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About this series
Turning God-Shaped Dreams into Reality
The God of the universe is looking for regular people to accomplish things beyond our wildest dreams. In this series, from Nehemiah 1 - 6, learn how God uses ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things and the process by which He molds men and women for His purposes.More from this series
Well, our model, is going to be a man who had a holy ambition. What I like about him, he’s not a prophet. He’s not a priest. He’s a business guy.
His job, in that day, was to be the cupbearer. And he would taste the wine, taste the food, so that, if it’s poison, you die before the king does. It wasn’t a great job, but the food was good. He became friends with the king. You were the inside man.
It was always chosen, someone outside the royal line, so, in this case, he wants a Jewish cupbearer, because he’s the Persian king. Because a lot of Persians want the job, and the way you get to be the king is, you kill the present king.
And so, we’re going to meet a man named Nehemiah and God has judged his children, because they’ve worshipped idols. And because of their worship of idols, they’ve been dispersed.
And after they had been dispersed, he promised he would regather them, and there has been a partial return. And Zerubbabel was one of God’s men – a prophet – and he went back and said, “Hey, people! God promised. Let’s get with the program.” And it wasn’t very successful. And then, Ezra headed back. And he was a teacher, and a scribe. And he teaches God’s word, and still wasn’t getting any traction.
And so, we pick up the story in Nehemiah 1. And it says, “The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hakaliah: in the month of Kislev” – which is our November, December – “in the twentieth year” – and the reference is the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, who’s the king of Persia. “While I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish people, the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.”
And by the way, it’s interesting that the people who get a holy ambition that’s from God ask questions. Nehemiah gets a report, and he asks about the people, and he asks about the place.
And now we get the report: “They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile are back in the province and they’re in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’”
So, the wall would be protection. It would be a functioning city. The gates are where the elders would meet. It’s how you could close things off. You would have security. It would be a functioning city that was growing, and making progress.
We know that the Temple hasn’t been rebuilt, that the walls are crumbled, and the gates are burned. Basically, you look at Jerusalem, and this is the city that God promised would be the hope of the world. And if you could go back in a time machine, and look at that city, at this moment, you would just say, “God’s agenda is dead. It ain’t going to happen. All those promises He made, and a coming Messiah, and the – man, it is, it’s done. The place is in shambles.”
And there are people today who, when you look at the world situation, you look at the economy, you look at the violence and the murder, when you look at terrorism, when you look at people who have the ability to actually blow up whole cities. People are saying, “Where’s God in all this?”
The answer is: He lives inside His children, and they have an agenda today, just like there was an agenda then. And the issue that will really make the big difference is, how will you respond to the news that you see today?
Nehemiah could have said, “Well, that’s really tough. I’ve got a full time job. Someone has to eat the king’s steak, and drink the best wine in the world, and it’s just my job. Don’t blame me if I have a Rolex sundial, and an Armani toga. And that Lexus chariot I have is pretty hot. In fact, I’ve got six horses now, instead of four, and they really zip when I go through town, you know? I’m called by God; I’m doing what God wants me to do. It’s working for me, right?”
And, “I didn’t create that mess! I’m just a regular guy – I’m not even a prophet! I didn’t go to Bible school, didn’t go to seminary. Look, I’m a business guy. Okay, okay, yeah – okay, I’m a wealthy business guy. Okay, yes, I have affluence. Yes, I have influence.
Yes, I’m positioned in a strategic place in world history. But, God couldn’t use someone like me.”
Look at his response: “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. And for some days I mourned, and I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Will you put a circle around the word sat? Would you put a circle around the word wept? Would you put a circle around the word mourned? And would you put a circle around the phrase fasted and prayed?
When you see God’s agenda going down the tubes, when you see what’s happening in America, when you see only one out of ten, or one out of twelve people, who are self-identified as “followers of Jesus,” living like Jesus, you think of Gandhi’s words, who said, “I think very highly of your Jesus, but I can’t recommend Him to my people, because His followers are so unlike Him.”
His response? He stopped. He stopped. He sat down. When you sit down, you stop. He didn’t say, it’s not like watching TV, and there’s a World Vision commercial or Compassion, and you see the little kid with the belly, and you go, “Oh boy. Flip back to sports, or news, or something. That makes me uncomfortable.”
It’s not like going to the mall, and looking into the eyes of, or talking to, someone who’s got a pregnancy, and she doesn’t know what to do with it, or someone who’s got an addiction, and is just absolutely strung out, and asks for help, and it’s like you just want to kind of push the remote button – Well, someone else will take care of them. It makes us uncomfortable.
He stopped. And then, he let it get under his skin. He deeply emoted. He wept. He cried. And here’s the deal: His life is working great! He lives in a gated community! And God’s agenda is just slipping downhill. And his heart response to God’s agenda is, he stops, he deeply emotes.
And then, to “mourn” has to do with grief. You ever lost a child? You ever lost a best friend? You ever lost a job? What grief is, is, It shouldn’t be this way. And, by the way, this isn’t a gut-level, knee-jerk response.
You’re going to find, as we later read through the first part of this chapter, is that, it’s interesting: The author tells us it’s November/December. And in the beginning of chapter 2, he’ll give us another structural marker. And we’re going to learn there are three months of this guy dealing with this issue of, “My life works. I’m comfortable. God’s agenda’s going down the tubes. God, what do I do? God, what do I do?”
First, you stop. And then, by God’s grace, you let it sink in, and you get uncomfortable. And I think you actually weep. And then, you mourn. And then, you act. Because you realize you’ve got to hear God’s voice. And you can’t do something stupid. And you don’t really know what God wants you to do. And you’re only one person. Right?
And so, you fast. And all that means is, you stop eating for a period of time, to take that time to give spiritual attention, to hear the voice of God about what He wants you to do with your life, right now. And you pray.
I was talking to this fellow on the plane, and we were talking about these church planting movements. And, I had all these questions, and, “What about this?” and, “What about that?” And I said, “What have you learned?” And he said, “Well, we did some research. We took our top one hundred church planters,” and it’s a multiplying, reproducing model, and so, their lowest guy planted fifty churches in that year, and their highest guy planted five hundred. Long story, but amazing, and accurate, and true.
“And, so, we brought in an outside consultant, and we had him interview and examine all of our top hundred church planters. Because we thought – obviously, these are our best guys.”
I guess if you had a sales force, and a hundred of them were producing eighty percent of the results, you’d do a study and find out: what are they saying over the phone, or how do they greet people, or how do they close? And learn from them.
He said, “So, we looked at,” he said, “we could only find one thing they have in common.” Different personalities, different countries – India, South Asia, all over. They only have one thing in common. You ready for this? On average, they pray two to three hours a day. They each fast one day a week. And they fast one weekend a month.
Maybe you didn’t get that. I’ll go over that again for you: The only common denominator of these supernatural movements of God is, they pray two to three hours a day. They fast one day a week. They fast one weekend a month. Now, please don’t hear, “There’s a formula,” and that if you start doing just this, or that, that God will automatically…
But you know what hit me? I get up, and meet with God. I pray. I don’t pray like that. You know what I realized? It’s because they care a lot more than I do. I want God to do something really great, and I’m willing to make a mild-to-significant sacrifice for Him to do something great.
But I don’t care enough to pray for people two hours a day. But I bet most of us, me included, I bet most of us figure out how to slip in an hour and a half to two hours of TV. Because we need it, right? Got to wind down. Big day, a lot of pressure. Got to catch the news. Not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying your behavior, and my behavior, tells me, and tells you, what matters.
And I just got this thought, as I’ve been flying and thinking: What would happen if I prayed the way they prayed, and fasted the way they fasted, so that I could hear, like never before, what God wants me to do?
And then, what if something wild happened, as a lot of you decided, Yeah, let’s get in on it? I wonder what God would do? What I call this is “a dislocated heart.” See, he’s living in the lap of luxury. He’s affluent and influential. But his heart is dislocated. It’s in Jerusalem.
A dislocated heart is a God-given concern for others that propels us out of our comfort zone. It’s a passionate concern for God’s agenda that supercedes our own desires for personal peace and prosperity.
You want a little exercise that will move you, little by little? I would write that definition on a card, and then, under it, I would write out 2 Chronicles 16:9. And read it over in the morning, and read it over at night. And see if God doesn’t do something inside your heart. A God-given, by the way, you don’t work this up. This isn’t artificial. This isn’t, “I want to be holy; I want to be spiritual.” It is a God-given concern for others that propels you.
I don’t think Nehemiah was going, “Oh, I want to go. I want to go. I want to go.” I think he’s like us: “I don’t want to go anywhere. I like this job. I like my sundial Rolex. I like…” And God did something that propelled him out of his comfort zone. Passionate concern.
What’s it look like? Let me give you a couple pictures. I don’t want you to think I make up this stuff like, “Dislocated heart? I’ve heard of a dislocated shoulder. In fact, my rotator cuff…” No. No, no, no, no. Okay?
Jesus had a dislocated heart, and He says that this attitude that was in Him should be in us. “Who being in very nature God didn’t consider equality with God” – Philippians 2 – “something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient” – that’s the key word – “to death, even death on the cross.”
The rest of the passage says how God did, in Jesus’ modeling, the same thing that’s happening with these church plants. Therefore, He was highly exalted. He was lifted up. He was supported. He was exalted. Jesus was living in comfort, receiving the adoration of angels. Jesus saw the need of mankind. He left His comfort zone to be a missionary, and He says we’re to have that attitude of crossing a culture.
It means you cross some barriers to connect with people who don’t know that God loves them.
See, we’ve got this whole thing backwards, like we’ve got to be perfect, and, “I don’t know what to say.” Don’t say anything! Just go – tell you what, you just start loving people like crazy, and being generous with your time, and your money, and your energy, and invite people over. Ask them questions. Listen to them. Love them.
And then, you come back and tell me what happens in a couple months. You’ll be the most popular person in your company. You’ll be the most popular person in your neighborhood.
And I will tell you what, pretty soon, you’re going to get jammed up, because they’re going to say, “Why in the world are you doing this? No one treats me like this!”
And you’re going to have to come up with something like, “Well, actually, it’s not me. It’s this Jesus who lives in me. And He gave me a dislocated heart that compels me out of my comfort zone to build a bridge with people who aren’t always like me, to tell them that He loves you, and He’s already forgiven you, and He wants you to receive it. And He can work this thing out in your marriage. And He can work this thing out with your kid. And He can work this thing out with this addiction. He loves you. He’s God. He’s for you.”
The second example is the apostle Paul.
He says, “I speak the truth. I’m not lying. My conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, for I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my race.”
Do you get what he’s saying here? Do you understand what he just said? “I wish I could lose my salvation, and be separated from God forever, if all of my Jewish brothers could understand Jesus is the Messiah, forgiveness is available, and they could all spend eternity.”
Now, it’s not a possibility. But, see, you know what a dislocated heart is? You know what answers the question? Do you care? Do I care? Okay?
Now, it’s a little more than that. It’s: do you really care? Do you care enough to get out of your comfort zone? Do you care enough to rearrange your life? Do you care enough to deal with whatever you need to deal with inside, so that you say, “Well, I can’t really help anybody else because, basically, I’ve got some of this double life stuff going on.” Okay, God understands that. Well, go to Him. Ask Him to forgive you. Get some help. Get rid of the double life, and start living the life.
Do you care enough to make a radical sacrifice of your time, and your energy?
I would just ask: Who’s the last person you led to Christ? Personally. You prayed with someone, they received – who’s the last person? Who’s the last person you invited over to your house, who doesn’t know Christ, from your neighborhood or work? Who’s the last person? Just give me a name, in your head. Who’s the last person you took to lunch, at work, just for the purpose of encouraging them? Who do you pray for at work? Who do you pray for in your neighborhood?
I’m not trying to induce guilt. I’m just saying, if we don’t really care, we don’t have a dislocated heart. If we don’t have a dislocated heart, God will not strongly support us. And He wants to. He longs to support you. The last dislocated heart, as you see there, is you. Do you have a dislocated heart? Just an honest evaluation. And rather than, Well, maybe I do, you know what? Just be honest with God. Do you really care – not by your thoughts, but does your behavior indicate it?
Second, just genuine repentance. And repentance just means a change of mind that leads to a change of action. It’s just like being on the freeway, and realizing, Oh, I am going the wrong direction. You get on the exit ramp, and you start going back this direction. And repentance is, “God, will You forgive me? I don’t really care about people. I’m pretty consumed with me, and my world, and my stuff, and my comfort.” And you know what? He’ll just lift that off, because guess what, He loves you.
Third, is a careful consideration. This message is not designed for knee-jerk reactions, with people coming up afterwards, “I’m selling my business tomorrow, and I’m going to the mission field.” Time out. If God leads you there, great. But you know what? This is a think-through, pray-through, get-wise-counsel.
And then, finally – this may sound really crazy. But I had a really significant time with the Lord, just because of the travel, and I had a little window, and I did this for me: I just asked God for one. And I’m going to ask God every day for a while. I’m not sure how long.
I’m just going to ask God, “God, would You give me a dislocated heart? When I get in lines on planes, when I’m in lines here, when I see my neighbor when I pull in, will You give me a dislocated heart? Would You supernaturally – I don’t want to muster it up. I don’t want to fake it. I don’t want to be a phony. But I want to care. Show me what it looks like, in my world, to love others the way You love me.”