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Facing Difficult Circumstances, Part 1

From the series Keep Pressing Ahead

Facing difficult circumstances? Wishing you had a good plan to get yourself out of it, or at least through it? Chip gives you five ways to respond when difficult circumstances arise.

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Message Transcript

If I gave you thirty seconds to be with a friend that you’re really comfortable with, and you could tell them the most challenging circumstance in your life right now, what would you tell them? They wouldn’t tell anybody. It’s someone you can really confide in. And they just said, “How are things going?” And you got beyond, “Well, fine, okay.”

The most challenging circumstance in your life right now. And maybe one that you don’t have any control of. What would it be? The clearer you can get that in your mind, as we begin, the more helpful the Spirit of God is going to use His Word to speak to you.

We’re going to talk about difficult, or sometimes even what seems like impossible, circumstances. And you can see from Nehemiah chapter 7, the response – the New Testament parallel, this isn’t new, is that it’s James chapter 1.

Someone says things are going wrong. If there’s one passage that comes to my mind, it’s James 1 – very first book of the New Testament written. It was written by Jesus’ half brother. These Jewish Christians had come to Christ, and they were persecuted, and they were fleeing.

And so, they’re leaving jobs, they’re leaving their homes, often their families have disowned them. And James would write, by the Spirit of God, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” And that phrase, “various trials,” has the idea of external circumstances. And then, he gives the reason, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” – and that’s our word: hupomeno. Keep pressing ahead.

And then, “Let endurance have its perfecting” – or “maturing” – “result, that you might be perfect” – or “mature” – “lacking in nothing.” God is going to use it, is what he is saying. And we usually quote it to there, but the very next verse says, “But if any of you lack wisdom” – in other words, you don’t know how to keep pressing ahead. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”

In fact, the idea is that even if our circumstances are difficult because we messed up, we can come to God and say, Father, please help me. I don’t know how to get out of this. I don’t know what I ought to do. He says, “I long to teach you, and give you insight and wisdom about what to do.”

And what we’re going to see is, Nehemiah is going to model for us: how do you respond to negative circumstances? The kind, especially, that you have zero control over.

I made a list of some that happen in our lives where there’s no one to blame. A flood happens. The weather changes, and you’re a farmer, and your crops don’t grow. There’s a tsunami in one part of the country, and therefore, as someone told me, a bunch of the plants shut down, so there are no parts. So, you can’t sell the parts, so this is what happens to your car sales, and this is what happens to your service department. Or the laws change. The interest rates change. Political parties can’t make a decision. Right? There’s just certain stuff. You go to the doctor, and you’ve been praying, and hoping, and thinking, and the doctor just says, “I’m sorry, you can’t have kids.”

What do you do when things come into your life? Your company goes bankrupt, and all your money was in the retirement in the company, and they go under. You planned on retiring, and the interest rates they projected twelve years ago – you put your money here, here, and here, and next year you were supposed to retire, and now you realize, next year, you got another seven, or eight, or ten years, if things go well.

So, how do you respond to that? How does a follower of Christ deal with that? Well, that’s what Nehemiah is going to teach us. To do that, let’s understand Nehemiah’s difficult circumstance. Let’s get an idea of what he’s going through. And to do that, you have to go back a little bit.

Jewish history – if you would open your Old Testament, and as I’m doing, I’m reading through the whole Bible this year, and if you get to 1 and 2 Chronicles, and 1 and 2 Kings, you get the story of all these kings. And, as you know, it was separated – Judah is following God for a season, and the tribes of Israel, they begin to fade away. And the problem with all of them is, they disobey God, they start worshipping idols, and they start detestable practices beyond even what the pagans were doing. Followers of Yahweh are actually offering their kids in the fire to false gods.

And so, God, in His judgment, promised, and He sends them into exile. They’ve been in Babylon for seventy years. Well, Isaiah made a prophecy, a hundred and fifty years before it happened, named names, and he said, “There will be a king that I’m going to raise up, named Cyrus, and he will declare an edict that all My people should go back, and rebuild Jerusalem.”

And as we read the annals of history, we find that that’s exactly what happens. God raises this man up; that’s exactly his name. He pays for it; he even takes all the things that were in the treasury, and the things that were taken out of the Temple of God, and he sends it back with them.

And there’s a prince of Judah named Zerubbabel, and so he heads back, and you can see – I think it’s 538 BC. And so, he heads back with a group of people, and they rebuild the Temple, and it’s not nearly like the great, big one that Solomon had. But they get going, and then it stops, and it starts, and it stops, and it starts.

And then, there was a priest and a teacher of the Law, named Ezra, and about seventy years, seventy-five years or so later, he goes back with another group of people. And a different king says, “Well, you can go” – and I just read it this morning, and they paid his way.

So, God is orchestrating this to get His program back on. Exactly what He wants done.

And then, you have twelve years later, you have Nehemiah. And he’s a businessman. Some might even call him a “politician.” And he knows that, We’ve got to rebuild the walls. And we’ve heard his story. And so, the first six chapters are all about rebuilding these walls: “Let us arise and build,” all kinds of problems.

They get these walls done, and we come into chapter 7: The walls are done. The gates are dropped. They look at this great, big, open area that hasn’t been used for plus or minus a hundred years as a real city, and it’s empty. And there are not any houses, and they’re supposed to repair the Temple, and they don’t have any resources. So, it was a hundred-year deal. It was just circumstances. Nehemiah did exactly what God wanted him to do. The walls are rebuilt. The people are now going, “Okay, now what?”

Let’s discover how Nehemiah faces his very interesting and difficult circumstance. Now, open, if you will, to chapter 7. Again, if you’re like me – I never grew up reading the Bible, so go to Psalms, open about the middle, and go left. Hit Job, and keep going left, and you’ll find Nehemiah.

Now, this is one of those chapters, if you happen to be reading through the Bible, you read the first few verses, it’s kind of interesting. And then, you turn the page, and you say, “This is going to be a very quick read, because I’m not reading all those lists.” Right?

Pick it up with me in chapter 7, “After the wall had been rebuilt and I set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites” – remember Levites? They work at the Temple. Singers – they work at the Temple. They “were appointed.”

Verse 2, “I put in charge of Jerusalem Hanani” – that’s his brother – “along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel” – the citadel is a corner; it’s a fortress. So, it’s a military installation – “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most. I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot.’” So, it’s later in the day. Normally, it would be open at dawn.

“While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have the doors shut and bar them.” So, in other words, “We’re going to open the gates late, and we’re going to shut them early.” “Also appoint the residents of Jerusalem as guards, some in their posts and then some at their own houses.”

Now, we get in verse 4 here, the circumstances. “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not been yet rebuilt. So God put into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials, the common people for registration by families.”

So, here’s this big, open city; the walls are finally done. Everyone is looking at one another. There are no houses in here. “What are we going to do?” The goal is that the Temple begins to function. We have houses; we have a city. Now, after a hundred years you have Jews, and non-Jews, and half-Jews, and it’s like this whole thing needs to get aligned to fulfill God’s purposes. God’s purposes – He was going to take this nation, like a piece of coal, and shape it, and by their laws, and how they live. And He would exalt them in such a way that even Gentile nations would see, there is only one, true God.

And so, they are supposed to get this thing back on track, and there are no houses. There are not very many people. In fact, if you count them up – it’s a pretty good-sized city – there are only forty-nine thousand people. They live in all these different towns.

And so, Nehemiah has this idea and he calls a meeting. He gets all the leaders together, and all the people, “These are the people of the province who came from the captivity of the exiles with Nebuchadnezzar.” Ezra 2 has the same story. And he has the genealogies, and he finds this scroll of all the people who came back from Babylon to resettle.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the part where I get pretty bored. In fact, let’s meditate. “The descendants of Parosh: 2,172; of Shephatiah” – or however you say his name – “372.”

Can you imagine just going through all those? To us, this is meaningless. But look at the structure of it. Notice the genealogies. He starts with the men of Israel. Skip down, verse 26: the men of Bethlehem. Skip down, now he talks about the priests, in verse 39. Verse 43 – now he says there are the Levites. Verse 44 – there are singers. Verse 45 – there are gatekeepers. Verse 46 – the Temple servants. There are servants of Solomon.

And then, notice, he shifts. He actually gave us eighteen different family clans, or units, and we’ll talk about why he’s doing this. And then, he shifts, and begins to talk about where people came from. And he’s going to identify about twenty different villages. He says, “The following came from the towns of Tel Melah,” and then he lists all these towns.

And then, skip down to verse 64. And as people are going through the records, and he’s – see, what he’s trying to figure out, “Who is going to live here? How do we get this started? How do we fund getting this temple going? How do we get the Jewish state aligned? What are we going to do?” And so, he finds this genealogical record, and he says, “Well, who actually came back?” And then, he evaluates all the roles, all the people, from what towns.

And then, notice, they hit a little snag: “They searched for their family records” – verse 64 – “but they couldn’t find them and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the meat sacrificed.” So, he’s beginning to find out who is there: “What’s their role? What are we going to do?”

And then, skip down to verse 66, “The whole company numbered 42,360.” And then, besides that, there are another 7,000 or so men, servants, and maidservants. And then, there are 245 men and women who were singers. And then, he literally is getting very specific. Notice, there are 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and close to 7,000 donkeys. Then, notice he goes on, in verse 70, and he’s – I’m giving you the overview. He says, “Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. And the governor gave to the treasury” – he talks about a thousand drachmas of gold. He’s the governor. And then, it talks about, then the heads of the families give, and then the rest of the people give, and a number of things occur.

Now, here’s what I want you to get: What is his difficult circumstance? If we were just taking what happened?

Number one, he has security issues. Tobiah, Sanballat, the enemies – they’re on the outside. And so, he’s got security issues, and the people aren’t safe. And people don’t function well when they feel very threatened. And we’ll find out what he does.

Not only does he have security issues – it’s not safe – but he’s got people issues. He doesn’t have enough people. Anybody ever been in a place where you don’t have enough staff, don’t have enough resources, not enough people?

Not only that, he’s got housing issues. He’s got major housing issues. His is not interest rates. His is: they don’t have houses. At all!

He’s got financial issues. So he’s got an assignment, but doesn’t have the funds. Anybody here have any of those issues?

Or, finally, he’s got momentum issues. After a hundred years – stop, start, stop, start, stop, start – it’s really hard to get a group going. Now, all I want to ask you is, which one of those do you most identify with, in your world right now? Lack of resources? People issues? Financial issues? Housing issues? Momentum? Have you ever tried to break an addiction, or tried to get your family moving in a positive direction, and for three days you do pretty well, and then – phssh?

And then, you stop, start, stop, start, fail. And then, there are times where you just feel like, Why try this one more time? It “never works.” You know that’s not true, but that’s the way it feels.

All I wanted to do is paint a picture for you in this very unusual chapter, that it is very difficult, and he has circumstances that he didn’t ask for. He just took a step of faith. He’s just doing what God wants him to do. But he has people, finances, momentum, housing, and multiple issues that he’s got to solve. So, let’s see what he does. How did Nehemiah respond to his circumstances?

Number one, he improvised. You say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, did you notice, in verse 1, that there were these singers, and Levites, and priests, and guards, and what their job was, was to either do ministry at the Temple, or guard the Temple. Where does he put them? He puts them to guard outside the wall. He improvises!

See, when you get a circumstance in your life, and it feels overwhelming, and, “This happened with our house,” or, “This happened with my job,” or, “I was supposed to get in this school, and then, ‘What do you mean, that school went under?’” Or, “I was supposed to relocate. Now they don’t have the money to do it.”

You get something. You get a report from a doctor, and your whole world changes because of circumstances you can’t control. The first thing you need to do is realize, you may not keep doing life the same way you used to do it.

So, he improvises: “Look, they were guards over here. We’re going to take them from the Temple, and what we need to do is, we need safety more than anything else.” And so, he puts them on the outside.

He improvised what their role was, and then, notice, he improvised on the timing. Normally, “Well, we have to open at dawn, and we have to close at dusk, because that’s how cities work.” He said, “Not this city; not right now. We open all day – we can’t guard that long. We’re going to wait until the sun gets hot, and we’re going to close it down before the guards go off.”

In your life, you’ve got to start thinking outside the box. God will actually use difficult circumstances to have you do things, start things, and think in ways that you would never do on your own.

You know that old phrase that, “Necessity is the mother of invention”? It’s true. Most of us don’t think outside the box, think about a different alternative, a different role, improvise unless – what? Unless you have to.

The second thing he does is, he delegates. Look at verses 2 and 3. He realizes that his role was to come rally the people. He’s a business guy; he’s got a leadership gift. He gets the people together. The walls are built; the gates are done, and he realizes, “My role needs to change, and I need to give my focus to something else now.”

And so, he says to his brother Hanani, “I’ll tell you what, you be in charge of administration of Jerusalem. And then, Hananiah, you know what? You fear God more than most. I’ve been watching you, as we’ve rebuilt this wall, and you fear God, and you’re a man of integrity. You take the citadel. So, you take the administrative task; you take the military task. And by the way, tell the people: Stand guards. Here are their roles: in front of their house, or these places.”

You need to ask this question in difficult circumstances: Who might God have all around me that He’s prepared them to help me in what I’m going through? When life gets hard, what do you and I tend to do? How am I going to do this? All the weight is on me. Everything changed. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too overwhelming. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough resources.

What did Nehemiah do? He stopped and said, “There’s Hanani; there’s Hananiah. There are the people. These people had this role, and we had this time.” And he stepped back and said, “It’s a new game plan.”

Some of you, God brought you today, and I believe – and I prayed earlier – that

even as I talk, and the Spirit of God works, He’s going to take your specific, negative, difficult, painful circumstance, and bring an idea to your mind that you didn’t have before you walked in here.

Just say, You know what? I’ve been thinking I’ve got to do it this way, got to do it this way, got to do it this way. I’ve been thinking my role has to be this. I’ve been thinking the timing always has to be like this. And what Nehemiah wants you to learn, and what God wants you to learn, is, mm-mmm. When circumstances happen like this, you just have to say, Wait a second. We’ve got to improvise. I have to delegate.

And third, notice, he listened. I love that line in verse 4, at the end, and then in 5. He says – what? He says, “Then God put in my heart...”

Now, the premise is, you’re walking with God. The premise is, you’re saying, “This is difficult. This is painful. I don’t know what to do. God, will You show me?” This is sort of the, “If any man lacks wisdom – if any woman lacks wisdom…” If you don’t know what to do, here’s a great prayer, “O God! I don’t know what to do! Will You show me?”

And so, he listens. And he’s just – think what it was like. He goes to his little room, and sometimes we make these biblical stories, so out there. He’s just a regular guy, and there are times he’s sitting there, and he’s going, “I don’t know what to do, and I can’t act like I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone is looking to me, and I don’t know what to do. We don’t have any people, don’t have any money, don’t have any houses. And all the bad guys are on the outside; they want to kill us. Other than that, things are going great. Why did I ever leave my good job in Persia?” Right? Any of you feel like that today?

And then, all of a sudden, he said, “God put this thing on my heart. Hmmm…the genealogical records. What’s happened is, you know what? The people don’t get it. They’re afraid, and all they’re thinking about is their security, and their stuff. If I could get the records out, then I’ll show all the people where we came from, where we’ve been.”

And so, God gives him this idea. And this idea becomes the platform God uses to change how people think, and, later, how they behave.

Notice, then, he asks the right questions. You’ve got this big, open space, and he basically says to the people – he has a big meeting, right? He pulls them together, and he says, “Who are we? We’re not a ragtag group of people that are in this empty city without a purpose. We are – what? We’re the people of God! Where did we come from? Well, we came from a lineage from all the way back to Adam. We’re in David’s line. We’re in Solomon’s line. God has a purpose. He made all these promises to this nation. God always keeps His promises. He made these promises to David. He made these promises about the land to Abraham. And, by the way, look at the miracles! The miracles when Zerubbabel went, the miracles when Ezra went, the miracles when I went. We’ve got these foreign kings paying our way!”

And then, by the way, he says, “Well, who do we have?” Notice his focus. He doesn’t focus on what he doesn’t have. He focuses on what he does have. And so, he said, “Wow, I wonder what we ought to do. We got men of Israel; we got men of Bethlehem. Hmmm. Let’s see, we got priests – what do they do? Oh, that’s right, they do stuff in the Temple. Levites – what do they do? They help with the Temple. Singers – what do they do? They sing in the Temple. Temple servants – that’s pretty obvious. Servants of Solomon.”

And all of a sudden, he helps the people understand, “Your lineage, your heritage, the promises of God, the miracle-working God. There have been all these dots, not for hundreds, but thousands of years, that have led you to this point. And your circumstances may be this empty city, but the God of the universe has a plan for you, His people, and His program, and you are the next dot. And He’s going to provide what you need.”

Was the goal of God that you would be comfortable, and financially secure, and everything would go great? Or does God have a purpose for His people, in this time in history, and that’s where you’re at? Why are you here? What do you have, not, what do you lack? See how those questions – he asks those right questions, and he begins to answer those questions. And then, he asks the big one: “So, what are we called to do? What’s the game plan?”

See, at times like this, you can get so off focus about not only what matters, but what you’re called to do. Because all you can see is the minuses. All you can see is the financial numbers. All you can see is the fallout. All you can see is the report that came back from the doctor. All you can see is the disappointment. It takes great discipline.

“Our God is all-wise, He is all-knowing, He is gracious, He is good. And you are the object of His affection. And you can either get under the rock of your circumstances and live there, and moan, and whine, and complain. And you can – there is no lack of people that will do it with you.

But I will you tell you, what if you got outside of all that and said, “I don’t understand what’s going on in the world, but I know God is in control, but I know I have a purpose. I know God calls me to live by faith. I know God wants me to make a difference”?
There are people in your network today, there are people in your neighborhoods, and people where you live, and people that you’re related to that are scared to death. We’ve always had this unconscious, Well, we’re America. We’ll come out of this, right? Maybe.

Well, what if God is actually allowing things to be so unsettled, so people that have never thought seriously about spiritual things, about eternal life, about forgiveness are more open now than ever before? And what if, instead of living under our circumstances, we said, “We’re the people of God. This is what we do have. This is our calling; this is what we’re going to do”? And you look back in history, that’s how God has often done it.

Notice, then, he does something very counterintuitive. Look at verse 70. There are not resources, and so he models something crazy. It says, “The heads of the families began to give,” but it says, “The governor gave one thousand drachmas of gold.” One thousand drachmas.

And you know what happened? It says, “Then the heads of the families, then the rest of the people.” Long before Matthew 6:33 was written, Nehemiah practiced it. And when difficult circumstances come, we tend to withdraw, look for security, and figure out how to hedge our bets. But Matthew 6:33 says this, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” – “His agenda” is the idea – “and all these things will be added unto you.”

And so, Nehemiah looks at the shortage and doesn’t say, “Well, you know what? It could get a lot worse, and I don’t have a place either. I better hoard my stuff. I better really take care of me and mine.”

Instead, what’s he do? He models generosity. And he takes a step of faith. And here’s what we know: God honors faith. In fact, without it, it’s impossible to please Him. “He that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a” – what? – “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

You know, I’ll be honest with you. You know what my difficult circumstance?

Circumstance number one was: what in the world am I going to say out of Nehemiah chapter 7? Alright? Now, I had done my basic work and I had broken up the passages, I do that all in advance. And then when I get right down to the week, how am I going to teach this? Then it’s super in-depth.

And it was like, God, there’s just a bunch of lists! I mean, are You kidding? What am I going to say? I literally wrote this in my journal: “Dear Father, what would You like to say to Your people through this passage, because I don’t have a clue.”

And as I studied it, it’s how it works, I don’t know about you, but I think you could write a little pamphlet about how to respond to negative circumstances, even in the secular world and say, “Well, improvise, delegate, listen, ask, and model.” And I will tell you what, that will pull you out of negative circumstances and create momentum in a positive direction, will it now? And it’s – guess what – right out of the Bible.

My second difficult time was kind of crazy. Well, I was at Spirit West Coast and it’s really a music festival that they have some speakers here and there. And so, it was sort of the big, main event and they had this really hot, super rock band. And people came for them, okay? When I got there, I realized they came for them. And people camp out for most of a week and there are all these tents and trailers and apparently about ten thousand people show up. I’m thinking, Oh man, this is great. They are just really going to want to hear…

So, in my plan, I had this power point done and I’ve prayed before I’ve gone and I’m going to give them an overview of how to hear God’s voice and being a Romans 12 Christian and I’m going to overview the whole chapter.

And it’s like, This is not going to work. And they have given me forty minutes. And I’m thinking, If they listen for twenty-five, I’m just going to be happy as a lark. And then, and then I’m thinking, So, what am I going to do?

It’s six o’clock and I’ve learned all this and I have walked around. So I just decided, Okay, Lord, all I know is, here is my circumstance. This will not work. My message will not work. That’s not good, because I don’t have another one in my back pocket.

So, I went and I just thought, Well, I’m going to walk around. So, I literally walked around to all the events and saw all the t-shirts and the people and I wanted to find out who was there.

And then they had a little mobile unit. And I sat on my plastic chair, and praise God, I got such a great wife. She sat in there with me. And she didn’t say a word for two hours and I could tell she was praying the whole time. And, man, I got my pen out and I got my notes and I tried to adjust them. And then it was like, the first hour – that’s not going to work. And I threw those away and then I took a sheet of paper and I thought, I can’t even take anything…

So, I took a sheet of paper like this and folded it like this and folded it like that. I said, God, I have that much room that I can write whatever notes, whatever You want me to say. And I don’t know what to do.

And as I was doing that, I mean, a God idea came. You need to start with a really powerful story and just tell them one thing. They can only hear God’s voice if they do His known will before He will reveal His specific will. Tell them that story. Just do verse 1. Explain surrender. I love these people. They are all hyped up. They need to surrender and know what that means. One verse, Chip, that’s it. Go for it.

And so, I did.

And apparently, hundreds of people took a step of surrender. I couldn’t see much, I was told this, because this light was in my face the whole time. And I got done ten minutes early, and this, for a pastor, this is a miracle. I thought, I’m done. I’m just saying “Amen,” and I did. And then I said, “Now, let’s welcome,” and I named the group. And “Hurrah! Hurrah!” And the pyrotechnics were ready to go. And I just got out of there. And here’s all I want to tell you, that’s a little circumstance.

But sometimes we hear God’s Word – like, it’s always about the big issue with your business, your house, your wife, your singleness, your health.

Circumstances, every single day, small and large, come in, where the Spirit of God wants to say to you, Are you willing to improvise? Are you willing to delegate? Are you willing to listen right now, instead of plow it through, and be in control, and be frustrated? Are you willing to ask the right questions? And then, if I would show you, would you be willing to model a very counterintuitive step of alignment and commitment with Me, often evidenced by generosity in your time, your attitude, or your money?

And I will tell you what, that’s how God gives wisdom. That’s how you can consider it all joy. And I’m praying that God is going to give you guys some ideas, and a different perspective.

Well, what can we learn from Nehemiah? Because there are two things I want you to learn about Bible study.

Number one is that sometimes the structure of a passage teaches us as much as the content. The content, basically, was the first five or six verses, and a few verses on the back, right? But when you outline the book, chapters 1 through 6 are about rebuilding the wall; chapters 8 through 13 are about rebuilding the people, right?

So what we have is this pivot, or this hinge, and it’s in there for a reason. It’s the genealogy. And so, the rebuilding of the wall had to do with walls, and work, and physical and external things. The whole rest of the book is going to be about spiritual, internal, rebuilding the people.

And so, you look at the structure, and you say, God, why is chapter 7 in here? And then, when you look at that structure, and you see what he did, then, often, what we need to do is realize that there’s probably not a lot of application directly for us, but there are principles. So, when you study, one is, you want to look at structure as well as content.

Secondly, what are some timeless principles?

Because I did some careful research. There are forty-nine thousand people, and roughly seven thousand donkeys. What I realized, there was one donkey for every seven people.

Do you have a difficult circumstance in your life? Is it hard? Is it difficult? We’re buying some donkeys. We’re going to have to share, because I have learned from Nehemiah that you get one donkey for every seven people. It stinks a little bit, but we’re going to make progress.”

It’s obvious that is not the application, correct? But it’s obvious from that – what’s the principle? He itemized what he did have, and got his mind and his heart off of what he didn’t have.

And so, with that, there are three principles that emerged for me.

Principle number one is the principle of perspective. Like Nehemiah, we must not confuse our means, activities, and projects with our goal’s desired end results. Nehemiah’s initial job was to rebuild a wall. The end result was to rebuild people.

And so, here’s the question I want you to write underneath that: “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

See, at some point in time – Nehemiah – the walls are done. He could have said, “Hey! I’ll see you guys. I’m going to take one of those donkeys – you’re down to six thousand one hundred and ninety-nine, whatever it is – and I’m going to go back to Persia.”

But he understood, “I got here, job one was the walls. I didn’t come here for walls.” But he had to stop and say, in the circumstance, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” Why are you doing what you’re doing? So often, the means, over time, become the end. It’s true of us, right?

Work – quick example: We work for what? We want to provide for ourselves and our families, to be able to do what God wants us to do. And then, pretty soon, you go to work, and you get good at work, and you make some money at work, and you get some promotions in work, and pretty soon, you leave early, and you come home late, and work is your life. The means becomes the end.

Or I’ve seen people, and been in a couple houses where people are really – they really want – what’s a home for? A home is to create an atmosphere – isn’t it? – where love and relationships can thrive. But then you say, “Well, we want it to thrive, so we remodeled this, then we remodel that, then we get this piece of furniture, then we’re going to do that, we’re going to get this, we can get that.”

I’ve been in homes where they have spent so much time creating this atmosphere, you go, “Oh, don’t touch that!” I’ve been with my kids, “Hands to your sides. Hands with me. If you touch anything in this lady’s home, I will kill you.” Right? Well, what happened? That means that – it started well.

Or you go to school. And you go to school to – what? Learn, and grow, and actualize what God gave you in your mind, in your heart. And so, you go to school, and you’re excited, and you’re learning. And then, you get an eighty-nine on your first test. And you look over, and someone has an eighty-four, and you feel pretty good. And then, someone has a ninety-seven – you feel not so good. And then, pretty soon, you realize when you get ninety-sevens, people look at your paper. And then, pretty soon, all you do – it’s grades, grades, grades, grades, grades. And you know what? You don’t learn anything. And the grade, the degrees, the number of letters, instead of learning. You follow me?

Or even spiritually, what’s the goal? It’s to know God; it’s to love God. It’s to love other people. Well, do I need to read the Bible? Well, yeah. Do I need to spend time talking with Him? Do I need to be in a small group, and have community? And do I need to take some steps of faith, whether it’s with my finances, or a mission trip? Of course.

But have you not – my personal confession: I got to where the means were so important, I went for, like, three or four years – I never missed a day of praying, and I prayed through the whole list. And I would memorize at least three to five verses every week, for five or six years. The only thing was, I didn’t love God, I didn’t love people, and I was the biggest jerk that most people knew! Because the means became the end.

Question, in your circumstance – God may have brought it. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why are you doing that job? Why are you doing that hobby? Why are you doing what you’re doing with your family? Why are your kids in the school that they are in? Why are you doing what you’re doing? Stop! Difficult circumstances can give you the gift of perspective.

It was Drucker who said, “There’s a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness.” Efficiency has to do with doing things well. Effectiveness is doing the right things. It’s his classic illustration that he said, when the railroads were going through a difficult time. He just asked the question, “Are you in the train business, or the transportation business?”

Some thought, The train business. They stayed with trains, and they went out of business. Others said, “Transportation.” They began to diversify and said, “It’s trains. It’s trucks. It’s…” What business are you in? Are you in the “make myself happy” business? “I’ve got to be in control; everything’s got to work out.” Or are you in the “following Christ” business?

Second is the issue and principle of priority. Like Nehemiah, we must make people our passion. People were really important to Nehemiah. You say, “How do you know?” Because look how many he listed of them! He lists them.

To me this is a very boring chapter in the Bible. But if one of these people was my father or grandfather, it would be exciting. “Look at this, hey, do you understand this? See this guy’s name that you can’t pronounce? It’s my granddad. You know Zerubbabel? He hung out with him. This is like spiritual NFL. There’s the MVP. That’s my dad, right here.” There was a sense of identity, and heritage, and pride. People mattered. Not laws, not houses, not interest rates, not jobs, not money, not 401(k)s, not your success, not your career ladder, not what job or school your kids get in, or don’t get in. All of that can be a means, and with the right heart, you can make great decisions. But I will tell you what: You can get your total priorities messed up. “The world is terrible, because our house used to be this big, and now it’s this big. The world is terrible, because I had this role; now, I have this role. The world is terrible, because I signed up for this, and now the market has changed.”

Is the world really terrible? So, people don’t love you anymore? There aren’t relationships? There aren’t friendships? You don’t have purpose? You don’t have life? Is the world terrible, or is just your world, and your expectations? Maybe the greatest gift God gives you is to reorient. And the question to ask here is, what really matters? What’s really important? We all have the right answer: “It’s people.” I say this a lot, but I’ve buried a lot of people. And when you bury them, no one talks about anything, other than the relationship.

At the end of the day, no one says, “You know what? This guy looks good dead. You should have seen his house. He had eleven classic cars.” “I’m telling you what, she had the best jewelry in all of Northern California.” People don’t say stuff like that. “She was there for me when I needed a friend.” “He was generous. He listened to me, when no one else cared. He was my dad. Everyone else thought he was a big shot, but he always took time for me.” Make people your passion.

And then, the principle of evaluation: Like Nehemiah, we must make faithfulness to our calling the measure of our success. And ask the question, “How am I measuring success?” Sometimes God uses difficult circumstances to wean us of our unconscious sense of privilege, with regard to success, material prosperity, or status. Why am I doing what I’m doing? What really matters? And how will I measure success?

Lord, You know how those questions need to be played out in the hearts and the minds of the people in this room and I ask You right now, give them God-sized ideas, give them open palms and hands to say, I just want to surrender my expectations, my relationships, my home, my business, my finances, and I want to listen to You.