When I was a child, I couldn’t wait until Christmas! The gathering of family, the Christmas cheer – and of course, the presents that I would get. Perhaps I had a misunderstanding of what to expect on Christmas as a small child when I opened my presents; instead of playing with the brand new, shiny toy, that my relatives gave me, I was more interested in the box it came in! Yes, just the box itself. And of course… the bigger the box the better! As my parents can describe, I could play with those boxes all day and sadly, spend less time with the toys that came in the box.
While boxes were fun for me as a kid to play in, (maybe it was for you too!) it’s a completely different story when it comes to faith all grown up. If I put something in a box, I know what’s in it; I understand that the dimensions of the box limit its space; I have contained it and I can control it since it’s within my grasp. This definitely doesn’t sound like how God would want us to relate to Him, does it?
It can be easy, at times, to box God into our expectations and experiences. If this is the case, we’re saying that we are in control because we put Him there. It suggests that we know how God is supposed to move because He only fits into the dimensions of what we’ve experienced. It’s limiting the Holy Spirit’s activity in how He wants to use us because we’re only open to the small confines of what’s ‘in the box.’ It’s not allowing God to be Lord of our lives because if we’ve put Him in a box, that means we could be compartmentalizing our faith to only Sunday mornings or in areas of ministry. Isn’t God more extraordinary than the box humanity puts Him in?
We see this striking contrast with Jesus when He returns to His hometown of Nazareth (See Luke 4:14-30). At this time, Jesus is seen as the MAN – ‘news about Him spread about the countryside’ (v.14) and ‘EVERYONE was praising Him’ (v.15). Now the local boy has returned home? How exciting!
Imagine what is going through the townsfolk minds as they gathered in their local synagogue to hear Jesus speak – they probably cannot wait to hear Him, speak with Him, and have Him do something FOR them. They’ve heard the reports of the miracles such as turning water into wine … so, what will he do that for them? Shouldn’t He do greater things than this because they KNOW Him?
So they think they do. After Jesus reads His life mission from Isaiah 61:2a and 58:6, they are still enamored with who He is on the outside. ‘All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips’ (Luke 4:22). He was chosen to speak in the synagogue, his presentation was flawless, His choice of Scripture was a feel-good sermon for everyone (who wouldn’t want to hear about the year of the Lord’s favor?) At this point he could have accepted His award for His message and started His book tour and signing autographs before He leaves to the next venue.
But the people respond with this phrase – Isn’t this Joseph’s Son?
Jesus could have continued to ride the wave of success by being ambiguous in His message. Yet Jesus knows what’s in men and women’s hearts (1 Kings 8:39). He does something that most people wouldn’t do – make a clear distinction between those who follow Him and who want to simply use Him. To bring understanding to His own people that they are putting Him in a box of expectation based on their history, where God wants to lead them out of the box into ministry. To cut ties by revealing the truth, even if it means to not be ‘successful’ in men’s eyes, but God’s eyes only. Jesus will not be confined by misconceptions and ill-gained ambitions.
Jesus responds by telling them stories of Elijah and Elisha, who both ministered to Gentiles since ‘no prophet is accepted in His hometown’ (See Luke 4:23-30). Now EVERYONE is furious – so angry that they want to throw Him off a cliff! Thankfully, Jesus escapes since it was not His time and He now goes off to continue His ministry.
How ironic is it that those who knew Jesus since He was a boy could not recognize Him as the Messiah? It is because they could not see past who He really was, what His mission is, and what He wanted to do.
This is an illustration for us that we should not be tempted to put Jesus in a box of our own. What could this look like for us?
- It could be only accepting Jesus as Savior (I said the prayer and believe) but not as Lord (continued obedience). The difference is between a momentary event versus a lifestyle of commitment. Jesus made it clear, ‘when he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). If we only accept Jesus as savior, are we not boxing Him in?
- It could be only accepting what the Holy Spirit can do based on our limited experience. We may say to ourselves, “I’ve never seen a miracle in my life. I haven’t seen anyone healed.” Does that mean it doesn’t happen? Not at all! Sadly, many people take their lack of experience to be the new standard for all of Christianity, even if it’s contrary to the Scriptures. Perhaps you can be diligent in praying for the miraculous. You can also talk to and possibly, minister with people who do operate in those gifts. If we only accept the Holy Spirit in our limited understanding or experience, are we not boxing Him in?
As I was getting ready to preach this message for the 2nd service on Sunday, an image came to mind regarding the type of box we can put God in that we can ask ourselves for further reflection:
- Is the box we put God in similar to a safe? Where we only open it up and access Him when it is an emergency? When times are tough, and we don’t know where to turn?
- Is the box we put God in is similar to a shoebox? There’s a shoebox that is tucked away in the closet filled with memories of the past. Is God simply part of what happened in the past as a memory (like salvation when we were young), or is He part of your continued testimony?
The beautiful thing is this – God can break through any of the preconceived thoughts, expectations, or experiences we may have of Him! ‘The Word of God is not bound’ (2 Timothy 2:9 ESV), so let’s have the Holy Spirit tear down any walls that we’ve set up as an attempt to confine, control, and compress Him. May the Lord reveal to you and release you from any captive thoughts in thinking God restricts how He operates in your life and the lives of others. God is bigger, God is greater, and God is more glorious than any box we can attempt to put Him in.
Have a blessed week!