“Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?”
This is the first of two questions that was asked to a group of research participants visiting the San Francisco Exploratorium asked about Redwoods, which are known as the largest trees on planet earth. The participants were then asked a follow-up question; “What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood?”
What makes the Exploratorium study so interesting is who the questions were being asked by: a psychologist named Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman was interested in studying people, not trees. So, he took a second group of research participants and asked them an almost identical pair of questions with one important difference; “Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 180 feet?”
Kahneman then gathered all of the guesses about the height of the tallest redwood (380.1 feet is the correct answer for those who are dying a little on the inside without this information) and estimated the difference between those who were asked if the difference was 1,200 feet and those who were asked if the difference was 180 feet.
The results? The median guess for those in the 1,200 group was 844. The median guess for those in the 180 group was 282.
What Kahneman’s experiment demonstrates is a psychological phenomenon called the anchoring effect. Most people don’t really know anything about trees. It’s a moment of uncertainty. And we HATE uncertainty. So, the way that the human mind reacts to uncertainty is to search quickly for something certain, like the last number a researcher plants in our brain through a question. That number becomes the anchor for our thinking, and that anchor, more than logical reasoning or rational thinking, has a powerful effect on our decision making.
So, what’s anchoring you?
It has been a while since our world was this uncertain. Between a global pandemic, social isolation, civil unrest, an upcoming election, a tumultuous global economy, the strangest start to a school year in living memory, and the mere existence of Facebook, I personally cannot remember a time when the world felt this collectively erratic. The world needs the Church now more than ever. Yet Christians are people too, struggling with the same weight that humanity is carrying in this moment. And like the rest of humanity, in uncertain times Christians will also reach for an anchor.
The world needs the Church now more than ever. Yet Christians are people too, struggling with the same weight that humanity is carrying in this moment.
So, what’s your reference point? What does your mind reach for first in the midst of uncertainty? Is it your 401K? Your political ideology? Your relationship status? Your likes on social media?
These are, of course, fine things. But they cannot be first things. First things must be solid, secure and unchanging. That’s the whole point of an anchor. An anchor that shifts is no anchor at all. What people need to make it through uncertain times is a certain foundation.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Hebrews chapter 6. The author of Hebrews is writing to a church whose members are facing uncertainty, persecution and expulsion from their community. These are people who need encouragement, and so the writer of Hebrews gives them encouragement in the following verses of 18-20: “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”
What I love about this passage is that the writer of Hebrews points us to hope, but that hope is not that our circumstances will change. There is no certainty in that. Instead, that hope is in the character of God. And God’s character never changes.
So, there is hope for our souls in uncertain times. There is an anchor. This anchor is the certainty of God’s Word and His promises to us. The question for us is will this be our anchor?
This has been God’s challenge to me over the past few months. Am I willing to drop an anchor? Because anchoring is not something you can do passively. Am I willing to run to God, His presence and His promises first – before I check the news, Facebook, ask my friends, or even run through every potential outcome in my mind as my anxiety rises? Am I willing to pray first? Trust when I cannot see the outcome? Obey when I do not understand? Am I willing to drop an anchor into the promises of God?
Because the world is looking for that same certainty and stability. My friends are looking for an anchor. I wonder what they see when they look at me?
Tony Lutyk is the Campus Pastor at The Life Church Manassas. He’s an excellent leader and communicator who has a talent for throwing in some wit and humor when he preaches. He’s passionate about God’s Word, seeing people reach their full potential in Christ, and he misses hockey more than he can adequately express.
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