• Introduction
  • God's Man
  • Out of God's Will
  • Being Content
  • Identifying with God
  • God's Priorities
  • Sons of God
  • Offering Yourself
  • Epilogue
  • Tony Kostas
Getting Involved with God
Building With God

Getting Involved with God

  • Introduction
  • God's Man
  • Out of God's Will
  • Being Content
  • Identifying with God
  • God's Priorities
  • Sons of God
  • Offering Yourself
  • Epilogue
  • Tony Kostas


Some people have a way of making their point which really causes it to stick in your mind. Such was the talent of a preacher who addressed a youth meeting I attended as a teenager many years ago. ‘Hands up those who are working for God!’ he commanded his eager young audience. Like many others my hand shot up in response. I was keen, I was committed and I was doing my best to serve God. Obviously I qualified. Surveying the raised hands the preacher then went on with obvious relish to make his point: ‘Now hands up those who are working with God!’

In the years which followed I found myself appreciating to an increasing extent the vital truth indelibly written on my mind that night. God is concerned with relationship rather than with results. When it comes to doing His work, working for Him is no substitute at all for working with Him.

This book is the first of a series of seven with the theme. ‘Building With God’, based on the book of Nehemiah. They have their roots in a succession of messages I first preached in 1973 while pastoring the Melbourne Outreach church.

Together we were inspired, challenged and spoken to by God as we followed the adventures of Nehemiah and his wall builders. Over the years since then I have had the opportunity of sharing similarly elsewhere, and my ‘Nehemiah’ series has become foundational teaching in the Outreach International church family.

The title of the series sums up the essence of Nehemiah’s story. His is not a mere historical account, chronicling the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls; it is far more than that. The experiences through which he passed and the lessons he learnt in the course of his massive task are significantly relevant to God’s people today.

In this book and those which follow I have sought to share specific God-given insights, truths and revelations. As He has made them real to me, my prayer is that He will also make them real to you as you read and receive with an open heart.

God's Man

How highly do you rate the Local Church? Just how important do you think it is to God? Such questions are highly relevant and must be faced by Christians everywhere. For God has given the Local Church an indispensable role to play in His plans and purposes – a role which lies at the very heart of His intention to complete what He began when He sent Jesus. Consequently, it is essential for God’s people to recognise the importance of the Local Church and be committed to its fulfilment.

This in itself requires a clear understanding of the very concept of the Local Church – an understanding which many lack. What, for instance, constitutes a local church? While most Christians have a basic understanding and appreciation of the Church Universal – the worldwide body of all true believers – not nearly so many have stopped to ponder on the fact that this vast body is actually composed of many individual units. These units are nothing other than local churches which, in turn, consist of people who have been drawn together by God into a committed relationship with Him, as well as with each other. In forming such bodies God usually begins with a man – an apostle (literally, ‘a sent one’) who, having first responded to God’s call on his own life, is then used by Him to draw others together. This drawing together under apostolic leadership forms the Scriptural picture of the beginnings of a local church. It is God’s intention that such a setting should be the place where the individual Christian finds his belonging, his purpose and his fulfilment. When that takes place, the way is then made for all the members to be involved together in God’s purposes.

The story of Nehemiah, which forms the basis for this series, is precisely about such an involvement. It begins with one man reaching out to God and leads on into the involvement of many.

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

Out of God's Will

Nehemiah’s situation was a very unhappy one. The beginning of our story finds him in foreign exile a long way from home. He and many of his countrymen had been taken captive by the Persian king Artaxerxes, who had attacked Judah and destroyed its capital Jerusalem. In the process of his conquest he also rounded up those who could be of use to him and took them back to his own country as slaves. Among these was Nehemiah. Plucked out of his home environment he was carried off into a life of slavery in an alien, heathen society.

Without a doubt Nehemiah was far from the place and situation he would have preferred. Ample reason, you might think, for gloom and pessimism. After all, what did he have to hope in or look forward to? Could anyone have blamed him had he indulged in self-pity and fits of depression? With justification he could have said to himself, ‘Here I am, trapped in a heathen, godless nation, so far away from God’s city and my own people! What hope do I have of ever experiencing God’s blessings and care for me in a place like this? If only I was back in Jerusalem! If only things were the way they used to be! Then 1 could once again go to the Temple where God’s word was taught. I could worship with the rest of God’s people and together we would live according to His laws. But now my situation is absolutely hopeless. I have no control over it. 1 feel helpless, frustrated and depressed. I’m a captive and a slave in an alien environment. How could God’s will possibly be done in my life while I’m in a place like this?’

He could have talked like that. but he didn’t. Nehemiah did not make the mistake which many others have made – that of seeing themselves as victims of their circumstances. Undoubtedly it’s an easy enough trap to fall into – even for Christians. There are Many who think, talk and act as if their circumstances are the controlling factor in their lives How wrong they arc! And how’ foolish. for in so doing they open the door to a great deal of frustration – the inevitable result of seeing yourself as being pushed around while at the same time feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Consider Nehemiah’s unenviable situation and consider, too, how easily he could have given in and settled for the role of a frustrated, angry, helpless victim of circumstances. Now look at yourself. How do you fare in that kind of situation? How do you cope when things go wrong and everything looks to be outside your control? Do you find yourself doubting God’s involvement in your life, labouring under the mistaken belief that His will can only be done when conditions are favourable? Such thinking is dangerous. It is not based on truth and only succeeds in opening you up to deceit. So much of what God has revealed to us of Himself – His care for us, the reason why Jesus died, His commitment to be with us always, His absolute power and control over all things on our behalf – all these shout out that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death He is with us! Anything to the contrary is a lie and to believe it is to welcome deception. Such a belief is wrong even at its very roots for it comes from self-centredness rather than God- centredness. You become obsessed with your adverse circumstances on the basis of how they affect you. In my experience people who dwell on their situation in that way soon become so totally absorbed in it that they have little or nothing of themselves left over to give to God or to others.

If you react in such a negative, defeated way to your circumstances you actually imply that God (your God, remember?) is affected by the same things which affect you. What an example of living in your own world and reducing God to make Him fit into it! What you should do, of course, is raise your sights and expand your horizons according to God’s view of things. Think of it, should we – God’s people – ever be overwhelmed by our circumstances? Should we present our God as so small and so limited that He is daunted by the kinds of things which can so easily daunt us? Of course not. Why then should any one of us live under such limitations? Jesus overcame all on our behalf, not to leave us saved on the one hand yet defeated and grovelling on the other. He did it so as to lift us up to a place where we share His life – His victory. So far as God is concerned this, precisely, is the heritage of all who have put their faith and trust in Him. Yet it cannot and will not take place automatically. You and you alone will determine whether or not He has His way in your life.

If you are so foolish as to deliberately disobey God, placing a barrier between yourself and Him, it will be your own fault if things go wrong. If though, like Nehemiah, you are moved out of what you see as your ideal position through circumstances beyond your control, then nothing need change between you and God. Not only is He greater than such adverse circumstances but He is also your Cod. This is what Nehemiah was to discover. Though far away from God’s city (his ideal place) he was soon to find that he was by no means out of God’s will.

Being Content

When things take a turn for the worse and you find yourself in some sort of adversity, remember that there is a world of difference between contentment and resignation. The Apostle Paul – a man who certainly knew hard times – wrote out of the depth of his experience:

. . . I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11 – 13).

Hardly the words of a man frustrated by things not going his way! Instead we have here the secret of true contentment, from one who found it through learning to live above his circumstances.

Just like every one of us Paul had to choose the way in which he would face life. He could have chosen to wrestle with every adverse situation as if it were his enemy. Many get caught up in this approach because, futile though it often is, they feel that at least they are not giving up without a fight! On the other hand Paul could have chosen to just give in resigning himself to whatever came his way. Some prefer to adopt such a stoic approach as their way of ‘putting up’ with difficulties. On the face of it that sort of response (or non-response!) may seem admirable, but it’s not enough. It may get you through, in a sense, but it is a joyless and barren experience. And there certainly was nothing joyless or barren about Paul’s approach to life. He certainly was not one for fatalistic resignation. The ‘whatever-will-be-will-be’ approach brings neither joy nor peace. Worse than that, it keeps you at the mercy of your circumstances.

Happily, when it comes to handling adversity, there is another choice – the one Paul made. This entails having a true perspective. It means you are able to say: ‘I believe that God is in charge of everything. I believe He is bigger than my circumstances. Therefore, I am content in His loving, caring control.’ This is the way of contentment.

Some people misunderstand Paul’s approach and think they are emulating it by seeking somehow to be content with adverse circumstances. This is futile and only leads to blatant unreality. Being content in adversity is not the same as being content with it, Paul was no misty-eyed idealist and I don’t imagine for one moment that he was content with the kind of adversity which, for instance, landed him in prison. It was not a matter of being content with imprisonment, it was a matter of being content in it. Do you see the difference? Contentment is not dependent on what is around you, it is dependent on what is within you. If you honestly believe that God is in control you have a very sound basis for being content – irrespective of the particular situation in which you find yourself. What a relief to be able to find contentment without having to like – or even pretend to like – your circumstances! If anyone is in a position to face up honestly to the reality of their circumstances, shouldn’t it be the Christians of this world? More than that, it is imperative that we do so.

A call for that kind of honesty and realism is not attractive to everybody. To some it’s a positive threat. It demands that they admit the inadmissible – that things really are as bad as they are. For example there are those who place an emphasis on what they call ‘positive confession’. To them any negative admission is anathema – a contradiction of God’s word. Consequently they are very careful to avoid ever talking negatively about any of their feelings or circumstances. The result is that they simply refuse to recognise adversity for what it is, even when it is staring them in the face! Sickness for instance, cannot be acknowledged for what it is. So much so that if you happen to be sick you must not admit to it. Your confession must be that you are actually in good health. The fact that you feel awful is the result of having an attack of ‘lying symptoms’! Seeing it is the symptoms – lying or otherwise – which make being sick such an unpleasant experience, there really is no difference – except in the minds of those who insist on believing what they want to believe, instead of just facing facts. The same people would say that if you happen to be feeling a little ‘down’ you must never confess to it. Instead you should counter such deceitful feelings with positive confessions such as: ‘I can’t be down for being up!’ – while at the same time desperately trying to convince yourself that it’s true.

Whether such ‘positive confessors’ like it or not reality must eventually catch up with them, for positive dishonesty is every bit as bad as any other kind – no matter how sincere. Thankfully God is rather more secure than that. He never feels the need to bury His head in the sand. Negative circumstances are no threat to Him so, instead of pretending they don’t exist, He simply faces them for what they are and lives above them. ‘That’s all right for God,’ you may be tempted to say, ‘but I’m not God and I do get threatened.’ Fine, but you have absolutely no need to live under those threats. Jesus overcame all things on your behalf so that by putting your trust in Him you, like Paul, can both face adverse circumstances and live above them.

So contentment is simple. Begin by admitting the truth about your situation, then be sure that you are responsively doing your part in changing it. Having done that you can then relax in the sure knowledge that God is in control on your behalf. Trust Him like that and you will never need to hide from the truth. No wonder Paul said, ‘. . . godliness is a means of great gain. when accompanied by contentment’.

This, then, is the first significant point to note as we move into the story of Nehemiah: Before you can become involved with God you must first be at peace and content in His will – regardless of where circumstances beyond your control may have taken you and regardless of how much of a handicap your situation appears to be.

Identifying with God

So there was Nehemiah living the life of an exiled slave in Susa. the capital of Artaxerxes’ empire, when one day he was visited by some of his countrymen. They had recently arrived from Jerusalem and Nehemiah anxiously plied them with questions. He was desperate for news about the condition of the Jews who had survived the destruction of the city and about the condition of the city itself. Their reply came as a blow to him:

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.

They were tragic tidings. The people were suffering. They had become refugees in their own land. Deprived of their city and their homes, they were derided by those around them. Their once-proud city had been virtually destroyed, with its walls demolished and its gates burned down. Shocked and appalled at such a report, Nehemiah found it almost more than he could bear. Mind you, a piece of information like that could easily have been a source of relief. After all, if his had been an ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude he would simply have been glad that he wasn’t one of those living in Jerusalem. Maybe slavery in Susa wasn’t such a bad thing after all. At least he was safe and relatively comfortable compared to those back home. But Nehemiah did not see it that way. He cared too much about Jerusalem and its people to draw any personal comfort from his own situation.

We have already seen that whatever your state – however undesirable it may be – you need never be out of the very centre of God’s will. That is a necessary starting point, but for real involvement with God to take place you must go further than that. You need to identify with Him – sharing His feelings, values and priorities. The only way to get to know God in a heart-to-heart way is by moving into a close, personal and Intimate relationship with Him. This can never be acquired secondhand. It’s just not enough to merely know what God’s feelings, values and priorities are, you must share them. When God selected the young shepherd, David, to be the future king of Israel He did it on the basis of having found someone with a heart like His (1 Samuel 13:14). God wanted someone who could truly represent Him to His people – someone who so identified with Him that his heart was a reflection of God’s own heart. To have a heart like God’s heart is what identification with Him is all about.

Though Christians are prone to speak glibly about ‘knowing the Lord’, they often substitute acquaintance for intimacy. Instead of drawing near to God in a close heart-to- heart relationship, they settle for learning about Him. But that is not the ‘knowledge of God’ the Bible speaks about. Biblical knowledge is not intellectual, it is intimate. It is not a matter of meeting Someone and then making a study of His life. It is about marrying Him. It is about two becoming one in total relationship. If you want to know God’s feelings – if you want to know how He sees things and what is important to Him – then you must draw near to Him and live near to Him. Then you will learn to value what He values; you will get to know His scale of priorities.

God's Priorities

God’s people need to know just what is and what is not important to Him. Look around the Christian scene and you will find widespread confusion, misunderstanding and plain disagreement about this. And that’s a pity because it really is quite simple. Those who draw close to God soon discover that there are, in fact, just two things to which He gives the highest priority: His own glory and the welfare of His people.

In that regard Nehemiah’s concern for Jerusalem and its people reflected God’s feelings. This is because that city uniquely typified both of His chief priorities. He had chosen it to be, in effect, His earthly ‘headquarters’. From there He planned to make Himself known to all the inhabitants of the earth. He chose it as the site of His temple – the place where He gathered His people together to worship and sacrifice to Him.

It was Jerusalem and its temple which gave those people their unique identity and purpose in life. They were God’s people who lived in God’s city and worshipped in God’s temple. But now those places were destroyed, so how could God be glorified any more? How could His people recover their lost identity? This was the cause of Nehemiah’s anguish.

God’s emphasis on His own glory and the welfare of His people can be clearly seen in the two Great Commandments – the ones which Jesus said were the most important of all. They tell us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Obeying these means giving the right priority to God and His people. Nehemiah did this. He was motivated by a genuine, consuming desire to see God glorified and His people cared for. That motivation was to provide him with the driving force he needed to carry him through all the challenges and difficulties along his path.

The need today is the same as it was then. God is continually looking for mature and responsible people who will identify with Him. I say mature and responsible so as to make a distinction between the ones God knows He can rely on and those who think they have made it just because they have been ‘born again’ and know how to receive God’s gifts. That in itself is no qualification at all. Those who make the mistake of doting on God’s free gifts as a substitute for living responsibly, are like the Israelites in the wilderness who lived on God’s benefits but were selfish and self-centred. They acted more like babies than adults, behaving as if the world revolved around them and their needs.

Not that there is anything wrong with babyhood as such. The newly born-again Christian will inevitably pass through an infant stage. In fact it is important that, at the outset of our relationship with God. we learn to have a childlike, helpless dependence on Him. During that early developmental stage He relates to us much as a parent to a young child. But how tragic when, instead of that being just a phase in our development, it goes on to become the eternal status quo! Just like any good parent God expects us to grow up and be involved with Him in the things which He considers important.

For the Israelites that process took forty years longer than it should have. At least when they did finally make it their approach to life was a very different one to that of their fathers. They were a new’ generation and, unlike the one before which had opted for irresponsible immaturity, they were no longer obsessed with their own needs. They were united and disciplined as they marched forward into the Promised Land – an army fit to fight God’s battles. No longer were they caught up in their own petty conflicts. They had stepped out beyond the narrow bounds of their own needs and situations and accepted their responsibilities. With God leading the way they set out to take possession of the land He had long ago promised them.

Sons of God

Maturity demands that you live beyond the bounds and limitations of your own world. It lifts you out of yourself to the place where you find a purpose beyond yourself. And here maturity and true love meet, for a lover lives not for himself alone but also for his loved ones. The more you live for others the less you will be obsessed with your own needs, problems and fears. A baby is naturally self-centred. He lives only for himself. But if he is to mature into true adulthood – or sonship – he must learn the necessity of living for others. This is not just for some. We are all called to it and God takes it very seriously. He entrusts the precious things of His kingdom to nobody but mature, responsible. loving sons – as epitomised in Jesus.

Nehemiah, too, was like that. Being a man who loved God and His people he was shattered by the grim news about Jerusalem:

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

Nehemiah was faced with an impossible situation. Yet something had to be done about it, but what? He had no idea, so he cried out to God. Despite the fact that there was no apparent way for him to do anything about the plight of Jerusalem, he still wanted to share his feelings with God. He was upset and frustrated. On the one hand he was faced with Jerusalem’s tragic need, yet on the other he felt powerless and impotent to do anything about it. How could he, trapped as he was in a faraway land, lift so much as a finger to help Jerusalem? Yet he desperately wanted to! So he did the only thing he could think of. He opened his heart to God and poured out his innermost feelings.

We have already seen how Nehemiah identified with God but now he went a step further and began to intercede. But what does that actually mean? Such terms as intercessor and intercessory ministry are shrouded in mystery for many. Often they conjure up pictures of self-denying saints agonising in prayer and fasting for days or weeks on end. Though that sometimes is the case, there is nothing essentially heavy or ‘super-spiritual’ about intercession. An intercessor is simply someone who sees a needy situation, identifies with the way God feels about it, and then brings to Him both his own desire and his availability. He says in effect: ‘I may not know what to do God, but I want you to know that I feel as you do about this situation and I place myself at your disposal to use me in whatever way you want. Just look at Nehemiah interceding on behalf of Jerusalem and its people:

We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and law’s you gave your servant Moses. Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 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.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.

With these words Nehemiah reminded God about His relationship with His people Israel. He admitted their constant need of Him. He confessed their sins, freely acknowledging that their current plight was a direct result of their disobedience. Although their defeat and the destruction of their city had been specifically allowed by God, Nehemiah knew it was not His fault. He was sure it had never been God’s intention for His people to be in such desperate need. Instead of blaming God he accepted that it was all a direct result of their rebellion against Him. He had abandoned them into the hands of their enemies because they left Him no other choice. But there was still hope. Nehemiah believed in God’s mercy, love and faithfulness: we are still your people, he declared.

Even then his prayer was not finished. He went on to take just one more vital step:

O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.

That really clinched it, for with those words Nehemiah showed what he was made of. He had now gone to the extent of making himself available to God. This was no vague, general ‘I’m-here- if-you-need-me-God’ offer. It was a specific proposition. He could think of just one possible way in which God might be able to use him to help Jerusalem, so he told Him he was willing. Though just a slave without rights or influence of any kind, his job as the king’s cup bearer often brought him into the royal presence. Perhaps God could do something with that. At least Nehemiah offered Him the opportunity.

Offering Yourself

So it was that by the time he had reached the end of his intercessory prayer, Nehemiah had made himself and his position in the palace available to God. Though that must have seemed a fearful prospect he was not daunted by it. Being a true intercessor, there was no way he could have stopped short of placing himself at God’s disposal. To have merely ‘prayed about’ the situation was just not enough. He did what he knew he had to do – he went all the way and laid himself on the line. He offered himself as the channel through which his own prayers could be answered. Once he did that he embarked on a course which was to irrevocably change his life.

Is your praying like that? Do you make yourself available to God, allowing Him to use you in the situations you pray to Him about? Or do you simply discharge your duty by ‘mentioning’ the matter in your prayers? Surely we can’t really expect God to be moved by our so-called intercessions if the only effort we are prepared to expend consists of a few words in God’s ear. If intercession means anything it means giving God the right to involve us in the things we bring to Him, wherever and in whatever way He chooses, Once we set out to identify with God once we align ourselves with the way He feels about things – once we start praying about those things, we cannot shrink back from personal involvement.

To have a relationship with God is a very special privilege, and it brings with it many benefits. To fellowship with Him is both vital and necessary to the development of that relationship. Yet we are called to go still further. We are called to sonship – that mature expression so evident in Jesus’ life. For Him success and achievement were not found merely in the fact of His relationship with His Father, nor even in the degree of fellowship they enjoyed with one another. Great though all that was, His true joy and fulfilment lay in this: He was a son who pleased His Father. He made that His constant aim and quest – and He carried it out whatever the cost. That’s what sonship is about, and that’s precisely what we are called to.

Nehemiah’s prayer can be divided into three important parts: he began by expressing his personal commitment to God, went on to be honest with God about the sins of His people, and finally made himself available to God. By such a mature, caring and responsible approach he provided the necessary foundation for the exciting events in which he was soon to be involved.

The story of Nehemiah is essentially that of one man’s desire to identify and be involved with God whatever the cost. Paul once wrote that ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God’. We, like Nehemiah, are called to grow up and relate to God as mature sons who allow His Spirit to lead us in whichever way He chooses. He expects us to live not for ourselves but for Him and for the things which are important to Him.

Only those who relate and respond to God in this way can ever discover true personal fulfilment. It’s not enough to merely be a born-again Christian who is enjoying the benefits of God’s gifts. Only by sonship can you enter into that life of involvement with Him for which there is no substitute.


Having read the message of this book – having seen how true involvement with God begins – you should by now have asked yourself the question: Do I really want to be involved with God? If your answer is yes, if you really are prepared to be involved with God on His terms, then you should move on to Book 2 – Doing God’s Work.

Tony Kostas

Tony Kostas was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1941, where at the age of seventeen, he committed his life to Jesus at a Billy Graham Crusade. In 1967 he founded the Melbourne Outreach Crusade, a non-denominational evangelistic outreach. This later grew into Outreach International, which is now a worldwide body of believers, who share a God-given calling and are committed to live in love with Him and with one another.

Tony’s life is a true expression of all that God has revealed to him throughout the years, in its purity and focus on loving God. His passion is for God to have the desire of His hears: a people who truly represent Him because they are His and His alone.