I don’t know if you saw in the news earlier this week that Elizabeth Elliott passed away at the age of 88. In 1956, her husband Jim Elliott and 4 other young missionaries flew into the jungle of Ecuador to seek to bring the gospel to the Huarani people, an indigenous tribe who at the time had had very little contact with the outside world. The story of how all 5 missionaries were speared to death during that first encounter was reported in newspapers around the world. What caught peoples’ attention was the sacrifice that these 5 young men were willing to make, to give up their lives seeking to share the good news about Jesus to people who had never heard the name of Jesus before. Eventually Elisabeth Elliott went back and shared the gospel with the same people who had killed her husband, many of them becoming Christians
And I think that what the story of Jim Elliott & the 5 missionaries affirms for us, is that God delights in calling ordinary people to do extraordinary things for him. Certainly we find example after example of this all thru the Bible, in the lives of people like Abraham, David, Mary, Peter. And it’s certainly true as well in the life of the man we are turning our attention to this summer, a man named Nehemiah.
I believe that when Christ calls us to follow him, he already has a job, a task, a mission, for each of us, that he calls all of us to serve him in a unique way. And if we will listen to God's call on our lives, & step out in faith & obedience, there is no limit to what he can do thru very ordinary people like you and I. Because God’s call on our lives is not limited by our abilities, our vision, but only by the size of our God!
Last Sunday we saw how, when Nehemiah had heard what was happening in his hometown of Jerusalem, that the people there were in great distress, that the walls around the city were still lying in ruins, his heart was broken by that news. And as he prayed, he felt a great burden for that city. He felt somehow God was calling him to do something about it, but what could he possibly do? Here was Nehemiah in service to the king of Persia, a 1000 miles away from Jerusalem. While he felt God's call to do something, the obstacles must have seemed insurmountable. Perhaps you've felt the same way at some time: Maybe you've sensed God's call in your life- you've felt him saying "I want you to do this for me" But in your heart, your response has always been: "I'd love to Lord, but I can't. You see I've got a family to support, I'm so busy with my job. I've got way too much on my plate right now." What do you do in that kind of situation? When what God is asking you to do, seems way out of reach, when it seems impossible? Well what did Nehemiah do?
Here in our scripture reading in chapter 2, I believe we can identify at least 4 steps that Nehemiah took as he responded to God's call in his life:
Well 1st He had to Wait. Now we might not think even think of this as a step at all, but actually it was a very important one. Before he could move forward, Nehemiah had to wait for God’s timing- for the right time to move ahead. Now notice back in chap 1, Nehemiah had first heard the news about the situation in Jerusalem in the month of Kislev, which would be December by our calendar. But by the beginning of chap 2, we are now in the month of Nisan, which is April. And so we discover that 4 months have gone by between these 2 incidents. And all this time, Nehemiah has been waiting, praying & agonizing over the situation. And as he waits on God for those 4 months, the Lord has been slowly working in his heart, giving him a vision of what he wants to do thru him. And Nehemiah has been asking God to somehow move the mountains that are in the way of him being able to do what God has called him to do. And the biggest mountain, the biggest obstacle, is Artaxerxes, the king of Persia. Now Nehemiah is the official cupbearer to the king, not exactly the kind of position that you can just take a 3 month vacation from. So how on earth does he ask the king to allow him a leave of absence to go back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah doesn't mention it here, but Artaxerxes had already refused permission for the wall to be rebuilt 12 years earlier in the book of Ezra (4) It must have seemed highly unlikely to Nehemiah that he would ever get the king to go along with the plan that was being conceived in his mind. And so he waits thru those 4 months, faithfully serving in the king's court, but all the while praying & asking God to give him an opportunity to speak to the king about his problem.
2. He steps out in faith. Well that moment comes for Nehemiah here at the beginning of chap 2. The time for waiting & praying is over, & it is now time for Nehemiah to get off his knees, & step out in faith & take a risk. One day as he brings the king his wine, the king notices that something seems to be bothering Nehemiah. He could see it on his face "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." Now up until this point, through these 4 months, Nehemiah had been very careful to hide his feelings from the king. You have to understand that for a servant like Nehemiah, it was a capital offense to even look sad in the presence of the king. And the reason for that was, just being in the king's presence was supposed to be enough to overcome any problems you might have. You weren't supposed to show your personal feelings in front of him.
But finally the king notices that something is wrong with Nehemiah. And when the king asks him what the problem is, Nehemiah realizes that this is the opportunity he has been waiting for. It's time to get off his knees & take a risk. But he's also afraid of what the king's response might be. And so he delivers a quick prayer for help to the Lord, takes a deep breath & lays out his dilemma before the king. He says "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire? “ The opportunity had come to seize the moment, but Nehemiah also knew he was taking a big gamble. If the king was unsympathetic to his appeal, he knew he wouldn’t get a second chance. Now none of us particularly like being in a situation where we are forced to take risks. We like to stay in our comfort zone, where things are safe & predictable, where we know what’s going to happen. I heard someone once compare it to being in the shallow end of a swimming pool. We like it there, because we can just kind of float around where we’re nice and safe and secure, and we know that nothing dangerous is every going to happen to us. But sometimes God wants to move us out of the comfort of the shallow end, and he says, “Now I want you to jump into the deep end.” And for most of us, that’s a little scary, because we don’t know if we will be able to stay afloat in the deep end.
That call to jump into the deep end came for me about 12 years ago. At the time I was pastoring a church in Hamilton, and everything seemed to be going fine. We had just gone through the process of merging our church with another church nearby, and we were right in the middle of a major building expansion. But then Diane and I both started to hear the Lord say that He had something else for us to do. That he was calling us to move to Africa and serve Him there. Well let me tell you, at first I was very resistant to that idea! Diane will tell you that I’m the kind of person who likes things to be safe & predictable. And I knew if we were to do what God was calling us to, it would mean leaving that place of safety & predictability we were in at the time. It would also mean leaving 3 of our older kids here in Canada, selling our house and most of our belongings, and going eventually to Angola, a country that had just ended 40 years of civil war, a country in chaos. And so there were all kinds of risks & uncertainties involved in following that call. But we believed that's what God wanted us to do, he was calling us out of our comfort zone and into a future that was very much unknown for us. To move out of the shallow end of the pool, and jump into the deep end. But you know what? I believe that unless we’re willing to do that, unless we are willing to move out of our comfort zone & take a step of faith, we‘ll never really discover all of God's call on our lives. Sometimes we will find ourselves in a situation where we're not completely sure where God is leading us, where we don't have all the answers, where we have to trust God. That’s what it means to walk by faith.
And that's what Nehemiah did, he stepped out and took the kind of risks that faith sometimes requires Well, the king could have had Nehemiah executed here for his impertinence, but he didn't. Instead he says to Nehemiah "What is it you want?" And Nehemiah, not completely sure how the king would respond, nevertheless has his shopping list all ready for just this moment. He had obviously thought this through, & he knew exactly what he wanted. 1st he wanted the king's permission to go back to Jerusalem. “2.5” He even gave the king a specific time, as to how long he would be gone. Nehemiah knew he was also going to need resources. And so he asked the king for the timber he would need to rebuild the gates of the city. Nehemiah knew he was asking for a lot, & he had incredible nerve asking for all this. But notice the end of v8: "And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests." Isn’t that amazing!
3. So what did Nehemiah do next? He had to Go! He had to go where God called him to go. He had to leave the security and prestige of his position in Suza, and go back to Jerusalem. And when he gets to Jerusalem, what does he do? Does he ride up on his white horse, & announce to the people that he was going to rescue them from their distress? No, in fact at first he was very secretive about what he was up to. v11: "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."
The 1st thing Nehemiah did was to go out by night to inspect the ruins of the wall for himself. He wanted to get up close to the situation, to get a first hand look at the condition of the wall. And maybe that's an important thing for us to do as well, if we’re serious about answering God’s call in our lives. What do the ruins look like around us today? A few years ago, YFC did a study in the US, & they discovered the following statistics: that in the next 30 minutes, 29 young people in America will attempt suicide. 40 teenage girls will become pregnant outside of marriage, & 19 of them will eventually have abortions. Over the next 30 minutes, 685 kids will take some form of illegal drug, & 285 children will be subjected to physical or sexual abuse. Friends, these are the kind of human ruins, we find around ourselves today. But often we don't see those ruins, because we're not taking a close enough look. We protect ourselves from seeing what is happening. Nehemiah went out & saw the ruins for himself.
4. Finally, Nehemiah shared the vision God had given him with the rest of the people. After he had gone out & looked at the wall, he came back, & he called together the nobles & the officials of the city & he said in v17 "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." He told them how God's hand was already upon this work, & what the king had said - & the people responded by saying "Yes! let's do it! But you know what's amazing here? These people had already been back in Jerusalem for almost 100 years. But it wasn't until Nehemiah arrived with his God-given vision of rebuilding the wall, that they finally believed that Yes, they could do it. And you know what else? These same people, under Nehemiah's leadership, would rebuild the whole wall & the gates around Jerusalem in 52 days. That doesn't mean it was easy, it doesn't mean they didn't have opposition, as we shall see. But as they responded to the call & vision of God, the Lord enabled them to accomplish an amazing feat to his glory, something they had thought was impossible.
So let me ask you this morning, What is the task that God is calling you to? You may think God can't use you, but you're wrong! God delights in calling ordinary people like you & I to do extraordinary things, if we're willing to wait on him in prayer, & then step out in faith & take the necessary risks. That doesn't mean that all of us are called to be a missionary to Africa, or be a martyr fo him in Ecuador. But God calls each of us to serve him using the unique gifts and abilities he has give to us. I don’t know what that will look like for you. But I believe that if you are willing to wait on God, to listen to his voice, and then step out in faith, be willing to take risks, to move out of your comfort zone into new uncharted territory, then He will help you to do things for Him that you can’t even imagine.