Dealing with the Tension Between Reality and Hope

There is a difficult tension that all leaders face in their leadership journey–the tension between reality and hope. When Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he encountered continued criticism–a common reality when pursuing God-inspired dreams. In fact, Nehemiah’s God-sized dream attracted criticism, questions, ridicule, and even threats. However, Nehemiah recognized the need to keep his finger on the pulse of the criticism without allowing it to defuse hope or destroy morale. He had to offer hope without denying reality in turbulent times. Nehemiah 4:11-12 says:

“And all this time our enemies were saying, “They won’t know what hit them. Before they know it we’ll be at their throats, killing them right and left. That will put a stop to the work! The Jews who were their neighbors kept reporting, “They have us surrounded; they’re going to attack!” If we heard it once, we heard it ten times.”

Nehemiah had the challenge of gathering intelligence without losing perspective. While the Jews provided intelligence reports (REALITY), Nehemiah had to provide HOPE. So how did he do it? Three things:

1. Nehemiah Inspired the Workers with a Faith Perspective – Nehemiah 4:14 begins, “Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome.” Nehemiah inspired the people by contrasting the reality of the situation with the reality of God’s ability. He contrasted the gloom of one reality with the glory of another. In other words, the gloomy forecast found in the intelligence reports was nothing compared to the glorious character and ability of the Living God. Nehemiah put things in perspective for the workers by helping them see that the loud bark of the enemy does not replace the mighty hand of God. He later said, “…our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20). It’s easy to forget how people need to be reminded of this side of the reality coin.

2. Nehemiah Inspired the Workers by Touching a Nerve – For the workers to get refocused, Nehemiah was going to have to touch a nerve. So he picked one very close to the heart–the family nerve. The remainder of verse 14 says, “…and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Nehemiah knew that the people wouldn’t lose their families without a fight, so he touched that nerve and summoned the deepest part of their convictions.

3. Nehemiah Combined Hope with a Strategy – You’ve probably heard it said that “hope is not a strategy.” While it is essential to inspire people with vision and the core of their convictions, it is equally important to develop a solid strategy. In fact, hope without strategy is like a sailboat without wind. It inspires everybody to raise the sails, but in the end, it goes nowhere. So Nehemiah said:

“From then on half of my young men worked while the other half stood guard with lances shields, bows, and mail armor. Military officers served as backup for everyone in Judah who was at work rebuilding the wall. The common laborers held a tool in one hand and a spear in the other. Each of the builders had a sword strapped to his side as he worked. I kept the trumpeter at my side to sound the alert.” (Nehemiah 4:16-18).

Hope provides the energy to pursue a strategy while a strategy provides a meaningful outlet for hope’s energy.

Questions: How are you dealing with the tension between reality and hope? How will you inspire people? What’s your strategy for moving forward?