March 8, 2023

God's Response to Prayer with Mark Batterson

Inside This Episode

Our conversation on prayer continues with Mark Batterson, the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C. and the New York Times bestselling author of The Circle Maker. Mark’s work has motivated people all over the world to boldly draw circles around their most ambitious prayers. He explains why he believes God honors bold prayers, what it means when our prayers aren’t answered, and how he personally has prayed through some very challenging circumstances in his own life.

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Announcer: On this episode of Maybe God, our conversation on prayer continues with Mark Batterson, the prolific New York Times bestselling author of 23 books, and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC.

Mark's most popular book, The Circle Maker, has motivated people all over the world to boldly draw circles around their most ambitious prayers. Today, Mark explains why he believes God honors bold prayers, what it means when our prayers aren't answered, and how he personally prayed through some very challenging times in his own personal life.

[00:00:33] <music>

Eric Huffman: Welcome to Maybe God, Mark Batterson.

Mark Batterson: Eric, great to be here. Look at this, in-person, in the flesh, in the studio. It's fun.

Eric Huffman: It's weird. It's weird for me because I truly have always looked up to you. I'm trying not to be the weird fanboy who fans and makes it awkward.

Mark Batterson: Hey, no, no, no, I look up to you. You've got at least an inch or two on me.

Eric Huffman: With the hair. I mean, that's-

Mark Batterson: There you go. There you go.

Eric Huffman: So Mark, thank you for being here. Let's just look back for a minute. So let's go back to 1996. You're in your early 20s, you've decided to go to DC with your wife at that point. Do you have any kids at that point?

Mark Batterson: Nope.

Eric Huffman: So you've experienced the pain of a failed church plant. You started a church, it didn't make it like you thought it would. You inherit a church with like 25 people in it, if I'm telling this right, in DC, meeting in a public school in a cafeteria. That's a tough gig, man. Tell me about that and what kind of leader you were at that point in your life.

Mark Batterson: Well, Eric, the first thing I'd say is I'm grateful for the failed attempt the first time, which would have been '94. The cure for the fear of failure is not success. It's failure in small enough doses that you build up an immunity to it, is what I think.

So, you know, our first attempt was a hashtag fail. But that begins to get your ego out of the way and you begin to realize that you're not going to take credit for anything that happens after that. So I'm grateful. And that's the thing that got us to DC and then we inherit this core group of 19 people-

Eric Huffman: Nineteen?

Mark Batterson: Yeah. And you know, that might even include Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on a good weekend.

Eric Huffman: We're preachers, we kind of know this.

Mark Batterson: Yes, we do. We do. You know, meeting in the DC public school. There was nothing glamorous about it. But I had a father-in-law that was really my mentor or model for ministry, and I saw what long obedience in the same direction looks like.

Those who are listening, whatever you do, you overestimate what you can do in a year or two, but you underestimate what God might be able to do in 10, or 20, or 30. So we just thought, Let's plant ourselves, let's let our roots grow deep, and let's see what God does. So 27 years later, I kind of stand back, and it is a 'look at what the Lord has done'.

Eric Huffman: Give me the 30,000-foot view of how it looks now before we talk about how you got there.

Mark Batterson: Well, I mean, it's hard to condense those 27 years, but, you know, we're influencing thousands of people on a weekend. We'll maybe talk a little bit. We have a core conviction that the church belongs in the middle of the marketplace, which-

Eric Huffman: What does that mean?

Mark Batterson: Well, Jesus didn't just hang out at the synagogue, He hung out at wells. Wells were these natural gathering places in ancient culture. So we feel like a church that stays within its four walls isn't a church at all.

So the thing that kind of gets my pulse going is the 273 mission trips that we've taken. It's the outreach. Because we don't want to just build a church, we want to bless a city. So we took a crack house, turned it into Ebenezers Coffeehouse. So we caffeinated our city. And then we're building out a city block right now that's rather unique. You would not mistake it for a traditional church.

Eric Huffman: That's awesome.

Mark Batterson: And I love the church. To me, the gospel is as good as it gets. So I just want to put that out there. At the same time, I think we need to do business's mission. So like that coffeehouse, every penny of profit we make goes to causes that we care about, including a Dream Center in Ward seven of our city that is mentoring kids and discipling kids.

Eric Huffman: It's amazing.

Mark Batterson: So that's a snapshot.

Eric Huffman: Dude, it's just so cool. I want to talk about sort of the steps between where you started and where you are now. I mean, Ebenezers has sort of taken on a [court?] likes, following, or status. It is an incredible story. But it didn't happen just out of nowhere. It didn't happen accidentally. There was some intentionality that went into that.

So at some point early on, we were shepherding these 19 people and trying to figure out what the vision is to cast here at your church in DC. You famously felt led or inspired to walk.

Mark Batterson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Just tell us about that, and for those that don't know your story, just what happened that day.

Mark Batterson: What's funny is, this is 96. That's before Fitbit. That's before Apple watches. That's before everybody in the world was concerned how many steps they get in. But my feeling now is if you're going to pray, why not get steps in at the same time?

I'm a guy that walks and prays. So there was a moment in '96... and I was reading Joshua 1:3. It says, "I'll give you everywhere you set your foot just as I promised Moses." For the record, I think you have to be careful when you interpret these promises and put them in context and all that good stuff.

Eric Huffman: Sure

Mark Batterson: But I just felt like I'm gonna pray a perimeter around Capitol Hill, turned into a 4.7-mile prayer walk. And it wasn't praying for property, it was just praying for people. Like, Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done in DC as it is in heaven. And 27 years later, I mean, we own six properties, Eric, literally right on that prayer circle. Six properties.

Eric Huffman: The circle you walked that day?

Mark Batterson: Yes. I don't think that's coincidence. I think it's providence.

Eric Huffman: When you're walking, are you saying give me this, give me that, give us that?

Mark Batterson: Nope. I am not. I'm just "your will, your way. Nothing less. Nothing more. Nothing else.

Eric Huffman: And what year was that? '96?

Mark Batterson: That was '96.

Eric Huffman: So 96. I mean, you're walking past places you had no idea God was going to eventually give you and just praying "Your will be done. Your will be done."

Mark Batterson: I mean, my office right now in the city block that we're building out is literally on the corner of 8th and M Street SE. And occasionally, Eric, I'll like look out the window and almost see my 26-year-old self-circling that building, and we would have had no idea. But there is a God whose vision for our lives is bigger than ours.

I bet someone listening heart skipped a beat right there. Believe it that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. At this point or at this juncture, I think it is important to say that every prayer has to meet a two-fold litmus test. It has to be in the will of God and for the glory of God. So it's not about us.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: But when you begin to pray, God begins to work in ways that are often pretty strange and mysterious.

Eric Huffman: Totally. My first sort of access to your work was Circle Maker, which was the book that was inspired, in part, by your walk that day. I don't know how much time passed between your walk and the book, it doesn't really matter, but Circle maker became a phenomenon. Is that the bestselling book of the 23 that you've written?

Mark Batterson: It is.

Eric Huffman: Okay, just making sure. And it's impacted tons of lives. And that's why you're here in Houston in part because so many people that my church were impacted by Circle Maker. And I'll talk a little bit more about what that's meant for our church. But this idea that you walk around something or someone or even you walk proverbially around a situation, a need, and you pray specific prayers, bold prayers.

So you took inspiration, not only from your walk that day, but from other kinds of readings that you were doing, right? I mean, tell me about Honi.

Mark Batterson: It's a true story. I mean, it's in the Talmud, which is kind of a... You know, it's sort of this commentary on the Old Testament and-

Eric Huffman: Jewish rabbi sort of-

Mark Batterson: Yeah, and a collection of sort of history that is not in the Bible. But that doesn't make it unbiblical. So anyways, Honi... There was a drought in Israel.

Eric Huffman: What years more or less?

Mark Batterson: First century BC.

Eric Huffman: Got it

Mark Batterson: So kinda generation before Jesus.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: And the people ask him to pray and he does something pretty curious. He takes his staff, he draws a circle in the sand, he kneels in that circle, and he prays, "Sovereign Lord, I swear before your great name that I will not leave this circle until you have mercy upon your children." Now, that's a bold prayer because if God doesn't answer you're gonna be in that circle for a long time. You might even look like a fool.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: But I think sometimes we're so afraid to risk our reputation. But to me, that's part of faith. Faith is spelled risk. You can't have one without the other. So long story short, it begins to rain. Eventually it's called the prayer that saved a generation.

So I really believe that when we cross the space time continuum and God begins to connect dots across nations and generations, what we're going to see is that bold prayers had a lot to do with these turning points and tipping points and they have a domino effect.

Eric Huffman: In your mind, is it a matter of like telling God what to do? Is it a matter of sort of trusting God to come through? What are we doing when we pray these bold prayers?

Mark Batterson: Well, I think, you know, I probably... And there are a couple of disclaimers in the book. It doesn't need to be a circle. It could be a Trapezoid. You can pray Trapezoid. The idea is that you're not just going to pray but pray through. There's this idea of continuing to believe, continuing to pray-

Eric Huffman: Trapezoid doesn't have the same ring to it.

Mark Batterson: It doesn't. It doesn't. Do you want a fun backstory?

Eric Huffman: Sure. I love it.

Mark Batterson: Honi was called the Circle Maker but kind of in the original you could also translate late at the circle drawer. And I pitched that to someone on our team, but they saw it in written form and drawer, which is hard to say also spells drawer.

Eric Huffman: Drawer. Or in Texas, drawers. Your drawers.

Mark Batterson: There you go. So long story short, we went with the circle maker instead of the circle drawer.

Eric Huffman: You made a good choice. It worked.

Mark Batterson: But I think in a nutshell, prayer is not outlining our agenda to God. It's getting into God's word and letting Him outline His agenda to us.

Eric Huffman: I just noticed the 40-day prayer is actually drawer, the circle.

Mark Batterson: Yeah. Yeah. There you go. Isn't that funny?

Eric Huffman: It got in there one way or another. That's so good. So you were inspired by the reading you did of Honi. What was the name of the book that you pulled that from? Legends?

Mark Batterson: Yeah, the book of Legend.

Eric Huffman: Book of Legend.

Mark Batterson: Kind of a compilation of stories from the Talmud.

Eric Huffman: Right. Right. Right. So cool. So do you feel like had you not drawn the circle and prayed the circle that God might not have given you these things that He's given you? When I say 'you; I mean your church.

Mark Batterson: I mean, that's a hard game to play, right?

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: So both of us like we could get pretty theological right now because-

Eric Huffman: And boring probably.

Mark Batterson: All of this is past our paygrade. I believe in the sovereignty of God, Eric. I also believe in the free will of man. Now, it's kind of like the unstoppable bullet hitting the impenetrable wall.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: What happens?

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: I don't know other than you have not because you asked not. So God's not going to answer 100% of the prayers you don't pray. Now, I want to be careful because I would flip that coin and say, God has blessings and categories you can't even conceive of.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: So I think that God is preparing good works in advance, Ephesians 2:10. There's something about prayer that doesn't just make it happen, but also enables us to notice it. So we won't deep dive that. But I think prayer sanctifies the reticular activating system, the part of the brain that determines what you notice and what goes unnoticed, and now you begin to see the divine appointments.

Isn't it interesting that prayer, watch and pray, prayer is coupled with watching multiple times. I mean, even Jesus said, Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation. So I think those two things go together.

Eric Huffman: You know, our mission here is really, with the podcast and with my church here in Houston, is to reach and speak directly to skeptics and people that really struggle with some of this stuff. And prayer and miracles, and does God answer prayers, all those are kind of some of the main questions people ask. And the idea that, well, if it's God's will to give your church all those properties and all this success, wouldn't God do it with or without your little prayer walk?

That's oftentimes how I hear people. And I look at it like, I mean this gently and respectfully, but it's like way oversimplification of the matter, in my opinion. Because to me, it's as simple as like, maybe it was God's will for you to walk. You know what I mean? Maybe it's God's will for you to pray. Maybe that's actually what He wants, even more than to give you the end result is for you to talk to Him and listen to Him.

Mark Batterson: Yes. And "talk to Him" is the key phrase there. To me, prayer fundamentally is a conversation with God. It's an ongoing conversation. And I think sometimes it's using the 26 letters of the English alphabet to formulate prayers. But the truth is, Psalm 5:1 is a great example. "Consider my sighs, O Lord." That you can pray with tears. You can pray with sighs.

God's ability to answer prayer is not restricted by my vocabulary. I think He hears our heart more than He hears our words. To those who are maybe, "Man, I don't know what to think about this prayer thing," can I just say that's okay. Because it's, it's past all of our intellects.

And I think someday, I'll thank God for as much for the prayers He didn't answer as the ones He did. So it's not perfect math but I think it is conversation. And what happens is when you pray, you kind of get in tune, you get in sync with the way God is working and moving. I think that's the key.

Eric Huffman: Sure. I look at Jesus's words, and you know, most people, even if they're not down with Christianity, they can get down with Jesus. They like Jesus and what He had to say when He walked the earth.  And Jesus said quite a bit about being persistent in prayer and being bold and being willing. Even if you feel like you're annoying God, just annoy Him. Like go after it.

Like the parable of the persistent widow comes to mind. And that is another story he told about a persistent friend in the middle of the night who needed some bread. And the whole thing is like, well, a human being, once they're worn down by your persistence will eventually give you what you asked. And how much more will God who is good, while you guys are evil, God who was good, will come through for you.

Like you said, it's not perfect math. It doesn't always look like a transaction, like you asked for this and God delivers on demand like a genie. But the point is trusting God enough to persist in prayer. That's what He wants is us to pray like children who love their dad or their mom. It's like, go after it. You've got kids. It's like they never stop saying, you know, more, or why, or can I, or gimme.

Mark Batterson: Even when our kids ask for the wrong thing for the wrong reason, there is a fatherly instinct that I have that at least they're asking and they know I can deliver.

Eric Huffman: That's right.

Mark Batterson: So I do think there are a lot of misperceptions about prayer. But I would still go back to this fundamental idea that I do believe prayer is how we write history before it happens. And there's something about prayer that has a Genesis effect even. Right now I'm thinking about Genesis 1. I'm not fluent in Hebrew, Eric, but Bereshit Elohim Bura, those first three words of Scripture, in the beginning God created. And how did He do it? He said, "Let there be light."

Words have power. Words create worlds. And you could say, well, but my words can't big bang the universe. And that's true. But there's just a power in prayer. Again, when we come into alignment with God's good, pleasing and perfect will, there's a power to it.

Jesus even adds to it a relational component, which I love that, well, even if two or three of you, there's power when we form... And this is the double entendre, a prayer circle with other people.

Eric Huffman: That's right. So powerful and good. And I've seen the effects of this. And I love... Like, for example, one of the quotes from the book is, "Bold prayers honor God." It's not that they tell God what to do or they dictate His steps. They just honor Him, like a father is honored that his kids trust him enough to ask. Bold prayers, honor God and God honors bold prayers. So not always delivering on demand, but always honoring those bold prayers.

What do you say to someone who feels like their bold prayers weren't honored yet or haven't been honored? Like haven't been answered, let's say.

Mark Batterson: I would say this kindly.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: Welcome to the club. There's a sense that... All of us... Ah, Eric,  all of us have a measure of disappointment with God.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: And here's the fundamental problem. In the beginning God created us in His image. We've been creating God in our image ever since. So kind of what we want is God on our terms, even on our timeline. And I would say that you read scripture from Genesis to Revelation, and here's the conclusion I come to. And I think it's unavoidable and undeniable. There is a God and I'm not Him.

That God is God. And that He doesn't exist within the four dimensions of space time He created, much less the logical constraints of my left brain. So I think much of my disappointment is just a function of I'm not omniscient. And there's a certain humility with that.

So what I believe in is bold humility or humble boldness take your pick. So I do believe you pray with a humility but then you approach the throne of grace with confidence is what Hebrews 4 says. And somehow when it comes out in the wash, that bold humility, I think nets a pretty powerful prayer life.

Eric Huffman: I think we've all known people who asked boldly for something or maybe a set of things, a series of things and just felt underwhelmed by God's response, and it's left them feeling jaded or brokenhearted to the extent that they just stop asking for things. If they pray at all, it's more surface level. Polite prayers.

Mark Batterson: Yeah. Yeah. I think you're touching on the situation a lot of people find themselves in. And then your prayer life turns into, you know, God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food, and now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

But I think there is more to it than that. I think half of prayer is talking but the more important half is listening. "Well, but I've never heard the voice of God." Well, within our hearing range, which is 20 to 20,000 hertz, I would agree. I've never heard an audible voice. But God speaks in infrasonic and ultrasonic ways. And then I would also say He speaks through Scripture. I believe that.

So the best way to pray in my estimation is to pray the Bible. And what I mean by that is, when you read it, when you open your Bible, God opens His mouth, and He's speaking to us.. Now we get into a conversation about what we're reading, if we read it in a way that... almost like Samuel: "Lord, speak to me. Lord, Your servant is listening."

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: And when we take that approach, then I think there's a dimensionality to prayer that will add dimensionality to our lives.

Eric Huffman: Right. So I know you're typically just very upbeat, like you're very positive and optimistic in your outlook and you're always smiling and bouncing and walking, and that's great. I wondered if you could just give us a little insight into a moment in your life when you were the person we were just describing, just sort of feeling jaded.

Mark Batterson: In 2017, my wife got a cancer diagnosis. And that's hard.

Eric Huffman: Bro.

Mark Batterson: And then we kind of did everything right, we got it, stage one, and three years later it comes back.

Eric Huffman: No.

Mark Batterson: And we got it again, and we got to the other side, you know, my wife rang the bell. But when life throws you a curveball like that, you just start asking internal questions.

When my wife got the diagnosis, she was reading a poem, and the poem posed the question, Eric. And the question was this: what have you come to teach me? Now, that's a hard question to ask of cancer. But I think you have to approach it as, okay, in this world, you will have trouble. That's a reality check. But take heart, Jesus said, I have overcome the world.

So sometimes God delivers us from, sometimes God delivers us through. I mean, I pray for miracles. But sometimes what God gives me is comfort. So we don't get to call the shots but I think how we respond to those kinds of situations.

I think, what does that have to do with prayer? I think prayer is what postures you to come into those situations and live your life in a way that God can continue to help you and encourage you and comfort you and strengthen you.

We learned some lessons during those two battles with cancer. I mean, one of them: joy the Lord is your strength. In fact, this is gonna sound funny, but we actually started hitting comedy clubs, Eric, because laughter do with good like a medicine.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Mark Batterson: Part of why I bring that up is because I don't want to come across as like... My life is not textbook. No one's life is textbook. But prayer is what helps you kind of navigate.

Right now the picture that comes to mind is... you’ve ever been to the crookedest in San Francisco?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Mark Batterson: That's what life is like. Life is not A to B linear, you know, straight line.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: I think prayer helps you with all the twists and turns.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. How's she doing?

Mark Batterson: Good. We're on the other side of that second bout. What I would say is that life is more precious. I cherish my wife more than I did even before those bouts with cancer.

Eric Huffman: Is that what it means to be delivered through something?

Mark Batterson: I think that's part of it. That in my experience, there are things that I look back on... I mean, my intestines ruptured when I was 30 years old. I should have died. Emergency surgery, a year of just surgery, and another surgery. I've got a scar.

Eric Huffman: It's what church planting would do to you.

Mark Batterson: You know what? I may not have a six-pack but I got a two-pack. It's literally a scar down my abdomen.

Eric Huffman: I bet that's pretty.

Mark Batterson: And my point is I would never want to go through some of those things again, but I wouldn't trade them because the life lessons and the way that then you value what's important. You have to navigate those seasons.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mark Batterson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: And you have a story to tell every time you take your shirt off.

Mark Batterson: I do. Yes. Thank you. Now that our listeners have this wonderful visual imager-

Eric Huffman: Every guy wants to be able to tell stories, bro. You got it, man. The hidden blessings of the struggle.

Mark Batterson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Wow, man. I'm sorry that you went through that with your wife and grateful that she's doing well. But I can only imagine. I actually can't even imagine what that was like.

Mark Batterson: And the one thing I would say is I'm just so grateful for the presence of God, the Word of God, the people of God during those seasons. Because it would be really lonely to navigate that and feel like there wasn't any redemptive purpose, to feel like there weren't any people that were holding our arms up.

And I know people get through cancer in lots of different ways. We get through tough seasons in lots of different ways. I'm just saying that in my experience, that's where the presence, the reality, even the goodness of God helps us in that day in day out battle.

Eric Huffman: Right. Absolutely. Sometimes I think the missing link in our understanding is sort of we're so limited by our concept of time, and we think for God to answer prayers means for Him to answer them on our preconceived timeline. I know that's a little bit cliché but I actually... Sometimes I just want to tell someone who's in that place, that dark place that feels so hopeless like to wait. Like waiting on the Lord is another facet of prayer in the Bible, right?

Mark Batterson: Yeah, yeah. George Foreman in his biography... I remember reading... That there was an old Saint, a woman of God in the church that I think he either pastored. And he said that her favorite verse of scripture, and this is kind of funny for pastors, but here was her favorite verse: "This too shall pass."

It's this phrase that gets thrown out kind of time and again in Scripture. And it's true. Life is lived in seasons. And you have to recognize that. And then I think the trick is you have to enjoy the journey. And by that I mean every age and stage. And I will say that the bad days have helped me appreciate the good day, and the tough seasons have helped me appreciate the seasons of blessing.

Eric Huffman: This is really fascinating to me because, first of all, it's helping me to sort of peel back the layer to your view of prayer, which I've always looked up to anyway. But this is like going even deeper into the different kinds of seasons of prayer.

We just had a conversation with Strahan Coleman who kind of works in tandem with John Mark Comer and that group and works specifically on prayer. He just released a book called Beholding. And his whole thing about prayer is that prayer isn't necessarily always about action. He likens it to like paddling down a river hurriedly. He says, sometimes you just have to float and abide, and trust and be, and go with where the Lord takes you or where the water takes you, so to speak.

And I hear you saying a little bit of both. Like there are seasons to get up and walk and there are seasons to lay back and float.

Mark Batterson: Yeah. Well, true wisdom has two sides, Job 11:6. So whenever we get to binary, we're probably just seeing half-truths. So I think prayer is contemplation and action. It's kind of both of those things. So I appreciate the beholding piece of the puzzle because... Remember this moment when the scales come off of Paul's eyes, and he can see again?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Mark Batterson: To me, prayer is almost a way of seeing the world. And you see it differently. When I pray for people, Eric, I treat them different. In fact, here's a very practical thought. We naturally pray for the people that we love the most. What about the people that we like the least? In my experience, if I pray for them, I can look them in the eye and love them. It's hard to describe but I have learned that the people that get under my skin, the situations that like, I can't believe they said that or did that, okay, that goes on my prayer list. Like I need to be praying for them so that I can... So the image of God in me sees the image of God in you.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. Instead of just talking at them about Jesus, sometimes it's so helpful to talk to Jesus about them first, right?

Mark Batterson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: I look at my agenda every day, every morning when I get up, and I look at all the different people I'm going to be meeting that day, whether it's a formal meeting or just seeing them in passing, and I try to pray for each one by name. You're exactly right. It's something about the mystery of the Imago Dei, the divine image in each person that is brought back to the surface when we pray for people by name.

Mark Batterson: Yes.

Eric Huffman: I've never thought about it that way.

Mark Batterson: And there are dimensions to prayer that are way beyond what we can understand. I kind of geek out on science. To be honest I probably know enough to be dangerous. But you go from four dimensions to five dimensions, and you can untie Gordian knots. Just one dimension of reality... And in physics, one dimension of reality is called a degree of freedom.

So I think there's something about prayer, that we begin to function in a dimension that we don't even know necessarily what we're doing.

Eric Huffman: Right. Wow.

Mark Batterson: That's the kind of the mystery and miracle to prayer, which I think is fun. There's part of us that we want to escape the constraints of time and space. And in my view, prayer is the way you do it. Prayer is escape velocity.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, I love it.

Mark Batterson: That it's 25,000 miles an hour to escape gravity and get into a different orbit. And that sounds sort of ethereal. There's no expiration date on prayer. Like you never know when or where or how a prayer may boomerang and God may answer it in a way that's just past your paygrade. It's an adventure.

Eric Huffman: Right. I think Philip Yancey is first person that I read that opened my eyes to prayer as change in perspective, prayer is to look down from the airplane as you're looking and seeing the world for what it is from a heavenly or celestial perspective, let's say. And it really changes how you deal with people in the day-to-day grit and grind of everyday life.

Now, you said it's fun earlier. It is fun to pray that way. It's powerful to pray that way. And the only evidence I need to see how powerful this is that you've managed to grow a church in Washington DC, not in the outskirts or in the burbs. You've grown a church that's based in Capitol Hill, on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, the most divisive. Maybe, at least what I hear on the news, is it's a difficult place to bring people together.

Mark Batterson: It is. It is.

Eric Huffman: And you've managed to do that. And you don't have like a radically conservative or radically liberal, politically liberal bent. And yet, you've drawn people in. I just want to know how has prayer played a role in that? Because that my friend is supernatural.

Mark Batterson: It is. It is. I think Gordon Fee might have called it the radical middle. And what that means is you might take shots from a couple of different angles, but just for the record, and I hope it's okay for me to say this-

Eric Huffman: Say it.

Mark Batterson: If you filter your biblical theology through your political ideology, that's idolatry.

Eric Huffman: Say it again. One more time.

Mark Batterson: If you filter your biblical theology through your political ideology, it's idolatry. To me, Scripture is the final authority when it comes to matters of faith and practice. So what that means is in a city where you eat, breathe politics, where it really is all about ideology, and in an environment where... You know, any political scientist who is doing quantitative research would say that negative partisanship or polarization is on the rise in the last 10, 20, 30 years.

So politics is not bringing us together, it's dividing us. What's interesting is, you know, and I won't name names, but we have members from both parties who attend our church-

Eric Huffman: Is that right?

Mark Batterson: Which is fun.

Eric Huffman: They sit together?

Mark Batterson: They do.

Eric Huffman: Are they on separate sides of the aisle?

Mark Batterson: No, no, no, no. They know. They know. What's interesting is, you know, our local news is national news. So most people see the polarization. The one thing that actually brings members together, both House, Senate is prayer actually.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Mark Batterson: There are prayer groups and prayer meetings that no one knows about, they don't make the news. And when members leave those prayer meetings and go and cast their vote on the house of the floor of the Senate, they don't always vote the same way. But what I see is a different level of collegiality or civility with those who pray together. There's at least some understanding, some agreeing to disagree, and on occasion, a meeting in the middle.

So this is very real. That's the part of DC that people don't see. What they see, because this is what makes good news, is the conflict, is the division.

Eric Huffman: I just think it's a miracle, I mean, in this world where we seem to have more and more division in the church, where you have just conservative churches, let's say, and just liberal churches, and they're not even speaking the same language anymore and you're right there in the middle of like ground zero for all that mess and you've got people coming together across those divides, and really coming into this circle that's all about Jesus and reliance on God.

Mark Batterson: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Powerful.

Mark Batterson: Eric, this is wading into deep waters. But where do we find our identity? Where do we find our affinity? And there is a subplot, Galatians 3, that there's neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. It kind of breaks down all of these sociological things that tend to divide us.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: And we find an identity and an infinity in Christ. This phrase that, especially for Paul, is repeated over and over and over again. That in Christ the equation changes. And the things that we find in common is the common grace and the common ground that then begins to change the way that we even treat those that we don't agree with.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, sure. I can't imagine the flak you've probably taken from extreme right and left. And your commitment to maintaining that vision is admirable. I would imagine just being led to do another prayer walk, but just keep walking the other direction and not come back. It's hard. It's hard.

Mark Batterson: Keep walking outside the beltway and down 95, maybe to Florida or something and retire.

Eric Huffman: There you go.

Mark Batterson: But no, I think no matter what I say, it's never enough and it's always too much. And you can identify that with that as a fellow communicator and preacher.

Eric Huffman: We know that.

Mark Batterson: You can please some of the people all the time, all the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time. I think Abraham Lincoln said something like that.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. And Moses certainly felt that, and other leaders throughout the Bible. You know, it's just about pleasing one, right, at the end of the day. Tell me about your new book that's coming out soon. Tell us all about when it's coming out and what it's all about.

Mark Batterson: And I think for such a time as this. The book is Please, Sorry, Thanks. And the premise is pretty simple. You only need to be good at three things. If you're good at please, sorry, and thanks, your marriage, your family, your workplace, there is going to... If you're good at those things, you're good to go.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Mark Batterson: But they can't just be words. There's an art and science that I get into and so talk about the psychology of please sciences, sorry, theology of thanks. But in my estimation, if you're good at those three things, it's a rising tide that would change both workplace culture but culture culture. Like I think it would reintroduce some civility. It would reintroduce a measure of grace.

You know, it's funny, because all of us are having flashbacks. Most of our parents told us about these three magic words. Like, say please, say sorry, and say thanks. And the truth is, not all of us are very good at that. So I think the book-

Eric Huffman: Or we're good at one of them. Some people apologize nonstop and other people can't apologize at all. And others might be better at saying, "Please, can I or may I, or would you?" and never say thank you?

Mark Batterson: Isn't that funny?

Eric Huffman: Yeah. But if we can master all three or at least develop those values, especially gratitude, man. Gratitudes. I've just noticed recently how all over the gospel gratitude is.

Mark Batterson: It's a game-changer.

Eric Huffman: It really is.

Mark Batterson: I mean, remember those 10 lepers. All of them were healed physically but I think only one of them was healed of ingratitude. So one who came back and said thanks. So please opens doors. Sorry mends fences. Thanks builds bridges.

Eric Huffman: Wow. Come on!

Mark Batterson: And we get better at those three things. And it's this rising tide that I think could change culture. And it's beyond Emily Post politeness, which, for the record, we probably could use a dose of that too nice.

Eric Huffman: That'd be nice. It's a good start.

Mark Batterson: But there is a depth to this. That my life is about please, my life is about sorry, my life is about thanks.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mark Batterson: It was a fun book to research and write. It sounds simple, but I think it will be a healthy primer for families, for teams, for workplaces, for anybody that just wants to grow in those three areas.

Eric Huffman: Awesome. When's it available?

Mark Batterson: April 4, Easter week, the book releases.

Eric Huffman: Wow. Congratulations.

Mark Batterson: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: Book number 24

Mark Batterson: Twenty-four.

Eric Huffman: All right. So Please, Sorry, Thanks. I know you didn't come here to promote your book, but I wanted to give you that opportunity.

Mark Batterson: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: Mark Batterson, thank you for joining us on the Maybe God Podcast today. Really grateful.

Mark Batterson: Absolute joy. Thanks, Eric.

Eric Huffman: Thanks.

[00:46:04] <music>

Announcer: This episode of Maybe God was produced by Julie Mirlicourtois and Eric and Geovanna Huffman. Our editor is Justin Mayer and our technical director for this episode was Daniel Hardaway. Our social media team is Kat Brough and Justin Keller.

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