Mark Batterson - From Languishing to Flourishing
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, four commercial airplanes were hijacked in a coordinated attack by the militant Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda. The first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 AM. 17 minutes later, United Airline Flight 175 flew into the South Tower. If you're old enough to remember that day, you'll never forget where you were and there's no category for what we saw and what we felt. Less than an hour later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37 AM. A fourth airplane, United Airline Flight 93, whose intended target was the White House or the Capitol, where so many NCCers were working that day crashed in a field near near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03 AM because of the courage of the passengers who sacrificed their lives to save some of ours. "We're going to die," said Thomas Burnett to his wife, "But we're going to do something".
In many ways, the attacks on 9/11 revealed the worst of humanity. It was a heartbreaking reminder that we were born on a battlefield between good and evil. It brought out the worst, but it also brought out the best. So many heroes that day, they ran into burning buildings to save others, and they paid the ultimate price. Those heroes, firefighters and police officers, military and civilian, deserve a moment of silence. "Courage is not just one of the virtues," said CS Lewis, "But the form of every virtue at its testing point".
This weekend, we continue our series, "The Best is Yet to come," but let's be honest, there are days that don't feel that way. 9/11 was one of those days, no doubt, and 20 years later, some of us feel the same way. The last two years we've lived through a global pandemic. We've experienced racial tension and political polarization. We've watched the Taliban take control of Afghanistan. We've seen an earthquake hit Haiti. We've watched a hurricane hit the Gulf Coast. We are fighting so many battles on so many fronts, not to mention a mental health crisis. According to the CDC, 1/3 of American adults experiencing anxiety or depression. 71% of Americans are angry, 66% fearful. And that's just adults. I mean, in some ways I think it's taken even greater toll on our children. The depression rate amongst 12 to 17-year-olds in the last decade has doubled, but I wanna focus on a feeling that's difficult to define.
A few months ago, Adam Grant wrote a "New York Times" article, and this was the title. "There's a Name for the Blah that You're Feeling, It's Called Languishing". Now in psychology, mental health has a scale from flourishing to depression. Flourishing is evidenced by things like optimism and empathy and authenticity. It's inner joy, it's self esteem. It's a strong sense of meaning. On the other side of that spectrum is depression. It's evidenced by things like hopelessness and helplessness. It's the feeling that the best is behind you. Now in between flourishing and depression, there is what Adam Grant calls the neglected middle child of mental health, and he calls it the dominant emotion of 2021. The "APA Dictionary of Psychology" defines it as apathy. Languishing is not mental illness, but it's not mental health. It's no man's land. It's basically blah. It's lack of focus, lack of energy, lack of motivation, lack of vision.
Now I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but if you're languishing, you are not alone. Our emotions have been all over the map these past couple of years. Am I in the right room? I can feel you online too, okay? If you're languishing, so glad that you're here this weekend. Now I don't have easy answers or quick fixes, but I wanna talk about how we can move from languishing to flourishing. You can meet me in the book of Nehemiah. Let me set the scene. In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquer the Jewish people, they destroy the wall of Jerusalem, they plunder the temple, and they take prisoners of war from the upper class and the creative class, and I'll paint a picture. Actually, James Tissot, 1896, painted a picture, "The Flight of the Prisoners". Just look at that and kinda put yourself in their sandals. This is not unlike the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan. These refugee for 70 years, they're gonna ive as refugees in Babylon. Everything they know, everything they love is left behind.
Now in 536 BC, a remnant led buys Zerubbabel returns to Jerusalem and rebuilds the temple, but the wall of Jerusalem remains in ruins. And the problem with that is this, walls were the first and last line of defense. And so the city of Jerusalem is defenseless. Then in 455 BC, a second remnant led by Ezra returns to Jerusalem, and for what it's worth, Ezra and Nehemiah, one book in the Masoretic Text and so they kinda flow together. In 445, BC Nehemiah leads a third remnant back to Jerusalem. Okay, spoiler alert, Nehemiah rebuild the wall of Jerusalem in 52 days flat.
Now, the wall of Jerusalem is not the Great Wall of China. And it's not the great pyramids of Egypt either. But archeologists have discovered portions of this wall that are 26 feet tall and 16 feet thick, okay? And that's why it took the Babylonians 30 months to breach those walls. The excavation director at one of those dig sites, Ronnie Wright, said, "To build walls straight up 26 feet high, I don't know how to do it today without mechanical equipment. I don't think any engineer without electrical power could do it".
Here's a crazy thing. Nehemiah's not an engineer or an architect. He doesn't have any academic letters behind his name. He doesn't hold political office. He's not making a six digit salary, more like minimum wage plus tips, because Nehemiah is basically a bus boy. Verse one. "These are the memoirs of Nehemiah, son of Hacaliah, In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes' reign, I was at the fortress of Susa". Nehemiah has zero credentials, but God doesn't call the qualified, God qualifies the called. Aren't you grateful for that? Some of you are called to do some things that you know what? You don't have the credentials, but God has anointed you and appointed you. Show me your strong hand. Let me see your strong hand. Now for 90% of us, that's a right hand, and this strong hand, come on, keep it up, it symbolizes the gifts that God has given to you.
Now show me that weak hand. Just hold it up high. This weak hand symbolize the things that don't come naturally. You can hardly even brush your teeth with your weak hand. Right? You can't even write your name legibly with your weak hand. I wanna tell you something. Yes, God wants to use that strong hand, He's the one who gave you those gifts. But God wants to use that weak hand, why? Because His power is made perfect in weakness. Don't underestimate that weak hand. Because that's how God gets glory. What do you mean Pastor Mark? Well, He does things that you can't take credit for. By definition, a God-sized vision is gonna be beyond your ability, beyond your intellect, beyond your resources. And so here's my advice, go after a dream that's destined to fail without divine intervention. And that's what Nehemiah does.
Verse two, "Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews that had survived the exile. and about how things were going there. They said, '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.'" Two times it says survive. It's this Hebrew word, sha'ar, which means left over or left behind. I can't help but think of those who didn't get out of Afghanistan, those who are left behind. That's literally how that word is used. It's the marginalized, it's those who feel unseen and unheard. But there's another dimension to this word. The Hebrew root means to swell up. It's almost like emotional inflammation. They're living in survival mode. They are languishing.
Verse four. "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days, I mourned and fasted and prayed to the God of heaven". When I was in graduate school, I had a professor that asked a question I'll never forget. He said, "What makes you cry or pound your fist on the table"? In other words, what makes you sad and what makes you mad? You have to pay attention to those emotions because those emotions often double as God-ordained passions. Now when Jesus said, "Love the Lord, your God, with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength," I think that means right-brain imagination and left-brain logic. I think that means the reticular activating system. Favorite part of the brain, right? Part of the brain stem that determines what we notice and what goes unnoticed. I think it includes the prefrontal medial cortex, the seat of humor, and I think it includes the amygdala, where emotions are processed. It's all of those things.
So we read right past this, but it says that Nehemiah wept. If something you to weep, maybe God is trying to get your attention. If something causes you to pound your fist on the table, to mourn and fast and pray for days on end. It's a pretty good indication that God wants you to do something about it. Let me talk to tears for a minute. I think tears, are they not evidence of God doing a deep work? Are they not evidence of something that just, you can't really find the words for? Now, sometimes it's tears of sorrow, 'cause you don't know how to grieve with words, and sometimes it's tears of joy. One way or the other, God is the one who created us with tear ducts.
Last weekend, I noticed one of our greeters just outside the auditorium here at the Capitol turnaround and I love that she was outside the auditorium, but she's singing. She's singing like she's on the worship team. I noticed tears in her eyes. And that tells me God's doing some soul work, something's happening there. Can I suggest that tears are a beautiful language in which we worship God? Can I suggest that sometimes it's joy unspeakable and sometimes it's the peace that passes understanding you can't find the words, but those tears. Listen, God collects them in a bottle, they're precious to Him. Psalm 56:8.
So tears are one way that we worship God. I think tears are one way that we pray when we can't find the words. I don't take this for granted, about every other week I get a letter from someone in prison who's reading a book I've written. This week, it's a PK, he was a pastor's kid from Indiana. And he said, "I'm 51 years old and I've spent more than 25 years incarcerated. A while back, my mom sent me your book, 'The Circle Maker.' Halfway through your book I got down in my cell, I drew a circle with a bar soap. I got in the circle and I cried like I was at church camp 40 years ago".
I thought to myself, praise God. God, you're doing the deep work. You're doing something that is beyond words. I don't know how else to say this, some you need to cry out to the Lord. You need to cry out to the Lord. Some of you need to intercede with some tears. Most of us will never see the inside of a jail cell, but we're a prisoner to one or two or three experiences in our past. We let the enemy hold us hostage. Not today! Not today. Romans 8:1 says, "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus". Your sin is forgiven and forgotten. And so my advice, is when the enemy reminds you of your past, why don't you remind him of his future? What makes you cry? What makes you pound your fist on the table? Let me add one more to the mix. What puts a smile on your face? Come on, let me see it. Let me see that smile. What puts a smile on your face.
"The voice that we should listen to most, as we choose the vocation", said Fredrick Buechner, "Is the voice we think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of gladness". Eric Liddell, the Olympic sprinter whose story inspired chariots of fire. Do you remember this? He said, "When I run, I feel God's pleasure". I love that. Psychologists call it flow. It's being so absorbed in what you're doing that you just lose track of time. I would call it a God-ordained passion. Now on that note, parents how do we help our kids navigate things like 9/11 or things like a global pandemic? Well, according to an educational psychologist named David Scherner, he said, "You have to find what lights their fire". I think this is critical.
What do your kids love to do? When and where and how do they lose track of time? What motivates them intrinsically? As a parent, listen, the cure for them is the same cure for us. You gotta help them pursue those healthy and holy passions. Now, in that article on languishing, Adam Grant says that, "When you're languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive". He says, "You're indifferent to the indifference". Juxtapose that with this. I think this is my prayer for. This is where I was kneeling at the altar praying for you. Oh God, bring us back to life emotionally. Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart". Desire is one of the seven love languages. Wrote about it in "Whisper".
And I think it's one of the ways that we discern the will of God. I would call it the desire test. When you delight yourself in the Lord, it has a sanctifying effect on that amygdala. The word give in Hebrew means conceive. In other words, the Spirit of God begins to conceive new desires within us. And it changes our operating, changes the way that we feel. This is huge. Now, those feelings still have to go through the filter of scripture. They have to align with the good, pleasing, perfect will of God. But if they do, I think those desires qualify as God-ordained passions and they become compass needles in our life. Carl Jung had a theory. He said, "We don't solve our problems, we outgrow them". How? He said, "Some higher or wider interest arose on the person's horizon, and through this widening view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically on its own terms, but faded out when confronted," here it is, "With a newer and stronger life-tendency".
That newer and stronger life tendency is a God-ordained passion. I think one of the best ways to solve our problems is to help solve someone else's problem. And somehow that problem loses a little bit of power when we begin helping other people. Can I ever a couple of practical suggestions, 'cause I think part of languishing is loneliness and you just kinda, it's just easy to get a little bit self-absorbed and then the next thing you know you feel like you're the only person who's struggling with this? No, no, no, no. Two simple suggestions. One, plug into a small group. Just get around some other people, and wow, what great timing. We kick off a new semester with small groups, okay? And so there's lots of opportunities for you to get plugged into a small group. And then I would say plug into a ministry. Something happens when you just start serving other people. It just brings so much joy when you're serving other people.
Verse five, "Oh Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant of unfailing 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". And then he says, "I confess the sins of the Israelites, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you".
Now I want you to listen really carefully right here. You can't repent of sins you haven't committed, okay? That's called a false confession, but you can lament the sins of previous generations. Nehemiah is acknowledging generational sin, is acknowledging original sin. Listen, there are a lot of things we need to lament. Yes? But we don't just lament the past. Without a vision the people perish. And so you lament the past, but you need a vision that's bigger and better than the problem that you face. And I think that's why Dr. King was so influential and so powerful. He said, "I have a dream. I have a dream, my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character". He cast the vision. verse 11, "Oh Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those who delight in honoring You. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man".
I love this prayer for lots of reasons. For starters, God honors bold prayers because bold prayers honor God. Why not go big and go home, right? Like just go for it. Nehemiah prays for the favor of God, and the king not only gives him a leave of absence. it's all expenses paid and he gives them a security detail. Like this is wow! But you have not because you ask not. Nehemiah spend days thinking and praying and strategizing and praying for favor, and finally made this request to the king and that's what made it possible.
Now I wanna be careful talking about favor. Let me tell you when it's not,. It's not an immunity card. We all experience pain and suffering. We all have scars, we all make sacrifices. Favor is not a fast pass. Okay, there aren't any shortcuts and there aren't any cheat codes. And it doesn't mean that your approval ratings are gonna go up. I don't care if your name is Moses and you come down Mount Sinai was stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God. According to the diffusion of innovation bell-curve, 16% of people are still gonna be resistors. You can please all the people some of the time, some of the people all the... You can't please all the people all the time.
Now, I don't have time to deep dive this, but man, you read chapter 4, 5, 6, whew! There are some haters. There are some bullies. There are Sanballat and Tobiah. Geshem. Ah! They are opposing Nehemiah at every turn. Listen, opposition is not cause for concern. Lack of opposition is cause for concern because it might mean that you're not doing anything to make a difference. So praise God when you experienced a little bit of, ooh, I must be getting up in somebody's business. Right? Now that said, I pray for favor all the time. We have found so much favor. We make no apologies. When we are negotiating for real estate, God has done so many real estate miracles, we pray for favor.
I can't explain how four people have more money for the crack house that turned into Ebeneezer's Coffee House and we get it for less money. I can't explain that, other than the favor of God. Could tell you story after story, after story, after story. Pray for favor when it comes to news media. Does that mean every articles? No. But I had this conviction that Good News ought to make the news. I pray for favor for my children. I prayed Luke 2:52. "Thousands of times may you grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and with man". After the message, we're gonna pray. We're gonna pray blessing. We're gonna pray favor on our children and parents, on students and teachers. We're not gonna leave anybody out, we're not gonna leave anybody out. But at the start of the school year, I feel like it's a moment for us to pronounce blessing. So you don't want to go anywhere after the message is over, okay?
Let me close with this. I think I resonate with the story for lots of reasons, but one of them is that I feel like as a church, we are called to be rebuilders of the breach. I mean, we turned to crack house into a coffee house, we turned in abandoned apartment building into the DC Dream Center, turned in 1891 navy yard car barn into the Turnaround. And so we have done it physically, but I think it's true spiritually. Isaiah 58:12 says, "Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age old foundations. You will be called repairer of broken walls, restorer of streets with dwellings".
That's who we are. That's what we do. We're called to stand in the gap. Peacemakers, grace givers, and tone setters, not just trying to build a church, trying to bless a city to the third and fourth generation. We tend to think right here right now, God is thinking nations and generations. We have a hard time believing God for cities and God says, "Ask of Me and I will give the nations". 445 BC was an outrageous time to dream. Remember that from last week? 2021 is still an outrageous time to dream. So what are we gonna do? That's what we're gonna do. We're gonna dream big, we're gonna pray hard, and we're gonna think long. This weekend, so exciting. We relaunch our Lincoln Theater campus. It's time, right? It's time. We kick off NCC Youth. That's what I'm talking about.
On October 3rd, we launch our combined Nova campus. Can't wait and see what God's gonna do. In the next two weeks, we launch two network churches, New Seasons Community Church in Gainesville, Virginia, September 19th, and Hope Baltimore. Pastor Joshua will sermon that on September 26. Almost done. The best is yet to come. It's not just some catchy phrase or cute saying, it's a core belief. It's a part of our ecclesiology. Jesus said, "I will build the church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it". It's part of our eschatology. The kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of His cry. We don't believe in happily ever after, we believe in something so much bigger and better and longer and stronger. We believe in happily forever after. Listen, the calculus of this series doesn't make sense without a dimension of reality the Bible calls heaven.
Now Dick Foth is gonna talk about it a few weeks. Cannot wait. But please hear me, heaven is not just some future destination. Heaven is invading earth right here, right now. And so if you're languishing, can I remind you that we live at the intersection of two theologies, two realities. Are you ready? The faithfulness of God is pursuing us from the past. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And the sovereignty of God is setting us up for the future. You are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works prepared for you in advance. Come on, don't put a period where God puts a comma. Don't lose faith in the end of the story. By faith, the best is yet to come.