You Can’t Keep God in a Box

Back in 1995, when I was just a little thing, I was privileged to see the Atlanta Braves win the World Series with my dad and grandma, both of whom are huge fans. From then on, despite the fact that I find the sport itself not exactly super exciting, I have attended numerous baseball and softball games. From watching my brother struggle through two treacherously scorching summers of T-ball and eating way too many salty sunflower seeds at church softball games when I was in college, to attending minor league games on warm summer nights and seeing my dad’s favorite college team at their stomping grounds, I have watched my fair share of baseball games. It’s funny what a baseball game experience recently taught me.

Can'tKeepGodinaBox

Last night, I got to see my cousin play a game of coach’s pitch baseball at the community park in the town where my parents live. A bunch of little boys running around in tiny baseball uniforms is precious, no matter who’s winning.

One little boy in a green shirt with tiny blonde curls caught my eye. Too young to play on the team, he sat outside the fenced-in diamond… Maybe “sat” is not the right word. He was constantly up and down, running this way and that way, playing with cups of water and sticks and weeds that hadn’t been cut recently. He couldn’t be still. His dad was after him every few minutes, carrying or calling the child back to the lawn chairs they had arranged beside the bleachers. After a few attempts to keep the little boy in the chair, his father raised his voice at him, demanding that he stay put.

I had been observing the boy, and I thought he was acting in a way akin to little boys. In fact, my cousin who was playing has an older sister and a younger brother, both of whom were roaming the area between the diamond and the concession stand, and given free reign to do so. Everyone was safe, as numerous concerned parents had an eye on the little ones. I couldn’t understand why this father wouldn’t let his little boy go play.

I realize that there may have been a special circumstance, and I acknowledge that each parent has the right to parent as he or she sees fit within reason, but this event stuck with me as I drove back that night.

Little boys don’t sit still, and that’s a good thing. The boy I watched couldn’t be kept in the lawn chair and he was into everything. Likewise, God doesn’t sit still either. He is constantly moving. Often, we tend to put God in a little box and relegate him to meeting our needs when and where we want them met, like a genie in a bottle. But that’s not who God is.

When I was preparing to go to Hong Kong in Summer 2012, the organization I went with gave us a preparatory devotional book. One of the book’s key points is that God has already been working in Hong Kong. Our arrival does not “bring God” to the people of Hong Kong. Our arrival just coincides with the work God is already doing there. It was a new experience for me to arrive in the western-eastern hybrid world of Hong Kong, but God was already a “regular” there. He had been there since the beginning of time, using His circumstances and His children to till soil, plant seeds, water seedlings, and shine sunshine in the hearts of the people there, in order to make his name known. I was just a minuscule blip on God’s infinite timeline of eternity. I was an important part of the team going to Hong Kong, and I believe that God used me and shaped me, but I didn’t “save” anyone. I didn’t single-handedly change the region of HK for Jesus’s sake. I was just a servant doing the will of her master for basically no earthly reward.

And yet for some reason, I feel that I have to keep God in my little box, as if I’m walking around with a little “God-in-a-box” that provides for my every desire.

That’s not how it works.

Going to Hong Kong made me aware that God is so much bigger than I had thought. Not only is He omnipresent (existing everywhere at the same time), but he is also omnipotent (all powerful in every situation). He is “in” time and space, but He is also outside of time and space. And he is in every time and space. At the same time.

No, you can’t wrap your mind around it. And that is good. God is not understandable by the human mind, and that makes him worthy of worship by the human heart.

Instead of praying for the “God-in-a-box” to bless the plans we have created in our finite minds, why don’t we ask the infinite, omnipotent, omnipresent God to place us where he wants us to go and show us what he wants us to do? See, he’s already laid the foundation for our paths, and his plans will come to fruition (Proverbs 19:21). And God is good. He will always provide. He works all things together for our good and for His glory.

How does this play out practically? How do we avoid asking “God-in-a-box” to bless our human plans? 

First, go where God is and invest there. Join the people there. I find this especially useful advice for college students and young adults because I am one of them. We want to start new adventures and plan exciting things and change the world. While that’s exciting and great and some of those ventures have made great differences for the better, we can do great things just by joining the work God is already doing. This is why I’m not a huge supporter of church plants, unless there is already a stirring for God in a certain needy area or demographic. Don’t plant a church just for the sake of planting a church. Don’t create a new ministry just for the sake of creating a new ministry. Go where God is already working and love there. Minister there. Invest there. Love right next door and see what happens. Support a local ministry with your time, talents, and money. This is an excellent way to keep us grounded in the fact that we are not saviors of the world, but Jesus is.

Second, pray big. A common of prayer of mine includes petitions for “grace, guidance, and protection.” Those things are nice, and God promises us all three, but that’s kindof a boring prayer. I think it’s fine to pray with repetition, because it’s a great reminder. However, I would ask that we pray bigger. If we really do have a relationship with the One True King, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the Redeemer and Restorer of our souls, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, why do we pray so small? If prayer is communicating with the One who made our inmost beings, why do we pray so small?

I have heard people say that we should pray generically, following a “May your will be done” philosophy. I have heard others say that we should pray specifically, asking for big things with faith in a God who can move mountains. I think both are correct. Sometimes we pray with broken hearts: “God, we don’t know what to do in this situation.” Other times we pray with hopeful hearts: “God, we ask for this job, this healing, this provision.” In both situations, however, we are naming things. We bring our specific worries and needs and cares before God, trusting that he will make paths for us and work through situations in ways that only he can, for our good and His glory.

Personally, I don’t think prayer changes God’s mind much. I think it changes our hearts. I think it makes us more aware of what God is doing. I think it opens our eyes to see God’s work in, around, and through us. When we pray big, we acknowledge that we want to see God at work. We acknowledge that he may work out things differently than how we expected him to do so. We acknowledge that he is big. He is not “God-in-a-box.” He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and worthy of worship.

Third, always be thankful. When God answers our prayers by way of Scripture, people around us, circumstances, or provisions, our response should be gratitude. Thankfulness proves that we are small. To extend thanks to someone else makes us humble and accepting. It reminds us that we cannot provide for all of our needs on our own.

I recently read a few articles detailing things happy and healthy people do first thing in the morning. Many of the article listed gratitude as a good morning habit. Thinking of one thing you are grateful for keeps you going on stressful or difficult days. Is it any wonder that God calls us to be “Thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18)?

You can’t keep God in a box anymore than you can keep ten kittens out of trouble or an ice cream cone from melting on a hot day or a little boy from wandering around outside. Don’t ask God to bless your finite plans. Ask him where he wants you to go, and then go. Go with love, go with prayer, and go with thankfulness.

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