Let’s see if you can figure this out: A man rides in on Friday, stays two nights three days and then leaves on Friday. How is this possible? His horse is named Friday.
Two mothers and two daughters go to a pet store and buy three cats. Each female gets her own cat. How is this possible? The answer is: There is a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. The grandmother is also the mother’s mother, so there are two daughters and two mothers but only a total of three people.
What has wheels and flies but is not an aircraft? A garbage truck.
These are riddles that make us think outside of how we normally think. They can be tough. But they’re also good for the brain, to keep it alive and active.
Let me give you another one. It’s rather famous. It’s the classic puzzle that involves nine dots in three rows. The task is to draw four straight lines through all nine dots without lifting your pencil.
People often start by drawing four lines around the edges, but that leaves out the dot in the middle. Or they try a Z-shape, but that leaves out the dot on one side. Or they try a kind of S-shape, but that leaves out two dots.
So how do you draw four straight lines through all nine dots without lifting your pencil?
The key to solving the puzzle is to go outside the box. If you draw the straight lines beyond the boundaries of the nine dots, it will work. This is the very kind of puzzle that gave us the expression: “thinking outside the box.”
Thinking outside the box is a catchphrase often meaning to look at a problem from a new perspective without any preconceptions. Business people, creative types, engineers trying to find a new solution all like to use this idea to say it’s important to keep their minds open so they can find a different way to grow their business, to create something not yet heard or
seen, or to solve a problem more effectively. They simply refuse to get stuck in a box that has already been made.
Scripture tells us God is someone who doesn’t get stuck in a box. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
God is always going to challenge us to base our faith on what his thinking is, and not on our thinking. It’s clear Jesus knew this was true.
It’s tough to imagine how much weight he carried. Christ taught about the kingdom of God; he healed, restored sight, exorcised demons; he led a group of disciples and women; and he tried to avoid being caught in theological conflicts with religious leaders. He must have been preoccupied by so many heavy issues.
Yet, he had time for children, babies even. Jesus found time to speak to them, touch them, and bless them. He showed us many things in life are better left done just for the fun of it—or rather, just for the blessing of it, because just when we think we know what God is doing that’s when we find out the Lord blesses us in a new way and from a new direction.
Christ showed we shouldn’t put God in a box. This is what his disciples were trying to do when they said Jesus didn’t have time for the kids, for fun and laughter and joy and creativity and disruption. To them, God was a God only of order, regulation, and custom, and of course that’s not a child’s strength. They don’t always stay in their boxes. They have a way of squirming their way out—thank the Lord.
Children disrupt plans, cost money, demand change, upset directions. You can’t measure children and their worth. You can’t contain them and their value. They are valuable even though they don’t produce anything or develop anything or improve anything.
… But can you imagine life without them, without their need to run, their need to shout, their need to create, their need to break rules, their need to laugh, their need to cry, their need to paint, and write, and sing, and play, and dream, and hope, and love?!
What a sad and dreary world it would be without children blessing us as they do. How little we would learn about love, how little would be our joy, how little our inspiration if it weren’t for them.
The thing is all of these gifts can’t be just for children. Adults should reclaim some of those gifts for us. Christ wasn’t saying that children alone
are important. He made that clear when he said if you adults don’t receive the kingdom like a child, you don’t belong in it.
So no matter how old you are, create something, sing something, play sometimes. Be like a child and dream some more, hope more deeply, love more strongly. Go ahead and break some of your rules, laugh more often, and even shout sometimes.
Children don’t do boxes naturally—neither does God. That’s a lesson from the kingdom of God we should all remember.
I remember back in 1998 when church member Gladys Zimmerman told me her favorite part of Sunday service was children’s time. It was so wonderful to see them come up at their own pace, sit wherever they wanted on the stairs, and say whatever came into their mind and out of their mouths. She loved the energy and spontaneity of that time of the service.
She told me she wanted her large financial gift to the church to be made in honor of our church’s children and what they mean to the Lord and to our church. Seeing them inspired her gratitude and faithful giving to her church. Gladys gave thanks to God for the children and ended up doing something she might never have done.
Nehemiah’s story shows us what God can do when someone takes a step out of his comfort zone and lives outside of the box. Nehemiah was a displaced Jew living a thousand miles from Jerusalem in what’s known today as Persia, or Iran. He had risen to prominence as the cupbearer to the king of Persia, and he lived quite a comfortable life in the king’s palace.
Yet one fateful day, some Jewish friends of Nehemiah returned from Jerusalem. He asked them a question that ended up changing his life: “How is it with the people of Jerusalem?” And they said, “Nehemiah, it’s not good. The walls are down, the gates are burned with fire, and the people are living in shame and disgrace.”
When Nehemiah heard this, it was like a shot to the solar plexus. It buckled him. It swept him off his feet and onto his knees! And he began to cry out to God… but not for just a moment. For four months he prayed until God showed him what to do! He would go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and possibly more.
Of course, he could have continued to live in luxury in Persia, but the answer to his question had blown the lid off of the box he was living in. His heart was no longer where it had been; it was now a thousand miles away in Jerusalem.
I pray your hear an answer to a question that changes your life for the better. May God bless you with the good fortune of finding a greater purpose for your life.
But honestly we can all start small. We don’t need to travel a thousand miles to let go and let the Lord lead you. You may do something similar by walking across the street to talk to a neighbor you’ve never met before. Or talk to a person at a function you normally would have ignored. Or going to a mission activity you’ve thought of but somehow have yet to find the time for.
Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because we seldom get lucky or find God’s blessing or fulfill our heart’s desires sitting in one place and doing the same thing over and over.
One person remembered how she and her husband got ready for their trip to Paris. They wanted to do “things not because we were expected to do them or had always done them or should do them, but because we wanted to do them.” Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Forget about always having things worked out as to what you will gain from doing this thing for the next hour and a half and then that afterward. Shake things up. Just go and do something different. Go somewhere you haven’t been. Talk to someone you haven’t talked to before. Stop being so certain about what your life is supposed to be about.
Wanting to do something and doing it without regard to the end result or what people think or whether it makes sense is to live with uncertainty. It’s to do something for the fun of it. It’s to live without checking a box, or quantifying successes. It’s liberating to do some things for a reason whose point or purpose is not known before you do them.
Open the door to your life. Get outside the box that keeps you safe but perhaps sorry. Forget about always working for this in order to get that. Find something you do where the only payoff you get is the payoff in joy you feel for having done that new thing or a gutsy thing or a whimsical thing or a creative thing.
Nobody feels totally at ease when things are uncertain but always being sure of things isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Letting go of certain things in order to risk gaining something different is what makes life sing. As jazz great Charlie Parker put it, “Master your instrument, master the music, and then forget all that … and just play.”
Too many people simply try to master their lives, and then stick to the score they’ve have already played again and again. A new song is possible. Let go and the let the Spirit move you.
Now of course nobody likes to be, well, disoriented. But there are lessons and growth in being disoriented a bit. Often we can become a little more humble when we feel like we’re not in total control. When we cannot predict the future or what it will require from us, then we’re more willing to wait or listen or rely on others or God. We have to stretch.
But in our world today, humility isn’t a valued characteristic. Today, we’re all about how we can get things done on our terms. A so-called humble person today might write a blog called, “Humility and How I Achieved It.”
Don’t accept that God isn’t asking anything different of you than you’ve already been for five, ten, twenty years. Seek to be inspired. Perhaps even embrace risk. Let the children come to you, proverbially speaking that is.
Permit yourself to be challenged, to meet new and different people. Expand your horizons to see the amazing fullness of the Lord’s ways and people’s lives. Embrace the Lord’s service that opens your life to others you might never have met before.
If you do this, you will open up the box of your life, a box that may no longer fit you.
Can the church say Amen?