Mark Batterson - Dream, Two-Foot Field Trip
On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 took off from Kennedy Space Center, the mission was a lunar landing, but if you've seen the film by the same name, you know that mission was aborted because of the failed oxygen tank. But before that malfunction, before James Lovell said Houston, we have a problem, there was another moment. A holy moment. James Lovell was looking out the window of Apollo 13, and I'll show you what he saw. Planet Earth, suspended in space. And then he held up his thumb like a hitchhiker, and it blocked the view of planet Earth, and it bordered on an out of body experience. The Earth was a place out there, said Lovell, that you could put your thumb on and hide it completely.
All the problems that you have, if you put up your thumb, they all disappear. When astronauts go to outer space it changes inner space. Psychologists call it the overview effect. It's a cognitive shift that usually involves a visual stimulus, in this instance the pale blue dot that we call Earth, and it triggers an overwhelming sense of awe via perceptual vastness. You dream bigger. You think longer. It's a feeling of smallness. In the presence of greatness. Hold that thought. Give me a thumb. Come on let me see it. Thumbs up; is there a problem you don't know how to solve? Is there a situation that you find absolutely overwhelming? Is there a mistake impossible to forgive? Is there a person living in your head rent free?
Stick with me. Stop giving that problem, stop giving that person the finger. Give them the thumb. Problems are problems, the last thing I wanna do is downplay your problems. But the problem is not your only problem, the problem is your perspective on those problems. And your perspective is more important than your problems. You cannot solve your problems, said Albert Einstein, with the same level of thinking that created them. Is it all right if I get in our business a little bit? Someday we'll thank God for the prayers he didn't answer as much as the ones he did. Why? 'Cause we ask for the wrong thing. And if God answered those prayers it would actually undermine his purposes.
Now our primary prayer is this; Lord change my circumstances. The problem with that is this; sometimes we ask God to change the circumstances that God is using to change us. Now if that prayer doesn't work, our backup prayer is change others. 'Cause it's just so much easier than changing myself. But maybe just maybe, God wants to change you. Not my brother, not my sister, it's me oh Lord. In the need of prayer, change me. Is anybody with me? Change me, change me. On Thursday night we had a revival of love with Albert Tate. When love grows up it looks like Jesus; drop the mic, that was so good. On Friday night we had a revival of vision with Charlotte Gamble. When we allow other people's scripts to determine how we see, it's the blind leading the blind, it's not gonna get us where we need to go.
Well it's Sunday, I'm believing for a revival of faith. It's being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we do not see. It's taking the first step. Before God reveals the second step. If fear is letting our circumstances get between us and God, then faith is putting God in between us and our circumstances, but let me add one to the mix. Faith is giving a thumbs up. It's putting things into perspective, it's dreaming bigger, it's thinking longer. It's an overwhelming sense of awe, in the presence of an almighty God. Oh God give us faith.
I want you to grab your Bible, you can meet me in a tent, in a field, in ancient Israel, the sun is set, it is a cloudless night, and the stars are shining. Genesis 15:1. After this, after what? After 25 years of frustration, after 25 years of disappointment, after 25 years of heartbreak, it was 25 years earlier that God had made a covenant of blessing, I will make you a great nation. One problem with that promise, they couldn't get pregnant. We can read this story in 25 minutes but it takes 25 years. The promise is even more impossible because the last time I checked, hundred year old men don't get 90 year old women pregnant. Abraham's in his tent thinking, it is too little too late. After this the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision; fear not, I am your shield and very great reward. But Abram said, sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless? You have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir.
Don't read right over this. Abraham acknowledges the sovereignty of God. He calls him by the right name. But I'm not sure he believes it, and we do the same thing. You are Jehovah Rapha God, my healer, except when I'm sick. Because it's so much easier to believe God for someone else's healing, than it is mine. Then Abraham does what we do. Instead of thanking God for all he's done, Abraham has been blessed in a thousand ways, what does he do? He fixates on the one thing that God hasn't done. And I get it, I understand it. We tend to do the same thing. And so I think Abraham's in his tent, throwing a pity party, but I'm not standing in judgment because I have been there and done that. But I want you to notice what God does next. It says the Lord took him outside; hmm. Big deal, inside, outside. I mean it's a two foot difference, I mean really what difference does it make? All the difference in the world. Because as long as you are inside this tent, you are staring at a manmade ceiling. You're staring at an eight foot ceiling, but the second you come outside, you look up and the sky is the limit.
I think God is saying to Abraham, quit putting an eight foot ceiling on what I can do. Can I tell you today, this is what's in my spirit, I feel like the Lord is saying, take off the ceiling. Take the ceiling off of what I can do. Let me put this in practical terms. When we purchased the city block that is called The Capital Turnaround, it was hard to see what it could become. It was hard to see past the blue paint. I am literally standing in what was a loading dock. 30 feet wide, about 50 feet deep, it was used for deliveries. It's what it was. And then we walked inside and it was these narrow hallways and these carved up classrooms, and a drop ceiling throughout the entire building. But then we discovered, mm mm mm mm, the only thing that was load bearing were these 96 columns.
Can I tell you something? Faith is seeing through walls. They aren't load bearing. You can get to the other side, I know, impossible situations, addictions, things that just haven't changed forever it's so hard to see on the other side of it. But, and then there are the drop ceilings. Can I tell you what faith is? Popping out a ceiling tile. And it's realizing, wait, we have 20 foot ceilings, we can actually add a mezzanine level. But, Pastor Mark, you don't know how many times I've messed up, you don't know how many times I've prayed, you don't know how many times I've been disappointed, you don't know how many people have let me down, and the ceiling gets lower, and lower, and lower, and lower, until we put a drop ceiling on God. And we think the tent is all there is. And God says, go outside. I wanna talk about three things. Go outside, look up, count the stars.
It says, look up at in the sky, and count the stars if you can. Then he said to him, so shall your offspring be. Now it's easy to rewrite over this part of the story so let me state the obvious, when God says go outside, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. But buyer beware, the grass is not greener on the other side, the grass is greener over the septic tank. Now, that said, one way to get in touch with the God of nature, is to get into nature. Maybe no one did this better than George Washington Carver, one of my heroes. He would get up 4 AM, and he would do these prayer walks through the woods, and he would get God ideas. Maybe, do you know our kids spend 50% less time outside than we did. Houston we have a problem. Because here's what happens. We get into these manufactured environments, and we lose touch. For the same reason that God took Abraham outside the tent and said look up, for the very same reason, at a burning bush, God said, take off your shoes. Can you just get back in touch with the reality of what's around you?
Now there is a phenomenon in science called the three day effect. It takes three days in the wild to reset your brain. A cognitive neuroscientist, David Strayer, has found that after three days in the wild, our ability to problem solve, goes up. Our inductive reasoning goes up. We start thinking outside the box. And I think that's part of what God is doing here. Abram, don't, don't put me in a box, don't put me in a box. Now I have a little formula, you've heard it a couple dozen times, but we'll put it on the screen. Change of pace, plus change of place, equals change of perspective. A few weeks ago our family went to see Wicked at the national, at the Kennedy Center. And we waited till the last minute to get tickets so they were, an obstructed view, but they were cheap, which was great.
Pretty good view for the value. But the reality is, I honestly have no idea what happened stage left, the whole thing. It was far stage left, I mean it wasn't terrible, but the, whatever was happening stage left, no idea, 'cause it was out of sight, out of mind. I just wonder how many of us have an obstructed view of God. And, I mean I probably need to say it. Nothing obstructs our view of God like sin. Do you know the word repentance, in Greek, means change of mind. I think it's getting a God's eye view, it's beginning to see things the way that God sees them. And we need a little bit more of that. So, number one, go outside. Not right now, stick around for the rest of the message, but a little bit later. Two, look up. There are lots of ways to change your perspective, and I'll come at it from two angles. One angle is what psychologists call a downward counterfactual.
Reminds me of the girl who wrote a letter to her parents, college student, dear mom and dad, I have so much to tell you, because of the fire in my dorm set off by student riots, I experienced lung damage and had to go to the hospital. While I was there I fell in love with an orderly, moved in together, dropped out of school when I found out I was pregnant, he got fired because of his drinking, so we're moving to Alaska where we might get married after the birth of our baby, your loving daughter. PS, none of this really happened, but I did flunk my chemistry class and wanted to keep it in perspective.
One way to keep things in perspective is to keep your sense of humor. By the way if you missed Albert Tate on Thursday night go and watch it. Warning, he offended everybody. But you can say almost anything if you say it funny. And it was cathartic. It was just a, laughter is a releasing that is healthy and holy, and so, I'm doing research right now for next book, and really locked in on the, the image of God, and I think the image of God, it's the capacities and responsibilities that set us apart from the rest of God's creation, and one of those things, I would argue, is laughter. Dogs don't laugh. Cats definitely don't laugh.
When Jesus said, love the Lord your God with all of your mind, I think it includes the reticular activating system, the part of the brain that determines what we notice and what goes unnoticed, I think it includes the basal ganglia, this part of the brain that allows us to form habits. I think it includes the emigdula, the seed of humor, might be one of the hardest things to sanctify, yes? And it includes the medial ventral prefrontal cortex, when was the last time you thanked God for that? It's the part of the brain that is able to juxtapose things and find them funny, praise God. I guess what I'm saying is along with the revival of love or revival of vision, revival of faith, I wouldn't mind a revival of laughter.
Do you know that when Laura got that first cancer diagnosis in 2017, we started going to comedy clubs. Why? 'Cause laughter doith good like a medicine, the writer at proverbs said that thousands of years, I just think the happiest, healthiest, holiest people on the planet are the people who laugh at themselves the most. We take God seriously at NCC. Ourselves, not so much. A downward counterfactual is a little bit of a Jedi mind trick. It's reminding yourself of the fact that things could be worse, yes? But I wanna flip that script.
I have a few quotes that I quote all the time. One of them is AW Toser, he said a low view of God is a cause of a hundred lesser evils. And a high view of God, is a solution to 10,000 temporal problems. Couple of questions. Is God bigger than your biggest problem? Is he bigger than your biggest mistake? Is he bigger than your biggest dream? We look down an awful lot. Maybe we need to look up a little bit more. Maybe we need to remind, look up, for your redemption draweth nigh. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. We need to refocus on the promises of God, the character of God, spirit of God, word of God, goodness of God, greatness of God, look up, in fact, just do it right now, unless you're driving online, look up. Just look up.
Come on, the only ceiling on your intimacy with God and impact on the world, is daily spiritual disciplines. And here's what's gonna happen this year, 'cause we're not believing God for revival, we're believing God for sustained revival. And spiritual disciplines are the things that sustain revival in our lives. So what happens over time is the ceiling, are you ready for this? Becomes the floor. You start benchmarking. You start believing God for bigger and better miracles. And the next thing you know, all things are possible. Two little disciplines, but I don't want us to think of them in the context of doing it when we're together in a building that we call a church when, and in fact, church is people. One is praise and the other is prayer. How do we look up? Praise is the way we look up.
Eugene Peterson said that worship is the way we interrupt our preoccupations with ourselves. And we start refocusing on who God is. I just wanna say today, worship is a weapon. Oh, Pastor Mark, that sounds really militaristic. Last time I checked we were born on a battlefield between good and evil. We don't struggle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. Our weapons are not carnal, they have the divine power to demolish strongholds. And I'll tell you spiritually what happens when we begin to worship, especially when we give him the sacrifice of praise, the enemy runs in the other direction. Why? Well it's not real complicated. It reminds him who he was. He led worship in time before time. And so when you worship you are reminding yourself of who God is, who you are, and you're reminding the enemy of who he, he is a defeated foe.
I just, we are gonna take our worship game to another level. We're gonna give him our praise, and when we do it's gonna raise the roof, it's gonna raise the ceiling, we're gonna enthrone him with our praises and God is going to inhabit the praises of his people. Can I get an amen right there? And prayer, nothing changes perspective like prayer. You don't have to leave the Earth's atmosphere like James Lovell. All it takes is a two foot field trip. You are two feet from a totally different perspective. Now it's about the distance from your knees, to the ground. And I would remind us, you are never taller than when you're kneeling. What did we say week one? We're gonna walk into 2023, walking one inch taller. How do we do that? By being a people that live on our knees.
In celestial mechanics there's a concept called escape velocity, it's the minimum speed you much reach, about 25,000 miles per hour, in order to overcome the law of gravity and escape the Earth's atmosphere. If you wanna land a man on the moon, if you wanna send a satellite into space, or send a James Webb telescope on its, you have to escape the Earth's atmosphere. I think prayer is the way that we reach escape velocity in the spiritual realm. It's the difference between the best we can do and the best God can do. It's why we're prioritizing house of prayer on Thursday nights. I'm just gonna say this, it's the most important thing we do. Because it's the way we write history before it happens. Now we're raising the roof, we're taking the ceiling off of what God can do. I have a little piece of chalk. And if you're here in the house you're gonna get one on the way out.
I love this story, Gypsy Smith, 1860, born, in a tent, ha ha ha, born in a tent. Grew up in a Gypsy camp, no formal education, lectured at Harvard, invited to the White House by two sitting presidents. Crisscrossed the Atlantic ocean, more than 40 times, everywhere he went revival followed. Powerfully used by God. Now one day a group of folks who were believing God for revival said, how could we experience revival the way that you have? And I'll tell you what Gypsy Smith told, and then we'll even put it on the screen, 'cause maybe you wanna take a picture of this. He said go home, go home, lock yourself in your bedroom, then take a piece of chalk, and draw a circle on the floor, and then kneel in that circle and pray brokenly and fervently that God would start a revival in that circle. Revival doesn't start out there. Revival starts in here. Oh God, revive our hearts. Revive our minds, revive our spirits.
Oh God, would you, maybe keep this somewhere, or maybe, unless you're renting, draw a circle somewhere, on the floor, on a mirror, for many many years Laura and I had a little piece that Kate McGall was kind enough to make for us with the circle on it, and we put names in it, just this little reminder that we're gonna continue to pray. How do we look up? Praise and prayer. All right, let's get where this is going. One, go outside, two look up, and three, count the stars. Taken literally, this would have to be the most impossible command in all of scripture. Astrophysicists estimate about 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. I did the math, if Abraham counted one star per second, he wouldn't even be halfway there in 2023. It would take 10,000 years. Oh but wait. That's one of hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars. Let us magnify the Lord together. Would you allow that just to lift your faith?
How long will we waver between two opinions, Elijah said? If God is God, could we trust him, could we follow him? To the infinite, all finites are equal. There are no degrees of difficulty. There is no possible or impossible, all things are possible. Here's a problem. We put an eight foot ceiling on God, so, let me say it this way. I don't know where you are in your spiritual journey, not sure how your theological jigsaw puzzle is put together, but I can pretty confidently say, and I don't mean this as an insult, I mean it as an exhortation, your God is too small. In the beginning, God created us in his image, we have been creating God in our image ever since. It's called anthropomorphism. And the problem with that is this, you end up with a God who looks like you, walks like you, talks like you, might even vote like you. God doesn't fit within the four dimensions of space time, he created, much less the logical constraints of my left brain.
What you end up with in the ends of AW Toser is a God who can never surprise us, never overwhelm us, never astonish us, never transcend us. We have a lot of problems, our biggest problem is our small view of God. How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, said GK Chesterton, if the hammer of a higher God would smash your small cosmos. I'll close with this. We tend to remember what we should forget and forget what we should remember. So it's hard for us to imagine God's memory. We so quickly, so easily forget, there's a God who doesn't forget his people, and doesn't forget his promises. One of my favorite phrases in scripture, for David's sake, for David's sake, for David's sake. Read through the Old Testament you'll see it.
In 853 BC, King Jehoram assumes the throne of Judah, there will not be a quiz, he's the fifth king of the southern kingdom, it's 117 years after the death of David. Scripture says that King Jehoram did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord. He actually killed his brothers to secure the throne. But listen to what 2 Kings 8:19 says, nevertheless, nevertheless for David's sake the Lord will not destroy Judah. David is long gone. But God is still honoring his promises. There is no expiration date on prayer, there is no expiration date on the promises of God. Here's what I think. I think God has done a lot of things in your life that you did nothing to deserve. You are the answer to prayers you know nothing about.
And this is personal for me. I had a grandfather, Elmer Johnson, had a habit of praying at night, hard of hearing, he would take off his hearing aid, kneel next to his bed, couldn't hear himself pray, everybody else in the house could hear him. Those are some of my earliest memories. He died, I think I was seven, he died when I was seven. His prayers did not die. There have been moments in my life where the spirit of God has said in that still, small voice, Mark the prayers of your grandfather are being answered in your life right now. Those are some of the most profoundly humbling moments in life. We drink from wells we did not dig, we eat from fields we did not plant. We live in houses we did not build. We experience blessings we did nothing to deserve, and I say we flip the blessing. I say we do things that'll make a difference 70 years from now, I say we dream big. I say we think long. I say we stand on the promises of God, I say we take off the eight foot ceiling, and say, not a him who was able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine, according to his power that's at work within me, to him be glory, in the church, and throughout all generations, forever and ever in Jesus name, amen.