Re:Solve - Week One: "Discontent"
It's a month after the New Year and I don't know about you but usually by this time I have already broken whatever resolutions I happen to have made in January.
So this year, I decided to life-hack the whole resolution thing by waiting until February to make my resolutions. Ha! Take that, January! And take that, Not Keeping Resolutions! How you like me now?
"See you in March, suckah!"... is the answer I'm getting back.
Seriously though, so many of us try to fix ourselves every year, don't we? Hope springs eternal as we figure out all of the ways we got off track in the previous year and we plan everything that we possibly can to rectify it.
And don't give me that whole, "I don't make New Year's resolutions..." ALL of us start off the new year with the sense that we have a new start to do something different... to be better.
For things like dieting, exercise, reading more books, meditating, taking yoga... yeah, we might be able to pull those things off from time to time.
But when it comes to the really big things in life--the big decisions, the life-changing moments, hopes and dreams, real direction and purpose... It's so hard to know which to way to turn, isn't? It's so hard to figure it all out on your own.
So let me ask you a question...
Are you at a point in your life where you need some direction or a new vision? Would you like to learn how to stop trying to figure all that on your own and discover how to align yourself with God's vision for you life? With God's direction and purpose?
That's at the heart of this sermon series, Re:Solve: Aligning Yourself with God's Vision. We'll be spending the next several weeks studying the Old Testament book of Nehemiah--the memoirs of a man who sought to be aligned to God's vision and pursued it with all his heart.
Today we'll be exploring the first step toward aligning your life with God's will... and I hope that you will remember this long after we're done today:
A heart that is broken over what's wrong with the world won't rest until it's made right.
When you are filled with holy discontent over something that is wrong in the world and you can't shake the feeling that God just might be calling you to fix it. That's when you know that your life is starting to line up with God's will.
And here's the game-changing truth about that whole thing... God is calling all of us to set what's wrong in the world to right. God is calling each and every one of us to do our part--the part we were created to accomplish.
Because this is how God works--through broken vessels like you and me. People like us who let your hearts break over what's wrong and then don't rest until it's made right.
Not really. We still have some Nehemiah to study. Because Nehemiah lived this very thing in a trying and troublesome time, and he aligned himself with God's will despite the potential cost that it might have exacted upon him.
Let's go to Nehemiah chapter 1.
1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:
His name means, "The Lord is compassionate"
In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
This is about 445 B.C.E.
3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Verse 3 - "broken down" paras -- broken through, and spread around.
The absence of the wall would have left the city vulnerable and was a source of great shame to the city's residents.
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
5 Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
Uses the language of the priests on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Verse 7 - "have acted very wickedly" habal -- to destroy, ruin, to be broken
8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’
Nehemiah draws on visions of the world as it should be in his prayer--aligning himself with God's will. He wasn't really reminding God of God's promises as much as he was reminding himself.
I was cupbearer to the king.
Had direct access to the king--wine taster, bearer of the signet rink, chief financial officer, sometimes close to the king's harem. - Artaxerxes I But even though he had access, this was tricky. The walls in Jerusalem had begun to be repaired some years earlier, but because of a fear of a Jewish uprising (most likely fueled by the surrounding Arab peoples) the Persian king halted the progress.
His heart was broken over the situation in Jerusalem and he could not rest until he did something no matter what it cost him.
Now granted, this is a very contextual story---but what can we learn from it? What can we take away from the story of Nehemiah that enables us to begin aligning ourselves with God's will for our lives?
What is important for us to know when our hearts begin to break and we think God might be leading us to do something or move a particular direction?
There's probably more to this list, but I believe there are three basic things that you need to know when you feel your heart begin to break:
1. God is calling you because you are the right person in the right place at the right time. You are uniquely qualified for what you are being called to do.
Nehemiah was the perfect person to address the need that was breaking his heart. In fact, that may have been one of the main factors that contributed to his breaking heart--the realization that he was the right person in the right place at the right time.
In the book of Esther, which has long had comparisons with the story of Nehemiah, Esther's uncle tells her that she was "created for such a time as this." It's hard for us to embrace that kind of truth isn't it? Most of us can't believe that we might be that special.
I hear this all of the time from church members. They will speak to me about a burden they have, or a desire they are feeling... a direction they feel God might be leading them, and then they will qualify the whole thing by saying, "But why would God use me?"
Why not you?
2. Prayer will give you clarity. Talking to God makes things clearer for us.
Nehemiah didn't have to tell God about God. He didn't have to remind God that God was God. God sort knew all that. God just wanted Nehemiah to get it.
I can't tell you how many times I've felt a deep desire, a longing, a feeling that God may be moving me one direction or another, but it took a season of prayer to solidify it, to make it real, or to figure out that it wasn't at all what I thought it was.
Sometimes just saying out loud in prayer the thing that you are feeling is a powerful thing. It puts it out into the universe and suddenly it's not "private" any longer. And that's when things can really begin to change for you. That's when you can really start to see what God might be up to.
Merideth and I practice this regularly, and the results are astounding. We recently had a situation where we were feeling a pull in one direction, but through prayer---really an intense conversation with God--we discovered peace to do something completely different.
And why not go to prayer early and often, right? Using the greatest weapon at the very end of the movie--why didn't they use it first?
3. The calling is probably too big for you. So ask for guidance and help.
Nehemiah knew that the calling was too big. He was going to need some serious help--the kind of help that could only come from the king. And even though it was risky, he sought that help.
Most of us don't have to risk a lot to seek good guidance and help from people we love and respect. But I will tell you this--I am sure that whatever you might be called to do is too big for you to be able to fathom, handle, approach, deal with, accomplish...
I've come to understand that God just loves messing with us like that. Plus, I believe God loves redirecting our discontent about the big huge issues we face, the problems in this world, our challenges... God loves that.
Elie Wiesel once told this story: A student once asked the Rebbe of Kotzk "Why did it take God six days to create the world? Look at it--it's filled with corruption, cruelty, inhumanity!" The master replied, "Can you do better?" The disciple said, "I think--yes, I can!" The master said, "So what are you waiting for? Get started! Go to work immediately!"
Frederick Buechner famously said that the moment you know your calling is when the world's greatest needs and your greatest desires intersect.
You might be called to... Mission, ministry, volunteer, give more...
Or it could be something close to home.
Change careers... Do something radical to save your marriage... Become a better parent...
But remember, A heart that is broken over what's wrong in the world won't rest until it's made right.