Where there are no oxen, the manger is
but abundant crops come by the
strength of the ox. (proverbs 14:4)
Four chapters of proverbs, one hundred and twenty-one maxims of Solomon to choose from, and I settle on this. The observation seems quite straightforward. If you want to produce an abundant crop, you’ll need an ox, and if you have an ox you’ll also have a bit of shoveling to do in the stable. On the other hand if your stable is clean, it’s evidence not only of your lack of an ox, but also your lack of an abundant crop. The reader’s of these proverbs were not dunces, this is not new news to them. The listener is asked to meditate on the point of the proverb in order to draw out the broader application.
- Our house is often a wreck. There is clear evidence of teenagers living in our home. This is what God has blessed us with. Over the years, the fingerprints, stained carpets, broken windows, lost tools, dented car fenders have really bothered me. As I reflect now, I can see it is all well worth the potential of an “abundant crop.”
- Being the hands and feet of Jesus as we serve the poor, the prisoner, the orphan and the widow will not leave us with soft, well-manicured hands or clean feet. From the body that serves out of a pure heart, God brings forth an abundant crop.
- Personal transformation is also a messy process. Inviting Christ in to rearrange and reorder our lives can be frightening, and messy. Christ wants to open all the doors of our hearts, to reveal the skeletons and breathe life into death. The divorce, the abuse, the addiction, and the shame – has anyone been immune to the wreckage of a fallen world? Christ’s healing work in us always brings forth an abundant crop.
- Ministry sometimes can be the messiest of all. Broken people working alongside broken people in an attempt to model Christ to the world… whose idea was this?! As church-goers we are often tempted to shift our focus to “clean stables” – that is, looking good or polished, acting properly, and following all the rules, while losing sight of the real mission –allowing Christ to work in us as He advances His Kingdom on earth.
God through Solomon is telling us quite simply and clearly – if we want an abundant crop, we must be willing to deal with the mess that comes with producing it. When we see the fruit of our labor, we will find that dealing with the “crap” in the stable was well worth the effort.
Lord, strengthen me for the work at hand. Help me be willing to work with a pure heart and comfortable in the ensuing dust. Raising children interactively is not easy, serving is not always visibly rewarding, inviting You in to rip off the scabs of my heart doesn’t seem prudent, and ministry is often messy work that screams, “pull back, pull back, this is too risky, you’ll only get hurt… ” Lord, is my discomfort, my pain, my choosing to walk in to risk and danger really worth the crop it may produce? Maybe. But without the mess can anything abundant be produced at all?
From the archives. Originally published July 23, 2009.