“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
– Prov 29.18
Have you ever been part of a vision casting meeting? Spent hours plotting out a faith-based strategy? Or just wrestled with planning your life? Has this verse been offered you as foundation for needing a clear vision and goal for anticipated end?
It has been presented to me. And it is scary. I do not want to perish – or live a life of meaninglessness for lack of vision.
Many of the Biblical Proverbs are written in what is called “antithetical parallelism”, where a single point is made from two perspectives. For instance: If you eat, you will be satisfied; but if you do not eat, you will starve. Two viewpoints that state the same truth. Usually one is a positive statement and the other negative.
This Proverb is written in such a format. Dr. Andrew Sargent wrote an insightful article on this proverb and suggested that a better translation for the Hebrew would be:
“When the prophetic voice (commonly represented in the sacred scriptures) is absent from a community, those in that community cast off moral restraint to their own harm, but when people dedicate their energies to living life in keeping with divine instruction, they find a stable, productive, and both earthly and eternally rewarding existence.”
The keeping of God’s Laws and ways is the the cause, eternal reward is the effect. When understood that both clauses would affirm the same objective, it is clear that the vision denoted at the beginning of the proverb would be a Godly perspective, His desires and/or the Law. Perishing carries the weight of eternity more than happiness, however it can be understood from the original language that eternal satisfaction and fulfillment is the goal.
Vision, however, is not necessarily a bad translation. Some other biblical translations for the same word are revelation, divine guidance and prophetic vision. We can apply this to our lives in a variety of ways. We must have a clear and purposeful “vision” or divine guidance (the Bible) in addressing our daily lives and choices. We must chose the morally and ethically upstanding option when making a decision to honor God and avoid sinning and consequently grieving the Holy Spirit. When choosing between two morally neutral or good options, we must evaluate God’s heart for the World and for the Church and chose that which will best honor God in such situations. It might be good to do X, but it might be better to do Y.
And then as believers our hearts become progressively more aligned with the heart of God and we build a vision for our lives based on His priorities. His ultimate priority is His glory (Is 42.8). Does your 5-year plan glorify God? 10-year? Lifetime? Our primary duty as believers is to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20). Does your 5-year plan focus on and strive after that? 10-year? Lifetime?
Jesus is extremely clear that we are not to lay up for ourselves treasures on Earth but in Heaven (Matt 6.19-20). He speaks of the foolishness of a man tearing down barns in order to build new ones to house all of His harvest and excess when he will only die the next day (Luke 12.16-20).
However, Scripture also exemplifies for us that we cannot plan our lives in their fullness, or precise detail. Paul was called to be a missionary to the Gentiles (all non-Jews). He had a desire to go to many places, but at times the Spirit forbade him to go – at times the doors were closed (Acts 16.6). Once he actually had a vision of a man asking him for help in an area where Paul did not intend to go (Acts 16.9)! He regularly told the churches that he had planted of his desires to see them and his plans to come through if possible (Rom 1.11). He relied on God to open doors for the Gospel, for travel and for Church planting (Col 4.3). Thus our vision cannot be so narrow or so hard that God cannot move within it.
“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.”
– Prov 16.9
We must have a vision. But that vision must be no more narrow than God’s revealed will: Our sanctification (1 Thess 4.33) and the salvation of the world (Matt 28.18-20). If we function within those statutes, seeking God for guidance and direction, we will not perish. We will be “happy”. Eternally. With Him.