How many of you have lit your Holy Spirit candle and said the prayer at least once this past week? That’s awesome. Remember, we are soaked with the Holy Spirit in order to saturate the world around us. Today’s message will extend that idea. However, rather than focusing on the Holy Spirit, I want us to focus on ourselves. I want us to answer the question, are we the kind of people that God can use?
Nehemiah1:1-11 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: 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 survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 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.” 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: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, 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 house, have committed against you. 7 We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. 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.’ 10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
The setting is about 500 years before the time of Christ. God’s people had lived in Israel for centuries before. God had told them: “Obey Me and you’ll live in the land for a long time. Disobey Me and you’ll be carried off into captivity.” That’s what happened. The Babylonians came and conquered God’s people and took the leading citizens 1,000 miles away.
But the discipline was ending. Several years before Nehemiah’s day, some of God’s people were given permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild a broken down temple and a broken down city.
But the attempts to rebuild the protective wall around the city (destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC) had been frustrated by some ‘the enemies of Judah’ (Ezra 4:1, 7-16). As a result very few people lived in the capital city (Nehemiah 11:1). Jerusalem was a city of ruins.
Nehemiah lived in the royal city of Susa, the winter residence of Artaxerxes, the Persian king. Judah, the homeland of Nehemiah, was a thousand miles away.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. He was more than a “butler.” A cupbearer held a position of great responsibility. At each meal, he tested the king’s wine and food to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. If he died, then the king wouldn’t drink or eat what was put before him. Doesn’t sound like a great job. But think. A man who stood that close to the king in public had to be cultured, knowledgeable, and able to advise the king when asked. Because he had access to the king, the cupbearer was a man of great influence. The cupbearer was rather like a prime minister and master of ceremonies rolled into one.
God was going to use Nehemiah to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That was a big deal. How would he get time off to lead that project? How would he get the resources to accomplish that feat? That was a God-sized task. It was beyond Nehemiah’s abilities and required more than Nehemiah’s resources. We see from this passage at least three reasons why God was able to use Nehemiah to tackle this large building project.
- 1. God used Nehemiah because he expressed CONCERN over Jerusalem and those living there. All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “concern!”
Nehemiah 1:2 says, “I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.”
We might think that an important man like Nehemiah had more important things to think about than a distant city he had never been to, and a people he had mostly never met. Yet, because his heart was for the things of God, his heart was not on himself, but on others.
We live in a day and time when it seems like concern for others rarely makes the news. What becomes front page material seems to be the atrocious acts people commit against others in order to profit somehow for themselves.
Stories about people showing concern for others seem to be fewer and fewer. We live in a culture that shouts that we are to look out for number one. Protect your investments, line your pockets, gain control, and position yourself strategically so that you can be seen, applauded, and promoted.
Those who are hurting and struggling are easily dismissed as someone else’s responsibility or simply forgotten because of the busyness of our own lives. Think back over the last week, the last month, the last year, have you taken the time to express concern to someone?
Expressing concern can be as small as asking, “How are things,” like Nehemiah did. There is nothing more defeating than risking to share a burden with someone and then never hearing from them again about the pain you disclosed. When you are aware of someone that is broken or a circumstance that has caused someone sadness, confusion or distress, take time to express your concern.
Nehemiah didn’t get good news when he asked about the city. He was told, “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.”
One online commentator, David Guzik stated:
The bad state of the people and the bad state of the city walls were intimately connected. In the ancient world, a city without walls was a city completely open and vulnerable to its enemies. They had no defense, no protection at all.
An unwalled city was always be poor with nothing valuable in it. If there were anything of value in an unwalled city, it could be stolen away easily because there was no defense to stop it.
Those living in an unwalled city lived in constant stress and tension; they never knew when they might be attacked and brutalized. Every man lived in constant fear for his wife and children. The temple could be rebuilt, but never made beautiful, because anything valuable would be taken easily.
No wonder the people lived in constant trouble, in constant disgrace, living only as survivors. God has more for us than to be mere survivors. God not only wants us to be conquerors, but more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).
There are people all around us who are living vulnerable, unprotected, poverty-stricken, and fearful lives and they need someone to express concern about that. Their walls are broken. We can’t burst onto the scene of their lives with the truth that God wants them to be a conqueror without first showing that He cares about what they are going through.
Mamie Adams always went to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees there were friendly. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, ‘but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis.”
Ask about arthritis and chemo therapy and ask what it is like now that someone has become a stay-at-home mom. Ask how the job change or how the move into a new community has gone. Ask what it is like now that the kids are grown and have left the nest. Ask how the ballgame, the recital or the test went. Ask someone how it is going as they are caring for an aging parent. Ask how someone is coping three months, six months, and years after they have lost someone they love. Ask for follow up information after people share prayer requests. Expressing concern begins with asking how things are.
This past week someone posted on Facebook that they were praying for me. I was having a good week. There was nothing in particular that I had shared or requested prayer for. Nothing was pressing in on me that I knew of, but that person’s post reminded me of something. God cared about me. He was placing me on someone’s mind. Maybe that prayer and that expression of concern was a sign that God was working ahead of time to protect me from something that Satan was trying to hurl my way.
Just recently, both Dale and Jennifer Coleman, independently of one another, asked me how my mom was doing as a follow up to a prayer request I had submitted. That meant so much to me. It told me that their concern for me and my mom was still on their minds and it assured me that they had indeed prayed.
Sometimes, just a kind word as an expression of concern gives people the encouragement they need to face whatever they are dealing with. Christine Yates shared with me this week that she ran into an adult that had ridden the school bus with her when they were kids. He was a couple of years younger and he was elated to see her at a gas station; only she didn’t remember him. He remembered her though. He told her how much it meant to him that she was the only one who stood up for him on the bus when the older boys were bullying him and he had hoped to run into her one day to thank her. He told her that she would tell the older boys to leave him alone and would tell him to come sit down, pointing to a space that would be available. Just that small act, just that kind gesture, just that expression of concern gave him a feeling of security and protection.
All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “concern!” Who have you shown concern for this past week? This past month? God was able to use Nehemiah because he expressed concern for the unprotected city by asking questions about it. God can’t use people who don’t care. God can use people who are concerned about others.
Not only was Nehemiah concerned about the situation in Jerusalem, but
- 2. he also had COMPASSION on those who were living there. All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “compassion!” Nehemiah let his concern move to a deeper level.
Nehemiah 1:4 tells us he sat down and cried. He was literally moved to tears. He mourned for the situation and for those people. When we heard about 9/11 were we just grateful we weren’t there or did we shed a tear? When we hear about starving children, are we just glad they aren’t our children, or does it break our hearts? When we see our classmates mistreating others out on the playground, do we feel anything about the bullying and mean behavior or are we just emotionally uninterested in the fact that someone is hurting?
People who feel for others have a heart that is open to being used by God. You may see the need, but if you can’t feel the hurt that goes with someone’s need, you won’t likely be compelled to action.
Nehemiah cried. He was not the last to weep over Jerusalem—one day Jesus sat on the slopes of Mt. Olivet and wept over that city, and mourned and prayed and sacrificed His life for it.
You never lighten the load unless first you have felt the pressure in your own soul. You are never used of God to bring blessing until God has opened your heart and made you feel deep sorrow about the needs around you. It is compassion that moves us to sacrifice. It becomes our motivation. That’s why God tells us in Ephesians 4:32 to be kind and compassionate towards one another, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us. He calls to mind that God has forgiven us. It causes us to remember how it felt to receive compassion and mercy. It reminds us of what it was like to have the weight of sin lifted off of our shoulders. It helps us remember how special we felt that someone saw the mess we were in and still took us on. By reminding us of what God did for us in Jesus, we are able to connect with the emotion of compassion. I believe God knows if we are compassionate, we’ll be compelled to act. God can use people whose hearts are open to the predicament of others.
A little girl was sent on an errand by her mother. She took much too long in coming back. Mother, therefore, demanded an explanation when she finally did return. The little girl explained that on her way she had met a little friend who was crying because she had broken her doll. “Oh,” said the mother, “then you stopped to help her fix her doll?” “Oh, no,” replied the little girl. “I stopped to help her cry.” (Illustrations Unlimited)
All the kids fifth grade under in the house yell “compassion!” Nehemiah cried over the conditions of Jerusalem and cried for those who were living there in disgrace and without protection.
- 3. God uses people who will call on Him. All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “call on God!” We see in Nehemiah 1:4 that Nehemiah fasted and prayed before the God of heaven
I Peter 5:7 says we are to cast our cares upon God. We weren’t meant to simply absorb burdens without somehow releasing the heaviness of the burden. Moved with compassion, we are compelled to do something about what we have heard when we have asked questions and what we have felt in the moment of compassion. Yet, often without prayer, we can’t act or do anything significant to bring about the help that is needed. So we seek God’s will, His advice, His resources, and ask Him to do something on behalf of the person that is hurting.
Nehemiah did. Beginning in verse five, through prayer, Nehemiah exalted God, confessed sin, and then he reviewed promises God had made to the Israelites.
Finally, Nehemiah requested help in his prayer. “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
Nehemiah understood that God had put him in a position to do something about the broken walls of Jerusalem. He was the cupbearer to the king which meant he could talk to the king about the issue. He was going to the king himself to ask for time off of work and all of the resources need to rebuild the walls. That kind of request could have gotten someone killed, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be someone like the cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah chapter two tells us that Nehemiah was still afraid. When God wants to use us we may still deal with the human aspect of fear, but we must go forward! If we have expressed concern and felt compassion and called upon the Lord in prayer and if God has strategically put us in a position of influence where we can affect some kind of change, we must move forward with God’s help.
All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “call on God!”
God is still looking for people who will care for the broken. He is still looking for people who like Isaiah will say, “Here am I, Lord—send me!”
Have you ever heard of George Mueller? One day he looked down the streets of Bristol, England and saw 100’s of homeless children. He was so moved with concern for them that he decided that something had to be done.
He had only two cents, but he decided to start an orphanage. In 60 years, beginning with two cents, George Mueller took care of 10,000 orphans. He looked out and saw homeless kids. He could have said, “But, I don’t have any money. But, there is no way to care for them, to meet their needs, to buy the food.”
Instead, he looked at them and said, “I will pray and God will do something to help them.” He told amazing stories of answered prayers.
He kept a record of his prayers and his prayer records filled more than 3,000 pages. His notes show that more than 30,000 prayers were answered.
One night there was no food in the orphanage to give to the children for breakfast. But at 3:00 in the morning a baker called him up and said, “I just can’t sleep. I’m going down to the bakery to bake some bread. Would it be all right for me to bring some over to you this morning?”
One time a milk truck just happened to break down in front of the orphanage on a day when they had no milk. The truck driver came in and said, “This milk is all going to spoil. Would you like some of it?” And their need was met.
Time and time again, 30,000 times in 60 years, God answered George Mueller’s prayers. Why did God answer his prayers? Because he as someone God could use. He expressed concern, felt compassion, and called on God to meet the needs and use him to do it. All the kids fifth grade and under in the house yell “call on God.”
The next time you feel like GOD can’t use you, just remember…
Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
David had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
John the Baptist ate bugs
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman had multiple failed relationships
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer…
Lazarus was dead!
No more excuses! Let God use you!
Wherever you are, that is where God wants to use you.
Whether you are cupbearer to a king or working the window at the drive thru
Whether it’s on the playground to make sure every kid has a friend to play with.
If it’s at the lunch table to make sure every kid has a friend to eat with.
If it’s in your neighborhood with a single mom or single dad who needs some extra help.
If it’s your co-workers desk that is next to yours that is dealing with family problems or deteriorating health.
Wherever you are, wherever you live, wherever you work, wherever you shop, wherever you bank, get your hair cut or whatever restaurant you frequent, God has put you in the place where He needs to work through you. I went to see Renee Christman in the hospital this past week. I never, however, go to the hospital with the mindset that I am just going to see one person. I am open for God to use me however He desires while I’m there. Renee shared a room with a lady who had also had surgery. On my way out, I simply asked her if someone had prayed with her that day. She said, “No.” I asked if I could say a prayer for her recovery. She told me her name and we had prayer. No big sacrifice. I was already there. I didn’t have to make a special trip. I just saw that she was dealing with the pain that comes with recovery, I expressed concern for her and asked her how she was and then took her need to God in prayer. It’s that simple.
The Christian recording artist, Leeland, recorded an amazing song that could be our response to this message if we will allow it to be:
You live among the least of these
The weary and the weak
And it would be a tragedy
For me to turn away
All my needs You have supplied
When I was dead You gave me life
So how could I not give it away so freely?
Follow You into the homes of the broken
Follow You into the world
Meet the needs for the poor and the needy God
Follow You into the world
Use my hands use my feet
To make Your kingdom come
To the corners of the earth
Until Your work is done
Faith without works is dead
On the cross Your blood was shed
So how could we not give it away so freely?
And I give all myself
I give all myself
I give all myself to You
Whose broken in your world? Who needs compassion? Who can you pray for and when you do, will you ask God to use you in their situation?