God's Vision For You - A Broken Heart

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 17, 2014

Nehemiah 1:1-4 God’s Vision For You: A Broken Heart

Vision Sunday
The last few years we’ve called this Sunday Vision Sunday. It’s been right about this time of year—with summer wrapping up and everybody getting ready to begin a new school year—that we’ve also launched our new church year. And so I’ve used the last couple of Sundays in August to lay out a picture of where I think God is calling us to go as a congregation.

And there’s a place for that. It’s very Biblical. Think of Moses casting a vision of marching out of Egypt, or Solomon casting a vision for the construction of the temple. It’s also very good for organizational health. It’s import to take stock of where we are at as a church and set priorities for the next phase of our ministry. We’ll continue to think in terms of Hope Church’s mission and vision.

But lately I’ve been challenged to think about the relationship between the church and the people who are a part of it. Specifically, it’s been pointed out to me that leaders in the church—people like me—have a tendency to dream these grand dreams for what the church can accomplish and then we ask you to jump on board with that. As if your role in the church is to live out the church leadership’s vision for you.

But the truth is: for most of you, the amount of time you spend involved directly in church activities is only a small percentage of your normal week. As Christians, you have much more opportunity to live out your faith in the other spheres of influence you have—that is, in your families, in your places of work, in your neighborhood, in your school--than you do in the activities of the church.

I’ll put it like this: the other day I heard somebody talking about a church in California (this is one of those rumors of a story told by a friend to another friend, so I don’t even know the name of the church), but this church had made the decision not to schedule any activities except for on Sundays. And the thinking went something like this: when people are at the church building, they’re not out in the world. And it is out in the world that Christians have the opportunity to have the greatest impact. So this church is using Sundays to equip and refresh and inspire people for the other 6 days of the week when they are reflecting Jesus to their family, friends, co-workers and community.

Now I don’t know if I’m ready for such a big change. I’ll be honest, it still makes me happy to see a lot of cars in the church parking lot on a Tuesday night or a Thursday morning. But it does make a good point: you spend much more time outside of the church than in it. And that’s the way it should be.

And so, this year, rather than give you a vision for the church and then asking you all to be a part of it, I want to challenge you to dream and clarify what God’s vision on your life might be. Instead of casting a corporate vision for the whole congregation, we’re going to do a sermon series that will help us each define a personal vision statement for the stage of life we are currently in.

In other words, I want us all to think long and hard about what God wants us to be doing with our lives right now.

I’m going use the word “vision” quite a bit in the next few weeks. It’s a pretty elastic term that gets tossed around a lot—on sports teams, in businesses, in schools, in churches. I’ll probably give you multiple definitions of the concept as we go along. But for now, let me define it like this: a vision is a picture of a preferred future. It’s the difference between the way things are and the way things could be. And it’s the desire to see things change for the good.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have multiple visions for our lives. That is, we all have a mental picture of what we want the various arenas of our life to look like down the road. But we don’t always clarify what those visions are. We don’t always drill down and ask if the direction we are going is really where God wants us to go.

Another word for this is “calling.” Theologians like to say that God places a specific call on each of His people. That calling may look different or change over time. God’s calling on a young mother with three kids under 5 probably looks different than His calling on a grandmother who has 12 grandkids spread out over three different states. But we all have a calling. We can all have a sense of personal vision. My goal for this series is to help each of you discover what that is.

And to do that, we’re going to look at the book of Nehemiah.

Meet Nehemiah
Let me tell you a little about Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a Jewish man who lived in the Persian city of Susa. He is the author of the Bible book that bears his name, and much of the book reads like excerpts from his personal journal. He was also, he tells us in Nehemiah 1:11, cupbearer to the king.

Now, let’s think about that for a bit. Nehemiah is a Jewish man living in a foreign city. He’s not there by choice. He lives in Persia because his people have been exiled from their homeland.

Nehemiah is educated. He can read and write. He’s actually a part of the king’s inner circle. He’s probably dressed in the finest clothes and eats the finest foods. But he’s still a slave.

You know what a cupbearer’s job was, don’t you? Basically, he’s a poison-tester. It’s Nehemiah’s job to taste the king’s wine before the king does, so that if an enemy tries to poison the king Nehemiah will die first as a sort of warning. He’s the canary in the coal mine. He’s highly trusted by the king—if he’s not trustworthy he could just poison the king himself--but he is disposable.

And Nehemiah has a problem. He describes it in the first four verses of the book:

1The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2Hanani, 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.

3They 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." 4When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah’s problem was that the city of Jerusalem was in bad shape. The people living in Israel were in great trouble and disgrace. The walls were broken down, and the gates burned with fire.

The OT in 5 Minutes
Now, to understand why this was such a problem, I feel like I need to provide some context. In order to understand what’s going on with Nehemiah, and in order to see how Nehemiah fits into the Bible’s story line, I’m going to have to give you some Old Testament history. But don’t worry, I’ve got pictures.

So, let’s go back to the series we just finished. Nehemiah lived approximately 1500 years after Abraham. Abraham, you will remember, was the father of God’s people. It was to Abraham that God gave the dual promises of descendents and land.

But, just a few generations after Abraham, his descendents ended up in Egypt where they were enslaved for 500 years. It wasn’t until God raised up Moses that the children of Israel marched through the Red Sea and to freedom. Moses also led the people to the threshold of the promised land.

Now, let’s fast-forward another 400 years—about 590 years before Nehemiah—where we have David. During the time of David, Jerusalem because the capital city of Israel as well as the Holy City. David’s son, Solomon, builds the temple there which represents God’s presence among His people. From this point on, to worship God rightly you had to go to Jerusalem.

However, after David and Solomon, the people’s sin and the wickedness of many of the kings brought God’s judgment. The kingdom was divided. The northern 10 tribes of Israel were attacked and defeated, and eventually the same thing happened to the southern kingdom of Judah. In 605, about 160 years before Nehemiah, the Babylonians came and carried many of Jerusalem’s leading families—including Daniel—into exile.

Still, God’s people would not forsake their wickedness. And so, 141 years before Nehemiah, the prophet Jeremiah wept as he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem. Then the Babylonians came back and tore the city—and the temple—down. Nearly every Jew was scattered in exile.

About 70 years later, after the Babylonians had been defeated by the Persians, the Persian king Cyrus allowed a small number of Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. But the population never really grew, and the temple was merely a shell of its former self. Most of the descendents of Abraham remained outside of the promised land.

The temple was not being maintained. Sacrifices had ceased. The Jews who did live in the land tended to adopt the religious practices and culture of the surrounding nations. And the city of Jerusalem was a defenseless, open city.

Broken Heart over Broken Walls
That’s the situation when Nehemiah receives his brother Hanani back from a trip to Judah and hears the distressing news. Nehemiah 1:3 again:

3They 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."

These are dark days for those who love God. If you care about the glory of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then this breaks your heart. The people of God are scattered. The city of God, which is supposed to represent God’s dwelling place on earth, is in shambles. The walls are broken down. The gates are burned out. In the ancient world a city’s walls were everything. That was its security, its protection. People lived in cities because they could shelter behind its walls. And now Jerusalem lies open so that anybody who wants can come strolling through.

God identifies himself with this place, and the place is a joke. The people of God are a laughingstock. Imagine how embarrassing it would be if your house were missing a wall or two. You’d feel bad, as the neighbors drive by: “Hey, are you going to fix that house?” “Yeah, we’re going to get around to it.” As you sit there eating breakfast in your pajamas. Wild animals wandering in and out. Well, that’s how a whole city felt.

Now, we don’t know that Nehemiah had ever been to Jerusalem prior to this. He was a child of the exile. Probably lived his whole life in Persia. Did pretty well for himself, rising to an important—if very precarious—position beside the king. But Nehemiah loves God. And since he loves God, he loves God’s city.

So when he hears about the deplorable conditions in Jerusalem, it breaks his heart. Verse 4:

4When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Nehemiah’s heart is broken over Jerusalem’s broken walls. Nehemiah cares deeply about the glory of God, and so his heart is troubled to learn of the desperate situation in Jerusalem. If Jerusalem looks bad, God looks bad. And so Nehemiah sits down and weeps.

And it is from this moment that a sense of personal vision is being born in Nehemiah. The rest of the book is going to be about how God uses Nehemiah to go back and rebuild those walls. God is going to work in and through His people to accomplish His purposes and His glory. But it starts here as Nehemiah has his heart broken over Jerusalem’s broken walls.

And that’s the first thing we need to learn about discovering our own sense of calling: a personal sense of vision begins with a God-given burden. Vision is born out of the tension between what is, and what could be. “Anyone who is emotionally involved—frustrated, brokenhearted, maybe even angry—about the way things are in light of the way they believe things could be, is a candidate for a vision. Visions form in the hearts of those who are dissatisfied with the status quo.” (Andy Stanley, Visoneering, p. 17)

Bill Hybels calls it “Holy discontent”. The firestorm of frustration that builds up inside of us until we cannot rest unless something is done about it. Hybels references the cartoon character Popeye. Some of you remember Popeye? He was in the news this week because Robin Williams once played him in a movie.

Popeye was a sailor man, and in most circumstances he was as easy-going as they come. He wanted nothing more than to hang with his favorite “goil” Olive Oyl and his hamburger eating friend Whimpy. But Popeye had an enemy named Brutus who was always pushing, always picking on Popeye’s friends. And if things took on a menacing tone—if it looked like something really terrible might happen to Olive Oyl—then Popeye the Sailor Man’s pulse would race, his blood pressure would skyrocket, and his anger would begin to boil. He’d take it as long as he could, but once his long fuse burned up, Popeye would utter his trademark phrase: “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” Then Popeye would pop open a can of spinach, his forearms would bulge to three times their normal size, and he would wreak holy havoc on any who dared threaten his girl.

The question is: what is your Popeye moment? What causes you to say: “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more”? What causes you lose sleep at night and boil over with frustration? For Nehemiah, it was the news about Jerusalem’s walls. What are the broken down walls that God is burdening your heart with right now?

Maybe it’s children who don’t have enough to eat. Maybe it’s marriages that are on the rocks. Maybe it’s prayerlessness within the church. Maybe it’s teen-agers who don’t know about Jesus. Maybe you’re an employer and your heart breaks for the number of your employees who are living without God in their lives. Maybe you are an employee, and it bothers you the way your co-workers talk behind one another’s backs. Maybe you’re a senior saint and you see a younger generation moving so fast they can’t even enjoy what really matters. Maybe… I don’t know. If there are 250 people here today than there are probably 250 different burdens that God is laying on our hearts.

And the discovery of a personal sense of vision begins right here: with a heart broken for something that could be and should be different. Hybels writes:

Still today, what wrecks the heart of someone who loves God is often the very thing God wants to use to fire them up to do something that, under normal circumstances, they would never attempt to do. Whether you’re a high-powered marketplace person, a stay-at-home mom, a full-time student, or something altogether different, you (yes you) can join God in making what is wrong in this world right! And it starts with you finding your holy discontent; it begins with you determining what it is that you just can’t stand. (Holy Discontent, p. 25)

Why Vision Matters
So my goal for this series is that we’ll all be able to articulate a personal statement of vision. As we work through the book of Nehemiah over the next 6 weeks we’ll learn about praying for our vision, clarifying it, executing it, overcoming obstacles, and more.

And to help you think through what God might be calling you to do, we’re putting these handouts in the bulletins. I’m not normally a preacher who puts outlines in the bulletin, but for this series I’m going to. If it helps you follow along a little better, great. If it makes church feel too much like school, just ignore it. We’ll stop doing it when the series is over. But I’d like all of you to pay attention to the questions on the back of the handout, because if you are able to find answers to those questions each week, I think by the end it will lead you to having a solid sense of a God-given vision in your life.

So, why does it matter? What does a personal sense of vision do for us? Why spend all this time on this one idea? Andy Stanley suggests four reasons vision is important:

1) Passion. Vision evokes emotion. Nehemiah wept and mourned and fasted because he cared deeply about the city of God, and what the condition of that city said about God’s reputation. His heart broke over the way things were. And so he became consumed by the idea of making them as they should be.

Many visions will be born out of the frustration and hurt that comes from seeing things that you care deeply about that are less than ideal. Whether it is a public park filled with trash or immigrant children with no access to education, if it plucks at your heart-string it will drive you to do something about it.

And the thing about creating a picture of a preferred future is that you start to anticipate some of the emotions that future will bring. These emotions serve to reinforce our commitment to the vision. Even the most lifeless, meaningless task or routine can being to “feel” good when it is attached to a vision.

So, for example, during the construction phase of our new lobby we all put up with crowded hallways and inconvenient parking by telling ourselves how nice it would be when the new space was completed. Our vision of the future sustained us through the inconvenience of construction.

Or, again. Vision provides 2) Motivation. Vision-driven people are motivated people. A clear sense of vision is what gets you up and fired up in the morning, or keeps you up plugging away late at night. A clear sense of vision is what causes you to make all sorts of sacrifices or to stay at a task long after people who are merely collecting a paycheck have gone home.

Vision is the difference between filling bags with dirt and building a dike in order to save a town. There’s nothing glamorous about shoveling sand into a gunny sack, but when the flood waters are rising and there’s a town at your back, you’ll stay at it all night.

Or, third, vision gives 3) Direction. When you have a strong sense of where you are going, you also have a good idea of where you don’t want or need to go. Many people appear to be drifting through life—bouncing from one job or hobby to another. They are still searching for what drives them. Without vision there is no relational, financial or moral compass. As a result, many without a clear sense of vision make foolish choices.

Vision will prioritize your values. A clear vision has the power to bring what’s most important to the surface of your schedule and lifestyle. A clear vision makes it easy to weed out of your life those things that stand in the way of achieving what matters most. Vision empowers you to move from good things to the best things.

And, fourth, vision gives 4) purpose. A sense of calling and vision helps us to understand why we are here on this earth. Finding God’s call for our lives is a big part of understanding our divine design.

Ephesians 2:10 says:

10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We are God’s workmanship. We are the product of His vision. God has decided what we could be and should be. He designed us and created us and has a purpose for us.

But His vision for us is not complete. We have a part. Look at the next phrase: we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” One of God’s purposes for us is in Christ Jesus is that we would be living out the Christian life wherever we have spheres of influence. That we would be doing good works, which God has envisioned us to do.

And so, discovering our God-given vision is a big part of living out God’s purposes for us.

And it begins, as it did with Nehemiah, by figuring out what breaks our hearts.

White Jade
To close, I’d like to tell you the story of Bob Pierce. Few people better illustrate the way a God-given burden can be translated into a personal mission that inspires passion, direction, motivation and purpose.

In 1948, Bob Pierce was finishing up a long tour in Asia, where he had been preaching at large evangelistic meetings representing Youth for Christ. Just a couple of days before he was scheduled to return to the States, he preached a message to some children at a missionary school in China, on Amoy Island, just off the coast. As was his practice, he exhorted them to give their lives to Christ. One little girl, named White Jade, went home that night and told her parents she had become a Christian, not understanding her parents’ reactions would be severe. They were angry, and she was beaten by her father, disowned, and cast out of her home.

The next morning, Tena Hoelkeboer, the missionary director of the school, found With Jade crying and huddled at the front gate. She took her in, comforted her, and listened to her story. When Bob arrived at the school that day, he saw Tena approaching him with a bloodied and crying little girl in her arms. He asked what had happened. “This little girl did what you told her to do, and now she has lost everything!” Tena declared angrily, thrusting the child into his arms.

Shocked and dismayed, Bob stammered, “How will she live? Will you take her in and feed her and care for her?”

The feisty school director answered, “I am already sharing my rice bowl with six other children who have no homes, and I cannot take in even one more. The question isn’t what I am going to do. The question is, what are you going to do? You created this problem Mr. Pierce. Now what are you going to do about it?”

At that moment, Bob Pierce was confronted with the dilemma of his life. He was leaving for home the next day. What could he possibly do to help? And yet he had to do something. Flustered, he reached into his pocket, pulled out all he had—about five dollars--and gave it to the woman. “Here,” he said. “I’m terribly sorry. Please accept this for now; it’s all I have. I promise you that I will send more soon as I get back home.” He and Tena then discussed what would be required to ensure that white Jade would be properly cared for, and Pierce left for the states. (Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, p. 247-248)

That was the beginning of Bob Pierce’s holy discontent. In the flyleaf of his Bible he wrote this prayer: “Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.”

A few years later, he travelled to Korea where he saw long lines of people waiting to get food, only to get to the front of the line and discover the food was gone. “We’re going to get food to the front of the food lines. If it kills me, we’re going to do it.” He took the idea of what he was doing for White Jade, and expanded it to others. He invited friends, and then others, to sponsor children around the world. Out of this firestorm of frustration was born what is today the largest relief agency in the world—World Vision.

What breaks your heart? What can’t you stand? Maybe it is the seed of a vision being birthed in your heart.