I believe people can change. More significantly I believe people can be transformed. I believe this because transformation is held out as both a promise and an expectation Christ has for those of us who have chosen to follow him. I believe it because I have personally experienced it. My heart has undergone significant renovation over the course of my life.

But how does change happen? From the human point of view, what is needed to affect real change? For many followers of Christ the very idea of being transformed into Christ’s likeness remains a practical impossibility. But let’s take a look at a simple model that will help answer that question. It is called the V.I.M. model, as in “vim and vigor”. The “V” stands for vision, the “I” for intention and the “M” for means. We’ll start with the vision component.

Most change is driven by a vision of what can be. This is true whether the change desired is as simple as learning to drive a car, or as complex as the transformation of our character. The first step toward change begins with envisioning what life would be like once we have achieved, obtained, mastered or grown into whatever it is we are considering going after. Motivated and sustained steps toward change begin with a clear vision of the end or desired outcome.

In his book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard, in introducing the V.I.M. model, uses the illustration of learning to speak a foreign language. What is needed to effectively learn a foreign language? Willard explains, one “must have some idea of what it would be like to speak the language in question—of what their lives would then be like—and why this would be a desirable or valuable thing for them. They also need to have some idea of what must be done to learn to speak the language and why the price in time, energy, and money that must be expended constitutes a bargain, considering what they get in return. In the ideal case, all of this would be clearly before them and they would be gripped by the desirability of it.” This is the “vision” component of learning to speak a foreign language. The “change” sought for in this instance is the ability to speak another language.

Vision not only provides us with something to aim for, a target, but it also supplies us with needed motivation. The key to motivation is the value of what it is we are going after. The object or intended outcome must hold enough value for us to pursue it….to invest the time, energy and money needed to obtain or realize it. There must be sufficient emotional connection to what I envision to motivate me to persevere and pay the price to see it realized. Willard puts it this way, “If the vision is clear and strong, it will very likely pull everything else required along with it.”

If you’re anything like me you probably have all kinds of desires, visions, and dreams for your life which have never yet been realized. Some time back I sat down and wrote out over a hundred dreams for my life. (That’s quite a challenge but an insightful and rewarding experience. An exercise I would recommend for everyone.) In looking over that list there are those dreams which obviously hold more value or greater importance for me then others. And then there are a few which stand out as being most important, the ones which speak most directly to my personal destiny. Those are the ones I am currently focused on. Although I would like to see all my dreams realized, I have enough sense to know that it would probably take three lives to see them all come to pass.


Vision’s Role in Spiritual Formation

Now, let’s apply this vision component to spiritual formation—the process of being transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of others. What might this entail and how would this vision component apply to following Jesus and becoming like him.

Jesus comes at this issue from two different angles. First, he instructs us to thoughtfully count the cost. Let’s take a look at his words found in Luke 14:26-33; “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (NIV)

When considering just the “cost” these requirements of Jesus seem extreme, radical, and even unrealistic. What in the world is worth “hating” my own family members and even my own life? That’s a hefty price tag even considering Jesus is using hyperbole (an extravagant statement) to emphasize the level of devotion needed to follow him.

Now, consider the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl as recorded in Matthew 13:44-45. Again the words of Jesus; “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (My emphasis)

If you’ve been part of the Christian faith for any length of time you have probably heard a message or two about the cost of following Jesus. The passage above from Luke and others like it have been cited and the cost factor has been highlighted and emphasized. Then you’ve been summoned to assess and adjust your life in light of the cost.

However, if we focus exclusively or even primarily on the cost without having a clear vision and appreciation for the “treasure”, the cost simply becomes overwhelming and out of reach. We may conclude we don’t have what it takes, become discouraged and walk away, or we may settle for a watered down, consumer version of Christianity which requires little on our part but never really satisfies. Most likely we will not have the necessary positive motivation to sustain our pursuit of God over the long haul.

The treasure and pearl of great price represents Christ himself and his kingdom. The point of the parable is this; when we discover the “great value” of Christ and his kingdom, the cost to follow him is seen for the amazing “bargain” it is. Metaphorically, going out and selling all we have to purchase the field or the pearl becomes the most rational, logical and sane decision we could make. And “in joy” we do so.

Gaining this grand vision of Christ and his kingdom is the first step toward real change and transformation. This vision is the “wooing” factor which captures our heart and spurs us on to become more like Christ and to lay hold of the destiny he has for our life. Tragically, for many individuals, this grand vision of Christ and life in his kingdom has been distorted by gross misrepresentation or has been kept hidden out of sight by spiritual blindness and unbelief.

The good news is this vision is within reach of anyone who recognizes and responds to the deep spiritual hunger and thirst of their heart. The words of the prophet Isaiah summon us to such a response; “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3, NIV) I don’t know about you, but this is something worth going after.

What is the vision for your life? What is God’s vision for your life? What has captured your heart? What, if anything, is motivating you to lay hold of God’s full intention for you? If your vision is unclear, what can you do to gain a clear and significant one?

I love Jesus’ response to Philip’s request as recorded in John 14. “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me. Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’” (John 14:9, NIV, my emphasis) We have to look no further than Jesus to gain a grand vision of God. That is why the scriptures encourage us to “fix our thoughts” on him. As his apprentices the end goal is be like him in thought, attitude, and deed. When Christ comes into clear view and I gain a vision of what my life can be like under his benevolent rule I am motivated to make every effort to grow in his divine life. (See 2 Peter 1:3-8)

But gaining vision is not a one time deal. We need to be growing in our vision capacity of God and his kingdom. This is the essence of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers. “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:17-19a NIV)

So, what is the vision that has captured your heart? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. (Jesus)

{In our next issue we will learn how to build on this grand vision to see its inspiration turned into practical action that leads to real change.}