A missionary told about an African man to whom he had given a copy of the Bible. The African was deeply grateful for the Bible and thanked the missionary profusely for the gift. Several months later the missionary saw the man again. The missionary was puzzled because the Bible that he had given the man was battered and torn. It looked as though many of the pages were missing.
“I thought you would have taken better care of the Bible I gave you,” the missionary remarked. “I assumed you wanted it.”
The man replied, “It is the finest gift I have ever received. It is such a wonderful book that I gave a page from the book to my father and a page to my mother. And then I gave a page to everyone in the village.”1
What a marvelous testimony to the power of the Word of God! The Word of God is so powerful and wonderful that it compels you to want to give it away, to share it with those around you.
At the heart of our faith is a call to share the Word. It is a common call that we share as the people of God.
Paul encountered God on the road to Damascus. God gave Paul a challenge to share the Word, and he never tired of doing that.
The account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is recorded in Acts 9. Then twice more in the Book of Acts, in Acts 22 and in Acts 26, Paul gave his testimony. In that testimony he recounted the events of his conversion.
On this occasion, recorded in Acts 26, the new Roman governor Festus, invited Agrippa to Caesarea to hear Paul’s case. So Paul stood before Agrippa and again recited the story of the great events which occurred on the road to Damascus.
Paul told of going to Damascus to arrest Christians and to bring them back to Jerusalem. At midday a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, suddenly began shining upon Paul. He heard the voice of the Lord. And in those moments, prostrate upon the ground, Paul moved from unbelief to faith.
The voice of the Lord directed Paul to rise to his feet and to bear witness to Christ among all people. He was to carry the life-giving Word throughout his world.
In Acts 26:19, Paul gave this testimony to Agrippa: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” In obedience to that vision he walked through his world giving away the Word, calling people to light and life in Christ.
I would say to you today that…
I. We Need a Heavenly Vision.
We need a vision of reaching our world for Christ. That was the vision which God planted in the heart of Paul. In Acts 26:17, God said to Paul: “[I will deliver] thee from the people and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee.”
Paul was like most Israelites of his day; he didn’t have much vision for the Gentiles. There was a world of need out there, but Paul was largely blind to that need. And in the midst of a world of five billion people, the danger is that we, too, may be largely blind to the needs.
We have this way of categorizing everything. We are “over here” with God’s life, and they are “over there.” It’s like we’re the good guys, and they are the bad guys; we wear the white hits and they wear the black hats. And Jesus undoubtedly would want to spend His time with us; we are the guys with the white hats, after all!
Yet when Jesus Christ was on earth, do you know what the big problem was? They couldn’t keep Him away from the bad guys with the black hats. He just wouldn’t put on the white hat and stay where He belonged. He was always out there with the bad guys, just like He loved them and cared for them and wanted to eat supper with them.2
And now here He was, even after His ascension into Heaven, saying to Paul, “Don’t forget the Gentiles. Get up and go over to the Gentiles and tell them about me.”
If we could ever catch a vision of what others could be with Jesus as their Savior! God said:
“[Go] to open their eyes” — Persons without Christ are like blind people. With Christ they come to see for the first time.
“[Go] to turn them from darkness to light” — It is like emerging from pitch darkness into brilliant light.
“From the power of Satan unto God” — Satan kills, steals, and destroys human life. Salvation puts people under new management.
“Receive forgiveness of sins” — That awful past Jesus can forgive.
“[Receive] an inheritance” — Those people with nothing can become heirs of the riches of God.
That is what can happen when we share the gospel with this world that is lost in its sin.
At the timberline of Mount Shasta, California, lives a remarkable tree called the Shasta Fir. In its early life it is twisted like brush. The heavy snowpack, which at the timberline often reaches twenty feet during the winter months, batters and presses the young plant so that it twists and turns and struggles to survive.
There comes a winter, however, when the tree is able to reach through the snowpack. Then it begins to point skyward like an arrow. Once the victory is won over the snow, the straightness of this tree is unmatched by any other tree in the region.
The tree is especially impressive in the summer when you see the twisted and oddly shaped parts of the lower trunk. The snowpack has done its best to distort its growth with its crushing weight and gale force winds. The straight vertical growth stands in sharp contrast to its twisted beginnings.3
Throughout our world there are people whose lives have been twisted and distorted by sin. But in Jesus Christ they can grow tall and straight. That is the vision we must catch.
The vision of what people can be comes from the heart of God. It was God who initiated that in Paul’s life. God broke through to him on the road to Damascus. God gave the commission and the vision.
Paul said in Acts 26:19: “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” It was a heavenly vision. If we are to catch a vision of this world for Christ, then that vision must come from God, because God has a vision for our world.
Keith Parks, head of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, told about his son teaching a group of students in the African country of Senegal in November of 1985. The Thanksgiving season was approaching, and his son mentioned that he was preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.
The students did not know anything about that, so they asked about it. Parks’ son explained that Thanksgiving Day was a day to celebrate all the good things God has given us.
After hearing that explanation, one of the students said, “We don’t have a day like that here. If we did, we would not call it ‘Thanksgiving Day,’ we would call it ‘God Has Forgotten Us Day’.”4
Well, we may have forgotten them, but God has not forgotten them. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son” (John 3:16). That is the vision in the heart of God. It is a “heavenly” vision, and our prayer must be that God would give us that vision also.
Visions are important because …
II. Visions Set the Agenda for Life.
Visions cannot be confined to private moments of religious experience. The course of Paul’s life from the Damascus Road until his death some thirty-five years later was determined by this vision given by God.
The vision was not an end in itself. It was just the beginning. Paul didn’t spend all of his time going back to the road to Damascus trying to reproduce the vision. He spent the rest of his life trying to do what God had told him to do in the vision.
We must translate visions into life. We cannot be content just trying to have great experiences with God; we must translate those experiences into action.
My father-in-law once bought a small, used outboard boat motor. He put it on the side of a barrel, filled the barrel with water, and started the motor. It ran very well. He then carried it out to the lake, put it on his boat, and could not get it started. After pulling the cord until he was exhausted, he gave up, and carried the boat motor back to his house. He put it in the barrel of water, pulled it one time, and it started and ran like a sewing machine.
He carried it back to the lake the next week and the same thing happened. He could never start it. He put it back in the barrel at home and it ran perfectly.
After trying this a couple of other times with similar results, he gave up and finally sold the motor. I asked him how on earth he was able to get someone to buy a motor like that. He said, “I invited the guy by the house to see it run in the barrel.”
Needless to say, a motor which will run in a barrel but not on a boat is of little value. You need more than that. And a religion that consists of great moments alone with God but never works when you launch out into life is of little value. The visions given to us by God must find expression in life. Our great need is a vision given to us by God.
Paul stood before Agrippa trying to convey the wonder of the vision. When he had completed his account, Agrippa concluded that Paul was crazy (Acts 26:24). People like Agrippa — who have no vision — have a hard time understanding persons of vision like Paul.
A poet wrote:
“A boy was born ‘mid little things,
Between a little world and sky,
And dreamed not of the cosmic rings
‘Round which the circling planets fly.
“He lived in little works and thoughts,
Where little ventures grow and plod,
And paced and ploughed his little plots,
And prayed unto his little God.”5
No, we must do better than that. We must have vision. “Vision is essential for survival. It is spawned by faith, sustained by hope, sparked by imagination, and strengthened by enthusiasm. It is greater than sight, deeper than a dream, broader than an idea.”
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). We must have the vision of winning this world to Christ or we perish without it. Whatever else we do,
III. We Must Be Careful to Keep the Vision Alive.
Keeping the vision alive is a great challenge. The problem with visions is that, given enough time, they tend to fade away.
One of my early memories is the memory of the time the county agent came to our farm. He and my dad worked with a transit and a big long stick. They laid out the places for terraces that my dad built on the contour of the land all across our farm.
My father built those terraces because one of the most destructive forces in nature is the force of erosion. Wind and water sweeping over the land can gradually remove the rich and productive topsoil of the land. Just because erosion is silent and slow does not mean it isn’t devastating.
The same process will occur in the area of our Christian commitments if we are not careful. The dreams and visions planted in our hearts by God can erode and become as barren as land where all the topsoil is gone.
We may get sidetracked. We may have trouble keeping our priorities straight.
One historian called the years following the Civil War “the age of rusty souls.”6 If we are not careful, ours will also become an “age of rusty souls” — an age when our souls become insensitive to the things of God. We can lose our vision for winning this world for Christ. We must not let that happen!
How can we keep the vision alive? Paul kept it alive in his life. Now, many years after that experience on the Damascus road, the vision was as fresh and alive in his life as it was on the day he received it from God. Why?
Paul said in Acts 26:19, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” Paul was “obedient” to that vision. He kept on acting on it. He kept on trying to fulfill it.
Every day of his life he was going to preach, trying to win the people of his world to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The vision was strengthened every day. It was as fresh as the last person he had reached for Christ.
And we must be obedient to that vision — carrying the gospel to our world. That task is an ongoing one.
It is the daily deposits to our Christian commitment which add up. It is a series of small faithfulnesses.
You do not win the world to Jesus overnight, but you stay after the task and, gradually, the horizons reach farther and the vision becomes more and more a reality.
We have not been called to be perfect. We have not even been called to be successful. But we have been called to be “obedient.” We must be obedient to the heavenly vision!
That was what Paul did in his life. He said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).
F.B. Meyer told of once seeing the great preacher A.B. Simpson in his study early in the morning. The great man of God had a globe before him. He would give the globe a gentle spin, put his finger on a spot, stop the globe, and then pray for that country on which his finger was resting. He continued to do that a dozen or so times. Then the old man stood to his feet, reached out, put both arms around the globe, hugged the whole world to himself and prayed for the whole world.7
That is the heart of God. That is the vision of God. And that must be our heart, our vision. We must be obedient to that heavenly vision.
1. Robert Benson, See You at the House (Nashville: Generoux, 1986), p. 185.
2. Benson, Ibid., pp. 35-36.
3. Earl F. Palmer, The Enormous Exception (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1986), p. 56.
4. An address by Keith Parks, Louisiana Baptist Convention; Monroe, Louisiana; November 11, 1987.
5. Cited by Calvin Miller, Becoming: Your Self in the Making (Old Tappan, New jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1987), p. 65.
6. Halford Luccock, More Preaching Values in the Epistles of Paul. Volume II. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1961), p. 58.
7. An address by Paul Powell; Bossier City, Louisiana; May 8, 1986.

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