“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (Proverbs 14:4).
As usual, the Proverbs demand a choice. Which do you prefer: a clean manger or abundant crops? The proverb teaches that you cannot have both.
The ox served as a machine for farming work during biblical times. Therefore abundant crops came when one used oxen. And where oxen are, there you’ll find messy mangers. So which do you prefer? What do you want more? The clean manger or the abundant crops?
But put the question in your modern setting. What are your abundant crops? Perhaps you long to see healthy relationships with your children. Perhaps you long to see revival break out in your church. Perhaps it is spiritual growth you seek. A strong marriage, a solid career, deep friendships, financial flexibility, a missional life, and fruitful ministries are all versions of “abundant crops.”
But what are your clean mangers? Perhaps you like everything just so. You don’t want to be bothered, inconvenienced in any way. You don’t want the hassle that comes with developing a relationship. You don’t want to the confrontation that comes with spiritual growth. You want peace and quiet and rest. You want a clean life, a life without difficulty or mess. Everyone, to one degree or another, likes the clean manger.
So what do you want more, the abundant crops or the clean manger? Can God inconvenience you? Can He push you outside your comfort zone? Will you allow the messy oxen of life into your peaceful world? Do an “I would rather have” exercise before the Lord. Tell Him about all the things you — the deepest, truest you — want more than comfort and cleanness. List them out. Here are some of mine.
I would rather have open doors to proclaim God’s word than a completely predictable calendar. For me, a nice weekly rhythm helps me get so much done. I love it. For me, the predictable calendar is often the clean manger. It is how I get a lot of work done. But when I say yes to a missions trip or speaking engagement my calendar is disrupted. But I would rather have abundant crops than a clean manger, so I would rather have the open doors than the predictable calendar.
I would rather have a devoted and passionate church staff than a professional and dull one. For me, professional people are great to work with, and I hope and pray every person I work with continues to grow, but the reality is that church work is raw work. Sometimes professionalism has to take a back seat to passion and guts. Young men and women are developing their skills as they serve our local church. I would rather have abundant crops than a clean manger, so I would rather have a passionate team than a stagnant one.
I would rather have a growing church than a church that has arrived. After ten years, I am used to the size, the expectations, and my role in our fellowship. But I would rather have the abundant fruit of spiritual and numerical growth, the planting of churches, and the raising up of the next generation of church leadership, so I refuse to become complacent in my current state. I would rather have abundant crops than a clean manger, so I will lead towards growth on all levels of our church.
The decision is yours. Do you want abundant crops? Or do you want a clean manger?