Let me share with you a simple, yet profound truth:
Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (KJV)
The word ‘vision’ has been given all kinds of meanings in the modern world and most of them have nothing to do with this verse. But when the NIV Bible was written, the translators tried to be more accurate to the original meaning of the text and this verse became:
Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” (NIV)
What the King James Version translated ‘vision’, the NIV translates ‘revelation.’ You see, vision can (and most often does) come from us. But revelation comes from God. Now this is not just an issue about how a verse is translated. This verse, when properly understood, becomes an explanation for nearly all of the Church’s highs and lows over our entire history.
When the day by day revelation of God is not continually being sought, discerned and applied, then we ‘cast off restraint.’ We go our own way – tragically thinking it’s God’s way because we opened our ‘vision’ meeting in prayer! When Eugene Petersen wrote The Message, a contemporary translation of the Bible, he unpacked this truth even more and made it abundantly clear what this verse really means for us today:
Proverbs 29:18 “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what He reveals, they are most blessed.” (The Message)
If the early Church had persevered in ‘attending to what God was revealing’, then they would have said “No thanks,” to Constantine in 313AD when he signed the Edict of Milan and declared that Christianity was now the official religion of Rome. They should have seen through this ‘victory’ and realized that everything was about the change – and not for the better. They should have remained a loose movement of persecuted pilgrims who worshipped, fellowshipped and ate together in each other’s homes, devoted themselves to prayer and New Testament teaching as they continued to infiltrate every area of society – seven days a week.
If the Church was attending to what God was revealing it would not have allowed Rome to dictate how it behaved and operated and the legalism and corruption which eventually strangled the Church would not have emerged so there would have been no need for the Reformation over a thousand years later. In fact, I believe you can trace every stumble, every error, every backward step, every loss to the enemy of truth back to the Church failing to see what God was doing. Worse still – not looking for God at work in the first place!
So fast forward more than 2,000 years and in so many areas of the Church we are stumbling over ourselves and not seeing what God is doing or hearing what God is saying. But even in that statement there is hope – great hope. In spite of our actions or inaction, God is still speaking, for those who have ears to hear. God is still revealing to those who have eyes to see. God is still active and moving among us and fulfilling His purposes.
God has never left us – no matter how wrong we get it or how often we do it our way and not His way – He never goes away and He never stops speaking. We just stop listening. Sadly, some of us never even started and have no expectation whatsoever of God speaking to us.
For many years now I have encouraged people to ask two questions every morning as their feet hit the floor and they begin each new day.
“What are You doing, Lord?”
“How can I be part of it today?”
That’s what I’ve been trying to do my entire ministry and I believe it reminds us who we are and Whose we are. I believe the more we ask those questions and learn to discern the voice of God as He answers us – the more we will see the huge difference between ‘going to Church’ and truly ‘being the Church.’
The Church is not where we go or what we do – the Church is who we are.
We will never change the world by ‘going to Church’ but we can certainly change the world by ‘being the Church.’ In fact, that is our calling, our purpose and the reason the Church exists.
I want to assure you that ‘being the Church’ is not complicated. It’s not a mountain we can’t climb or a river we can’t cross. We have exhausted ourselves over many centuries now trying to grow the Church and build an institution – neither of which God ever called us to do! Let me stress that again: We have exhausted ourselves over many centuries now trying to grow the Church and build an institution – neither of which God ever called us to do!
God called us to BE. More specifically, God called us to be His. The rest is His job. Jesus Christ will build His Church, it was never our job. Jesus will advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – we cannot do that. Our job is to make choices which are consistent with what the Church really is mean to be and let God do the rest.
Evangelism is not a task we are given to do – evangelism is the natural outflow of a healthy Church.
It is God Who adds to our number daily those who are being saved ( Acts 2:47 ). Our job is to witness to the reality of Christ in us and then disciple those whom God awakens and draws into His eternal Kingdom.