Welcome! I’m so glad to have you with us today as we continue in our series “Change Your World.” Now last week, my goal was to get you to identify your burden, that thing that you really care about, that thing that not only breaks your heart, but that breaks the heart of God. This week, I want to inspire you as God empowers you and so we’re going to get really practical. If you remember, last week we talked about the one that God uses and we identified three things. Number one that God uses the one who sincerely cares, number two that God uses the one who prays with passion, and number three that God uses the one who’s willing to act on his behalf. And that’s exactly what Nehemiah did when his brother said, “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.” Nehemiah was totally devastated by this news, because his people were in despair. They were hopeless and depressed, feeling as if they would never have the security of those walls again. And so Nehemiah sat down to cry, he knelt down and prayed, he sought the Lord of Heaven, and getting up he said, “Somebody’s got to do something about this, and it might as well be me.”
What I’d like you to notice is that here’s Nehemiah, a cupbearer, a servant of the King, a simple man, yet he embraced his burden, he grabbed hold of that very thing that broke the heart of God and God used him to do the impossible… to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in less than two months. And so this morning, I want to inspire you to grab hold of your mission, your purpose, motivating you to make a difference in this world, because you don’t have to be in a position of influence, it doesn’t matter whether you feel smart enough, how insignificant you might feel, or even if you are a great leader.
The Bible tells us that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong; he chose the lowly things of this world, the despised things, and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
As a matter of fact, if you feel unworthy, small or insignificant, that’s the way that I often feel. In fact, it was just over 18 years ago, that God gave me a major burden for his church. You see, I grew up in the Catholic Church, but I didn’t understand Christianity, I didn’t understand grace, I didn’t know Jesus the living God, and I didn’t have any expectation of forgiveness, or the anticipation of heaven. But when God revealed himself to me and I began to understand what Jesus Christ had done for me he totally changed everything. What I had personally experienced became my burden and so I wanted to connect people with God, who like myself didn’t know everything about Jesus and the Bible, maybe who didn’t understand Christianity, so that they could have a personal relationship with God too. The problem was that the denomination that I was with at the time said, “We believe the Bible, but we have certain things that we need to teach and go through every service.” And maybe you’re familiar with what they call the liturgy, so they had certain things they had to teach and go through for each service, but the bottom line was that I didn’t know what to do with this burden. That was until one day, I had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Gerry Stoltzfoos from Freedom Church in Gettysburg and he came alongside of me, encouraged me, and together we began to do something about that burden in my heart. I was determined to stop pointing out problems and instead to become part of the solution.
And so what I want you to do today is to think about what God can do through you, because you’re not alone, and today with the help of God I want to inspire you, to equip you, and to empower you to make a difference. But here’s the deal, you can make a difference by yourself, but if you want to change your world, you’re going to need other people. To change your world you have to see yourself as a person who’s been equipped and empowered by God; you don’t have to be the best, you just have to care the most. So today, I’m going to share with you three characteristics of Nehemiah, three characteristics of a Change Your World type of person, three characteristics of the one who makes a difference. The first one is that they are very specific.
A change your world type of person not only clearly defines their purpose, but they’re very specific. Watch as Nehemiah goes before the king of Persia in verse four. Nehemiah tells us, “The king said to me, "What is it you want?" Then I prayed to the God of heaven…” (Nehemiah 2:4). Now you need to notice this, you need to know this, because if prayer is not required for you to fulfill your burden, your calling, or your purpose then you’re not thinking big enough. If prayer isn’t necessary for you to fulfill whatever it is that God has put on your heart then you’re not thinking big enough. Nehemiah prays in one breath and answers the king in the next. Look at verse five, "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." (Nehemiah 2:5). Notice how specific he is. He clearly defines his calling in one sentence. He tells the king what? “So that I can… rebuild the city.”
Last week we talked about your burden, that thing that God’s put on your heart, and I want to help you narrow it down. When you’re asked “What’s God calling you to do?” How would you answer that question in a way that is very, very, specific? Maybe for you, you might say, “I want to help keep our teenagers off drugs, I want to provide safe and positive activities for the children of Emmitsburg, I want to promote a sense of community, or I want to connect God and community in Emmitsburg.” What is it specifically that you want to accomplish? Narrow down your calling into something that can generate passion and enthusiasm from like-minded people because it’s specific.
Nehemiah was very specific. The king asked him, “What do you want?” And Nehemiah responds saying, “I want to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.” Do you see what I’m saying? If your target is not clear, if your purpose is not defined, and your goal is not specific it is not very likely that you’re going to hit it. This week, if you’re going to make a difference, if you’re going to change your world, you need to clearly define what your burden is, you need to be specific. And the second characteristic of a world changer is to be very strategic in your planning.
Nehemiah was very specific about what his intentions were when he said, “We’re going to rebuild the city.” But now the big question is “How are we going to bring this about?” This is very important, because as someone once said, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” And so I want you to watch as Nehemiah has a specific, detailed, strategy to rebuilding the city.
Look with me at verse six, “Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, "How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?" It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. I also said to him, "If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the king's forest, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?" And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests” (Nehemiah 2:6-8).
Nehemiah said, “It pleased the King to send me, so I set a time…” In other words, he had already thought this through, here’s how long it’s going to take, here’s where I’m going to focus my energy, here’s the resources I need to achieve my goal. And we see him make two very specific request of the King. He said, “If it pleases the king, would you protect me as I go” and number two “Will you ask Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest to give me wood and timber so I can rebuild the gates, the wall, and my house?”
You see, Nehemiah had already done his homework; he’d already searched and Googled Asaph’s name, he’d already planned very strategically behind the scenes, and I think this is an area where we often tend to think that the planning process is not very spiritual. But the truth of the matter is that God works as much in your preparation as he does in your presentation; and here we see that Nehemiah had already worked behind the scenes, he’d already strategically planned this whole process, and it was very spiritual, because it was prayerfully, carefully, and strategically worked out.
Today, maybe you’ve got a vision and a burden to help, or serve, or work in some area and you know it’s going to take prayer and the power of God. This is what we need to learn from Nehemiah, because often what happens is that when you have a burden that’s so big you don’t know what to do next. It’s so big, so far beyond your abilities, too much for you, and you’re going to freeze up. You’ve got this specific dream, this passion, this burden, and yet you don’t know where to start, because you’re just one person, like Nehemiah was just a cupbearer, and you don’t know where to begin. And so here’s what you do, this is part of strategic planning, this is extremely practical if you can get a hold of it, but you simply define the next step and then step out in faith. This is life-changing, because no great leader has ever changed the world all at once, you change it one step at a time, you determine what it is and you do it.
I can’t help but think of our renovation project; you know, the expansion of our worship area. We’ve recognized the need, we’ve been very specific measuring and laying out plans, we’ve gotten the approval of the town, a quote from our favorite contractor. We’ve defined the next step and stepped out in faith. Now we’re just waiting on God’s perfect timing to provide the finances, the resources for the project, and it’s all very strategic. And that’s what Nehemiah does in verse nine, he says, “So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king's letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King's Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work” (Nehemiah 2:9-16).
So while everybody else was sleeping Nehemiah is working because change your world type of people put in the extra effort. Nehemiah goes out at night to see firsthand what the conditions are, he gathers all the information he needs so that he can go to the people with a strategic plan that will stimulate them, stirring them to buy into the vision that God had given him. And so number three, the third characteristic of a world changer is that they will stimulate the people.
Now there were many other words I could use, but they don’t begin with “S”. So Nehemiah stimulates the people, he gathers a group of people together to excite them, to inspire them, and to motivate them. He gathers the Jews, the priest, the nobles, the officials, and any others who will be doing the work and very clearly, very specifically, he defines their purpose, he lays out his plans before them, strategically how they’re going to accomplish this, to stimulate them to get involved. And so he says to them in verses 17 and 18, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace." I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, "Let us start rebuilding." So they began this good work” (Nehemiah 2:17-18). Nehemiah’s passion stimulates the people, he’s excited, he’s cheering them on saying, “Come on everybody, let’s rebuild the wall, we can do this, with God’s help we can get this done!” And the people feel his passion, they buy into his dream, and it says, “So they began this good work.”
If you clearly and specifically describe your burden, if you plan strategically, and if you care so much that you get this need deep in your heart, when you gather people together they’ll feel your passion, you’ll stimulate them to action, and they’ll be inspired by your vision. Now you might think that you’re not a stimulating speaker, you’re not an inspirational leader, but I assure you that Nehemiah was merely a cupbearer to the king. He wasn’t the best, but what he was, was one who cared the most, and when he stood before the people they realized, “This guy really cares, this guy really means it, and they got behind him!”
Now we don’t know everything that he said to the people, but I imagine that as he spoke you could feel the passion in his voice and you could see the excitement in his eyes. I love this quote from John Wesley. He said, “Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” And I believe, if you’ll get excited about something, people will join you in the burden that God has called you to accomplish.
Nehemiah says, “You see the trouble we are in? Jerusalem is in ruins, its gates have been burned, and so the first thing that we need to do is to rebuild the wall so that we’ll no longer be in disgrace.” He said, “Come on guys, we can do this, the hand of our God is with us. I know because God touched the heart of a king who had no reason to get behind me and to empower me to go and do this. And so I know that God is on our side!” And he warned them, “It’s not going to be easy, we’re going to have opposition, but we’re going to love it, because we’re doing something great to honor our God and to make his people strong again.” And with that passion, he stimulated, he inspired a group of people that for 140 years thought it was impossible, and suddenly realized that with God all things are possible. And so God raised up a cupbearer named Nehemiah to be a world changer and God can do the same thing for you.
You see, what God has done through Nehemiah, he can do through you as well if you’ll just believe. Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to look back with regret thinking, “I should have, could have, or would have.” Don’t fall into the trap that the majority of the world has, wasting your life on things that don’t matter, but surrender your heart fully to the Lord Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into an others-centered, others-serving, God-glorified life. As you get out of yourself, you’ll start to see your burdens becoming a ministry and God will use you to do something you never ever thought possible. At the end of your life you won’t have any regrets, you’ll know you left it all on the field, that your life counted, and when you stand before God on that last day, he’ll look at you and say, Matthew chapter 25, he’ll say, “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). All you have to do is believe that God can use you and that he wants to use you!
As we close let me inspire you for a moment. If we can get out of ourselves and into the Spirit of God, He is going to use you, you don’t have to be the best, you just have to have a heart that breaks for the things that break the heart of God. Nehemiah wasn’t an overnight success, but he spent time preparing for the work God called him to do, he did his homework, he was able to answer the right questions, and when the door of opportunity opened he was ready to go through.
Nehemiah spent time in prayer, he put in the late nights, he faced criticism and opposition, but he knew that the gracious hand of his God was upon him and he knew that the God of heaven would give them success. Today, God has given you a dream of making a difference; at work, at home, in your community, and the ministry of this church. As you prepare your heart and life he’ll take you to the place he’s called you to be. You can make a difference by yourself, but if you want to change the world you’re going to have to be a leader. This morning you may not feel like a leader, but Nehemiah didn’t feel like he was a leader either, he was just a guy that cared more than anybody else. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to care the most.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
September 11, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.