Nehemiah's account begins in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, king of the Persians. His employment was one of the long-term by-products of God's punishment on Israel and Judah for worshipping idols. Seventy years had passed since the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Although exiled in Persia, businesses owned by Jews were doing well. They had outlived their status as prisoners of war, and many thought of themselves as immigrants. A few faithful people went back with Ezra to keep the dream of the Promised Land alive, but they were not doing well.
Meanwhile, Nehemiah found himself in a prestigious position as a royal cupbearer. Because cupbearers were often a king's closest confidants, Nehemiah had it made. He got the best clothes, the best chariot, and a life of comfort. He probably had a condo in the palace. Nehemiah must have been tempted at times to forget his roots and adopt the Persian lifestyle.
Yet, hundreds of miles away, events were unfolding that would complicate Nehemiah's life and dislocate his heart. His Jewish brothers in Jerusalem were discouraged and disgraced. The walls of the city were still in ruins. The gates remained charred and useless from previous defeats. Enemies made regular raids. The people were disheartened. God's agenda seemed to have been permanently thwarted. Although God had promised that He would rebuild and regather his people, almost 150 years had passed since the Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem. When Nehemiah heard all this, he knew things were not going the right way. The news broke his heart.
Nehemiah's condition was a rare and wonderful part of God's plan. His work and his body were in Persia, but his heart was in Jerusalem. His heart was with God's agenda. His heart was with his people, who were hurting and needy. He had a dislocated heart -- a prerequisite for being the kind of person God is going to use.
Profile of a Dislocated Heart
A dislocated heart is a God-given concern that propels us out of our comfort zone. It is a passionate concern for God's people and God's agenda that supersedes our own personal comfort and prosperity. It's caring about things elsewhere when circumstances don't dictate that you have to. It is the kind of heart the apostle Paul demonstrated in Romans 9, when he grieved over his Israelite kinsmen who didn't know Christ. It is the kind of heart we see modeled best in our Savior, "who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2:6-8).
Now, lest you feel that having a dislocated heart means you must necessarily become a missionary or accomplish some other large and noble task, think again. Stepping outside your comfort zone often begins with something very, very small. It's not about doing something great for God; it's about letting God do something great in your heart! God never does something great through us until He does something significant in us! Remember that even the largest task for God starts with a small step.
I confess that I pray for an epidemic of dislocated hearts. Everywhere I look, I see what God does in and through dislocated hearts, and I'm overwhelmed. Most of the cutting edge ministries of our church are the direct result of someone's dislocated heart. I know of one man with a dislocated heart who has a gift of generosity. After giving to the church, the building funds, and missions, he said, "I have an inkling God can use radio to increase our ministry." He paid for the entire first year on the local station. A team of people joined him, bringing with them an awesome display of gifts and talents. When two or three dislocated hearts are gathered in one place, look out! Who would ever have dreamed that one local station would grow into a nationwide ministry?
How about you? What little steps beyond your comfort zone have you taken recently? What other steps might God want you to take? What small step of meeting someone else's need could really make a difference in their life and begin to cultivate in your own life the very thing God wants to do most? You never know what God is going to do with a dislocated heart, but that is where it all begins.
Excerpted from the book, Holy Ambition, by Chip Ingram. Chip Ingram is President of Walk Thru the Bible in Atlanta, GA, and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge, a national radio ministry.