Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Holy Ambition Resources on sale now.
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 always, in history, is carrying out a plan to do great things through ordinary people who assume it could only happen through others, and the qualifications are very, very simple: He’s looking for a man, a woman, whose heart is fully His. And when He finds a man, a woman, or a student – regardless of education, regardless of background, regardless of race, regardless of gender – if He finds that person in the midst of great need, He will shake and move all of heaven to resource them to stand in the gap, and build up the wall, and make a difference.
And we’re on a multi-thousand-year history of God doing that. There’s a searchlight, where the Spirit of the Living God, who created all that there is, is looking for one man, one woman, one student who would be willing to forsake all, and in, probably, trepidation and fear, step out and say, God, all I am and all I have is Yours. And in my sphere of influence, the way You made me, I will do whatever You want me to do to stand in the gap, and be Your representative.
And we’ve learned, as you open your notes, that there are three conditions we’ve looked at so far. The first one is: do you have a dislocated heart? And it really answers the question – do you care? Can you get beyond your own world, and your own needs, to really care?
The second, was a broken spirit. And I got a lot of texts, and a lot of emails, from people who said, “That hit me right between the eyes.”
Are you desperately dependent, as evidenced by the behavior of talking to God, and praying God-centered prayers that lead to gut-wrenchingly honest prayers, that then, have promise-centered prayers, where you say, God, I can’t do this. I’m only one person. But, I’m going to ask You to do what only You can do?
And now, our model, Nehemiah – this businessman who’s in Persia, whom God has placed in this city, at this time, with this platform, with this intelligence, with this influence, and this affluence. And he’s going to take a radical step of faith.
We pick up the story in Nehemiah 1, and I put it in your notes so you can follow along. It’s at the end, where he ends his prayer, and he says, “O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of this, Your servant, and to the prayers of Your servants who delight in revering Your name.”
And here’s his request – after four months of praying, God has revealed to Nehemiah, It’s not an accident that I gave you this prestige, and this position, and this intelligence, and this leadership in this city, at this time in history. I want you to be My man, and go over there to Jerusalem, and rebuild the wall.
And God has given him a plan, as he’s prayed, and as he’s talked. And you find, his prayer starts out as he asks God, personally, and as you read this prayer carefully, he says, “The prayer of Your servants.” So, he got a small group together, and he’s not in it alone.
And we’re going to learn, in just a minute, he’s going to walk into the king’s presence, and do something that, if the king’s in a bad mood, it will cost him his life. He will take a radical step of faith. He’ll put his life on the line to come out of his comfort zone, and align with God’s agenda.
And so, he asks God, “Give us success. Give me favor in the presence of this man. I was the cupbearer to the king. It was the month of Nisan” – that’s about April – “in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes of Persia, when wine was brought before him. And I took the wine and I gave it to the king and I had not been sad in his presence before so the king asked me, ‘Why does your face look so sad when you’re not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ I was very much afraid but…”
Do you understand what he did? In the culture of this time, if you’re sad before the king, if he’s having a bad day, it’s your last day: “Get him out of here. Get me someone new.” Everyone’s life revolved around making the king happy.
But Nehemiah realized, I will get his attention. I’ve built a relationship. This is what God led me to do. And he’s going to ask me a question, and I hope he’s having a really good day, God.
And I want you to just notice: In your notes, will you circle the word but? “I was very much afraid, but…” I want to suggest that the greatest things that have ever been done on the face of the earth, by God’s people, are by people who are absolutely terrified, and afraid of what they’re about to do.
But they don’t let the fear stop them. They don’t let the fear of finances, they don’t let the fear of rejection, they don’t let the fear of their physical life – and they do what God shows them, even though they’re afraid. So, as we go through this message, if it brings up things in your heart that make you feel afraid, you’re in very good company.
“But I said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!’” – a little PR never hurts. “Why should not my face look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
And the king respects him, and he gets his attention. And the king says, “Well, what is it that you want?” “And then I prayed to the God of heaven.” I think this was one of those real quick ones, in his heart. “And I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’ Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him asked me, ‘Well, how long will your journey take, and when will you get back?’ And it pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.”
He had a dislocated heart. He cared. He didn’t have a knee-jerk reaction of just launching into something. For four months, he prays individually. He gets a small group. He has a broken spirit.
And now, he takes a radical step of faith. And here’s my definition of “a radical step of faith.” This is the kind that God supports. A radical step of faith is choosing to step out to fulfill God’s clearly defined will, at great personal risk, and sacrifice.
This isn’t some wild thought you get. This is God’s clearly defined will. Nehemiah knew rebuilding Jerusalem, the promises of God, the people of God – it’s clearly defined will.
We know it’s God’s will for poor people to get loved, for lost people to hear the gospel. We know the gospel is to go to all the world. We know it’s God’s will for fathers to love their families. We know it’s God’s will for moms to be mentored, and know how to take care of their kids. We know it’s God’s will for single people to discover their gifts, and live pure lives, and be loved and encouraged.
There are a lot of things that are clearly defined will of God. We know it’s God’s will for the gospel to cross ethnic barriers, and people be loved who have never heard about Christ.
And a radical step of faith is choosing to take a step that’s God’s clearly defined will – but here’s the deal – at great personal risk. In other words, it might get really dangerous. And second, it might really cost – sacrifice.
And when you read all through Scripture, and when you read all through Church history, what you find is, when you get in any church where God is working, you’ll find people who have taken a radical step of faith.
And, by the way, they usually do it reluctantly. We get this idea that they’re superstars, and they have more faith, and they know so much more than we do. Remember Moses? Like he was really up for the job? “Send someone else. Send someone else.” Esther it was, “Not me, please. Not me, please.”
I was teaching in Jordan, on spiritual warfare. And, in that season, we brought about a hundred and fifty leaders from twenty-six Arab countries, and they were the heads of whole denominations, and Campus Crusade, and people who were born again, had personal relationship with Christ, even from some groups that you would think, Really? Yeah.
And so, I was teaching through The Invisible War, and after each time – we would teach it, then, we would translate it simultaneously, and then, we’d have Q&A to contextualize it to Jordan, or Iraq, or different countries. And Pastor Ronnie, who spoke excellent English, was a pastor from Iraq. We got to become friends, and he needed some resources, and I gave him a book. And he came back two days later, and he had the first third of the book translated. And he said, “Can I use this?” I said, “Are you kidding me? Just tell me what you need; I’ll send you whatever.”
And then, we got to talk one day. And he talked about what it was like to have the terrorists come and shoot bullets, and how, one day, in light of that, he, and his wife, and all three kids got underneath the bed and he said, for twenty minutes, it was just bullets, bullets, bullets, bullets.
And it finally got quiet. Waited about half hour, and went to the entrance to the church – it was connected to a bunch of shops and homes. And he said, “There were six bodies lying in front of my door. And we were just shaken. My kids were shaken. And we didn’t leave the house for about two and a half days, and the internet would only come up for an hour or two a day.”
And he talked about how afraid he was, and then how, What am I going to do? Am I going to have the courage to open services for Sunday? And he said, “So, I did. And no one died. And we did that.” And I thought about, What a radical step of faith. And then, later in the day, we got talking, and I said, “Ronnie, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve had?” He said, “ remember the name Zarqawi? He was the number two guy under Saddam Hussein.” He lived in the town where Pastor Ronnie was a pastor. “And a couple months earlier, he ordered the cross to come down from the church, told people, “Between four and six in the afternoon, if anyone goes out on the streets, you’ll be killed.” And he just took over the town.
And he said, “I didn’t want to take down the cross, and I was willing to die for my Savior.” But he said, “They were going to shoot a rocket in the church, and there were all these people. That is not a good testimony for your church, and all these innocent people to die. So, I took the cross down from the church.
“Then, early one morning, I was just spending time with the Lord. And as I was spending time with the Lord, reading, I had the clearest prompting from God: Ronnie, put the cross back up today. Today is the day. I want you to do it at four thirty.”
He said, “I really argued with the Lord.” And he said, “But at four thirty, I took a step ladder – because I had to climb on top of the roof – and here’s Pastor Ronnie, with a cross and a stepladder. And he leans it against the church. And he’s just thinking, Some sniper, someone’s just going to mow me down, to set an example. And he leans his stepladder up, goes to the church, puts the cross on top, comes down, goes home, isn’t killed. And the morning news, the very next day – Zarqawi is taken out by a rocket.”
See, when we talk about a radical step of faith, if you’re not careful, we can start thinking it’s like, Oh, I’m taking a big step with my 401(k), or, If I do this, my business or relationships might be changed a little bit, or, I might not be as near to some of my family, or friends, or my grandkids, or, Boy, if I take this radical step of faith, I might have to change vocations. And we start making those things a radical step of faith – which they are, in our culture.
But when you rub up against people who are willing to give their lives for the gospel of Christ, I will tell you, it recalibrates what it means to follow Jesus. That’s what Nehemiah did. And when God finds people who are willing, fearfully, to take that step, He does revolutions. He does revolutions in cities where only two to five percent of the people even go to church, in places where people are hardened, and think that Christians are narrow, bigoted, anti-intellectual, intolerant people. And He can change people in such dramatic, revolutionary ways, that those farthest from Christ would say, “What do you all have?”
Here’s the question: How do you get that kind of faith? This isn’t mustering it up. This isn’t getting on some emotional high, and stepping out, and doing something really stupid. You’d better do what God tells you to do, when He tells you to do it, how He tells you to do it, as He leads you. That’s a radical step of faith.
And I’m going to ask you, will you please open your Bibles to Luke chapter 9?
We’re going to look at some verses where, as you look at them, Jesus is going to describe, and teach, specifically, how you, an ordinary person, and me – ordinary person – can actually develop a radical faith.
And so, there are four things you need to remember, in order to develop a radical faith. And the first one is: by remembering what faith is, and faith is not. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
In other words, faith has to do with what you can’t see. Faith isn’t just all logic; it’s based on facts. But it’s not emotion. So often, we think faith is, Okay, oh God, I’m going to try, try, try to have this. No. Faith may have emotions, or no emotions.
Faith is being – what? Assured, certain of what you can’t see. Faith is nothing more, or nothing less than trusting in the character and the promises of God, to the point that you act, whether you feel like it, or not. That’s what faith is.
Old Testament example: God takes His people out of bondage, right? Egypt – they go into the wilderness. Moses is their leader. They have a lot to learn. They get the Ten Commandments. But now, they need to learn to trust Him.
What is the very, first thing that God does? What’s the very first test? It’s, “Will You provide for me?” They’re out in this wilderness. There’s desert; there are two, three million people, and they’re thinking, What are we going to eat?
And so, manna comes in the morning, right? And God tells them, very specifically, “Now, only take enough for today.” Translation: “Have faith; trust Me that I’ll bring some tomorrow.”
So, the first few days, what do people do? He says, “Take one jar; one omer.” And so, what do they do? Some of the people, they’re not looking. Some people put three or four jars aside. And they wake up the next day, and there are maggots in it.
And God’s saying, “No, no, you don’t understand. You don’t get faith for next day, next month. You don’t have to fear, if you do this, what will happen thirty days from now. You don’t have to fear what’s going to happen in a year. You don’t have to take a…” He says, “There is no grace in hypothetical futures. I will give you whatever you need today. Trust Me.”
And then, when it got to be the Sabbath, what was it? It was illogical.
Again, He wanted to show them: “Take two, because, tomorrow, you’re going to rest. I’m going to show you that I am so powerful, so faithful, so good, so sovereign, that you can get more done in six days than most people can in seven.” And the whole point of the Sabbath, and the whole point of collecting manna was, Can I trust God to provide for me? Am I dependent? Do I look to Him as my source?
The New Testament equivalent is Jesus talking about money. Jesus talked about money more than heaven and hell combined. And Jesus didn’t need our money then, nor now. So, why? Why does He talk about money, money, money? Because Jesus says there are really only two gods. The two gods are not God, and Satan. The two gods are God, and money.
You will worship either money, or God. You will either be self-dependent, and believe that with enough money it will create security, with enough money, you can look a certain way, with enough money, you can have certain things that will make you a someone. But all your significance, security, power, issues. We think the right job, the right money…
Now, Satan will be a part of trying to get you to buy that lie. And so, the whole point of New Testament giving is to recognize, every time we come together, I give the first portion of all that God has given me, so I realize, This is Yours – manna. And then, as I grow, I start giving proportionately more percentages as God blesses, because I understand that life is about eternity.
So, Jesus taught that to free our hearts from greed, and so that’s why, especially in America, a lot of people go to church regularly, a lot of people wish God would intervene, and answer their prayers, and they’re disobedient in the most basic things. If God doesn’t have your money, He doesn’t have your heart. That’s Jesus. Period.
And what it reveals is, you don’t trust Him. I can sing songs, but, and I’m with you, here. I didn’t grow up in the Church. When I went to church it was like, normal days – a dollar. Feeling kind of good – five. Ooey-gooey, spiritual experience – I just thought, I’m really going to bless the God of heaven. Here’s a twenty. I’m serious. I didn’t know.
And then, I remember beginning to read the Scriptures about, “This is His money, not yours. He gave you the brains; He gave you the job.” You want what percent? I just thought, the first time I heard that, it was like, “Are You on drugs? I’m not making it now, and You want me to give the…”
Chip, here’s the issue: I want you to trust Me. And so, Theresa and I learned to do that. And of course the rest is history. But, boy, for many, that’s a radical step of faith. And then, what you see is, you see God supply, and you see the supernatural starting to work.
So, the first thing you have to remember about a radical step of faith is what faith is, and what it’s not. It’s not emotional to obey God. It’s just – God is good. His promises are true. He said He will meet all my needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. He said that He is kind; He is loving. So, I can trust Him.
The second thing you need to remember is how deeply God values our faith, Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it’s impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe” – notice the two things – “that He exists, and that He’s a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
God is not impressed with your morality, He’s not impressed with your knowledge, and He’s not impressed with ministry success. The number one agenda that God has for you, and for me, is that you trust Him. That’s the deal. If you wonder, Well, what’s God doing in my life?
See, it’s gotten warped, and we have changed the whole deal to say, God, will You work my life out? God, I’ve got a problem in my marriage. God, I’m single, and I want to be married. God, I’ve got a problem in my finances. God, I need a job. And, oh God, oh God, oh God, if I go to church, if I try this, I do this, maybe if I do that, well, I’ll read the Bible a little bit. And there’s this works mentality, and you totally miss the point!
The whole point of the difficulties and the challenges in your life – what the Spirit of God is trying to get you to ask is, “What would it look like to trust God in this situation?” That’s the question. You ought to write that one down. “What would it look like to trust God in this difficult marriage?” “What would it look like to trust God, with a great attitude, without a job?” “What would it look like to trust God to deal with this addiction?” “What would it look like to trust God, to say ‘no’ to this relationship?” “What would it look like to trust God, to take a step of faith and, launch a ministry?” “What would it look like…?”
I can’t tell you how many people end up in negative, terrible, painful, ungodly relationships because they want to pick out who they date, or, after a difficult divorce, they are so desperate – “I’ve got to find someone!” – instead of, “What would it look like to trust God to make me the woman I need to be” – or the man I need to be – “and let God bring that person, at the right time, in the right way?” What pleases God is not your religious activity. Without faith, it’s impossible to please Him. And by the way – now, jot this under those notes – where there is no risk, there is no faith. Period.
We’ve turned this whole thing into a morality play: I’m trying to be good. I’m trying to be good. I’m trying to be good. When you step out in faith, God, by His Spirit, will make you good. But the goal is not to be good. The goal is to trust Him.