When they are in our heads, visions look so wonderful. Every piece fits. Everyone in the vision seems delighted and enlightened. The visionary gets universally admired. The world becomes such a better place because we have lived. Trumpets play while the credits roll. Our names seem already secure in the upcoming history books. Our enthusiasm feels boundless. The sun just can’t stop shining.
Then we take our first step to implement the vision. What? No one is cheering! Where did the trumpets go? People yawn. People laugh. People yell. The trumpets turn into harmonicas. The fog rolls in.
“In the beginning was the Word,” we are told. “The Word was with God. The Word was God.” But there was still blood on the manger floor and the smell of animal feces hung in the air. Soon after the birth, when angels sang and kings brought gifts, Mary and Joseph had to flee for their lives to escape a madman. Those are the kinds of things that happen when the Word becomes flesh. They are also the kinds of things that happen when a vision takes on a tangible form.
When the Spirit descends, some plunge into ecstasy as fire dances upon their heads. Others mock saying, “These are drunk.” A man and woman fall dead. An Ethiopian gets baptized. A soothsayer goes blind. A Rabbi falls off his horse. The Wind blows down the middle wall of partition so that swine eaters can join the family of God. This is what happens when people respond to a vision that has taken on a tangible form. Some sinners will become saints and some saints will become murderers. It all gets quite unpredictable.
Last year at Pentecost, a woman told a story about how God commanded her to build a hospital in Haiti. She told about how it took twenty-five years full of difficulties, wrong turns, rejection, frustration and oppressive heat. The hospital had looked so good in her head and she had no doubts about seeing that it became reality. Then, as she worked at turning the vision of a hospital into a concrete hospital, the beautiful vision in her head took a real beating. Then it suddenly happened. The doors opened, the money became available and the hospital got built. Now sick little children get healed. Soon AIDS victims will too.
As she told this story, another woman, my wife Trish, was listening. She could hardly walk. The thoughts in her head were still getting mixed up. Her brain was healing but not yet whole. Nonetheless, on the way home she said to me, “I’m going to run a marathon next January, in Phoenix. “Why,” I asked? “To help Sister Pat” she said.
Trish told her therapists. She told her doctors. She told her friends. They all smiled and said, “Go for it!” So she did.
That’s why last January that she ran the marathon. Now she walks without a limp. Her thoughts are not confused. She laughs a lot. Her head is full of dreams for the future. She wants to live and serve. A decision to help Sister Pat turned out to be God’s prescription that would help heal my wife.
Sister Pat told me that that several people have sent money to honor Trish’s marathon. She wanted us to know that it has all gone to Haiti.
So we never know how a vision will affect people once it becomes flesh. When the vision gets molded into a form that people cannot avoid, they will make a decision about how to respond to it. Their response becomes a part of their own character.
God made us. Then He became one of us. Now, if we ask Him, He enters into our very being. Over time, He penetrates every fiber of our person with grace. It’s a kind of radiation treatment, you might say. It makes us into very different people. While God walks with us, God in us intercedes for us to God who made us. That’s pretty powerful stuff. It is nothing less than His plot to mutate us into very different kinds of people.
The vision that begins very small in our heads is God’s way of baiting us to leave our fears behind, to launch out into unfamiliar territory. When we agree to do that, things can get really scary for a while. We lose control. We have adventures. We lose friends. We make new friends. We change our ideology. We loose our bearings. We learn new skills. We take on new mannerisms. We build things. We develop organizations. We write stuff. We create gadgets.
While all this is happening, we think that the goal to complete our vision. What is really happening is that God is working to make us into new people. Along the way, He may use what we are doing to help heal a good woman who is trying to learn how to walk again. Or help an addict rediscover his self-respect. Or give a grandmother back to her grandchildren. Or encourage a disillusioned pastor who is about to turn in the towel. Or reveal how wonderful the family of God really can be. Or to move the world one tiny step further toward a day when the lion shall lay down beside the lamb and men beat their swords into plowshares.