We started this series on discovering God’s divine direction for our lives by first asking the right questions, Who before Do, and Why before What. Who we are, and what motivates us in life, is where we start when we want to discover God’s divine direction. It is more important to become the right person than to worry about moving in the right direction, because the more we become the right person, the more we become like Jesus, simply do the right things, and walk in the way God has for us.
We then learned how to find the wisdom we need to make good decisions. We gain wisdom as we walk with those who are wise, as we ask God for wisdom, and as we decide, as we make decisions, and then learn from them the direction we need to go. Even wrong decisions can help move us in the right direction, if we are willing to learn from them.
Last week we learned that there is a process God uses to help us move in a divine direction, a process that starts with The Spirit’s Prompting, moves to Certain Uncertainty, Predictable Resistance, and then to Uncommon Confidence, which allows us to then step out in faith once more when the Spirit Prompts us. This process repeats over and over, and as it does we grow in wisdom, we grow in faith, and we become more and more the people God wants us to be. So we need to trust and lean into this process.
Today, we end at the beginning. Each week we have looked at obstacles to decision-making, but the biggest obstacle to making a decision, what stops us almost all the time is this – starting. It is the start that stops us. It is getting off the couch that stops us from running a 5 K. It is not joining that new group that stops us from growing in faith. It is not setting aside money to save or give that keeps us from getting out of debt. It is not starting a conversation with our spouse or child that keeps our family from healing, and relationships from improving. We can never finish something that we don’t start, we can never grow if we refuse to begin, and so today we are going to talk about having faith to start.
What often makes starting so difficult, is that when we have to start something, we have to let something else go. We have to give up the status quo, what we are familiar with, and what we are comfortable with. To take the first step toward our destiny, we have to step away from our security and start something new. Our future can never be different, our lives can never be better, unless we are willing to step out of the status quo, and start something new. At every age and stage of life, there are opportunities for us to change our destiny and embrace God’s divine direction. Every day we have opportunities to deepen our faith, to become more of the person we want to be, and more of the person we see in Jesus.
Today God is calling us to make that start. I don’t know what new beginning God is asking from you, it might be to start healing a friendship, or strengthening relationships at home. God might be asking you to step out at work, or step up in your children’s lives. Maybe God is asking you to step back on spending and get out of debt, or step across the divide to meet a need you see in our community or country. I don’t know what the specific situation is for you, but I know God is calling all of us to start something new, something that will move us in a divine direction.
If you were here last week, the area where most of us need to consider starting to move, is where the Spirit of God is prompting us. What is it that burdens your heart? What is the issue that we can’t let go of, that we can’t get out of our mind? What passion for our lives, or our families, or our community have we not been able to set aside? Where do we see no one else involved so that we start thinking, maybe I need to be the one to step into the gap? It is often these burdens that lead us to God’s divine direction.
I’ve shared before that as a pastor in Altoona, I showed up one Sunday morning to find that the kids in our neighborhood, kids who didn’t know God, or his love, had written their names on the doorpost of the church. The white chalk showed up really well on the red paint, so to avoid any critical talk, I just cleaned off the names, but as I did I was burdened by these kids. I began to feel the burden God had for these kids, in fact, I heard God say, Andy they are writing their names on the church, but I want their names written in the book of life. That burden laid on my heart, and it was the Spirit prompting me to work with others who shared that same burden, to open our doors, and get to know these children, to learn to love them, and to share with them the love and grace of God.
What divine burden has God laid on your heart? It might be for your family, for your own faith, for your finances, for your future, for the church, for the lost, and lonely, and hurting in our community, those in greatest need around the world, those displaced from flooding, but what is the burden God has laid on your heart? That is the place to start, and the first step in starting isn’t to do anything to solve that problem. The first step is to PRAY.
Around 586 BC, the nation of Israel was defeated by the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, including the Temple, the walls of the city, and most of the homes and businesses of the people. The majority of the people who lived in Israel were carried off to live in Babylon. The city laid in ruins for 70 years. Once the Persians defeated Babylon, the king of Persia allowed some of the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem and to begin to rebuild the Temple, but the process was slow.
70 years later, around 445 BC, or 140 years after the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, a Jewish man living in Persia named Nehemiah, heard from his brothers what it was like in Jerusalem, his homeland. He heard how the walls of the city still laid in ruins, how the gates of the city were still burned out and empty, and how because there was no protection, the people could not live in and restore the city. The conditions in Nehemiah’s homeland burdened him. This is what Nehemiah said, one of my brothers, Hanani, came with certain men from Judah; and I asked them about the Jews that survived, those who had escaped the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They replied, “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire.” When I heard these words I sat down and wept
Nehemiah was burdened by what he heard. His heart broke for his people, his homeland, his faith, and his God. Nehemiah was so moved that he wept, he wept for days, and this divine burden led to a divine direction, and the first thing that Nehemiah did wasn’t to find a builder so he could contract out the work of rebuilding the walls, and he didn’t organize a mission trip to get things started, the first thing he did was – PRAY. When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
There are 4 basic parts to Nehemiah’s prayer that are important for us to pray when we feel a divine burden, or when we feel like the Spirit of God is prompting us to move in a new direction.
#1. We ask God to hear us. Nehemiah prayed, Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night. We simply ask God to turn his ear, and his heart, and his eyes, to us so we can share our burden with him. If we want to make sure our burden is truly God’s burden, we need to ask God to look upon us, and listen to us, and move in us to give clarity and further direction to our lives.
#2. We ask God to forgive us. Nehemiah prayed, I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself, and my father’s house, have committed against you. We may have contributed to the problem or the situation that we see, and so we need to take responsibility and confess our sin before we ask God to use us to solve the problem. If we see the problem of injustice, we may want to confess the ways we horde too much of the power, authority, resources of the world. If we want to help with world hunger, it might be important for us to confess the ways we waste food. If we want to heal relationships, we might need to confess how our words and attitudes have broken those relationships to begin with. Humility is important. It reminds us that we have to change ourselves if we want to change the future.
#3. We ask God to remember who God is and the promise that God has made. Nehemiah prayed, Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses. Now we don’t say this to remind God who He is, or what he has promised, God doesn’t need to be reminded. We ask because it shows God that we have faith in who He is and the promises He has made. God had promised that he would gather his people together, even if there were exiled, if they would return to him. So Nehemiah reminds God of this, to encourage himself and the people to place their trust in god. When we ask God to remember his promises, it is because we are remembering them, and claiming them, and showing God that we have trust in them as we move forward.
#4. We ask God for success. Nehemiah prayed, Give your servant success today by granting him favor. We ask God to give us favor as we seek to do his will. This doesn’t mean we ask God to make everything easy. We heard last week that moving in a divine direction is often hard. WE face uncertainty and resistance. So we don’t ask for ease, we ask for God’s favor so we can be faithful. We ask God for the faith to start, so we can begin to move in the direction God wants for us.
So the first step in starting anything is not to move forward, but down, down to our knees, or down into our hearts to pray. After we pray, then we can – START. And here is the key to anything we start, start small. Every big thing started with a small first step.
• Apple started in a garage.
• Hewlett-Packard started in a garage.
• Disney started in a garage.
They all started with a small first step. All big things start with a small first step. So the key isn’t to start big but to start small. It is ok to think big, but we need to start small.
Nehemiah was thinking big, but started small. He had a vision for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, it was the burden of his heart, but he didn’t start by taking completed plans for the walls to the king for his approval. Nehemiah just took a small step of faith and showed up before the king with the burden of his heart plain to see. While maybe it was a small step, it was still a risky one.
Nehemiah was a cup bearer, which meant it was his job to taste the wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Now before you think that sounds like a good job, he wasn’t tasting the wine to make sure it was good, he was tasting it to make sure it wasn’t poison. One bad day at work for him, would be his last day of work. As the cup bearer, Nehemiah wasn’t to go before the king with his own problems showing, or an agenda of his own, he was just to taste the wine, and serve the king. But Nehemiah took a small step one day and showed up looking sad, and God honored that by having the king ask Nehemiah what the problem was, which led to Nehemiah being able to share the burden of his heart with the king. The first small step was rewarded by God and led to another opportunity.
When we take that first small step, God will rejoice. When we step out for the first time, God celebrates, and gives us the chance to take another step. If you are a parent, do you remember the first step taken by your children? Chances are you celebrated and cheered that first step, and then encouraged them to take another step. We don’t scold our children when the fail or fall and we don’t demand they do better. This is exactly what God does when we are willing to take the first step in a divine direction. God rejoices. God celebrates. God rejoiced when Nehemiah took the first step, so moved in the heart of the king to give Nehemiah another opportunity. God honored Nehemiah’s step. When we take that first step, when we start, God celebrates that step and God honors it by giving us more opportunities to move forward.
When the people of Israel first returned to Jerusalem and began to rebuild the Temple, they had to start by simply placing one stone upon another. At that time God said, do not despise the small beginnings because the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. So when we take that first small step – God rejoices. Whatever the first step is that we take, God rejoices. We might not get far, we might fall, and have to start all over again, but God rejoices because we are moving in a divine direction.
As we take that first step, it is important to remember that we don’t have to have the faith to finish the project, we just have to have the faith to start. We don’t have to have all the answers, or even a clear vision of where we are going, we just have to have the faith to start. When I saw the names of kids on the church door, I didn’t know what we needed to do. I didn’t have a good vision of what God wanted to happen, I just knew we had to open the door. So one afternoon when the kids showed up again, we opened the door. We took one step. Then we took another step, we started to talk to them. Then we listened to them, then we invited them in, then we talked and listened some more, then we invited them to hang out afterschool, then we served them dinner, then we asked them to stay for activities like a bible school, and step by step, a faith based afterschool program formed that still reaches out to kids whose names God wants in the book of life.
We just have to have the faith to start, to take that first step. Once we do that, here is the big key to success, this is the key to moving in a divine direction, this is important, profound even – Take Another Step. Nehemiah just kept taking another step. He talked to the king. He asked the king if he could go to Jerusalem to see the situation for himself. When the king said yes, he asked for letters of protection, and then he asked for resources to start rebuilding the walls. Then Nehemiah packed for the trip, and one day he sat down on a donkey and started the 750 mile trip that would have taken him weeks to make.
When Nehemiah arrived, he had to take another step. He had to gather people together to begin the work; he had to face opposition from those who didn’t want the wall built (remember, when we move in God’s divine direction we face obstacles and resistance, and Nehemiah did.) Nehemiah kept taking another step, and then 52 days later they had the entire wall of Jerusalem completed, with gates hung at every opening. Building the wall in 52 days was seen as a miracle, but it happened because of hard work and perseverance. It happened because Nehemiah prayed, started and then took another step.
There are times when God might ask us to do the impossible, or what seems like something impossible, and we will never do it if we never take the first step, but if we take that step, and then another – the sky is the limit. St. Francis of Assisi said, Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Start with one small step, then take another step, and then another, and then another, and then in time we will be moving in God’s divine direction.
God is asking all of us today to move in a divine direction. God is prompting us, laying a burden or passion on our heart, calling us in a new direction, and encouraging us to pray, then start. Pray, then start. Pray then start, and then, keep going.
Faith to Start
1. What one thing have you failed to finish, because you failed to start? What one thing have you been thinking of starting, but have yet to take the first step?
2. Read the story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah 1:1-7:3.
In this story, identify the process outlined last week:
• The Spirit’s Prompting
• Certain Uncertainty
• Predictable Resistance
• Uncommon Confidence
3. What burden has God placed on your heart?
• What is one thing that God is asking you to start?
• Who might share this burden with you?
4. Pray, following the prayer of Nehemiah.
• God, hear me
• God, forgive me
• God, remember who you are, and your promises
• God, give me success
5. Think BIG but start SMALL.
• What is the first step you need to take?
6. What is your next step?
Prayer for moving in God’s Divine Direction:
God, give me the courage to dream big but to start small. Grant me the faith to start, even when I have no clear view of how I will finish. Give me the persistence to be faithful with the little things, as I trust you with the big things, so that together we can finish the race. AMEN