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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mark Batterson » Mark Batterson - Power of Priming

Mark Batterson - Power of Priming

Mark Batterson - Power of Priming

Several decades ago a social psychologist named John Bargh designed a study about the power of priming. It involved a scrambled-sentence test. One version was primed with rude words, the other version primed with polite words. Now, the students thought they were taking a language test, but researchers wanted to see if words, if words had a subconscious effect on subsequent behavior. In linguistics, there's something called a semantic prime. If I say Empire State Building, it puts you in a New York state of mind. Simply put, semantic primes cause us to think in categories. So the students were primed with rude words and with polite words. Then they were told to take the test down the hall, and hand it to the person in charge. But there was a catch. There's always a catch with these tricky researchers.

An actor was staged and engaged in conversation with the person running the test. And the purpose of the study was to see if those who were primed with polite words would wait longer to interrupt than those who were primed with rude words. 65% of those primed with rude words interrupted. Only 18% of those primed with polite words interrupted. The test timed out at 10 minutes, but 82% of those primed with polite words never interrupted at all. A few polite words, a few rude words. I mean, come on. What difference does it make? Evidently, 47%. For better or for worse, our words function as semantic primes. Our words function as self-fulfilling prophecies. Linguists call it the constructive conception of language. Our words don't just represent the world objectively, our words create the world subjectively. If you wanna change the world, you have to change your words. Words create worlds.

Now, if I told you you could improve your marriage 47%, you could improve your parenting 47%, you could change the culture at work, your chances of getting the promotion, your ability to win friends and influence people. If I told you that you could quantitatively and qualitatively improve your life by 47%, you would be all over it, wouldn't you, yes, please. Now, there may not be a magic bullet, but there are magic words. And the magic carpet is, please, sorry, and thanks. The greatest predictor of your success in life, in love, and in leadership is your proficiency at three simple, yet powerful words. Nothing opens doors like please, nothing mends fences like sorry, nothing builds bridges like thanks. And if you're good at those three words, you are good to go. But they can't just be words. They're only as effective as they are authentic. They have to become a lifestyle. They have to be, you have to personalize your please, signature your sorry. And this weekend you have to thumbprint your thanks.

So ready or not, here we go. You can meet me on a mountain by the Sea of Galilee, John's gospel chapter 6, and I'll set the scene. Jesus has started doing unbelievable miracles. Women, like the woman with the issue of blood, will crowd surf just to touch the hem of His garment. Men like the four men with a paralyzed friend will Santa Claus down chimneys just to get in the same room. People will walk halfway around the Sea of Galilee, like this story just to get in proximity to Jesus. One problem. They forgot their fanny packs. No food. So Galilee, we have a problem because, you know, Jesus says to Philip, "Like, can you DoorDash Chick-fil-A"? But, but... I mean, it's hard to imagine, but there wasn't a Chick-fil-A 2,000 years ago. Aren't you grateful that you live in the 21st Century? And so Philip is doing the math, and it doesn't add up. Miracles rarely do. He said it would take half a year's wages just to feed everybody one bite.

So while Philip is doing spreadsheets, you gotta love this. The disciples, when they try to solve things, they usually create more problems, right? Or, I mean, it's pretty, this stuff is pretty funny. It's like a sitcom has lots of layers to it. And so Andrew brings a little boy with five loaves and and two fish. Thanks for nothing. There are 5,000 people here! This is your solution? At last count, five plus two equals seven, in your hands. But if you put what you have in your hands into the hands of God, it no longer adds up. Now it multiplies. Now five plus two equals 5,000, remainder 12. You have more left over than you started with. That is kingdom calculus. Now, I love this miracle on lots of levels. I love food, love miracles, food miracles, definitely my favorite. I love the little boy. I love the fact that the gospels are filled with unsung heroes, whose names we don't even know.

And by the way, you know, like if you really exegete this text, it's not really one miracle, it's two miracles. Getting your kids to share anything is a minor miracle. We're assuming that the disciples did not commandeer this poor little boy's lunch. This is the miracle before the miracle, right? Bottom line, this boy's generosity, five loaves and two fish, turns into a miracle for 5,000 people. It fueled their faith forever. They were never the same. It stretched their faith. I would say it primed, it primed their faith. We have no idea how many subsequent miracles happened because of this miracle that happened. But I have no doubt it had a domino effect, because miracles beget miracles. And when you experience a miracle, now you believe God for bigger and better miracles.

So who knows what that little boy's brown bag lunch inspired for the next generation. Your generosity is someone else's miracle. Last week, DC Dream Center, front page of the "Washington Post," Metro section. We love it when the good news makes the news, yes? The Dream Center hosted a job fair, but not just a job fair, a second chance job fair. We're just coming outta Second Chance Month, but we're just gonna kind of turn it into the next month too, 'cause it's every month, right? And so one of the men who came to that job fair, Frederick Powell, had applied for 40 jobs unsuccessfully, because it is so hard to get a job if you have a felony on your record. He walked away from the job fair with two offers. And here's what I love about that. That's a miracle for Frederick Powell. But can I connect the dots today? Everybody who invested in that $5 million vision, called the DC Dream Center, is a shareholder.

Not just in this miracle, but every miracle that happens, every kid where hope becomes habit, every child that's discipled, every situation that we resolve, everything that God does in and through that Dream Center. If you are a shareholder, guess what? You are part of that miracle. Praise God. And the same thing is true of Ebenezers Coffee House of the Capital Turnaround, of our common fund, of our Dream Fund. And so if you don't hear anything else today, I want you to hear this. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your five loaves and two fish. Thank you for your time, talent, and treasure. Thank you for giving that tithe. Thank you for being a part of what is a miracle for thousands of people.

I mean, I think about the 19 baptisms just two weeks ago. Like, it's worth it for one. And we get to get in on this! And this is just the sermon before the sermon. Haven't started preaching yet. I just wanna say, don't miss the miracle here. But I wanna look at verse 11, because we see it as ancillary to the story, but I believe it's an antecedent to the miracle. So let's look at it a little bit more closely, verse 11. "Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks". Wait, what did He, what did He do? He gave thank, for, for what? For the problem? For what He didn't have? This makes no sense to me. We read this, and we read right over it. But this is huge. I would even dare say nothing happens in the kingdom of God without thanksgiving. You can't even get in the gates, without thanksgiving.

Psalm 1:20. It's the key. You're not gonna get anywhere without thanksgiving. This may be the most important message I ever preach. Because until we learn to give thanks, we're stuck. "He gave thanks and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted". Whoo! Is it possible that giving thanks was a semantic prime for this miracle. Do you remember the 10 lepers that Jesus healed? And all 10 of them were healed physically, but only one of them was healed of ingratitude, because only one of them came back and said, "Thanks". My goal in life is to be that one leper. That's it. That's my goal. To not take anything for granted, to give thanks for everything and everyone.

Did you know that according to the Talmud, if you receive a blessing from God but fail to give thanks, it's as if you have stolen it from God. There are a lot of people shoplifting common grace. I don't want it to be me. An Orthodox Jew would pronounce 100 blessings a day. In other words, all they did all day was give thanks. Are you picking up what I'm throwing down? This is huge. Now can I get in our business a little bit? This story, the feeding of the 5,000, is when and where most of us start complaining. Because we don't wanna be in this situation, we don't want this problem, because we have a scarcity mentality. Because we tend to let what we do not have keep us from giving what we do have. We tend to let what we cannot do keep us from doing what we can. And so we operate from this scarcity mentality. We focus on the lack instead of Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that's at work within us.

And maybe, maybe that's why we never experience miracles like this. There's something to thank God for today. Every week, Lora and I begin our Sabbath by taking out our gratitude journals, and sharing them with each other. And it doubles our joy. It's like a twice-baked potato. Oh wait, with butter, sour cream, bacon, and chives. That's what I'm talking about. A little bit of salt, sea salt from the Himalayas. What I love about it, and you may get nothing else out of this message, but for me, a gratitude journal is a spiritual discipline. I think it's one of the most important things that Lora and I do in our marriage, because it keeps us focused on what we're grateful for. But the beautiful thing about it is, I get to see what nuance or dimension of the same experience we had, that she was grateful for. And now it's like, the joy doubles.

And so every few weeks or so, Lora'll be sharing her gratitudes, and I'll just call it number 217, three words, "I'm still here". I'm so grateful. After two bouts with cancer, can we go back to ground zero? I'm still here. You know what? I have the same testimony today. July 23rd, 2000, I'm preaching at Union Station. About five minutes into the message, double over, I'm in pain. I have such severe pain in my abdomen that I literally need to, I walk like this, almost like, tap Pastor Joel, and we tag team, and he pops up. I have no idea what he preached that morning. I walk out, go to the doctor. Doctor sends me to the hospital. An MRI reveals ruptured intestine. Sepsis has started setting in. Emergency surgery at about 3:00 am. I was on a respirator for two days. I lost 25 pounds in a week. I had to wear an ostomy bag for six months. It was the worst day of my life, it was the best day of my life. You don't take anything for granted after that.

I remember two things. I remember going home, walking into my kids' rooms. "Oh God, thank you. Thank you that I get to see my kids grow up". And then I remember waking up in the middle of the night one night in pain. And joy floods my soul, because I'm next to Sleeping Beauty. And God willing, my wife and I get to grow old together. Do we really need fancy things? Gratitude is not getting what you want. It's appreciating everything you have. Oh God, thank you. Thank you for the breath in my lungs. Thank you for the blood in my veins! Thank you for that sunrise today, in Jesus' name. Three simple thoughts.

You know it's gonna be a long sermon when you can't even see your notes. Three simple thoughts as we thumbprint our thanks, 'cause you have to make this personal. This has to be yours. You have to own it. One, your focus determines your reality. Two, it's all from God and it's all for God. And three, the purpose of theology is doxology. Newsflash, we don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. In the words of Qui-Gon to Anakin Skywalker, "Your focus determines your reality". Classic example in Numbers 11:4. It says that the riffraff started like, craving food, and then the people of Israel began to complain. Began to what? Began to complain, "If only we had meat to eat. We remember, remember the fish that we used to eat for free".

Free 99 in Egypt. "And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. Now we have lost our appetite". Why? "All we ever see is this manna". Okay, hold on a second. We have a tendency to remember what we should forget, and forget what we should remember. Is that fair? Talk about selective memory. The food was free because you weren't. What is wrong with you? What? After 400 years of slavery, God delivers you. Oh, and then He made a sidewalk through the Red Sea. And now we're, ah but, those sweet onions, those cucumbers, the melons, the melons were so juicy. Unbelievable, and the last time I checked, manna was a miracle. They're complaining about a miracle! We would never do this.

Many years ago, Lora and I had one of those travel disasters on a cross-country flight, where if it gets delayed, you miss a connecting flight, whole thing falls apart. And we needed to get home, because Josiah was at winter breakaway youth camp, NCC Youth. And we have a policy at NCC that parents have to pick up their kids at the end of youth camp. It's just a, it's a policy here. There really are no exceptions. So we gotta get home. And a delayed flight causes us to miss our connecting flight. And you're gonna love this. The gate agent says, and I'm, I'm quoting now, "The only way you're gonna get to DC, is if you go to New York". That sounds suspicious. But we took the bait. And we altered our, and flew to New York, and they gave our plane to the people going to Boston. Not that I'm bitter! And so we have to rent a car, drive through the night, pull an all nighter, just to get back into DC to pick Josiah up from youth camp.

Now, at some point during this travel disaster, I turned to Lora and said, "Well, it beats a covered wagon". This has become a rule of life in the Batterson family. Can we reality check for a minute? You're about to board a 200-ton airplane that will fly 500 miles an hour, at 30,000 feet, in a pressurized cabin with air conditioning. If you're lucky, you get some of those Biscoff cookies. And we complain about a 15-minute delay. Can you believe it? Can you imagine explaining this to someone 200 years ago? They're packing up their covered wagon, getting ready to set out on the Oregon Trail. "My flight was canceled. Can you believe it"? "Your what"? "My flight was canceled, and then I had to sit in the middle seat. Flight attendant wouldn't take my garbage. Had to rent a car"! "A what"? "A car with only 180 horsepower".

I'm having a little bit of fun. But if you're looking for something to complain about, you will always find it. If you are looking for something to be grateful for, you will always find it. Your focus determines your reality. In psychology, there's this concept called a cognitive reappraisal. It's basically telling yourself a different story. It's using different words. It's living from a different metaphor. It's looking at your situation from a different angle. And one way to do that is what is called a downward counterfactual. What's that? There's always some way that that situation could be worse. My translation? It beats a covered wagon. Your focus determines your reality. Number two, it's all from God, and it's all for God.

Lora and I were in Miami a couple of months ago. You know I have this little formula, change of pace plus change of place equals change of perspective. My favorite change of place is typically mid-winter that involves warm weather. And so enjoying a little bit of sunshine, I'm reading a devotional that poses a question. And it just starts pinballing in my brain. The question is, what are we really doing when we're doing what we're doing? Or to say it another way, what's really happening when what's happening is happening? And so my brain is already kind of in a, my head space is you know, right there. And so I'm in the pool, and I'm doing some vitamin D therapy. And I have this thought as the sunlight, my eyes are kind of barely open, 'cause the sun's hitting and then bouncing up. And I have this thought that as that sunlight is shimmering off the water, what's really happening here?

Well what's really happening, is that there is a star that's 93 million miles away. And if you could catch a flight, 500 miles an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take you 215 years to get there. But light is so fast, 186,000 miles per second, that the light that was shimmering off the surface of the pool, I'm thinking to myself, "This is only 8 minutes and 20 seconds old. This is amazing". But that's not all that was happening. Every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day, there is the energy equivalent of a trillion megaton bombs that the sun produces. In other words, and it was kinda outta body. I'm like, wait a second.

So what's really happening is there's a star 93 million miles away, and a nuclear reaction is happening, and that nuclear reaction, I am enjoying it so much right now, 8 minutes and 20 seconds later. But you have to back up the bus, 'cause it's much bigger than that. "In the beginning, God created," how? With His voice, with His words. And He said, "Let there be light". In other words, let there be electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths. Let there be microwaves and x-rays and radio waves. Let there be photosynthesis and fiber optics. Let there be LASIK surgery, satellite communication, and suntans. Let there be rainbows after rainstorms. Hold that thought. I have never read this verse this way.

James 1:17, "Every good and perfect gift comes from above". The first half of the verse I've always gotten. Like, yeah, it's all from God, it's all for God. I kind of felt like the second half was like a weird name, almost like a throwaway line. And then I read it literally, "Coming down from the Father of heavenly lights". And it dawns on me in that pool.

Light, it's God's first word. Light is God's first gift, and it is the gift that keeps giving, and it gives in so many different ways. Light is the basis of health. Light is the basis of sight. Everything I see was once said. Light is the basis of communication. Light is the basis of photosynthesis, so every green salad, every ruby red grapefruit. Thank you Lord, for light. Absolutely everything, scientifically speaking, light is the basis. Light is the basis of time, so every second is sacred. Are you picking up what I'm throwing down? This might be the most comprehensive name for God in all of scripture. And I read right over it like it was a throwaway line. Oh no, no, He is the Father of heavenly lights. Praise God.

Last week I said that the goal is living unoffended, living from a place of forgiveness. This week the goal, living from a place of gratitude, taking nothing for granted. Recently read a biography, G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton ranks as one of my favorite writers, some of my favorite quotes. Can I share just a couple of these, and we're gonna speed to the finish line. "How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos". Drop the mic, G.K. Chesterton. "The more I consider Christianity," he said, "the more I found that while it established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild".

Whoo, I like that. He said, "Thanks is the highest form of thought". He said, "You say thanks, or you say grace before meals". He said, "I say grace before painting, swimming and fencing. I say grace before walking, playing and dancing". Chesterton said that "His chief aim in life was to take nothing for granted, not a smile, not a flower, not a sunrise, nothing". Then he said this, "We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing". Please don't check out right now. Dial in right here. "We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing, not the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, not by the eclipse". But the reality is, most of us, we need the eclipse for us to have a different perspective. He's saying, "No, no, no, the miracle's right here".

Here's the problem today. Here's the problem. God is so good at what God does, that we take it for granted. We are on a merry-go-round that's spinning at 1,000 miles per hour. We're on a planet that is speeding through space at 67,000 miles per hour. So even on a day when you didn't get much done, you did travel 1.6 million miles. But I don't know anybody at the end of the day, kneels next to their bed and says, "Lord, I wasn't sure we were gonna make the full rotation, but you did it again". I don't know anybody that that says, "God, thank you for keeping us in orbit".

I would argue that we already believe God for the big miracles, now we need to believe Him for the the little ones, which is everything else. I know people who say they've never experienced a miracle. With all due respect, you have never not. You are one! Einstein said it this way, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle, the other is as if everything is".

I'll close with number three. The purpose of theology is doxology. You have a choice today, and it is a choice. You can live from a place of hurt or a place of hope. You can live from a place of guilt or a place of grace. You can live from a place of hate or a place of love. You can live from a place of pride or a place of humility. You can live from a place of ingratitude or a place of gratitude. I think my challenge is, can we start living from a place of grace, from a place of love, from a place of humility, from a place of gratitude. J.I. Packer, closing thought, earned his PhD at Oxford University, where he studied under CS. Lewis, served as general editor of the English Revised Version of the Bible, wrote more than 50 books, including an all-time classic, "Knowing God".

And he taught theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada for almost four decades. I share his curriculum vitae, as one of the most eminent theologians of the last 100 years, because it helps pack this punch, because it was J.I. Packer who said, "The purpose of theology is doxology". You see, theology is the study of God, which is good. Doxology is the worship of God, which is better. The goal is not knowledge. Knowledge puffs up. Whatever we don't turn into praise, turns into pride. So the goal of the whole thing is for all of life to be filtered, and even the hard things, even the difficult things, you give God the sacrifice of praise. The goal is to give God thanks for everything. I love this. J.I. Packer began every single theology class by singing the "Doxology". So can I invite you to stand?
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