Heavenly vision is given at salvation. When we obey the command to preach the Gospel, we will receive specific purpose, a calling to greater responsibility.
Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, (Acts 26:19)
In this verse, Paul refers to the heavenly vision of Christ on the Damascus Road which brought him salvation. From that point onward, he declares and lives obedience to the words Jesus spoke to him, essentially that he was called to preach the Gospel. We often look at men like Paul and wonder why God would reveal Himself in a vision to him and not to us. But this is a misconception, for two reasons. The first is that we have essentially received the same heavenly vision Paul did – the cross and the resurrection, as well as the command to go and spread the Gospel. The second reason is that the kind of dramatic ‘in your face’ visions seem to occur when there’s a real chance the recipient would ignore anything else. The Bible doesn’t say this directly, but that seems to be a common denominator.
Every believer already has their heavenly vision.
Salvation comes with a heavenly vision for each believer. This is the cross and the resurrection – the full Gospel of Christ. At salvation, God entrusts us with a vision to fulfil His purpose and spread the good news to all men. We are to preach Christ crucified and risen by word and example. It’s a universal call, a common vision to every child of God. It includes at home, at work, among friends, and in every situation. No matter where we are, we are to keep this vision as the full focus of our lives. While we may receive a specific vision or calling over and above this, it will never replace the command of Jesus to see Him crucified and resurrected and to share this at every opportunity. This is part of loving God and loving our neighbours. Because we love Him, we share His love with others.
The principles that govern the kingdom of God never change. The heavenly vision Paul refers to in today’s verse speaks of a very specific calling. But behind this is a principle far too important to overlook. It’s that of obedience. Paul’s first calling was like ours – to preach the Gospel in and out of season. His specific calling addressed the ‘how’ of it, i.e. among the Gentiles. The principle is very simple. Our specific calling emerges from the general command to every believer. Unless we are first obedient to Christ’s command to ‘go’ we will never receive a more specific one. God only entrusts more to those who prove themselves faithful. The wonderful thing about preaching the Word is the diverse ways it can be done. Every single believer has opportunities individual to them. We’re not all called to public ministry. God expects us to be faithful where we are.
The kind of obedience that brings heavenly vision.
Obedience, for God, is closely tied to the condition of our hearts – our attitude towards Him and His commands. We can be obedient but be unwilling in our hearts. We can be resentful and resistant to what He expects from us. The actual act of obedience is meaningless if the heart behind it is in rebellion. A rebellious heart breaks the first commandment because we are to love Him with all, not some. The principle is the same as that of worthless sacrifice. If we worship by ritual or rote because we have to, our worship is empty words. It has the wrong spiritual attitude behind it. God desires that we delight to do His will. That is real obedience, a heart to which God will release a heavenly vision. How we respond to what He has already commanded determines what He releases into our lives over and above that.
Heavenly vision always comes with heavy responsibility.
Through parables, Jesus taught us that we are accountable for the things we are given stewardship over. We must neither hide them nor abuse them. The most powerful heavenly vision any human being can ever receive is the cross – death and resurrection for complete and perfect salvation. His command to every believer to go and preach the Gospel means to share what we have already been given. We cannot bury it, and nor should we misuse it. It’s not meant for us alone but for the whole world. The gift of salvation is beyond measure, and because of this, the responsibility to share it is as weighty. It’s no small thing to be entrusted with the gift of eternal life for a dying, desperate world. God loves the whole world, not only those who receive Him. If we bury it or keep it to ourselves, we withhold life.
Paul reminds us that we should not be disobedient to the heavenly vision. The fact that we haven’t received a Damascus Road experience is irrelevant. There doesn’t have to be fanfare, hype, or vibrant drama attached to His command. When we accept salvation, we accept the responsibility to live God’s multiplication principle. One believer can reach ten, who in turn can reach another ten. We cannot be disobedient, even in the small things. They are destined to multiply and bring forth abundant fruit. The how and why of it remain God’s prerogative. Until we are obedient we will never be given greater responsibility. Our faithfulness determines our usefulness. If we long for a heavenly vision that’s bigger than the existing call, we need to examine what we’re already doing to fulfil our responsibility. More importantly, we need to examine the heart attitude with which we do it.
We must be close to God to receive heavenly vision.
Paul, of course, was the exception – at least initially. He was about as far from God as we could imagine, persecuting and destroying Christians with religious fervour. He is, though, the exception that proves the rule. His salvation was dramatic and his transformation to willing obedience immediate. He received both his general calling and specific calling at the same time. God does make exceptions, but he never contradicts Himself. His specific heavenly vision did not exclude the general one given to all believers. If his heart had not turned to God, the specific calling would have been delayed until he was fully obedient. What stands out, though, is that from that moment, Paul was close to God. He kept himself in a place where he could both listen and hear. When he acted on what he had heard, everything else fell into place.
We remain close to God through obedience. It’s a very simple truth. Disobedience is, essentially rebellion, which is sin. Our sins separate us from God. When we don’t act on what we hear, that’s disobedience, and it shuts down the lines of communication. Hearing is in two parts, i.e. hearing it and then doing it. In Luke 11:28 Jesus says, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it! One of the blessings is receiving heavenly vision. It’s so important that we understand that this kind of vision isn’t given to make us feel good or important. It’s given in order to reveal the will and purpose of God. If we don’t obey that which we already have, our disobedience will distance us from God. Those who choose to remain at a distance by disregarding our fundamental responsibility to preach the Gospel will receive nothing more.
Heavenly vision is released through worship.
The greatest act of love and worship is to lay down our lives for God as He did for us. In simple terms, this is obedience. The laying down of our lives is in response to the heavenly vision of the cross and the resurrection. It’s the willingness to obey the command to go and preach the good news. Willing, joyful obedience, irrespective of our feelings or reluctance, is worship. Our worship brings us into His presence and our obedience keeps us there. Our service in the kingdom of God is the greatest responsibility we will ever have. But it is also our greatest blessing. It is an incredible privilege to be the vessel through whom God delivers salvation to others. Our obedience is actually living the life and ministry of Christ. When we worship with our lives rather than our actions, we receive the vision of God.
Father God, forgive us for our reluctance to preach the Gospel for fear of man or through our own selfishness. Thank You for reminding us that Your heavenly vision is for all men to be saved, and for the incredible privilege of being vessels to accomplish that. Help us to keep this in mind and to be ready, in season and out. Help us to obey the call already on our hearts and to draw close in worship and thanksgiving. Keep us close, Lord, so that we can be hearers and doers of Your Word, for Your glory.