I grew up with very little idea of what I ought to do with my life, but very conscious that, as a Christian, there were very definitely things that I ought to do.
How long though, can those sort of ideals keep us going? How long can we live with ideas of ways we ought to live without transferring it into something more concrete. Can our value system sustain us without any further support, pushing us to greater efforts in order to comply with a system of rules and ideals? There is a lot of talk in society currently about being value-oriented, having a value system that guides us through the complex decisions of life. For some this will be of a spiritual nature, but for many who have eschewed all things religious, it will stem from other ideas, although they may be no-less deep-rooted.
I suspect that on their own though, they are merely a system of rules for governing the way we do things. Born out of this though, we need a vision of what we are actually going to achieve, who we are actually going to have dealings with and possibly serve, what we eventually want to be Vision 20 reviews known for. Many years ago it was written, in the bible, that where there is no vision the people perish. Without a driving dream of what might be, we shrivel up and die inside, losing some of the joy that comes from the excitement of living in this world.
Recently I watched a programme on the TV about an architect, whose dream since he was 7 years old had been to restore and own a castle. The programme charts his progress from taking ownership of the ruin, with trees growing inside, roofless, and broken, to moving in and showing off the finished article. The final shots of the castle as a thing of beauty would have been amazing enough, even if you had not seen the original dilapidation. Was it his ideals that drove him to spend 18 months on the project? Was it his value-system determining the way things ought to be done that persuaded him to go heavily into debt in order to complete the restoration? What drove this man to achieve was his vision of the way the castle could look once he had finished. What spurred him on daily was a picture of his family living inside the most amazing house imaginable. What kept him motivated through the winter snows was a vision of what would eventually be.
What we ought to do can’t hold a candle to the motivation provided by what we want to do. The question then is, how do we know what we want to do? Where does our vision come from?
The truth is that it is rarely handed to us on a plate; it is something that we need to search after, to pursue with fervency, to test in the crucible.
Lots of ideas may come to us if we look earnestly enough. We see a starving child die and are moved by compassion to do something about it – we have a vision to help someone. We hear the commentators marvel at the awesome complexities of the new Wembley and are inspired to rival Sir Norman Foster. We smell the wetness of the morning earth and are desperate to relocate and enjoy this experience forever. What ignites our zeal to clarify our vision? For Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, it was a picture in a Duesseldorf art gallery that made him wonder about what he could do, and ultimately started a pursuit of all the things he would achieve.
Pursuit is the next step. It is all very well to know the way we want to go but the way is no good to us unless we walk in it. The first step takes us from the realm of desires into the land of living it out. Sometimes this will be the hardest bit of the journey, stepping outside the front door of our comfort zone and into the cold harsh reality of possible failure. The risk must be taken though because, as they say, the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. Without that first step we will never achieve that which we want more than all the world. Having taken that first step we need to hold fast to the dream and keep stepping out, even in the face of possible failure and adversity.
When Zinzendorf’s dream community was starting to implode with backbiting and factions he took the bull by the horns and moved his family into the heart of the trouble, gathered and spoke to the people and ultimately drew all the leaders together, all at the tender age of 27. Langston Hughes suggests that if we let our dreams die, ‘life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly’. We will always regret it if we abandon our dreams, our vision of how the future could be. Maybe we can live with it now, the pressures of other things crowding out our ideals, but what about when we ultimately reach that future, having let our vision lapse; how will we feel then when we realise that it is not how we wanted it to turn out. We have ourselves to blame, but our regrets have come too late to change things for the present.
This is the last crucible in which our vision is tested. When things go wrong, we will wonder if we were ever right. When men laugh at us for wanting ‘the impossible’ we question our vision. When we realise that we haven’t got the skills we need, we think about letting go. This is when we either have to abandon the vision altogether, re-draft the vision in light of the new evidence, or become more determined than ever that we have to achieve, doing whatever it takes. This might mean a new direction in the short-term, to be retrained to overcome the obstacle. It could mean sharing the vision and getting other people on board, to support and help. Maybe the time scale will have to be extended and what you dreamt of achieving by your 60th birthday might take you until your 65th.
Does our vision pass these tests? Have we a clear picture of what direction we want our life to take, are we actively pursuing that visions, has it been tested? Is it something that drives us to achieve, within our own system of values? What legacy do we envisage leaving behind us?
And going beyond our own lives, what about our vision as leaders, our vision for the people who are following us? Having the vision and knowing where we ought to go ourselves, how good are we at showing the way and getting other people to buy into the vision. Once they have caught the enthusiasm that we are exuding however, how good are we at going the way and giving the people an example to follow? When we turn around from gazing towards our vision, do we see people following us along the way?
Can we be a leader without having the vision? They say that the mark of a leader is that people follow them but people need to be inspired by our vision before they will join us on our journey. (Hopefully it is the vision that they are following rather than us or our charisma – that will fade but visions can live on). The inspiration they need often comes from our enthusiasm that in itself can only come from our own excitement at the vision that we are pursuing. They see our authenticity, our willingness to go and do it and they follow us. What more rounded example can we have than Count von Zinzendorf, who, having got a personal vision, then so impressed people around him that he spawned a movement of people and spirituality that has had a huge effect on the world at large, despite him being largely unknown now, 250 years later. The way he quietly impressed people with what might be, showing them the possibilities ahead, resulted in people listening and doing, putting flesh on the bones of his ideas.