart of the worship of Nanna-Sin was the philosophy of the wheel, the fatalistic notion that we all live in an inescapable circle. It is a philosophy that says what has been is what will be, what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
But God called Abraham to break out of the vicious circle and journey to a new place. (What a wonderful word journey is!) In order for Abraham to embark upon a journey into the unknown-for him to leave behind everything he knew to go wherever his faith in God led him-required a tremendous ability for vision. Abraham would have to believe there really could be something new under the sun.
Abraham would eventually become eternally famous for his faith and be known around the world as the father of faith. But Abraham's first step of faith was to turn his back on Ur and move toward something new, new but unknown. As Abraham left Ur, the last thing he would have seen would have been the ziggurat of the Nanna-Sin temple towering over Ur. Abraham had turned his back on the demon of the vicious circle. Abraham had a vision of something new and was breaking free from the religion and philosophy of the wheel.
If you are going to break from the vicious circle of addiction, depression, family strife, generational poverty, spiritual emptiness, and dead-end living, you must first reorient your vision toward something new and better.
Everyone wants good things-a good home and a good family, a good and happy marriage, and a good and meaningful life. But where do these good things come from? Are they simply inherited? Do we just hope we get lucky and somehow end up with good things? Where do good things come from? Jesus gave us the answer when He said that a good man brings forth good things "out of the good treasure of his heart," but an evil man brings forth evil things "out of the evil treasure" of his heart.15
The good things in a good man's life come from within him. They begin as part of his vision. They are first born in a hopeful imagination. I meet with pastors frequently who want to know how they can build a good church. I always tell them a good church begins in the heart of the pastor. A church will never be better than the pastor's vision. Are you longing for some good things in your life? You must first develop the vision inside of you. Of course, there is more to having good things in your life than just vision, but vision is the place where you start. David was a great leader because he had the essential quality of true leadership-he was able to communicate a new vision to his followers. David's men were ready to stone him until he was able to communicate to them his reoriented vision of recovering all.
When you have been through the worst day of your life, you need to reorient your vision and imagination. You need to turn your focus away from the present crisis and toward the alternative future of recovery. This is what hope is all about. See yourself transcending your tragedy, even if you're not sure yet how to get there. See yourself recovering all, even if it seems impossible right now. See yourself coming out of your present trouble into a place of genuine victory. Let hope paint a new picture on the canvas of your imagination. Your vision will give you the courage to face tomorrow with new energy and strengthened resolve. With something as simple as a hope-oriented vision, you are on the road to recovering all.
1. 1 Samuel 30:8
2. James 1:6–8
3. Psalm 56:9
4. Genesis 39:2
5. Deuteronomy 28:13
6. Joshua 1:8
7. Psalm 35:27
8. John 10:10
9. 1 Corinthians 15:57
10. 2 Corinthians 2:14
11. Proverbs 25:11
12. Job 39:28–29
13. Isaiah 40:31
14. Ecclesiastes 1:2–9
15. Matthew 12:35
Brian Zahnd is the founder and senior pastor of Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Mo. Excerpted from What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life by Brian Zahnd. Used by permission.