So the new decade is here. I cannot think about the year 2020 without thinking of Malaysia, a country I came to love deeply during the time we lived there (1975-83), a beautiful country with beautiful people.
The reason it comes to mind is because in 1991 the then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, introduced his 2020 Vision for the country by which he hoped Malaysia would have moved from being a developing nation to the status of being a developed country. Back then 2020 seemed so far away. Now it is here.
I am wondering whether or not the Vision has been achieved. Will there be some assessment of progress made? Certainly from the outside Malaysia now is unrecognisable from the country we first visited in 1975. It is outwardly modern, progressive and confident. But from what I understand there is still a feeling inside the country that progress had been more on the surface than in reality.
All of which leads me to think about vision in our churches and personal lives. I have never been good at vision. I don’t easily think strategically or with long-term goals in mind. My horizon is usually only 3-6 months ahead. Although I attended training courses on vision building, I never really got the hang of it and have always felt slightly inadequate as a leader as a result, especially back in the day when ‘casting a vision’ was the in-thing in church growth thinking.
I did once set time aside to seek God about a vision for the church I was leading at the time. Although I spent the day in prayer and reflection the only thing that came to me were the words of a hymn, ‘Be thou my vision O Lord of my heart.’ At the time I was disappointed and frustrated with myself, but over the years that is actually the vision that has captivated my heart and motivated most of what I have done and archived. The hunger to know God more and to develop intimacy with him has been the fire in my heart, which is no bad thing. Hopefully I have pointed others in that direction too.
This last year (2019) we have studied the book of Acts in our church. It is often described as ‘the acts of the Holy Spirit’ because the Spirit is the one who drives the action as the church moves out from Jerusalem to Rome. There is something of a strategic vision in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says to his disciples that they are to be his witnesses ‘in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Certainly the story follows this pattern but not in a regimented way with the disciples working towards a clearly defined blueprint. It is all a bit more haphazard than that. Much of it seems to happen despite them, to be orchestrated by the Spirit who determines events and circumstances in which they are merely respondents, not initiators. The gospel spreads because they are scattered like seeds on the wind (8:1). Only reluctantly do they concede that God wants the Gentiles to be involved (11:18). The missionary movement is not the result of strategic planning, but a response to worship and the voice of the Spirit. A great unfolding is taking place, a movement of God on which they are carried along.
All of which leads me to believe that as we enter 2020 we do not have to create some great vision statement, which we then have to make happen. Rather we can set our sails to the wind of the Spirit and in obedience and faith be ready to follow where he leads. He is the divine strategist, and he will weave the events of our lives, both good and bad, into his overall purpose. Get ready for the ride! Who knows where he will lead us?