SERMON from 8-14-11: “Thinking Out(in)side The (God) Box”

Philippians 4:4-9

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Thinking Out(in)side The (God) Box

There is no doubt that many of you have heard the phrase “think outside the box.” For those who haven’t, it is a phrase which encourages people to consider new ways of solving problems or being successful. An example of this would be for a business–instead of filming a traditional TV commercial–to get a bunch of their employees to practice a dance and begin to perform it in the middle of a public setting where such things don’t normally take place. These people could be wearing shirts bearing the name of the company for which they work. Also, someone could film it and out it on the internet and send the link out to their customers.

The reason “thinking outside the box” came into vogue is largely due to the fact that humans can get bored with the same old thing. What I just described to you is something called a “flash mob.” It is where a bunch of people–who appear to not be related to each other in any way, other than being in the same place–collaborate to make an impression in one way or another. It is definitely not the same old thing, and it does get people’s attention. Sometimes, these flash mobs can be funny, they can be amazing or they can be designed to motivate someone to do something. Here is what I am talking about:

Now, that is really nice. It might have–like it did me–given you goose bumps. That is a truly “outside of the box” thinking on how to put together a choir. That sort of thing can truly have an impact on someone. However, how long does the impact from something like that last? Can a flash mob change your life? Could being witness to something like this, in the flesh, leave an impression on someone which could last a lifetime?

That’s an even bigger question. “Thinking outside the box” can be fun and exciting, but what is it in life that can truly be life-changing? How are we spurred into changing our lives–prodded into action? Certainly, a Christian lives their life either in this state or finding out how we get to that point, right? While it is not the entirety of the Christian experience, we are definitely here to find a purpose in Him! Where does that search begin?

In How To Find Out Who You Are, Nelson Price reports that 15 prominent college professors took this challenge: “If all the books on the art of moving human beings into action were condensed into one brief statement, what would that statement be?” The result of their deliberations was: What the mind attends to, it considers; What the mind does not attend it to, it dismisses. What the mind attends to continually, it believes. What the mind believes, it eventually does.

Keeping that in mind, let me pivot to something similar.

Emily–my beautiful wife and sermon editor–pointed my attention to an article in a magazine which I believe is very closely related to this type of thing. Mary Lou Quinlan–who works in advertising–wrote an article about her mother entitled “Inside the God Box.” She says:

the God Box [was her mother’s] simple way of coping with the stresses of life. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a series of trinket boxes filled with her typed or handwritten requests on behalf of me; my younger brother, Jack; and the love of her life, our father, Ray. Mom would scrounge up any old piece of paper—the back of a receipt, a torn paper towel, or a while-you-were-out slip sufficed—date it, and write, “Dear God,” followed by her concern of the moment, which ran the gamut from big (“Please let our house sell today”) to small (“Please let Mary Lou’s Pergo floor be the right choice”). She would sign many of the scraps “Thank you, God. Sincerely, Mary,” gently fold them into tiny origami, and tuck them into the box. Then, she believed, God would take over.

Mary Lou says each family member had their own relationship to the God Box. Her dad was glad that her mom had something to help quell her worries, but to her and her brother, it “was akin to a child’s beloved blanket.” She also says that she didn’t get the full scale of what the God Box meant to her mother until she died of a rare and painful blood disease. They found notes containing sentiments like; “Please help my neighbor Rachel. She’s sick and stays inside and won’t talk to me.” “Please choose correct ship cabin for Mother’s Day cruise present.” Her requests revealed just how much thought and prayer she put into everyday events. She wrote notes interceding on behalf of her daughter for difficult co-workers.

Other notes were more serious. “Good mammogram, thank you.” “Please hear me. My mouth is very sore. Please cure it and cure my platelet problem. I thank you and I love you.” While Mary Lou admits she didn’t keep up the tradition after her mother died, she resumed the practice shortly before her father died–and keeps it up to this day.

The God Box. I don’t know about you, but I could see that one becoming a fad pushed by Christian book stores to make a quick buck (i.e. The Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose-Driven Life, etc). However, let’s not dismiss it so quickly. It may seem a bit hokey and lame, but I assure you this idea has merit and plenty of biblical backing.

The scripture today is talking about both “what the mind believes it eventually does” and “the God Box.” Verse 6 says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” It’s very easy to figure out how “the God Box” fits into this scripture, but how does “what the mind believes it eventually does” fit in? That is the important question we will answer.

The word “discipline” turns most of us off, doesn’t it? If it doesn’t conjure up images of “switches,” stools-in-corners or soap-in-mouth, it is most certainly likely to dredge up other painful or unpleasant images. If one wants to lose weight, one must discipline oneself to reach for the green, leafy salads, and not the bacon-loaded, cheese covered waffle fries. If one wants to get in shape, one must put down the television remote and exercise to a point that muscles you didn’t know you had begin to feel things. Typically, the word “discipline” means that our time or energy are taken by an event, activity or thing which we would otherwise avoid.

How does that work when we consider the idea of “spiritual discipline?” Other than the fact that most sin happens when we are in engaged in doing things that we enjoy, most of us would consider the Christian life something we enjoy. It is something that we desire to pursue. Unfortunately, like an athlete preparing to compete, we must do things we don’t necessarily like to do in order to do the things that we do. In other words, to be a Christian requires a bit of work on our parts.

Conversely, the things we don’t do–which we know we need to do–we don’t necessarily avoid them because we don’t like to do them. Did you get that? Let me try to put it another way. If we know we should read our bibles, and we don’t, maybe it isn’t necessarily because we just don’t want to do it. There are any number of reasons why someone would not read their bible, just plain not wanting to may not be the chief of them.

Life is busy. We are always on the go with plenty of things we have to do and deadlines we have to complete them by. Who among us would consider their lives governed by that principle? I raised my own hand because there is plenty of my life which I have to have completed by a certain time and date. Sometimes, that means I have to put some things to the side to complete the more urgent things. Whose with me on that?

I’ve given us plenty of reason for why it is we find it so difficult to do things having to do with our spiritual lives. However, that should’t give any of us a false sense of hope that we can just continue on like that. No, no, no. The Christian life is all about a pursuit of God and allowing Him to transform us. We are not allowed to let things in our lives that we know need changed to go by without at least a cursory attempt at changing them.

Which brings us back to “what the mind believes it eventually does.” Again, there are plenty of reasons we can name for us ignoring a portion of our relationship with God. However, when was the last time you attempted to make an excuse as to why you had to do some of those things? When was the last time you made a conscious effort to improve the quantity and content of your prayer life? When was the last time you made a concerted effort to spend more time reading the bible? When was the last time you made time to participate in God’s word?

The point is this: if we don’t consciously make the effort, how will we ever make the change. When we put in the effort, we will see the results. When we make an effort, we are that much more likely to continue that change in our lives. When it is in our mind, we are more likely to act on it. Have you ever noticed that when you get a new car, everyone else seems to have gotten that same type of car? There hasn’t been a run that particular make and model of car, it’s just on your mind and you are more likely to notice it.

You’ve heard of The Secret, haven’t you? Oprah made it famous and my wife happened to watch Oprah off-and-on. Well, there was an idea that came out of that which went something like “if you put your hopes and dreams out into the universe, you are more likely to attain them.” Emily took that idea and made a sort of “prayer wall” in our kitchen. If there was something we wanted or desired, we were to put them on the wall. I made fun of her mercilessly for it. She tried to tell me that hers was an expression of her belief in God’s power, and I made fun of her because it came from an idea she got while watching Oprah.

Anyway, we were still holding out hope for another child while we were still having trouble conceiving on our own. Emily placed a baby toy on that wall as a sign of her prayerful concentration on that desire. Albeit much less in jest, I was less impressed and still saw it as another thing Oprah told her audience to do. Well, we now have Ella because of many things–not the least of which was my wife’s faithful focus on that which she desired. So much for my distaste of Oprah.

What forces were at play in that scenario? It’s the same forces that are at work when we focus our minds around something we need to do in order that we do it. The same forces which turn little notes left to God in trinket boxes into a life dedicated to prayerful communion with God. When we focus our thoughts and energies on the things we know we should do, there is an infinitely greater chance of us doing them than if we just ignore or brush past them. Winston Churchill once said, “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” When we aren’t concentrating or thinking of the important things in our lives, then–even when we encounter them–we might just miss them.

And what of the important things to the life of a Christian? Paul mentions them in verse 8 when he says, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Why? Because when we do, we are more likely to actually do them. We are less likely to let them brush past us without as much as distracting our attention from the world around us.

Our lives should not be completely concerned with finding new and different ways to fill our time so we won’t be bored. Nor should we be completely concerned with finding new and exciting ways to get people to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. Sometimes we just have to eat our peas! Sometimes we just have to suck it up and do those things we don’t want to do–even and especially when they are hard. Ultimately, when we think on them and do them, we will keep in doing them–and maybe even begin to desire to do them.

Lest we forget, we are not alone in this endeavor. Whether it is a God Box we use to cast all our cares upon Him or give Him thanks for the myriad of things he has and will do for us, we should engage God. What does the last verse of our passage say this morning? “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Christians have know since the inauguration of the church that God needs to be involved in every step of the way. We just need to learn how to get Him back into our everyday–every hour, every minute–even if only for the plain and simple truth that the peace of God will be with us. Why wouldn’t we do that?

That’s what life “Inside the God Box” can be.

AMEN

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