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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
God wants to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It’s not about being smarter than you are; it’s not about knowing more than you probably know. But it’s about having a dislocated heart, right? A broken spirit. It’s about having a time where you take a radical step of faith, it’s developing a strategic plan.
You need to discover where, on the wall of God’s Kingdom – you make a personal commitment, not an intellectual commitment, not an emotional commitment, not a “when it’s nice and not raining” commitment, but a commitment that says, “God, I will do what You show me to do. And I know it might get hard, but when it gets hard, I will be faithful, by Your grace.”
And I have a concern, because I’m having conversations and emails from people, that God is beginning to germinate multiple holy ambitions.
And for some, it’s for kids – and I talked with a guy who’s talking about some things overseas, and some people. Others, it’s in business, and others, it’s with women. And here’s what I know: If you don’t understand what the last step is – having a courageous soul – you might take some very right steps, and get crushed.
This is a serious one. You need to listen very carefully. This is a word for those of you who are stepping out, and you might actually find that you’re a little discouraged. Or you might even have struggled with a little depression lately. Or maybe you’re just disillusioned, like you don’t quite get it: God, I really, I thought I was on the right track, but, boy oh boy, it just seems like things are harder, and everything is uphill.
I had made the deepest personal commitment of my life, I had done it God’s way, and I was discouraged, depressed, and disillusioned. It was the biggest ministry decision. I was a coach, a schoolteacher. I liked to coach; I liked to teach. And, through a number of events – everyone seemed to know it but me, that God said, Chip, I want you to shift gears.
I’d already gone to college; I went to graduate school. I thought I was going to get to be a coach someday, against Duke, or Indiana, or somewhere, and that was my dream. And it was like, “Oh no! Now I’ve got to go back to school.”
And so, I put everything I had in a car, and we gave a car away, and we tote this little car, and everything in a Ryder truck, and arrived in Dallas, Texas, to go to seminary. And it was like starting all over. It was a four-year graduate program.
I had two little kids. I had a total of, I think, seven hundred and fifty dollars, total, between us, Theresa and myself. A missionary let me stay in his house for two months, as we got ready, and we found a little government-subsidized apartment with a bunch of other people.
And then, I went to school with a carpool, every day, about seven o’clock. I got up at four-thirty, and did Greek from five until seven, and spent a little time with God. I went straight through, got home, caught the carpool, got home about five or five-thirty, ate supper, played with my kids for about a half hour. Then, I went to work, from about six until eleven at night, and got up, and did it again.
And I did that three years. And money was tight, and the only way I could do it, work wise, was do a straight commission job. And people wouldn’t pass their physicals, and I don’t know how many months it was like, God, I’ve got two hundred and forty dollar rent, and I’ve got eleven dollars in the bank. What’s the deal?
And I did that, and I did that. We would go to the grocery store – actually, it was a co-op that you’d put in ten bucks, and you’d get all these fruits and vegetables. And we’d go for two or three weeks, and not eat any meat, or any carbohydrates – just fruits and vegetables, of what we got at the farmer’s market.
And I remember, one day, sitting in class, and I was tired, and discouraged, and depressed, and disillusioned, and I thought, this was not my idea. Of all the things that I ever wanted to be, it certainly was not a pastor or a minister.
And so, I stepped out; I had this – I didn’t call it a “holy ambition,” but it was a holy ambition. I said I would do what You want me to do. And I’ll tell You what, this stinks! I’m tired. I’m broke. I’m discouraged. I’m getting four and five hours of sleep.
Here’s what I want you to know: I had a common pitfall. Here’s the thesis, here’s what you need to understand: We unconsciously believe a myth, and the myth is, if I do what God wants me to do, if I take a step, if I make a sacrifice – it can be with my time, my energy, my money, my future, a relationship – it’s like, Oh, I know this is a bad relationship. I obeyed God, and I broke up with him, or, I broke up with her, or, I know my priorities are out of whack, and I start meeting with God, or, I’m going to give Him the first portion of my income. Or, I’m going to get out of my comfort zone. I’m going to love people; I’m going to go on a missions trip. When we do that kind of thing, unconsciously, we think, God is going to be so pleased.
Well, He is. But we think He’s going to be so pleased, that life is going to be great; life’s going to be – shouldn’t it be? Right? You’re obeying! Right? He should – you’re just going to get high-fives from the Lord, and, “Way to go!” And He’s going to answer all your prayers, and relationship issues are going to get better overnight.
That is a myth. The common pitfall – jot if you will: “false expectations.” False expectations. Literally, I had three years in, and I was having private conversations with myself, which is not good, when you’re talking to yourself a lot.
And it was, God, I’m done. If this is what it means to follow You, if this is what I get for really obeying, for having a holy ambition, I am done. You can have this. I’m out of here.
What I didn’t understand was, our greatest personal commitments and spiritual victories are almost always followed by periods of intense opposition. Underline the words intense opposition.
Moses takes a big step of faith – intense opposition. Elijah has the big confrontation, and then, later – intense opposition. Jesus sets His face, and says, “Okay.” He’s baptized; He’s commissioned for ministry. And then, what happens? Forty days in the desert, with intense opposition.
You can take it to the bank, or at least you used to be able to take it to the bank. When you step out, and take a step of faith that is the clearly defined will of God, it will usually get more difficult, before it gets easier.
And if you don’t know that, then – I’ve watched this happen: You know what? I thought this was God’s will, but it must not be, because look how hard it is, and how difficult it is, and all these things that have gone wrong.
When I moved to Atlanta, it was probably – that was the second hardest ministry decision. We were in Santa Cruz, I was pastoring a local church. I loved what I was doing; my family loved it. My boys all found Santa Cruz girls, married them. And God made it clear, You’re supposed to go to Atlanta. So, make this decision.
We go. My car, on the way, is in an ice storm. I sent it there on one of those big tractor-trailer things. So, it gets ruined, but I don’t know it because there’s snow when it comes, and gasoline had poured through it. And so, I had this car, in the winter, that I could only drive with the windows down.
My wife had two surgeries on her jaw that didn’t work, so she was in intense pain. I won’t go through it, but, at one point, when it got to number eleven, we started keeping track. In the first ten days, we had twenty-three things happen to the house, things that broke down. One guy said, “Hey, this never happened in my life! We cut through that line, that line, that line, so you don’t have any water; you don’t have any electricity.”
And then – are you ready? I take over the job in 2002. It has a huge international component to it, and it takes millions and millions of dollars. So, does anybody remember what happened in January of 2003? The dot-com bust? So, all the major donors didn’t have any money. We don’t have any money. And, other than that, things are going well.
Now, here’s the difference: You know what my reaction this time was? Wow, I think God is really up to something. I think God must really have something significant, beyond my wildest dreams, for little ol’ me, who doesn’t mean very much, to get this level of opposition.
And I would look back, seven years later, and see a hundred countries, ninety thousand teachers, eight videos, and five books written, in a season of time that I never dreamed could happen to an ordinary person like me, because the opposition told me I was on the right track. Did I like it? No. Part of the opposition that’s meant to pull you down, God uses to develop some character, and some trust, and some issues in you, so that when He blesses you, you’ll understand it’s Him, instead of you.
So, with that, look at Nehemiah. He’s our model. So he’s – holy ambition, right? Remember? He had it made in the shade. He’s cupbearer to the king. And we’ve gone through three chapters to learn about his dislocated heart. We’ve learned that, then, he had this intense prayer time of looking up, looking in, looking out.
He took the radical step of faith. He risked his life. He finds his personal commitment. He says, “I’m supposed to rebuild the wall,” and gathers the people, casts the vision. He’s got the gift of leadership.
And then, he makes this personal commitment, develops out of a strategic plan. And then, you would think – right? – things are going to go great. This is a great man of God. All of history – literally, the entire history of Israel is completely changed by this man.
Now, what happens – I’m going to give you an overview of the next three chapters. In chapter 3, there’s external opposition. It’s very frontal; it’s in his face. The goal is to discourage him. And the means is ridicule, or fear, and we’re going to look at this one very carefully.
In chapter 5 – we won’t get to this one, but I want to give you an overview because, as some of you launch out, you’re going to find yourselves back in Nehemiah, a lot, reading this over, and realizing you’re not crazy; this is God’s will. But it is hard. In chapter 5, the opposition isn’t “out there”; it’s internal. And, all of a sudden, you find that they’re fighting among themselves. The goal of the enemy is to divide, and the way he does it is by selfishness and greed within the family of God here.
Then, in chapter 6, it goes from this corporate opposition, to individual. It’s very, very subtle. They attempt to destroy him. There’s, literally, a contract out on his life. And people he thought he could trust – a priest and a prophetess – come together, and tell him, “You really need to do this.” And the goal was to get him in this certain place, so they could assassinate him. Deception and intimidation.
Well, open your notes, and I want to dig in, chapter 4, because I think this issue of discouragement is so, so critical. And I’ve put it in the metaphor of boxing. My dad was a boxer. He was in World War II. And because of that, when he came back – he went at sixteen – he came back, he couldn’t play any sports. And he really liked sports. So, he learned to box. In fact – I guess you can brag on your dad when he’s dead, but – he’s in heaven right now. But he won the Golden Glove. So, when I was little, he would, “No, no, no, Chip. No, no, no, you’ve got to keep it in here.” So, he taught me how to box. And I don’t know that I ever got any good, but I learned the terminology. And the metaphor of opposition, here, I want to give you, in boxing. We’re going to look at the enemy’s first punch to thwart God’s program in our lives. And it’s the jab of ridicule and criticism.
“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry, and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews. And in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore the wall?’” You can hear the sarcasm in his voice. “‘Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring stones back to life from those heaps of rubble burned as they are?’ Tobiah” – another one of the bad guys – “the Ammonite who was at his side said, ‘What are they building – if even a fox climbed on it, he would break down the wall of their stones!’”
And then, Nehemiah, you’re going to find in just a minute, is going to respond, and he’s going to respond the way that we need to respond. But I want you to see, here: Ridicule and criticism. Notice, the aim is at their worth. It’s sarcasm. “Why are you taking this step of faith? God can’t use someone like you.”
It’s casting doubt. God has shown you, you start to take a step, and all of a sudden you feel like, Wow, maybe this isn’t such a good idea; maybe I don’t measure up. This probably really won’t work. It probably takes someone a lot smarter than me. Or, Maybe I should do it next year. All that kind of stuff. This can paralyze you.
I was a high school teacher, and it was Grafton High School. And this is in West Virginia, and I was a junior varsity coach, and I knew the varsity coach, and it was my very first year, very first job.
And so, I was a pretty zealous Christian. And I found myself walking into the teacher’s lounge one day, and it sort of cleared out, just before the bell rang, and there were three guys – all fairly young teachers, one middle-aged guy. And they were making – all I can call it is extraordinarily lewd comments, about a very attractive co-ed who was, like, a seventeen-year-old girl in the school.
And I walked in, and I’m hearing this conversation, and going, Man, this is wrong. And, so, I’m listening just a little bit, and it was very lewd and just, like…
And I said, “Excuse me, guys? That’s very unprofessional.” And they kind of looked at me, like, Young, new teacher. Who in the heck do you think you are? And then I kind of got on a roll, so I said, “Guys, that is so disrespectful. Let me ask you, how would you like someone talking about your daughter that way? Those sexual innuendos, those kinds of comments. There is no place for that in us, as teachers.”And the bell rang, and I kind of got rescued, and it was kind of, Great! Whoa! You know? And I thought, Well, I stood up for the Lord. And then, I’ll never forget – the next day I come in the teacher’s lounge, and, “Oh! Here comes the preacher.”
And, people – then a conversation would start: “Oh, let’s not talk about that. Chip’s in the room. We all have to be very careful.” And it was just piled on: ridicule, ridicule, sarcasm, ridicule. So, guess what – I had a solution to that. I stopped going to the teacher’s lounge. I got intimidated. I got my feelings hurt. I felt like I didn’t measure up. I started doubting, Maybe I shouldn’t have said something. But, in my mind I’m thinking, That’s the right thing to do. That was the right, but, then how come I feel so bad? And I felt like a – like a chump.
And then, I found myself a prisoner. I would get – the teacher’s lounge was where the good coffee was! And, so, what do you do? And I remember just coming to grips with, Are you going to allow labels and names and ridicule and sarcasm to define you, or God?
Jot down a verse: Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man is a snare, but blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” At some point in time in your life, you need to figure out who you want to be afraid of. You can fear people, and their opinions, or fear God, but you can’t fear both. And one will free you, and the other will imprison you.
So, Nehemiah – how did he respond? He says, “Hear us, O God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in the land of captivity. Do not cover their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.”
He prayed. Jot that down. He prayed. He gets ridiculed; he’s struggling. He prayed. We’ve been talking about that. He comes before God, and he says, “God, this is what they’re doing.” He didn’t talk back to them. He didn’t exchange words: “Oh, we’re going to build this.” He didn’t defend himself. He prayed. And then, notice, he persisted. He didn’t let them sidetrack – Did you notice that little phrase? “Half of the wall is built.”
I was reading, actually, this morning – it’s a little book I read. It’s a devotional on prayer, called Magnificent Prayer, by Nick Harrison. And it tells this story of a man named Praying Hyde. He was a Presbyterian missionary to the Punjabi people in India. And a fellow – he was a ship captain, who was a Christian, and he was coming to Punjab, and they were having a big conference, and they asked him to speak.
And so, he comes to this conference, and he comes, and they have a little tea – I guess they had tea in those days. And then, he says, “I was taken up to a cup of tea with the delegates and with others, and I was introduced across the table to Mr. Hyde.” He was a missionary there. And he was a missionary – if you know his life story – who went there, and was not very successful, and decided that he was going to make prayer the priority of his mission. And he began to intercede. They tell stories now. I think this is a real calling. Sometimes he’d pray for forty hours in a row. And then, all of a sudden, this revival began to break out among the Punjabi people here in India.
And so, the captain comes, and he has tea and as he walks out from the tea, as the story is told, this man – they called him Praying Hyde – he reached out his hand, and he says, “Come with me to the prayer room; we want you to be there.” “I do not know whether” – here is the captain speaking – “I do not know whether it was a command or request; I felt I had to go."
“We found a half a dozen persons there, and Hyde went down on his face before God. I knelt down, and a strange feeling crept over me. Several prayed, and then Hyde began, and I remember very little more. All I knew, I was in the presence of God Himself, and I had no desire to leave that place. In fact, I don’t think that I thought of myself or of my surroundings at all, for I entered into a new world, and I wanted to remain there.”
There is an incredible, incredible power as you learn to come before God, and deal with things at a significant level, and pray. And I will tell you, whether it’s in Korea, or whether it’s in the revivals in America, or whether you meet people where God is doing something – there are some people who spend a lot of hours watching a little box that forms their thinking, and there are other people who spend a lot of time on their knees, or on their face, that shapes their character, and their view of God.
And amazing, supernatural things are very normal with God, but He always wants to start with this, and prayer is one of those avenues of grace. It’s not that big “ought to/have to”; it’s the actual privilege of keeping company with God, in His presence, being transformed by Him, claiming promises about what you’re dealing with, and then standing on those promises, and watching the Spirit of God take the Word of God and change people’s hearts, and circumstances. That’s how God has always worked. And here, we see it with Nehemiah.