Once-upon-a-humid North Dakota afternoon on a gently sloping coulee bank two young lovers exchanged words that ushered in a whole new life for both of them. Their destinies were joined that day when the young girl responded to the eager young man’s proposal of marriage with the words: “I’d be delighted”.
That was thirty years ago. Just months afterward there would be a formal exchange of vows and the two would drive off into the sunset with all their earthly goods tucked into a quaint hand built ‘doghouse’ on the back of an antique VW truck. They had hopes and plans tucked in too, but really they were blissfully unaware and unconcerned with all that awaited them down the road. It was enough that they were together.
Blizzards, Babies, Births and Deaths, Homes hither and yon, Miles and miles of travel, Years and years of growing up, for them and their brood ensued…then with a flip of the calendar on another humid summer’s day thirty years hence they sat staring at the last month of life as they had known it. The last child was leaving home shortly and what would be next they could only wonder. There was no real game plan this time. Their destinies to date had exceeded their hopes and dreams. They were in need of fresh vision for the remaining years… Where does one go to get vision? How do dreams hatch?
I’ve been pondering these things lately. What is it that gives the day-to-day a sense of purpose? We will make meals and eat and do dishes, sleep and get up, clean house and ride bikes, work and get paid. This is survival. But what is our vision for the future? Why are we doing all this?
I read again this week Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa (Acts 26). His life was winding down. The book of Acts is now nearly complete. Paul was on trial, he said, for his hope in God’s promise of resurrection. He had lived to attain this Resurrection from the dead himself—forgetting what was behind, pressing ever forward, as he puts it, ‘for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil.3:11-14)
He was telling his story to the king. There had been a time when he was convinced he ought to do things that were actually quite contrary to what God had in mind. He was on the road toward doing them when KAZAM! God intervened. A blinding light from heaven. A voice of introduction: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Instructions. A brief job resume. And Saul became Paul, a changed man with a vision that would last his whole life through. A vision that would carry him through “hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (II Cor.6:4,5) and much more! A vision so strong that he could say “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) He never took credit for his work, or boasted of the great job he was doing. He considered it a stewardship which he carried out in the strength that God provided (Eph.3:7) “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Cor.9:16)
But this purposeful life began with a calling—God had interrupted Paul’s misdirected zeal with a revelation of Himself and a declaration of His purposes for Paul’s life—I have appeared to you for a purpose: to appoint you as a servant and witness of what I’ve done and will do for you. I am sending you to open the Gentiles’ eyes that they may turn from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God, and be forgiven, and join the company of the redeemed by faith. (Acts 26:15-18 paraphrased)
This purposeful life necessitated a willingness on Paul’s part. He had to respond in obedience to God’s call: “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” This ‘I’d- be- delighted’ sort of response kicked off a whole new destiny for Paul. God’s enabling followed on the heels of Paul’s acceptance of his mission, “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great…” and the result was the life and teachings of Paul that continue to enrich and encourage believers down through history. All because he was ‘obedient to the heavenly vision.’
On the basis of this obedience he invited believers of his day: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Cor.11:1) We may not have a heavenly vision. But we do have a calling. This is it. This is the big picture when I lose my bearings and wonder what life will yet hold for us now that there is no brood under our roof to nurture. I am invited to follow Christ’s example—who laid down His rights in order to carry out the Father’s will, obedient to death, faithful to the one who appointed him, glad to do the Father’s bidding, always. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” Jn.4:34 This attitude of willingness to do whatever God puts before me seems key to following my true destiny, with or without a ‘heavenly vision’.
It wasn’t so much about the vision anyway, but about meeting Jesus! Long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to his messengers, the prophets, in visions, through donkeys, in dreams in the night, thundering from mountain tops, in burning bushes. (Heb.1:1) It was terrifying. For all but the prophet who heard it, it was a second-hand way of hearing from God. Some still seek these dramatic exchanges. But in reality we have been entrusted with something more sure than any vision in the night. We have the living and abiding words of Scripture, a sure and unerring revelation of God’s nature and purposes, a sufficient guide for life and godliness, and yes, for understanding his purposes for our lives at every juncture. (see: II Pet.1:19-21; II Tim.3:14-17) I am thankful. I am not left without compass or guidebook.
But more than that, I am not left in need of a prophet, a dramatic vision, or an utterance from Heaven in order to perceive my destiny. Hebrews reminds us God has spoken ultimately to us ‘in these last days’ by His Son (Heb.1:1), the Word made flesh, sent on our behalf to represent God to us and to offer Himself a sacrifice for us. Because of Him we can approach God, be indwelt by His Spirit, hear His voice internally and know His will, all without being destroyed!
The whole book of Hebrews is a declaration of the supremacy of the Son, the apostle (sent one) and high priest (our go-between) of our confession. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. Knowing Him is our calling. Looking to Him is all the vision that we need (Heb.12:1,2). Yes, He is still the Way, the Truth and the Life. To do His will is still my delight and my destiny. And He is fully capable of intervening, as per Paul’s testimony (Acts 26:9) , if I should be convinced of ‘many things I ought to do’ which aren’t in keeping with His mission for my life.
Yes, I’d be delighted to journey with this Jesus for the rest of my life, even if I can’t see ‘round the next bend in the road. Since when should I care, as long as we’re together.
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him…Heb.3:1
“I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Ps.40:8
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of [his] good pleasure. Phil.2:12,13
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20,21
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works… Heb.10:19-24