Pastor Mark Batterson, who pastors a church that was named one of the top 25 most innovative churches in the U.S., is exhorting Christians to courageously follow their dreams. In his newest book Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn't Scare You, It's Too Small, Batterson frames the heart of the book as "Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands," a statement that defines the core of his Lion Chaser's Manifesto.
"Our greatest regret at the end of our lives will be the God-ordained opportunities we left on the table, the God-given passions we didn't pursue, and the God-sized dreams we didn't go after because we let fear dictate our decisions," wrote the pastor of National Community Church (NCC) in Washington D.C., a multi-site church that holds worship services in seven locations, with the majority of them held in movie theaters.
"Chase the Lion" is Batterson's life motto and the book is the much-anticipated thematic sequel to his seminal In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, which focused entirely on the obscure story in II Samuel of an ancient warrior Benaiah who chased a lion into a pit on a snowy day -- and then killed it. It was a sermon Batterson had heard at nineteen that inspired him to write a book with this narrative of this counter-intuitive and courageous act of one of David's mighty men.
"Chase the Lion is a metaphor about going after those 500-pound dreams that in a sense, scares to life, and one of the things I share, in fact, is a subtitle in the book, 'If you dream doesn't scare you, it is too small,' said Batterson. "I just think that God-sized dreams is what keeps you on your knees and depended on God and makes you realize that unless God does it, it can't be done. It would be the way I would frame it."
In Chase the Lion, Batterson provides practical insight from the stories of David's mighty men and also brings the readers through many modern stories of lion chasers who boldly advance past their fears and mistakes into their destiny. One of them is NFL star Kirk Cousins, the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Batterson shared with The Gospel Herald his story, including his recent miraculous healing from at 40-year bout with asthma, and his thoughts on how Christians can live out their purpose through the lessons shared in Chase the Lion.
GH: You've recently shared the news of your miraculous healing from asthma after 40 years. Can you share with us what you are going through right now? How do you interpret this healing?
Mark Batterson: I'm still in a little bit of shock and awe. I've seen God do some pretty amazing miracle in my life and other people's life, but this one is in the category in itself. My earliest memory is an asthma attack, and when that's all you can remember for your entire life, you take an inhaler in just about every single day of your life, then something happens -- you pray and you prayed hundreds of thousands of times, but you haven't been healed before and you pray one more time, then you are healed -- it is almost unbelievable to me, but that's what it is. A miracle is something that you can't explain.
I haven't taken my inhaler, and it has been 58 days [90 days prior to the article's publish date]. I believe I won't take an inhaler for the rest of my life. The Lord touched me, and I feel that I have the faith to believe God in anything because that would be the bravest prayer and impossible miracle that I could believe God for, and he's done it.
GH: In Chase the Lion, you said "the day you stop dreaming is the day you start dying. The day you start dreaming is the day you really start living." Many people have dreams, but many dreams die or some never become fulfilled and some are stuck in the holding pattern for many years. Can you explain your mentality on this? What helped you to persist during the period before achieving your dreams?
Mark Batterson: What I've experienced is most dreams -- and I used the word most with intentionality -- go through a death and resurrection. Almost every dream I have just doesn't seems to happen according to where and how I wanted to. For example, I had the dream of planting a church, and the first attempt in Chicago failed, and part of me wondered if that dream is dead forever. But what I realized is that sometimes when those dreams die, it is a little death to self, and I think that is actually a holy thing and a good thing. And that resurrected dream is sometimes how God gets all the glory, because he shows you that you can't do it on your own. That's kind of my preliminary thought.
In terms of holding pattern, I got called to write when I was 22, but I didn't actually get to write until I was 35. Those 13 years were frustrating and they felt like a holding pattern. But my challenge to people would be, "Listen, keep doing the right thing and keep preparing yourself with that dream," so I read 3,000 books before I wrote one. There are things that you could be doing while you are waiting and know that God is preparing you. Everything in your past is preparation for what God wants to do in your future. You can see it in the lives of biblical characters like Joseph, Moses, or even David, who had long season where it seems like those dreams are not going to happen, but God then used them to do what he called them ultimately to do. I see that in the lives of people in our church. It is not so much about a dream becoming reality as much as it is about who you become in the process.
GH: In your book, you used the story of Benaiah, who killed a lion in a snowy pit, as the focal point. One of your examples of modern day Lion Chaser is Washington Redskins starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who broke almost every Redskins' passing record on the books. What would you say is the source of our strength to face the challenges and battles that we face each day?
Mark Batterson: I think the source of strength is absolutely the God who is bigger than the 500-pound lions that we encounter. Chase the Lion is a metaphor about going after those 500-pound dreams that, in a sense, scares to life, and one of the things I share, in fact, is a subtitle in the book, "If you dream doesn't scare you, it is too small." I just think that God-sized dreams are what keep you on your knees and depended on God and makes you realize that unless God does it, it can't be done. It would be the way I would frame it.
I think the key to going after those dreams is keeping your eyes on God. David is such a great example of that. In part of the book, I wrote about the Cave of Adullam, where he wrote three psalms. That was a tough season for him. He was a fugitive, and it seems that his dream was not going to become reality. But what did he do? He kept on reminding himself that God is my refuge, my strength, and my shield. I think your focus determines your reality, and the only proper focus is on God, who the Bible writes is the author and perfector of your faith. You got to keep standing on the promises of God, and I think that's how you get through those periods that are difficult, and ultimately, that's what gives you the faith to chase after those 500-pound lions.
GH. How did your book "In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day" impact Kirk Cousins?
Mark Batterson: The book really impacted him at a critical time in his college football career. I think it gave him a measure of faith, and his journey as a professional quarterback has not been an immediate success. In fact, he wasn't the first quarterback drafted by Redskins. It took a few years of disappointment and wondering if his dream will become a reality.
What I admire about Kirk is that it is really not about winning or losing, [but] it is about glorifying God. When you live your life that way, then you rise above your circumstance. I think it is one reason God has blessed Kirk, and I think he knows his testimony is more important than how he plays on the field. To me, Kirk is kind of the epitome of a lion chaser. I was grateful that he gave me permission to share his story in the book because I think it is going to inspire a lot of people who read it.
GH: You've talked about being a transformed nonconformist. In today's culture, Christians often fail to stand against things that they know are wrong or even for their faith because of fear of standing alone. Can you share how believers can have courage and peace in all circumstances?
Mark Batterson: I think we need a culture where it's wrong to say something is wrong, and I think that's wrong. I also want to be known for what I'm for then what I'm against. I think one of the subplots of Chase the Lion is let's not for what we're against, let's be known for what we're for. Instead of criticizing culture, let's criticize by creating. Let's write better books, let's create better film, let's draft better legislation, let's start better school. To me, you can't just point out the problem, but you have to come up with solutions, of course with God's help. I think that lion chaser mentality is one that, sure, you have courage to stand up for what you believe in your conviction, but I also think that is important to be known for what we're for then what we are against. I think that's what it means to be a transformed nonconformist that you are not afraid to walk to the beat of a different drum, and of course, that drum is the scripture.
GH: Can you give your perspective on the election? As Christian, how should approach the upcoming election?
Mark Batterson: There are hundreds of people in our congregation who work on Capitol Hill, and they work on both sides of the aisle and sometimes they work on both sides of the different issue. Let's me just present my comment by saying that we do not touch party and candidate. We've learned to steer clear of that, because of where we are at. That does not mean that we do not talk about issues. There are some issues that some people think are political, but are biblical issues. I think it is important to bring that upfront.
Here is my take on the election -- no matter who wins, God's kingdom is eternal. I like to see people who have biblical values in alignment to what I believe is just and good get elected. But at the end of the day, I'm less nervous about who gets elected, because look at history, if you take the people of God, 120 people in the upper room, versus the Roman empire, who are you going to vote on? People thought the Roman empire is going to last longer, but the reality is it's the kingdom of God. Because his kingdom is eternal and unstoppable. I love our democracy. I believe in the political process. At the end of the day, believe it is the Gospel that changes people's heart. It is the kingdom of God, and I read the end of the book, and we win. I thought I just share that as a word of encouragement.
In this election, I think there are lots of nervousness. I would just remind us that our kingdom is not political but our kingdom is eternal. Yes, we have a president, but we also have a King who is the King of kings and his name is Jesus.
GH: You gave up a full-ride scholarship at the University of Chicago and transferred to Central Bible College. What prompted you to do that? What did you see and hear at the prayer walk through the cow pasture in Alexandria, Minnesota, where you felt called to full-time ministry?
Mark Batterson: I went to the University of Chicago and had a full ride scholarship. It was a great situation on paper. I was pre-law major, but I had never really asked God what he wanted me to do with my life. I decided to pray about it, and I felt like God was calling me into full-time ministry, so I had a tough decision to make. But I think it is one of those first moments in my life where I had to chase the lion - I had to give up that full-ride scholarship to transfer to a Bible college where I could pursue that calling.
At that time, I felt like I was giving up so much, but in reality I wasn't giving up anything because I was pursuing the calling that God had for me, and I believe that the Lord honors that. I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today, I wouldn't be pastoring National Community Church or writing books if I hadn't made that first decision to, in a sense, chase the lion, and I look back on it, it was, in a sense, one of those defining moments for me.
That cow pasture in Alexandria, Minnesota, where I felt called to ministry. I tell you what when you hear the voice of God, you better respond to it. You don't want to miss out on that opportunity. It might be crazy and scary, but looking back on your life, the only regrets that you might have are those God-ordained opportunities that you left on the table. You got to be willing to get up and step out. I think that's what I did at 19. I dropped that scholarship and transferred to a Bible college.
GH: Many have dreams, and many seek them for fame and fortune, but you said to seek for God's glory, which will last for eternity. Where do we start and how can we achieve the unimaginable?
Mark Batterson: Of course, it is easier said than done. I think all of us unless you are perfectly sanctified, we do what we do with mixed motives. I will be the first person to say that God is sanctifying me.
I think the manifesto at the beginning of the book Chase the Lion is probably the favorite part of my book. And my favorite line is probably be, 'live for the applause of the nail-scarred hands.' That's the heart of the book, and I think that's the heart of the gospel, and that's what God has called us to.
None of us are perfectly sanctified, and all of us have some measure of selfish motivation, but at the end of the day, fame and fortune are empty and meaningless and the only thing that matters is God's glory.
I love the first line of the Westminster shorter catechism, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." I think at the end of the day, that's what it is about. That's the end goal and that's how I do my life.