When you’re trying to implement a vision given by God, you can guarantee that you’ll face a series of obstacles. I’ve observed that it’s often the same six vision obstacles that come at you in different forms. They even often occur in the same order.
They’re the same vision obstacles that Nehemiah faced when he started rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem. And by looking at how he overcame each one, we can gain insight on how we can do the same.
- Ridicule: Often the first obstacle we face is people ridiculing our work. “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (Nehemiah 4:3). With name calling and insults so many visions from God grind to a halt even before they get started. Nehemiah prayed, and found the strength to carry on at this crucial stage in his wall’s infancy.
- Discouragement: The first obstacle of ridicule seeks to dissuade the visionary from carrying on. The second obstacle is discouragement of the team. “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall’” (Nehemiah 4:10). Nehemiah again prayed, but he also posted a guard to reassure the workers. He did something visible to encourage his team through the obstacle.
- Team Disunity: After working on the wall for several weeks, Nehemiah’s team started to fall apart. He had managed to bring together everyone in Jerusalem from the richest to the poorest to work on the project, but the fragile unity was broken when the poor realised they were being exploited by those they were working alongside. “Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.” (Nehemiah 5:5). Nehemiah investigated their claims, discovered they were true, and then called the whole population together to shame those doing the exploiting and make them end the policy. As a leader, you need to act decisively to protect the unity of your team, and to combat injustices.
- Delay Tactics: The next obstacle Nehemiah faced was an attempt to slow the whole work down. “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono’” (Nehemiah 6:2). Nehemiah realised this was just a delay tactic on the part of his enemies, so he refused to meet with them, and carried on the work. When you overcome the team disunity, keep pressing on ahead; don’t allow yourself to be delayed or deflected from the vision.
- Spreading Lies: Now it starts to get personal. The enemies stepped up the attacks by spreading lies, starting a rumour that Nehemiah wanted to plot a revolt and proclaim himself king in Jerusalem. “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall” (Nehemiah 5:6). Nehemiah responded by praying, and by issuing a simple rebuttal with the truth. The temptation would have been to spend more time refuting the lie, but the danger is this becomes another form of deflection from the vision.
- Physical Threats: The final obstacle is physical danger for the leader. “One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you” (Nehemiah 6:10). Nehemiah responded with prayer, and with courage.
Six vision obstacles that Nehemiah faced, and that often come when we try to pursue a vision from God. Which are you currently facing? And how will you overcome?
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.