Moses saw the suffering of his people and felt compelled to intervene. David heard the taunts of a giant and was stirred to action. Esther was informed of a plot to exterminate her people and took a huge risk. Nehemiah heard a report about the condition of Jerusalem and his broken heart drove him to prayer and action.

Do you see a common theme? All of these examples of faith began with a huge need that broke someone's heart and moved that person to action.

The Bible is full of examples of this dynamic. God's people, stirred with compassion or overwhelmed with desperation, repeatedly come to him with an enormous problem. They see that all is not right, and they can't be content to do nothing. Though they all lived in a world where people say “it's not my problem,” they couldn't live with that attitude. The heart God had put within them had to act.

That's what it takes to make a difference in this world. Even in the Walk Thru the Bible network of instructors, I can think of person after person whose broken spirit became a catalyst for a powerful move of God.

One of my favorite examples is a church begun years ago in Cairo's large community of garbage collectors. Our regional director for the Middle East and his father were instrumental in its founding. For years it met in an obscure cave. It still meets there, but the cave is no longer obscure; the side of the mountain has been carved out and the open-air seating accommodates about 5,000 people. That community of garbage collectors has been radically transformed because some Christians saw a need and made significant sacrifices to fulfill it.

Keys to a Broken Spirit

It's easy to become desensitized to others' needs, especially in the society we live in. On one hand, our culture emphasizes comfort and success and offers plenty of opportunities to insulate ourselves from the hurts of this world. We easily become self-focused. On the other hand, global media technology gives us a constant stream of images of the destitute, whether they live in our inner city or in a country twelve time zones away. We see so many needs that we become desensitized to all of them.

There are three keys to developing a broken spirit, and we can see them all in the prayer of a man whose heart grieved for his homeland. Nehemiah heard how the captives who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon were living in a devastated, vulnerable city. His response to what he heard fulfilled God's purposes and left us with a great example of how God inspires His people to action.

A broken spirit begins with a restored view of God. Nehemiah had been living in a foreign land among foreign gods, but he addressed his prayer to the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God” who keeps His covenants. A broken spirit knows how high and holy God is and doesn't try to make Him a self-help genie. Like Isaiah before him, who saw God and was filled with awe, Nehemiah bowed low because he understood the greatness of the One he served.

Not only does a broken spirit involve a high view of God, it involves an accurate view of ourselves. In his grief, Nehemiah felt compelled to confess the sins of the nation. Even though he was a godly man, he repented on behalf of himself and his people as a whole.

When we get near to God, we realize we're not doing nearly as well as we thought. We have mixed motives and self-centered plans, and most of what we think and do is tainted with impurity. We're also reminded that the world was here a long time before us and will continue to be a long time after we're gone, and God's kingdom isn't hinging on our ability to step in and save the day.

That goal of a broken spirit isn't to feel terrible about ourselves. We're significant and valuable in God's eyes, and He invites us to be an integral part of His plan. But while an accurate view of ourselves shouldn't make us feel horrible, it should also keep us from thinking too highly of our role. We're reminded that we need the grace God gives us.

The third aspect of a broken spirit is a renewed commitment to fulfill God's agenda rather than our own. Nehemiah appealed to God's promises-the covenant He had made with Israel long ago in Deuteronomy. His request is filled with references to God's plan, God's agenda, God's power, and the reputation of God's name.

After Nehemiah had prayed with a broken spirit-for four months, according to some clues later in the book-God used him as part of the solution. That's almost always the way it works. Nearly every great movement of God or project that has brought about relief of human need and the fulfillment of God's will has begun with one man or woman who cared deeply enough to hear God's voice and then stepped out to do something. God works through broken spirits.

Broken Spirit, Powerful God

Do you want your life to have an impact? Do you want to be a person God strongly supports? God must work in us before He works through us, and one of the ways He works through us is to let our hearts be broken over the things we see. He uses our compassions to drive us into deep levels of prayer and to stir us into action for His purposes and in His power.

If you are willing to stand in the gap like Nehemiah did-to let your heart be moved by the will of God-ask God to show you a need and to give you a vision for how to meet that need. Ask Him to reveal where in His kingdom He is calling you to build. And ask Him for a broken spirit and a bold faith that will invite His power and purposes into your life.