Out of the Box

by Allison Martin


And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28


I don’t mean to brag, but I had my Christmas tree put away by the end of January this year. That’s sort of a personal record. As for the rest of my odds and ends winter decor, it was finally all rounded up and stowed away sometime in February. I do my decorating the same way I do most everything else- at random.


It was a proud moment for me when the boxes stamped “Christmas” came out of the attic and were filled up with the lights and evergreen boughs that were becoming a little out of place. You probably had a similar experience. Everything that falls under the category of “Christmas” is loaded up, hauled to its place of storage, and promptly forgotten about until the next December (okay, November). I’m as obsessed with Christmas as anyone I know, but that box only comes down once. Eleven months worth of anticipation for the moment that it’s time to bring it down again.


Forgive me for changing the subject, but 2020 has been some roller coaster, hasn’t it? Throughout this year, it seems that on top of all of the new challenges and adjustments, we’re all battling an acute sense of disappointment. I recently went through my planner, which I had filled with events at the beginning of the year. One by one, I began crossing off the ones that didn’t happen. Eleven. Eleven major events, most that I look forward to all year. I know I’m not unique in this - all of our schedules took a drastic hit.


In transparency, let me just share with you the hardest event our church crossed off that list: Sunset Hills Youth Camp. If you know, you know. Our church pours its very soul into that camp, all year around. Men and women whose names you wouldn’t recognize spend entire weekends out there to help maintain it.


God works there in a way I really can’t describe. I have seen young people’s lives transformed, and youth groups put back together. Teenagers have left that campground completely different than they were when they came. I have seen kids as their eyes alight with purpose, having felt the call of God on their life. Crossing it off our calendar broke our hearts.


As I wrestled with this disappointment, I began to feel a sense of despair, an overwhelming loss for all that we were missing out on. I considered how desperately our youth needed the encouragement and strength that comes from those encounters with the presence of God. And how quickly things could go downhill without it.

I just so happened to be talking this all over with God as I was retrieving something from our shed. Before my disappointment had time to become a full blown pity party, I glanced up and saw the boxes in my attic. Remember, the ones that just come down once a year? As soon as I saw that box labeled “Christmas”, God’s presence shone His convicting light in my heart. And I realized that in my heart was a box labeled, “Youth Camp”. Somehow, it seemed that I had tucked away the faith to believe for things like life changing salvations, and mind renewing deliverances. There lay my hopes for revival - only to be pulled down the second full week in June. Suddenly, I understood the despair I was feeling with astounding clarity. It was as if I had pulled that box down and glanced in at all the incredible things that awaited, only to have it unexpectedly tossed back up into the attic until next year. Because we couldn’t have the meeting where I had seen so many transformations take place, there would be no lives transformed. Since things weren’t happening as usual, the miracles would have to wait until next year, when we could hopefully make up some ground we lost.


No wonder I was discouraged. Without even realizing it, I had put our limitless God into a very small box.


My greatest problem wasn’t youth camp being cancelled, but my confinement of God to work there.

We get so comfortable with how and when things happen that it can unknowingly become what we place our faith in. Our faith is not based on how God has chosen to work in the past, but in His promise that He will. God’s power hasn’t changed - our expectations have. His desire to work in the lives of people is as strong right now as it has been during the greatest revival or most powerful youth camp. Our faith is what fluctuates. And our faith gets God’s attention.


You may have been counting on a revival or ladies retreat that was cancelled. Maybe there’s bus kids you haven’t seen in a while or new Christians you lost touch with. In a lot of ways, you may feel like your church has taken a few steps back, or is having to start back at square one.


I simply want to encourage us to take the labels and time frames off our faith. God can work through a pandemic just as He worked through persecution for the church of Acts. Your youth group could have a youth camp experience on a normal Wednesday night. Revival may defy all odds and come in the midst of your church’s greatest struggle. A routine prayer meeting may become another Upper Room.

These are unprecedented times, and we can expect to see God move in unprecedented ways.

I don’t pretend to understand why this year has gone the way it has. I still wrestle with the disappointments on a daily basis. But Romans 8:28 is either true or it isn’t.

And if all things work together for good, then all of this is part of our growth, not our destruction.

So I won’t pack my expectations up to lie dormant until next summer. I’ve determined not to write 2020 off as a waste. Our God is so much bigger than that. Let’s take our faith out of any box we’ve built around it, and put it back where it belongs: in “Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think”.

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