By Joe Chesser
You’ve probably heard the proverb many times, especially around the new year. You know, the one that says, “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). This verse has been used (and abused) by dreamers and goal setters for decades (or even centuries) to encourage people to make plans for the new year and beyond. It’s been used to urge churches to set goals for growth and involvement. If we don’t, they say, we are doomed to apathy, failure and frustration.
While I personally believe it is very important to have goals and dreams towards which to work, I do not believe having goals is the message of the above proverb – at least, not the primary message.
By taking a closer look at the verse, especially by comparing the KJV translation of it to other versions, a different meaning will emerge. God’s Word translation (GW) says, “Without prophetic vision people run wild.” The NIV puts it this way: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” The primary message of this verse, then, is that without guidance from God through His revelation to prophets (i.e., in visions), people will not know how to act properly, and thus will run wild, cast off restraint and perish. It’s about hearing God and following His rules for righteous living. In addition, consider the latter part of the verse: “But happy is he who keeps the law” (NKJV). You see, keeping the law of God connects the reader to the need for visions from God, so the people can be blessed.
However, the proverb is not totally unrelated to having the vision to set goals for what you want to accomplish or become in the future. The difference is that it’s not your vision, but God’s vision that this proverb says is important to have. Through hearing God’s revelation we all are to become visionaries, or perish. We have to hear from God (through His messengers) what we can become, how we can do it, and where we can spend eternity. Then we set our sights on those “visions” and work toward achieving them.
Jesus came to give us a “vision” of the Father and to provide the way and means for us to become like Him and live with Him forever (John 1:14; 14:5-9). It’s up to us not only to catch this vision ourselves, but to help others also catch it. A part of being a visionary is to help others become visionaries also. Without this “vision” of Jesus we will certainly perish. No one goes to the Father except by seeing Jesus (John 14.6).
As a church, let’s be a collection of visionaries in 2022. Let’s encourage each other to not only have the vision of Christ before us at all times, but also to see through the eyes of Jesus how to impact the world around us. Let’s talk about it; let’s hope for it; let’s reach for it. Without this kind of vision, people will perish.