Monday, March 2, 2009

"Vision Cast In A Cloud" by Garris Elkins

For years I taught people how to create mission statements for their lives and how to develop a vision along with a personal set of values. It was good, but I don't do that anymore.

At first these vision planning sessions excited me. Then something changed. A hunger for something deeper began to move me away from what I had been doing. All of this vision casting became dry and laborious to me. I began to think, “Where was all of this programming and planning in the Word?” When I read the scriptures I found people who woke up everyday and had no idea that God was about to visit them and radically change their lives.

What bothered me about the way I went about gaining vision was that I created a “vision” and then invited God to come and bless it. What I was doing looked more professional than hanging a sign on a storefront church and advertising “Revival This Week”, but it was really the same thing. I remember the day God said to me, “Stop being a pusher - a pusher of principles - seek My presence.” Since then the vision for my life and ministry has been the pursuit of His presence.

The more I looked into the Word the more I saw people who had deep encounters with God and those encounters became their vision. The Bible is filled with people like this. God revealed Himself to Paul on the Road to Damascus and he left it all to follow Jesus. Peter stood in front of a fish BBQ on the shoreline after his denial and was restored. Jacob wrestled with God and then walked away with a limp. The Church in Antioch was having a worship service and God said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Paul for a special work I have for them...” and the Gentile mission was birthed. Elijah stood in the mouth of the cave straining to hear the still voice of God and then He did. And then there was Moses the reluctant leader. Moses' anthem was, “God, can't you get somebody else!' God's encouragement to Moses was that His presence would go with him. “Follow My presence Moses and you will get there.” Moses ended up being one of the greatest leaders in scripture.

God's presence is powerful. Presence defines who we are as the people of God. The only thing that distinguished the children of Israel from the surrounding nations was the presence of God. From a purely anthropological point of view there was nothing different between Israel and the surrounding nations. The children of Israel had festivals, they cut their bodies and they worshiped a deity so did the other nations. The difference that defined them was the presence of the One true God in their midst. It hasn't changed since then. More than living a moral life (please be moral!) it is the presence of God in the church that distinguishes us from the world around us. The Pharisees were moral, but they weren't led by His presence.

In years past some in church leadership, including this writer, have spent more time searching for vision in the business section of the Barnes and Noble book store than seeking a life changing encounter with God. We spent a lot time honing the habits of highly effective people instead of living in a moment-by-moment hunger for His presence. Thankfully, many are parking that model in the past. Only out of His presence a Kingdom based vision flows. Much of what many of us did that was called "ministry" didn't require God to show up in order for it to get done - it just required a lot of busyness.

There is a lot of burnout in the church because we can appear to be busy and still not be living moment-by-moment in His presence. In His presence is fullness of joy - nowhere else - not even in the midst of perceived success.

In Exodus 19 a very insightful event takes place that reveals how God processed vision with Moses. In verse 9 the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Some things in this verse help us see how vision casting took place for Moses.

In verse 19 the Lord said: “I am going to come to you...” God is the One Who comes to us with vision. We don't create vision and then invite Him to come to ours. Everything flows from Him. The beautiful part of this verse is that He is the one pursuing us with vision. In fact, He is the One Who is always pursuing His people with vision.

In the Hebrew language the word for “face” can mean “presence.” When we choose to pursue the face of God in all areas of our lives we invite His presence to come. When we are in a season of doubt the single most critical thing we can do is turn to God and seek His face. The direction and the answers we so desperately desire will take second place compared to the joy of simply seeking Him.

God said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud...” This cloud was so dense that Moses could not see what was ahead of him. He was blinded. In order for God to birth vision in his people He must first blind us to every sensory tool we possess. A dense cloud is not a place where you and I can really see anything. We are not in control in the cloud of His presence.

Are you in one of those moments when you can't see the next step? If you have given your heart to Him chances are this is being done on purpose. He led you into the cloud of His presence. God has something He wants to show you, but He must first turn off your natural ability to process your circumstance. A season where you don't see anything sets you up to hear everything.

“The people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." The most important thing someone can do to develop trust with those he or she serves is not to pursue success, but to pursue God. God births trust in a servant-leaders ability to lead when people hear us having a conversation with God. If you are asking God for the next step the way you go about choosing to live your life ,and the choices you make based on those decisions, will be the language that tells others you and God are talking. This is that non-verbal language of faith. Living in His presence may not seem very linear. It is sometimes hard to connect the dots. That is what life is like in the cloud. We want roadmaps. God promises presence.

This way of living can be as simple as giving up the need to have an answer and simply resting in Who He is. What could Moses do on Mount Sinai? Nothing except listen. He couldn't see the end of his nose. This may seem vulnerable, but this is where trust is developed in you and in the people who look to you for leadership. This applies to a single mom leading a child or the director of a world-wide ministry leading thousands. Trust is developed when the people we serve know we are in dialogue with God.

The account of Moses on the mountain continued in verse 16. “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.”

There were many exciting things that took place on Mount Sinai that day. Thunder, lightning, a thick cloud , billowing smoke, fire, earthquakes and a loud trumpet blast. It was so exciting that the people trembled and so would we had we been there! These dramatic things were not vision being cast. They were simply dramatic things that surrounded the voice of God. The vision was cast by His voice. The vision, in this case, the Law spoken by God, would lead an entire nation. The most exciting thing that took place that day are found in the last words of verse 19: “Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.” A man in dialogue with God.

This experience with God's presence did not happen just once. In Exodus 24 Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain inside the cloud of glory. In Exodus 24:18 the text says, "Then Moses disappeared into the cloud..." I think this is what a Kingdom vision is all about - the people of God disappearing into His presence so that only He is seen and heard. When they walk out of the cloud they are changed forever.

This is what happens when God takes us to a place where we cannot see the next step. He leads us to these places so He can have our undivided attention. When God's servants are looking for direction, and they are seeking His face, out of the cloud will come His voice.


  1. Bless you, Garris.

    I wonder...was God more present in the cloud than before? Or was the cloud simply a tool God used to get the people's attention? The dense cloud reminds me of the smoke at the dedication of the tabernacle and of the temple--His physical presence or a visual aid?

    What's it matter? Well, I don't get blinded by His presence very often. I probably never have (and you know I've "climbed the mountain" a lot). But I am learning to let the things I see direct me to God, remind me that He's with me, signify lessons I learn, and help me participate with Him at some level.

    So how do I disappear into His presence? For me these days, I try to see Him all around and to say, as often as I remember, thank You.

  2. Go G-Man stay steady!!! There is the word of the Lord and a word of the Lord. Let both be to you and others honey. Its a vine and branches thing abiding Jn 15, The word (Jesus) branches (us). The fruit grows on the branch an extension of the vine. So as you draw from the Vine (the Word) and share (a word) all the fruit (honey).


  3. Garris, the good news is, that God used you at a key time to encourage and direct me in a way that God's vision could be gained. It's a process and sometimes God uses us in the process in all of our imperfection... in spite of ourselves. I am grateful for the time you spent with me when you were in Billings.


    Kenny Lee