In 2001, Rick Page, published a book entitled: Hope is Not a Strategy: The Six Keys to Winning the Complex Sale. Though I don’t know how successful the book was, the phrase itself has worked its way into our American politics during these difficult economic days. Democrats fling it at the Republicans over health care. Republicans fling it right back over the deficit. The point of the metaphor is to get beyond the mere hoping for something to happen, and get busy with the doing of something. Don’t remain frozen in inactivity, with a vague ‘belief’ that somehow, things might get better. Anyone can play the victim. But nothing changes if no one takes responsibility for their life choices. Get off your duff and DO something.
There is much truth in this perspective. In our “get it done” Western culture, men and women of action are our models, our real-life action heroes. There is a time and a place for relying on the truth of the phrase, hope is not a strategy.
But there is a limitation to this perspective as well. There are times when action is neither possible nor wise, when the circumstances of life demand a posture of waiting, or dependence on forces beyond our own. For such times as those, there is a strategy for coping which requires great courage and patience, and which will seem counter-intuitive to our take-charge culture. And that strategy is called hope.
HOPE IS A STRATEGY. It is really is. Christian hope is not just pie-in-the-sky, wishful naiveté. It is not a cop-out for those too frightened or too lazy to take matters into their own hands. The truth is, sometimes life is out of our control, even for the most powerful action hero. Sometimes the only valid strategy in the face of life’s most difficult moments is to summon the inner strength and faith to cling to right when wrong seems to prevail, to hold to your principles when no one else around seems to care, to believe in God when there is no tangible evidence to support your faith. In such moments, hope is perhaps the only strategy.
When the rift of unforgiveness deep, and you have offered the olive branch time and time again, but nothing seems to have changed, what do you do to keep pushing forward, to keep trying to bridge the gap? You reach for hope. When cancer rears its ugly head and the doctors tell you there is nothing medicine can do for your loved one; what do you do? You reach for hope. When loneliness sets in after the break up of your relationship and threatens to cripple your heart; you reach for hope. When the dark night of the soul brings doubt to your faith and God’s presence seems so far away, you reach for hope. It is hope in God’s action, or just hope in God Himself that is our best strategy. We learn to lean upon him and to rely on him.
Like a small green shoot sprouting from the stump of a felled tree, Isaiah reminded Israel to anchor their hope to God’s covenant love, even if there was very little evidence at the time to prove God still cared for them. His vision must have sounded like a pipe dream to the cynical hearers in his day, since Israel was surrounded by powerful enemies waging war against them. They thought he was crazy. But Isaiah was a man of hope. Here, O Israel is the dream – of natural enemies laying down side by side, of peoples streaming to Jerusalem, not to tear it town, but to worship God there – this is what I hold out to you. And 700 years later, all it took was a little ‘street preaching’ by a man named John to ignite that hope.
Hope is a powerful strategy, especially when there are no actions or quick remedies, because hope keeps the vision alive, and makes the dream something to be striven for, even when its attainment is out of reach. Hope stared down a tank in Tiananmen square and stopped the Chinese Army. Hope endured the water hoses in a Birmingham street, to set a new course for the races in our country. Hope gave dignity to the dying on the streets of Calcutta. Hope offered comfort to the lepers on Molokai, until it became a leper itself. Hope sees beyond the current moment in life, or even beyond an entire lifetime, and clings to the belief that good wins over evil at last, even when there is no visible sign that the forces of evil are weakening.
Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked, “Nothing truly lasting, or truly worth doing, can be accomplished in a single lifetime, and that is the reason we are saved by hope.” Advent is the season of hope. It is the season when we are reminded, hope IS a strategy.
This week, don the armor of hope. Like John the Baptist’s invitation to those whose hearts were hardened – trust that God is not done with you yet. In your prayer – identify just one area where you need that gospel virtue, and then pray for that gift of hope. Nurture that hope. Vision the outcome. And then wait hopefully for God’s advent in your life and world…