We are 5 days into the New Year… how many of you have kept your New Year’s resolutions? A lot of people make resolutions to lose weight and exercise more, which is why we see so many ads for Peloton and Nutri-System, but by now many of those folks have already given up on new habits and their lives haven’t changed. But what if I told you that in 2020 we could not only change our lives but we could change our world? What if I told you that in 2020 God wants you to change the world? Yes you.
I know what you are thinking, but I’m nobody. I’m retired. I’m just a stay at home mom or dad. I’m wage payroll at Penn State. I’m just a cog in a machine the produces goods and services for the community and world. I have no great gifts or skills, and I have no connections to powerful and influential people. I hear you – that’s me too, but I absolutely believe that God is here today to tell us that in 2020 He wants to use us, you and me, to change the world.
God delights in using ordinary people to do great things. Mary and Joseph were pretty ordinary people and look what God did through the them? Nehemiah was an ordinary man, and this month we are going to look at how God used him to change his world. God used Nehemiah to inspire the people of Israel to do something in 52 days that no one else had been able to do for 140 years. If you don’t know the story of Nehemiah, it is found in the Old Testament and it may not be well known, but it is powerful, and it is one of my favorites because Nehemiah was an ordinary guy who changed the world. If he can do it, then so can we.
So here’s the setting… King David established Israel as a great nation and then his son Solomon built it into a true world power. After Solomon, however, the nation divided and slowly drifted away from God. People started to ignore God’s laws, they began to worship idols, and the kings, priests, and leaders placed their trust in the strength of other nations and other gods instead of in the power of God alone. It wasn’t long before Israel was defeated by the Babylonians who destroyed the Temple, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, and took the people of Israel into Babylon as captives. 50 years later, the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, and under a new Persian King, Cyrus, some of the people of Israel were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. 70 years after the Jewish Temple had been destroyed, it was rebuilt and offerings and sacrifices once again returned to the Temple. While a few people had returned to the city of Jerusalem to live, in many ways, the city still lay in ruins.
This is where we pick up the story in Nehemiah 1:1-3.
Nehemiah was living in Susa, which is in modern day Iran, about 1,000 miles away from Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s brothers had just returned from Jerusalem so he asked them how things were going. What they told him was that the walls of the city had still not been rebuilt. That may not seem like much to us, but this would have been a disgrace to the people of Israel. A city was only as strong as its walls. Walls meant protection, but they also gave people a sense of identity and showed their pride. The walls lying in ruin was a disgrace and while Nehemiah knew this had been the situation for 140 years, hearing it this time troubled him, but what could he do? He was just an ordinary person. Nehemiah 1:11 tells us that Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to the king.
A cup bearer was the person who not only gave the king his wine, but he had to taste it first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Not a bad job until the day the enemy tries to poison the king. You never know when the next day might literally be your last day. The cup bearer didn’t have to be highly skilled but they did have to be highly regarded and trustworthy. The king had to trust the cup-bearer completely because his life depended on him. The cup-bearer may have had some other duties in the palace, acting like a butler, but they did not have to be highly skilled or talented. They were simply loyal employees.
Nehemiah was an ordinary man just doing his job when he heard about the situation in Israel. He wasn’t thinking about changing the world, or even the situation in Jerusalem, but when he heard about the condition of the city, and the plight of the people, it moved him. Hearing about the walls this time burdened Nehemiah and he suddenly said, enough is enough. Something has to be done. This is unacceptable. It was this burden that began to turn Nehemiah from a cup-bearer into a world changer.
Where God wants to use us to change the world is in those places that touch our hearts and burden our lives. God wants to use us to change the world in those times and places where we say, this is not acceptable and something has to be done. God will use us in those situations that like Nehemiah, move us to tears. Nehemiah 1:4, When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.
Ordinary world changers are those who first Sit Down to Cry.
If we want to change our world, if we want to make life better for our community, then we need to pay attention to what it is that burden’s our heart. What moves us to tears? What troubles us and disturbs us? What pain or problem do we see that no one else seems to notice but causes us to say – this is not acceptable and something has to be done? These are going to be areas where God can use us to bring about change.
What moves you to tears? We will all answer this question differently. For some people the burden they have is for young girls and boys caught up in human trafficking, for others it is poverty and income inequality. Some people are moved by the lack of clean water for people around the world, hunger (globally or locally), or the plight of refugees. Some people are deeply moved by children in our own community who need foster care and forever families, or for families who need a house to call home. Each one of us is moved in different ways and are troubled by different things and we need to listen to our hearts and the whispers of God because God may be showing us something that no one else is seeing. If God is going to use us in 2020 to change our world, it is going to be in those areas that move us to tears.
If it has been a while since you have sat down to cry, or been moved by the needs of our community or world, then I encourage you to pray this simple but life changing prayer. God, break my heart by what breaks yours.
Weeping, however, is not the end of the journey, we need to turn our weeping into praying. Sitting down to cry has to lead to Kneeling Down to Pray. That is what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah 1:4. for some days I fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
When something breaks our heart we need to turn our tears into prayers. Before we do anything, before we think about doing anything, before we make plans to do anything, we need to pray. Prayer is important because it asks God to reveal to us his purpose and it allows God to share with us his power. The world will only be changed for good if we are working for God’s purpose and relying upon God’s power, so to change the world we need to kneel down to pray.
Nehemiah was a man who sought the purpose and power of God in prayer often. Nehemiah turned to God when he was uncertain or when he was in need. Nehemiah never seemed to take a step forward without prayer and our lives need this same commitment to prayer. One of the rhythms in our relationship with God is prayer. Prayer is simply: conversations with God that overflow into every area of my life. If you are hearing God say, you need to grow in prayer, then I invite you to take part in the 3 relationship workshop on prayer being led by Pastor Kathleen Danely. We cannot change the world, or our world, or even our lives, if we are not people of prayer. But if we will pray – God will use us in ways we never thought possible.
We sit down to cry, we kneel down to pray, and that is what gives us the strength and courage to then Stand Up to Act. Nehemiah didn’t just cry and pray, he took a risk and did something about the burden he felt. Nehemiah shared his burden with the king. Nehemiah went to work one day and in the presence of the king he allowed himself to look sad. Again, this doesn’t seem like much, but if the king didn’t like how you looked, he could have you killed. Nehemiah could have painted a smile on his face and pretended like everything was ok, but through his prayer he decided to simply be honest and share his sorrow with the king. He stood up to act, and when the king asked him what was wrong, before he opened his mouth, Nehemiah prayed again. Nehemiah 2:1-5.
Nehemiah didn’t have a well thought out plan at this point, he just knew he needed to do something. He had prayed and so now, trusting God, he did something. Many times this is all God is asking of us, do something. We are not going to solve world hunger, but we can feed those who are hungry. We can’t solve the problem of unclean water in the world, but we can help build one well. We can’t solve the problems of orphans in our county, but we can help support one child. We can’t do everything but we can do something, and that one simple step forward will lead to another, and it might inspire someone else to do something, and in time problems might be solved, people might be cared for, and our world will have changed.
What would it look like if, in 2020, each one of us not only sat down to cry, and knelt down to pray, but also stood up to act? How might our church and community change if we supported each other in working to make a difference? Think of what God could do in us and through us if together we shared our burdens, prayed together, then stood up together to act? Our lives would change. Our community would change. Our world would change, and we would see that God can use ordinary people to be world changers.
God used Nehemiah. He stood up to act and in time King Cyrus allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem where, in 52 days, Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. 52 days. Walls that had been lying in ruins for 140 years were rebuilt in 52 days. This was an act of God and it happened because one ordinary man allowed his heart to be broken by the heart of God, he was willing to pray, and then he stepped out in faith to do something. God can change our world in 52 days if we will allow our hearts to be broken by the heart of God, if will commit ourselves to prayer, and if we will draw on the strength and power of God to do something – to stand up and act.
Together let’s ask God to use us to change our world.
Change Your World in 52 Days
1. Sit down to cry.
● What is it that breaks your heart?
● How does this situation also break the heart of God?
● Pray each day: God, break my heart by what breaks yours.
● Listen for God’s response.
2 Kneel down to pray.
● Daily pray about the burden that has touched your heart.
● Ask God to reveal not only the problem but the solution, and how you can bring about change.
● Ask others to pray with you.
● Share with your small group the things that burden your heart and commit to praying for each other for 52 days.
3. Stand up to act.
● After a season of prayer, what one step can you take to follow God’s leading in your life?
● What one person can you ask to stand with you?
● What is the first step in preparing yourself for God’s purpose and plan for your life in 2020?
4. Read Nehemiah 1-2.
Sign up for one of the 3 Relationships workshops on January 25. Ask God to use this training to help you become the world changer he wants you to be. Sign up at the connection table or online at bellefontefaith.com.