“Hope is Not a Strategy” by Ted Beasley

Executive coach Ted Beasley shared a message called at the Gateway South Austin Men’s Conference.

Listen to his message here:

Message Notes here:

What do you hope for?  You’ve heard of a bucket list, right? 

It’s an inventory of all the activities and experiences you want to engage in before you “kick the bucket.”  Travel, adventure, revenge, creative pursuits, romance.  In other words, all the things I wish I had the time, dollars, or guts to do.  Someday, maybe.  Do you keep a bucket list? 

What if I were to ask you to name two hopes or two goals you have for yourself in the next five years, that if you were to achieve them, it would be a gamechanger? 
Two worthy aspirations that would be worth fighting for, giving your all two, because you know deep in your soul, that you want them.  And even if they seem too big to you, if God would find it in his grace to help you with them, you would feel fulfilled.  If you don’t mind, take out your cell phone.  Open up an email to yourself.  On the subject line type, “Two Hopes I have for the next 5 years.”  And just enter them in.  You’re not committing to anything.  Don’t worry about wordsmithing.  Make it about you, not about what you hope for someone else.  They can be spiritual, professional, family-oriented, health related, even something that might be a little selfish. 

Your hopes, your dreams, your secret resolutions, they are precious to your heavenly Father.  Because they flow out of your identity, out of the person he made you to be.  And even if some of them have mixed motives, He wants to partner with you on them, if you are serious, because He knows that in the pursuit of goals that you have invited him into, he has this space to grow you and change you.  So let me ask you a question about those two goals or hopes you typed?  Are those things you can accomplish without God?  If so, they’re too small.  Are those things that God can accomplish without you?  If so, they’re not truly yours.  Hopes that become real are an intricate dance we do with God.  Sometimes he leads and carries us, sometimes he insists that we do a lot of the work. 

There’s a passage about this in James 4 that has always vexed me.  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that ((James 4:13-15) 

Okay, this makes sense so far.  James, who is the often hardcore brother of Jesus, makes another one of his hardcore statements.  (I typically hear myself saying, “Ouch” out loud when I read his epistle.)  He says, be careful about goal-setting and planning and boasting about what you might do.  God’s in control, so it’s best to try to align yourself to his will. We need to rely on God for everything, right?  Ok, but then he tacks on this little zinger at the end of the section. 

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.  (17)

Thanks a lot, James, just when I thought I was doing well at least knowing what all the sins are in the Bible that I should avoid, you go and toss that one on – anything you know you should do, but you are stubbornly refusing not to do, that’s a sin.  James seems to be saying, yes, have hopes.  And definitely have hopes in God’s help, that if you dream something up that is within his will, he’s going to come to your aid.  But, James says, hope is not a strategy.  It’s not enough to make a bucket list, scratch some goals down on a post-it note and pray for God’s assistance.  He just got done saying in Chapter 2 that faith without works is dead.  There are good things you need to do today to partner with God in making your hopes a reality.  And if God gave you desires, but you’re not willing to put in the actual work, that sin. 

Some really interesting research has come out in the past ten years or so about how people realize their goals or achieve mastery at something. 

Maybe you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book called Outliers?  It asks the question, how did people like the Beatles accomplish their hopes about rock ‘n roll Bill Gates become a master programmer or great athletes reach rarified air.  Gladwell found it was practice.  At least 10,000 hours in most cases.  He agrees with James.  Hope is not a strategy. 

Another researcher whose book I like on this is George Leonard.  He says anything in life worth achieving, sort of flows on graph according to what he calls the Mastery graph.  We have a goal, and we see an initial surge of results, but then we kind of hit a plateau.  We aren’t moving higher, we’re seemingly not making progress toward the goal.  And Leonard says, those are the times you focus on practice.  You take care of business.  You do the good things, sometimes the small things you need to do today, like James says.  You practice the basic dance moves of getting better at what you do.  And after a season of practice, of kind of grinding it out, all of sudden you see another jump in your results, until you hit another plateau.  Then you practice some more.

Are you willing to do the good thing today?  Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty today for the hope you want tomorrow? 
Those two goal you thumbed into your phone, are you willing to labor for them? 

Because if you are, God will do immeasurably more than you hope or imagine (Ephesians 3), but if you won’t do the dance, it you don’t have the grit to do the practice, your hopes will just be wishes.  I’m a former pastor and an executive coach by trade, and I’ve been trying for years to assist people in clarifying their hopes into goals, and creating a strategy around achieving them. 

I want to kind of walk you through what I’ve seen people do in order to move beyond hope to strategy.  It breaks down into seven steps.  I want to be totally practical with you, and I’m hoping you can see the biblical wisdom in how God partners with your hard work to do incredible things. 

But first, I want to tell you story about hopes and faith and steps, or in this case, dips.  You can follow along in your Bible in 2 Kings 5, if you like.  But honestly, I rather you just sat back and enjoyed it.  I remember reading this story when I was a kid, but it really came alive for me when I heard it retold to me in my college years by an old preacher from the hills of Tennessee, and the way I tell it is sort of inspired by the way he told it.  It’s the story of Naaman the Syrian.

Naaman was one of the most powerful men in the ancient Mid East.  His people, the Syrians, had made technological advances with iron weapons and chariots and siegeworks that caused them to be the major world power.  The Bible says that he became famous in that whole region because he was a brilliant general.  If you would have seen Naaman’s armor, it would have been burnished to a bright shine and layered with ribbons and medals.  Naaman was a man to be respected and feared.  He had it all – political influence, fame, unmatched brains and probably the biggest bank account of anyone not a king.  But he had a problem that no amount of money or soldiers under his command could address, and it was this: he gets up one morning and he looks in the mirror.  There is a blemish forehead, right about there.  It strikes fear in his heart, because it is the first symptom of what was the most dreaded disease in the whole Bible, leprosy.  Leprosy was a death sentence.  It’s a disease which attacks the central nervous system, and by appearances, slowly eats away at your flesh.  Worse than that, there was a social stigma attached to it.  Lepers were viewed as highly contagious and of questionable morality.  You had to leave your town and go live in a leper colony if you were diagnosed with it.  You would never again know the loving embrace of your child or spouse.  You couldn’t work a job.  It was a terrible disease, and there was no known cure. 

So Naaman is desperate, and willing to try anything.  Anything.  Leaches.  Prayer.  Superstition.  Watching 90’s Rom Coms.  Scrubbing himself with a Sham Wow.  Naaman asks around and gets some strange advice from a little servant girl.  If he would go to Israel, maybe he could be cured of his leprosy because the God of the Israelites did a lot of powerful things.  So Naaman travels to meet with the king of Israel. The king said, if you really want to be healed you need to go see the prophet Elisha.  Now Elisha is living out in the wilderness.  He’s kind of has a reputation for being an eccentric mystic.  He wears leather, eats bugs.  He grows his own supply, is filled with conspiracy theories about the Man, drives around in a VW van, and listens to indie rock.  Basically he’s from South Austin.  According to the king, he lives out in this little shack at the end of a dirt road in the middle of the nowhere.  So Naaman travels into the rugged hill country with a huge entourage.  He has chariots and horses and servants and a large sack of money.  And he rides up to Elisha’s house.  You can kind of picture the scene the day when Naaman comes out to visit Elisha.  Maybe there was this big dust cloud coming down the dirt road that day, and they pull up in Elisha’s front yard.  I love Elisha’s reaction.  He doesn’t even go out to see Naaman.  Naaman’s servant gets off the chariot and knocks on Elisha’s door.  And Elisha doesn’t come out.  The servant says to Elisha.  “I’m here from Naaman the Syrian.  We’ve got a bunch of gold.  We are going to pay you handsomely if you will come out and cure my master’s leprosy.” Elisha says, “Keep your money.  You just go back and tell Naaman, if he really wants to be cured, head down to the Jordan River and dip in it seven times.  And he will be made clean.”  Elisha shuts the door.  Well, the servant goes back and Naaman asks where the prophet is.  Servant says he’s not coming out.  “What? Doesn’t he know who I am?  I’m Naaman the Syrian.” “Well, he told me to tell you to go down to the Jordan River and dip seven times and you will be made clean.”  When Naaman heard that, he goes berserk.  He’s torqued, and he just stomps around and starts spewing venomous words.  Kind of like an ancient Mesopotamian version of Will Smith at the Oscars.   “The nerve of this guy.  If I’m going to have to take a bath, I’m not going to the Jordan River.  There are cleaner rivers at home in Syria.”  And Naaman just keeps going off until his servant comes up to him and says, “Excuse me, sir.”  What is it?  “If the prophet would have charged you a lot of money or told you to go destroy country’s army, you would have done it, right?”  Well, yeah.  “Why don’t you just go do what Elisha recommended.  Just sayin’”  Okay, let’s do it.

So they get back on their chariots and do a big U-turn in Elisha’s yard and head for the Jordan River.  When they arrive, Naaman gets out of the chariot, he begrudgingly walks down to the riverbank and begins to take off his armor – his armor with all of the medals and ribbons from all of his conquests.  He takes off his fine clothing.  I imagine him turning to his servant and asking them to turn their backs.  “Yes sir.”  And they all turn their backs.  He didn’t want them to see his leprosy.  And he wades into to the Jordan River and he dips seven times.  And when he comes up the seventh time, his leprosy is gone.  Now, that’s the story of Naaman the leper who had a hope of being cured.  But hope was not a strategy.  Let’s rewind, and kind of play the end of the story in slo-mo.  Now, tell me this:  how many times was Naaman told to dip in the Jordan River?  Seven times.  And how many times did Naaman dip in the Jordan River?  Seven times.  Which dip was he cured on?  Dip #7.  Dip #7 was one sweet dip, wasn’t it?  As dips go, as many times as anyone has ever been dipped in the Jordan River, Naaman’s Dip #7 will likely go in the record books, because look what happens.  If you posted Dip #7 on youtube, you would get a lot of hits – man goes down into water with horrible disease, man comes up with baby skin.  #7 is the dippiest dip of all.   I like #7.  It’s a great dip, but I would also remind you that before #7, there was dip #?  Would there have been a dip #7 if there was no dip #6?  Would there have been a 6th dip if there weren’t a 5th dip?  Namaan dipped seven times.  Every dip was part of the process. Which dip was the most important? They all were important.  You know, dips 1-6 were probably not that impressive.  Seven was great, but what do you suspect the other dips were like?  Think about dip #1, what was dip #1 like?  Dip #1 he’s reluctantly getting into the water.  And it’s nasty and murky and gross.  Then maybe he goes down for dip #2.  When he comes back up from dip #2, I picture him looking down and thinking, “Oh, now I’ve got leaves and sticks stuck in my leprosy.  Now I’m going to get infected.”  That’s dip #2, and then maybe dip #3, he goes down for that and something dead floats by.  That would be just like God – okay angels, cue the dead cow, now!  And he thinks “Oh, no, this is disgusting.”  That’s dip #3.  Dip #4 he goes down.  Nothing happens.  Dip #5 – nada.  And after dip #6 when nothing happens again, he’s starting to feel like a fool.  “That prophet is back there in his house laughing his granola butt off.  He’s tricked me.  And at this point he hesitates.  He starts out of the river.  He figures he might as well go home.  But then he just kind of shrugs his shoulders, “I guess I did say seven.  I’ll go ahead.”  And he comes up out of the water expecting one more disappointment.  But then it happens.  Previously there was no feeling in his extremities, but now there is a tingle and warmth.  His flesh restores right in front of his eyes.  It worked.  It actually worked.  He’s splashing water.  He’s yelping and hollering, doing a naked electric slide in the end zone.  He’s healed.  Naaman, the Syrian war hero, one of the richest and proudest men in the world, is splashing around in the water like a 5 year-old at Schlitterbahn. 

Look, God can read that email you sent yourself.  And I suppose he could do a miracle and flex his omnipotent muscles and grant you both of the goals and every other hope you’ve ever had.  But hope is not a strategy.  It is not a relationship.  It is not the beautiful and sometimes aggravating divine dance of becoming more Christ-like.  You have do the work. You got to take the dips. For your goals, you have to journey through seven dips.  I’m going to kind of rush through these.  Maybe take some notes, maybe do some of your own research on how faithful people do these.

Dip #1:  Define the goal

What do you really want?  Isn’t it interesting how often people the gospel come up to Jesus while he is traveling or teaching, and they interrupt him with a need.  And typically he asks or implies the same question, “What do you really want?”  What can I do for you?  And you’d think the people would be like, “Uh, I’m blind.  I’m kind of a laying here on a mat, dude.”  But I think Jesus asks, because the thing we think we want, isn’t really the thing we ultimately want.  The dad of the demon-possessed boy wasn’t just looking for his son to stop injuring himself, he wanted help with his own belief.  The rich young ruler didn’t want to just ask a theological question, he deep-down knew there was something missing in his life.  The Syrophonician woman who approached Jesus on the road wasn’t just looking for he daughter to be healed, she wanted to be affirmed that spiritual blessing is open to women, non-Jews and foreigners.  Matthew 7 says, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (7) And just in case you don’t think Jesus is serious about giving your hopes, he continues on, Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  It gives him such joy to gift you the desires of your heart.  But I think he wants you to be smart about this.  Get to the bottom of what you really want.  Because of my profession, people are always asking me should questions.  Ted, what should I do?  Do I quit this, should I try that?  I don’t freakin’ know.  I’m not that smart.  I can’t even pick the right checkout lane at HEB, Register 4 has three people waiting, but the one lady in front of me on Register 6 looks like she hundreds of coupons. 

I don’t answer should questions anymore, but what I do now is simply ask, “What do you really want?”  And I ask it in a bunch of ways, until we finally dig into what is driving this person.  Recently a very successful woman asked me, “Ted, should I quit my VP at this tech company and start my own business.” 
What do you really want?  “The CEO is blocking my promotion.  I need to move on.” 
What do you REALLY want?  “I want to be successful.  I want to be the captain of my own destiny.” 
What do YOU really want?   “I feel like other people are in control of my life, that I can never do enough to make them happy.  And honestly, I don’t care.  I want my daughter and husband to be happy.  I want the freedom to pick her up from school every day and take vacations with them and feel like my work hours are invested in something that doesn’t make me choose between a paycheck and real happiness.”  Bingo.  Dip 1, the first step in doing the work is looking at your goals and asking yourself, “Are these right?  Is this REALLY what I want?”

Dip #2: Agree to the Trade-Offs

In Luke 9, Jesus is growing in popularity and attracting big crowds, because Jesus is super fun, his cute little parable are hilarious, he’s handing out free food and he just overall makes you feel good.  So, Jesus decides to thin the herd a little.  Hey, if you want to be my disciple, you need to be willing to renounce your mom and dad.  Oh, and you should also be willing pick up the Roman executionary cross and forfeit your life.  Awkward.  And people start checking their watches.  Yeah, I gotta go.  I have a thing I need to be getting to.  So, I’ll catch you on the flippity flip.  And Jesus goes on with this statement about goals and plans and happy hopes – Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you.  (28-29)  He’s saying to you and me, everything truly worth it in life has trade-offs.  You can’t do it all.  Time and energy are scarce resources.  And if you think you’re going to build this big beautiful tower without it costing you something, you’re going to look like Ted Beasley at the end of every Jenga game he ever played.  If one of your goals is to train for a marathon, are you and the people in your life good with how much time you’re going to need to spend training?  Are you willing to give up Round Rock Donuts?  If your goal is to focus these next two years and get your MBA, what are you going to be saying no to?  I’ve been coaching a guy the past 9 months who has a killer business idea.  I mean, it’s can’t miss.  If he were to pull it off, he would be set financially for life.  But he has four young kids in sports.  He wants to coach their teams, he wants to be there for every game and every recital.  So, he hasn’t made much progress on his business plan, and I doubt he ever will.  And I don’t fault him for putting family over business.  It’s just that everyone who wants to accomplish something big, they need soberly look at all the trade-offs before pulling the trigger, rather than quitting later because they tried to do too much too soon.  A trade-off is giving up something you want for something you want more.  A sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love more.  And that’s Dip #2.

Dip #3: Enlist your fellow travelers

You are fooling yourself if you can make a major life change alone.  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecclesiastes 4:12)  If you are daring big, if you have a big, hairy, audacious goal, one isn’t going to cut it.  You need a rope of at least you, another person and the Holy Spirit.  That’s unbeatable.  Who are you going to invite into your hope?  I recommend three types of people.  (Show Slide) 1.  Oracles.  An oracle is that wise person in your life that you can go to at key crossroads and they ask you all kinds of penetrating questions and proffer sagely advice.  You go to them about big decisions.  You go to them when you have failed.  You go to them when you are totally discouraged.  This isn’t necessarily a mentor.  You don’t have to meet weekly at Starbucks with an Oracle or ask them to take long walks on the beach with you.  It’s someone you can tap into occasionally.  2.  Subject Matter Experts.  Accumulate a group of smart people who you can go to with questions about a very narrow subject matter that they have mastered.  You say to them, “Hey, I really respect the way you’ve figured out nutrition.  I am blown away about your knowledge of social media marketing.  I truly admire your prayer life.  You are the best dad of all the people I know.  Would you be willing for me to occasionally bring a question to you about that?  I won’t waste your time.  I won’t ask you questions I could Google.  But can you be on speed dial for me on that one thing?”  3.  Running Partners.  I won’t spend much time on this, because we talk about it all the time at Gateway.  When you have goals, when you’ve articulated some hopes, you have to meet regularly with someone who is a peer, who believes in you, who will pray for you, who will hold you accountable and tell you, “No, actually, your bs doesn’t smell that good.”  So, are you building a team?  Who’s on it?  Who will be your Oracle, who will be on the smart people committee, who is running alongside you?

Dip #4Become a professional

Reading hear from 1 Corinthians 9 – Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  (24-27)  Paul says there is a tremendous amount of training and discipline that goes into living the spiritual life.  It’s not all about the glamour of the big race.  Most days it’s about the discipline of putting on the sweats and running on the greenbelt.  It takes intentionality and hard work.  Paul says that he strikes a blow to his body to make it his slave.  Okey-dokey.  I grew up with the Revised Standard Version, and it translates this passage, “I buffet (buffit) my body.”  I remember reading that aloud as a kid as, “I buffet (buffay) my body regularly” and, as a chubby little guy, getting really excited about that.  No, Paul says if you want something, you need to take it seriously enough to practice it over and over again.  You have to become a professional.  Look at your goals.  What are you going to have to become professional at in order to achieve them?  What skills will you need to practice?  What books do you need to read?  What hard things will you need to embrace?

Dip #5:  Quit, when necessary. 

Many of you are going to disagree with me on this, but knowing when to let go of goals and hopes that no longer make sense is one of the most important life skills.  If I were to pull together a small group discussion of some of the most successful older men that I know, and I give them each a tumbler of Hennessy whiskey and a stogie, and I ask, “Be real, what is your biggest regret in business?”  Most of them will tell a story of something they wish they had quit sooner.  A business idea that they sunk money and years into that it was pretty obvious early on that there wasn’t a market for it.  A troublesome and divisive employee they should have fired, but they stubbornly held on thinking they could change them.  Golf, they thought they should be good at golf for business, but it turns out they suck at it and they hate it and they keep chucking pitching wedges into water traps in frustration.  They’ll never get all of those Saturday mornings back.  Never quit something because it is hard or you hit a rough patch, but always, always, always quit goals when it’s clear after some serious effort on your part, that it’s not actually what you wanted or that it’s not going to ever produce results.  Which brings me to the next dip.

Dip #6:  Endure the Dip

Up here on the screen (show slide) is a diagram from Seth Godin’s book, The Dip.  It’s not about Syrian generals with leprosy.  A different kind of dip.  You’ve got results or rewards on this axis, and you have time down here on this axis.  Godin says that anything you do that is worthwhile in life, you’re going to go through a dip, a really tough time when you feel like you’re not making any progress. But you’ve got to not quit, you’ve got to find a way to endure and make it through the dip, because the rewards on the other side of the dip are worth it, and they only go to people who preserve.  If there were no dips in life, if everything was easy, then everyone would have everything they want.  But the dip, the hard times, separates people who are just wishing versus people who are serious about taking action.  There’s a dip in everything in life.  Great marriages have to go through this. Great companies. There will be dips in your career.  The dip is where your character is refined, and you really have to trust God.  The important thing is that you don’t quit them. And I know this is at odds with my previous point, but you know you are on a cliff when if you keep pursing this goal, it’s going to end badly.  You’re going to get hurt.  Your company is going to get hurt.  People you care about my get hurt.  Or you’ve tried everything you can possibly think of, but none of it is working.  It’s not about effort or grit anymore.  That’s a cliff.  Always quit those.  A dip feels hard, too, but you still have the dream of the beautiful thing on the other side.  You still have fight in you.  There are still some new things you can try.  Never quit that.

Dip #7:  Praise God for what the journey did to you

You’re going to need to go back and read the rest of Naaman’s story in 2 Kings 5, because some really bizarre things happen after he is healed, and it’s kind of funny.  But the most important to note is that Naaman realizes in the end that God had him on this journey, not to merely accomplish the goal of cleansing a disease.  Naaman comes to faith in the one true God of Israel.  One of the most powerful and influential men in the world needed to go through the process of dipping himself seven times, of doing the work, of realizing that he’s not God in order to find real peace.  Verse 15, Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.  And in verse 19, Elisha seems to acknowledge,  “Wow, you’re a different man now.  It wasn’t about the destination.  It was the journey.  Go in peace.” 

There’s more I’d like to say, but I’ll leave it there.  The last dip is realizing that God used a goal to develop you as a man.  And we can argue about gender roles.  God is a unique journey for women.  And I’m not saying God didn’t make women to be ambitious and do amazing things.  But part of the core of being a man, is that God gives you a vision.  He asks you, “What do you really want?”  He encourages you to dare boldly.  God meets men when they strive to achieve something big.  This is manhood.  Men dream, but they take action.  They dare.  They do the hard thing.  Hope is not a strategy.  I wish you well as you do the dips. 

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