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Facing Difficult Circumstances, Part 2

From the series Keep Pressing Ahead

Whether it's the loss of a job, the loss of your health, the loss of a friendship, or the loss of a spouse or child, we all face circumstances that are hard, gut wrenching, and confusing. What do you do when you are faced with difficult circumstances? Chip gives you a step-by-step outline for confronting and disarming even the worst of times.

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Message Transcript

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?