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.

Winning & Losing

You can’t win every day; some days you’re just going to lose.

I remember saying that to one of my roommates while I was in Thailand for student teaching. We were struggling through culture shock and adaptation and we came face to face with the reality that mistakes and disappointments were bound to happen. That vocabulary stayed with me as I moved and changed jobs and living situations. Last summer, I started referring to experiences or even entire days as “winning” or “losing.” It was a humorous way to document the initial struggles of real life after college graduation.

I’ve been learning that life is composed of both “winning” days and “losing” days. At my current stage of life, winning days are comprised of finding extra coupons, developing superb navigational skills, and getting ahead on work. Losing days might resemble the bills being due before the paycheck, experiencing crazy coworkers, or making stupid mistakes.

When we experience the phenomenon known as “winning” and “losing,” we are experiencing real life. Perhaps we have days or weeks or even months of “losing,” and that’s normal. Usually, however, winning and losing days are interspersed with regular quality days, which is also normal. I would caution that months and months of feeling like you’re losing might be an indication that good Christian counseling could be a good next step for you.

I feel strongly that there are at least two reasons we should not let “winning” or “losing” days define us.

Losing Days Do Not a “Loser” Make

When was the last time you called yourself a failure? Remember it. Well, let that be the last time.

See, a problem we often face (and I have seen this in my life and in the lives of others) is when we take the winning and losing days as indications of who we are. One week I experienced “a week of Mondays” in which every day was bad enough to be a Monday. I took that experience and said to myself something along these lines: “I am a failure. I can’t do this. I can’t be a teacher. Nothing is working right. No one understands me. I’m not good enough.” And then I took that different work at work and applied it to my other roles in life: “I’m failing as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend…”

Okay, before you give me heat, think about the times you’ve said something similar to yourself. Negative self-talk is a beast. And listening to Satan is a death sentence. Give that guy a foothold, and you’re done for.

None of what I told myself was true. I was doubting in the dark what God had told me in the light. God has already made it very clear that I’m supposed to be a teacher. He has already proven his goodness and graciousness to me. I know it’s difficult to move from college to the “real world,” but God has already told me that he is with me and will be with me through anything. In fact, I may have been struggling that week, but it did not change who I was.

Everyone Has Them

The end of Matthew chapter five tells us to love our enemies. God gives to them even the general grace he gives to us. Similarly, God allows the general pain to befall both believers and the enemies of believers. In the NIV, Matthew 5:45 reads…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone gets the sunshine and the rain. One reason I think God gives us all both sunshine and rain is because his desire is that all people come to know him. By using the sun and rain to provide for everyone’s needs for food and to show Himself through creation, he is giving those who do not know him even more opportunities to see him and his power and goodness.

Therefore, our response to losing days should not be self-pity (“Why am I such a loser?”) but acknowledgement of the pain that sin has caused and an awareness that maybe God might just use the losing days to bring about something great. He’s in the habit of redeeming and restoring things like that. I’ve seen God take horrific circumstances and turn them into great and wonderful expressions of his love and rescue and power. (I have been writing about redemption and restoration for a while now. Ironically, I tend to write most about those themes in the month of April!)

When unbelievers see us responding to difficult circumstances and “losing days” with gratitude and hope in God’s providence and provision, they’ll know that something is up, and they just might start asking questions.


I’m writing this post as I’m working through Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. She compares learning the language of gratitude to learning a second language. In the book, she explains that she is writing down a list of things she is grateful for, adding to the list each day, as if she were copying vocabulary in a second language.

As a English as a Second Language teacher who has spent time with Spanish, Cantonese, Lao, and Thai, I connect with that comparison. What if gratitude is a language we must practice using in order to get better at it? What if we must practice listening to, reading, speaking, and writing gratefulness before it will stick? Perhaps being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is something that must be learned, Ann writes.

To this end, my challenge now becomes: What if we were thankful on “losing” days, too? It’s easy to be thankful on “winning” days, especially if our attitudes are in the right place. But we are not called to be grateful only in some circumstances. We are actually specifically called to be grateful even in troubles.

I have a sneaky feeling that if we named specific things, whether tangible or otherwise, and thanked God for them, even on “losing” days, we would feel less and less like “losers” and more and more like the children of God we really are. See, we aren’t “losers.” God didn’t give us that name when he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God calls us chosenset apartholybelonging to GodGod’s delight, and God’s bride (2 Peter 2:9, Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 62:4).

We will have losing days. We will have winning days. Do not let either day define you. Let gratitude for who God is and what God has done for you be your definition. Circumstances will change, but God does not.

Allotted Grace

[The future] sometimes feels impossible. Impossible when we forget that we are kept, loved, walked with in our hard [times]. When we sit and imagine future hard without the grace that is provided to walk in it- then we are walking away from the very air that helps us breathe. We sin when we imagine our futures. We are lonely in that future place, because we are too finite to understand how Jesus will meet us in those impossible moments. But we do, we spend moments wondering over those future fears.

– Kara at Mundane Faithfulness

On a warm Sunday in September 2014, I made the decision to ask God for direction for my future. I had been putting it off much the same way I had been putting off asking God for a job or a mentor or money between paychecks. I know I will not live with my parents for the rest of my life, but I’m not sure what’s next.

When I was in my early years of college, I told God I would serve him and obey him… as long as he didn’t call me overseas. When my eyes were awakened to God’s work overseas, I told him I would follow him anywhere: from the mansion in the country club in the Carolinas to the shack in the middle of the poorest part of India… as long he didn’t send me to Africa. When God called me on short term trips, I told him I would go whenever he sent me… as long as he didn’t want me to be a career missionary.

God has broken down so many walls I built up around myself, that I think I it’s time I stop giving him ultimatums.

My Monday morning commute the next day found me pouring out fears and worries and unknowns about my finite future to a God who sees the entire spectrum of eternity in one glance.  I prayed hard that God would reveal my next step (not the whole plan, yet) and give me peace about whatever it would be. I prayed hard that God would align my future with that of my future husband. I prayed hard that even now, God would be preparing me for what he has for me.

When I imagine my future, I see a few different alternatives, each one with its own immense difficulties. I am guilty of imagining my future without also seeing the future grace allotted to me. I look ahead and imagine difficulties but don’t imagine God meeting those needs or providing that strength or opening those doors. How can I? I don’t write the future.

That’s why the words in the blog post I found this morning grabbed my attention. Kara writes: “We sin when we imagine our futures.” This upset me, because I think imagining one’s future is healthy and normal, but Kara wasn’t saying that thinking about the future is sinful. She was saying that worrying about expected difficulties without also hoping for God’s expected grace is sinful. God will not leave his children out in the rain. He will not do it. Therefore, worrying about what might or might not happen is just plain wrong.

The truth is that God gives us what we need right when we need it. He always has. I have never been without food or money when I needed it. I have never been without God’s grace or strength when I needed it. He always provides, and he provides in the most unlikely of ways. 

Whether God sends me to the middle of Africa or the middle of a suburban neighborhood or some nondescript place in between, he will give me the grace I need to make it through each day. I must stop worrying about future fears, but instead allow God to take the reigns and prepare me for what he has for me one step at a time. He knows what he’s doing. He holds tomorrow in his hands. He knows what he’s doing, and I can rest in that.

But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!

– 2 Chronicles 20:17

Last Updated Mar 7, 2017

Two and a half years later, I am developing as a blogger and as a person. I am now happily married to the “future husband” I wrote about in this original post. We are both working at an International school just north of Atlanta, Georgia, and we are {still} considering where our next steps might have us. At this time, however, we are happy and contented knowing that this is exactly where God wants us right now. We recently took our first big trip via airplane, and I wrote a fun post about that. Thanks for stopping by!