This time of the year many churches have a “Vision Sunday”.1)With preaching often based on the KJV of Proverbs 29:18 ESV; “Where there is no vision the people perish.” A far more accurate translation is, “Where there is no prophetic word the people cast off restraint” (ESV; NIV etc.).
But I have rarely heard teaching on why so many visions from the Lord perish.
Assuming people have actually heard God speak about their prospects for marriage, family, money, ministry, health and so on, and knowing that Christ “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph 3:20 ESV), why is it that so many promises seem to fall to the ground unfulfilled?
We are after all promised that the word that proceeds from God’s mouth will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent forth (1 Sam 3:19 ESV; Isa 55:11 ESV)?
The heavenly Father takes no pleasure in his purposes remaining unfulfilled in the lives of his children, but the abject state of many Christian marriages, the broken condition of families, the overall superficiality of Christian spirituality, and with most churches flat-lined or in decline we are in the midst of a crisis concerning the reality of the vision of God.
I have met many people that have come to Perth from across Australia and the world on the basis of a literal dream or vision of revival they have received from the Lord. There must be a deep spiritual reason why so many of these men and women end up disappointed. A reason not only at the personal level but one that concerns the whole Church in Perth.
At this point it is important not to confuse symptoms and causes.
The general prayerlessness, biblical illiteracy, lack of unity across the Body of Christ, immorality amongst God’s people and so on are more symptoms than ultimate causes of the failure of the Church to reach “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13 ESV).
For some time I believe the Spirit has been speaking to me about a foundational sin underlying all these problems.
In prayer towards the end of last year I had one of those strange inner sensations I sometimes get from the Lord; this one was about the formation of a body, about embodiment. The Spirit was speaking to me about the great mystery of our faith, in Paul’s words, “Christ was revealed in a human body” (1 Tim 3:16 ESV), or in John 1:14 ESV. “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:14 ESV).
If the Lord shares with us how the Word became embodied and revealed his glory, then we will understand the path through which every God-given vision and word can be fulfilled.
The Vision Of God
Since the Lord declares “my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:9 ESV) the way in which God brings his vision for all things to pass must be contradictory to human expectations and startling to the natural mind (1 Cor 1:18; 2:14 ESV).
In my experience revelations of the cross never come in times of ease but always in times of trial. I was in the middle of a painful kidney stone attack a few weeks ago feeling quite helpless but praying with Donna.
Suddenly I could sense a movement from eternity into time, from the limitless eternal power of God to creation out of nothing. But between eternity and the formation of all things stood the cross.
The Lord was empowered to make a decision to create a world he knew would fall into corruption, sin and death because of the cross. The cross is the lens through which God created everything; as they say, there is an eternal cross in the heart of God.
Peter puts it like this, vs.18 “you were ransomed… vs.19…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. vs.20 He was chosen before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times…” (1 Pet 1:18-20 ESV cf. 2 Tim 1:9 ESV). And in Revelation John testifies of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8 ESV). Against every ordinary human thought, the cross makes possible creation; which is why, as an old friend once said, “God never said, “Oops””. (By which he meant the coming of Christ is not a backup plan to fix up a problem.)
In eternity the Word “through whom all things were made” had already resolved to sacrifice himself (John 1:1-2 ESV. Cf. Col 1:16 ESV; Heb 1:2-4 ESV).
Since God had counted the cost of the cross in deciding to create there was nothing in heaven and earth, demonic or human, which could ever prevent the Lord’s vision for his creation from coming to pass.
To sense and see this in the Spirit is an amazing revelation and it contains the mystery to the fulfilment of all God’s promises.
The eternal divine attitude through which the power of God passes to create and recreate all things is humility.
Deep humility is the key to the fulfilment of every authentic heavenly promise.
Where there is humility the Word of God will embody himself with power to fulfil the vision.
The biblical passage which makes all of this so clear is Philippians 2:1-11 ESV.
The Humility Of The Son Of God
Scripture teaches us that there is only One True Visionary (Jesus) who from eternity has always done what he has seen the Father doing (John 5:19-20 ESV).
We are called to share in the Father’s vision in Christ centred as it is in the cross.
If the churches are full of men and women who feel the promises of God have perished then it because “the cross has been emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17 ESV).
Our passage from Philippians teaches us how we have accomplished this. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind count others better than yourselves” (v.3). For “empty conceit” I like the NASB translation, “vainglory” cf. Gal 5:26 ESV.
When we suffer from pride the manifest embodiment of the Son of God becomes impossible amongst us and the glory of God cannot appear.
If we find it hard to think of ourselves as proud people then let’s put it to the test.
Do we “count others better than ourselves”?
Are we about, as Paul says of his own ministry, “humbling myself so that you might be exalted” (2 Cor 11:7 ESV)? Self-abasement for the sake of others is a sign of a Christlike character freed from selfish ambition.
On a broad scale valuing others above ourselves would mean something like Protestants praying for the glory of God to grow in the RC Church, conservative Evangelicals praying for the Pentecostals, and vice-versa; all of us believing, praying and acting on the conviction that the Indigenous peoples of Australia are more catalytic to God’s grand plan than the rest of us.
The self importance of which Philippians warns us is a deep deception (Gal 6:3 ESV) that swells the soul and quenches the Spirit (1 Tim 3:6 ESV; 2 Tim 3:4 ESV). Competitiveness is embedded in the Christian leadership of our country.
In past years I lost count of how many pastors asked me the “how big’s yours” question, interrogations about the size of the church (it seemed important to a pastor to tell me the other day that Hillsong Perth are up to 1,000 people) are a sign of competition not humiliation.
Comparison, evaluation and reputation are rife across the Body of Christ and sure signs of our lack of humbleness. Only Jesus, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” (Phil 2:7 ESV), only Christ, who unclothed himself of the heavenly glory of God and clothed himself in weak mortal flesh, can gift us with a humble state of mind.
The “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15 ESV) became startlingly visible through his self emptying to the point of death on the cross.
So offensive was crucifixion that the Roman statesman Cicero declared that “the very word ‘cross’” should be “far removed” from the thoughts, eyes and ears of a Roman.”
There’s something in the prophetic words about a “nameless and faceless” generation that will see revival that rings true; because these are prophecies of the cross.
As to namelessness the King James Version Jesus translated Philippians 2:7 as he “made himself of no reputation” (Phil 2:7 ESV cf. Matt 27:40, 42 ESV). As to facelessness we read about Jesus in Isaiah, “His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.” (Isa 52:14 ESV).
There is something much deeper here however than outward appearances.
All his life Jesus lived to bring glory to the Father, this was his one and only Vision; “I do not receive glory from people….I do not seek my own glory….”Father glorify your name”” (John 5:41 ESV; John 8:50 ESV; John 12:28 ESV).
He continuously saw the Face of the Father and knew the Name of the Father (John 17:26 ESV). This means there is only one way to interpret Christ’s cry of dereliction from the cross. “My God…why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) means Christ’s vision of the Father has been removed and his ability to know that he is honouring the Father has been put to death.
There on the cross bearing the burden of the unfulfilled hopes, ambitions, wishes and desires of a fallen world Jesus cannot see his own resurrection (Rom 6:4 ESV).
He is stripped the vision of the glory of God. In the withdrawal of the Father’s manifest presence Jesus no longer can see himself as the Vision of the Father.
We are so narcissistic, when people come across an old school photo who do they look for first?
But Jesus entire identity is in reflecting the Father (John 14:9-10 ESV). With no conscious movement of the Spirit, ““I thirst.”” (John 19:29 ESV) in the realm of his experience, Jesus is being opposed by the Father as he identifies himself with the sum total of all the arrogance and pride of this world.
This is the cost that the humility of Christ carries so that the vision of God might be restored to us. Having carried the loss of glory to the point of death Jesus could not remain unhonoured by his Father.
vs.9 “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, vs.10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, vs.11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11 ESV).
The crucifixion was always a necessary prelude to the glory of God manifest in the resurrection. In Jesus’ own words, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” (Luke 24:26 ESV).
The fullness into which Jesus entered in his resurrection depended upon his willingness to die to the vision of God that he might rise in the vision of God.
Does God “show up” in Christian meetings?
What worries me is that too often we want God to “show up” without us sharing in the way he showed himself in Christ Forgetting that in God’s kingdom the last are first, the rich are turned away empty and that things counted as nothing are favoured (Matt 19:30 ESV; Luke 1:53 ESV; 1 Cor 1:28 ESV) we want revival without lowliness.
There’s something I must touch on here which I see is very poorly understood by comfortable Christians.
It is the difference between perishing and being crucified with Christ Gal 2:20 ESV.
For something to perish is for it to be rendered useless for the purpose for which it was originally designed. To Jesus’ enemies, and even to his disciples, it appeared that every vision Jesus had about himself as Messiah had perished through the cruelty of the cross (Luke 24:19-24 ESV; John 20:19 ESV).
They couldn’t think any differently for in the ancient world a humiliating death was a sure sign of rejection by God/the gods. But the New Testament never uses the language of perishing-as-a-sign-of God’s-judgement about the death of Jesus.
Lost people and their dreams and visions may perish (Matt 10:28 ESV; John 3:16 ESV; Rom 2:12 ESV) but Christ was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 ESV).
The cross was always at the centre of the victorious Vision of God. This means something very wonderful and very difficult for all of us.
When A Vision Refuses Crucifixion
Every genuine Spirit -given promise must be crucified with Christ before it can be made alive with him (Gal 2:20 ESV).
In order to glorify us in himself the Lord of glory (John 13:32 ESV; 1 Cor 2:8 ESV) will use all the circumstances of this world and the agencies of demons and men to put to death the pride we attach to the promises of God.
If we continue to refuse to be humbled to the end then, but only then, will the vision perish. Paul is our great instructor in such deep things.
When he received heavenly visions the Lord allowed “a thorn in the flesh…a messenger from Satan…to keep me from becoming conceited” (2 Cor 12:7 ESV). Fearing the loss of his apostolic vision Paul beseeched the Lord, but Jesus taught him, ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”” (2 Cor 12:8-9 ESV).
Paul must be united with the wounds of Christ in order for God’s grace and power to be perfectly fulfilled in his life (Gal 6:17 ESV).
Without the thorn the fullness of Christ’s vision for the apostle could never be fulfilled.
So he triumphantly proclaims, vs.11 “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. vs.12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Cor 4:11-12 ESV).
Those who walk in the ways of the cross and resurrection need never fear that the vision they have received from the Lord will perish. When pride has been put to death humility reigns; God’s purposes are always perfected in weakness. Today especially we find this hard to embrace.
Not Safe But Good
In his famous The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis puts into the mouth of the character Mr Beaver what he thinks about Aslan the Lion King, who represents Jesus.
Beaver says, “Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
In a world where parents are too frightened to allow their kids to walk to school, where you go to a public meeting and they are compelled to point out the safety exits, where there’s a common fear of terrorism, let alone what might happen on the stock exchange, for the vision of God to be fulfilled amongst us we must abandon every human thought of safety. A safe vision is a contradiction. Such is the way of the death-and-resurrection of the Son of God.
God Opposing His People
It’s time for the Church to reckon with an issue we would rather not face. Scripture exhort us, “Clothe yourselves…with humility…for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” (1 Pet 5:5 ESV; cf. Prov 3:34 ESV; James 4:6 ESV).
We need to hear this exhortation repeatedly because humility is not a natural but a supernatural state of affairs.
The low spiritual state of the Australian Church evidences clearly that our Father has been opposing his people in this nation for a very long time.
Opposing particularly what we have attached to the purity of the Vision of Christ he has shared with us, opposing what we have added of our own name and glory to the likeness of Jesus. God-born visions can quickly become idols but the Lord will not allow anyone to steal his glory (Isa 42:8 ESV).
As Israel made a golden calf and called it the God who delivered them from Egypt (Ex 32:4 ESV) so many churches come to worship an image of their own Spirit born strength and success. Such deep distortions of divine things are only ever recognised when the Lord sovereignly humbles our pride (Isa 38:17 ESV; Pss. 119:67; 75 ESV).
The great religious crusader Saul needed to be opposed by God so forcefully on the road to Damascus that he could not or drink eat for 3 days (Acts 9:9 ESV).
He was utterly humbled by the revelation of Jesus Christ (Acts 9:5 ESV; Gal 1:16 ESV). Blinded as they were by spiritual pride (1 Cor 8:1 ESV cf. Gal 6:3 ESV) Paul needed to spell out to the Church in Corinth how it was being opposed by God.
The confident Corinthians had “every spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:7 ESV), including faith, healings and miracles (1 Cor 12:9-10 ESV).
Yet in this same community “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died”; Paul needed to help them see this was the judgement of God (1 Cor 11:30 ESV).
Astoundingly, in the one church God was healing people and God was killing people.
Let’s be very clear on this; countless God born visions have perished NOT because we have an irate heavenly Father who punishes his children for being bad, but because the people of God stubbornly refuse to fully share in the humble low nature of God revealed in Christ.
Thankfully since we are commanded to “clothe ourselves” with humility (Col 3:12 ESV; James 4:6 ESV; 1 Pet 5:6 ESV) we can escape the crushing discipline of the Lord. Can pray for humility (Joel 2:13 ESV). We can ask the Lord to personally crucify our fleshy passions, desires and ambitions (Gal 5:24 ESV).
We can ask for empowerment to count others than ourselves and to bless their visions. We can seek a low place without appreciation or acknowledgement (Phil 4:12 ESV). We can petition Christ for a death to all self-interest.
To have the humble mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16 ESV; Phil 2:5 ESV) is to share in an attitude Jesus possesses yesterday, today, and forever (2 Cor 10:1 ESV; Heb 13:8 ESV).
Humility is an attribute of Son always has before his Father. And it is the attitude which alone can form a gate for the glory of God to enter our city.
For the Church in Perth to be powerfully united with him who “made himself of no reputation” we must separate ourselves from the secular city’s reputation as bright, confident, clean and prosperous and seek above all a reputation in being a humble Church.
Lowliness is an extraordinarily wonderful thing because it is how Christ saved us.
When we have this revelation of God’s lowliness for us we are truly humbled. It’s time to stop praying for the fruit of revival and to start praying for the root.
Let’s stop focusing on signs, wonders, healings, power and crowds, all of which can be present in false/immature revivals, and let’s start praying for humility for it is the seed bed of every mature move of God.
Jesus longs to share with us his glorious humiliation and the exaltation.
The Spirit groans for “rivers of living water” to flow through the Church (John 7:38 ESV cf. Isa 35:6 ESV). I am very afraid however that if the church of Perth will not humble itself willingly before her Lord then he will have to oppose us more strongly until we are utterly desperate to be humble more than we value life itself (cf. 2 Cor 12:21 ESV).
May the Lord grace us today with the mind which is ours in Christ Jesus, a mind, individually and together, of humility without which the vision will certainly perish (Phil 2:5 ESV ff).
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 15. DEC, 2017 Location: Zion Fellowship
Author: Dr. John Yates
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|1.||↑||With preaching often based on the KJV of Proverbs 29:18 ESV; “Where there is no vision the people perish.” A far more accurate translation is, “Where there is no prophetic word the people cast off restraint” (ESV; NIV etc.).|