Labeling Boxes

October 3, 2012

This is a post by Michael Glover, my twin brother. He lives in Wasilla, AK, with his wife Megan, and their 2 high maintenance cats.

This weekend I accidentally made one of the best decisions of my life. I read an article my wife was writing an abstract on for her college English class. “The Stanford Prison Experiment”. A psychologist, Philip Zimbardo, wanted to “study the process by which prisoners and guards learn to become compliant and authoritarian.” (Zimbardo)

He picked 21 volunteers, they were all (except one Asian) average, middle-class, Caucasian, college age males. They were to participate in a 14-day simulation of a real prison, without the actual violence, rape, etc. real prisoners face.

He built a mock-prison in an empty area of the Stanford campus, and randomly assigned 10 to play the role of “prisoner” and the other 11 “guards”. Role-playing only. Fantasy. Not real life.

The prisoners were “dehumanized” immediately, lost all freedom, identity and the guards controlled even bathroom visits.

The guards were “deindividualized” with identical khaki uniforms and aviator style reflective glasses. The only training they received was the directive to maintain law and order.

Long story short, Zimbardo terminated the experiment after only 6 days and nights, because the fantasy became their reality. As the guards became more aggressive, prisoners became more passive.

Prisoners began experiencing real psychosomatic symptoms, so concerning they were removed from the experiment.

All the guards behaved “sadistically” towards the prisoners at least once. After the experiment was over, many reported that they were “delighted in the new-found power and control they exercised and sorry to see it relinquished at the end of the study.”

Why? Because they began to believe the “labels” they were role-playing, defining who they were and how they should act. In 6 days!

In Zimbardo’s conclusion, he states; “The physical institution of prison is but a concrete and steel metaphor for the existence of more pervasive, albeit less obvious, prisons of the mind that all of us daily create, populate, and perpetuate.”

This story shook me to my core, for many reasons. It made all too real to me; the evil humankind can do to each other, while excusing themselves behind a “label”. Worse than that, it gave me to vivid a picture of how easily humankind passively submits to playing their “role”.

I apologize for the dark topic. However, what shook me into sleepless nights was spiritual, not physical.

Allow me to transition.

In Genesis 21, we find the story of Isaac’s birth, Ishmael’s mocking, Sarah’s anger, and Hagar and Ishmael’s banishment. There are literally so many insights available here in the chapter that I encourage you to break this chapter down, character by character.

Highlight Hagar

In chapter 16 God spoke Word into her life, by divine visitation. God told her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be numbered for multitude.” (Gen 16:10 amp)

God continued, “See now, you are with child and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Ishmael [God hears], because the Lord has heard and paid attention to your affliction.” (Gen 16:11 amp)

And he [Ishmael] will be as a wild ass among men; his hand will be against every man and every man’s hand against him, and he will live to the east and on the borders of all his kinsmen.” (Gen 16:12 amp)

So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You are a God of seeing, for she said, Have I [not] even here [in the wilderness] looked upon Him Who sees me [and lived]? Or have I here also seen [the future purposes or designs of] Him who sees me?” (Gen 16:13 amp)

She had an epiphany of God. She received direct Word about her future from God.


Fast forward to chapter 21.

Abraham woke them up early in the morning, gave Hagar some bread, a bottle of water, and put them on her shoulders and threw up the two fingers, deuces.

At that moment, God gave her a blank check. She is no longer a bondwoman, she saw “[the future purposes or designs of] Him” for her life. God guaranteed her future. The only limitations He placed upon her was “exceedingly” and “they shall not be numbered for multitude.” Blank check.


Hagar however allowed her label to control her destiny. “Abraham placed the bread and water on my shoulders.” “He passed his blessing onto me, I can only go as far as the water and bread takes me.”

Therefore, we see her wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. (Wait, didn’t God tell her that Ishmael would live to the east of his kinsmen?) She allowed her label, to cloud her vision. She finally ends up lost. God said east, He did not say how far east.

“But Abraham only gave me enough food and water to go this far.” “I am a bondwoman, I rely on Abraham to support me, and surely I can’t go any farther than what he expected when he gave me the bread and water.”

Next scene we find her out of water and placing her promise (Ishmael) under a bush, and going a bow shot away so she won’t see her promise (Ishmael) die.

New Place Old Paradigm

Ishmael raises his voice and cries, (because his mother abandoned him, or because he was thirsty, or both?)

She joins in, and God hears Ishmael. You see God only hears our promise, we hear our label.

“You’re only a bondwoman.” “Your promise (Ishmael) will only go as far as its previous generation (Abraham) determined.”

God tells her to go back, raise up her promise (Ishmael), and grab ahold of it. (Gen 21:18 amp)

Then God opens her eyes, (labels blind you), she sees a well of water, “and she went and filled the [empty] bottle with water and caused the youth to drink.” (Gen 21:19 amp)

Abraham=Bottle thinking

God=Well thinking

God says when you’ve gone as far as your previous generation thinks you can; I have wells of water waiting for you.

God offered her a well. Instead of bringing her promise to the well, she used the previous generations’ methods, the bottle, to fuel her promise (Ishmael). Labels

I will stop here. Real quick. (When she gave up on her promise (Ishmael) and left it to die (bow shot away), she determined what the promise would become. In verse 20, it says Ishmael became an archer.)

Labels are nothing more than boxes within boxes

Hagar allowed Labels to steer her promise.

She received a blank check, and let Abraham write the amount.

I’ll pass.

Our blank check

Who says I can’t have a better friendship with Jesus than David did? You?

Why is Acts the pinnacle of what we think God can do?

What makes Peter better than me?

Who says our churches can’t join hands with different churches in our towns and communities to more effectively reach the lost?

Jesus said, “Greater works than these shall you do.”

Why have I only witnessed one on the spot healing my entire life?

This weekend changed me forever.

I cannot believe that Abraham’s provision is as far as my promise can go.

God handed me a blank check. I want the bank.