Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)
A couple of you had good comments last week, so I decided to dig into it further.
One commentary said the verse means that sometimes in order to have growth, you need to have mess. That made me think of a church auditorium all spotlessly clean the people file in on Sunday morning. But then after church, there are leftover remains of bulletins/worship programs, candy wrappers, wadded-up tissue. Bibles and visitor cards are askew in the hymnal racks. Sure, someone has to clean it up and cleaning isn’t that much fun – especially the wadded-up tissue part. (Though reading the notes people – especially teenager-type people – wrote and left behind can be fun. Did I ever tell you about the time I collected a bunch of them and printed them in the church news letter? Now THAT was REALLY fun.)
Another commentary talked in detail about the verse and said that the proverb is about corn. If you don’t plow, plant, cultivate and harvest, you won’t have results.
A third commentary said the verse is talking about investing in the right tools for the job. You can farm without the oxen, but can do it so much better with the oxen.
Three different takes on the same verse, but at the same time – the same take. Willingness to put effort into something, even if that something is incredibly difficult and messy (and sometimes takes money), is what produces results.
Whenever I think of this verse, I think of a mother-daughter banquet where I was invited to be the speaker.
Speaking at churches where you don’t know anyone is an unknown factor. Sometimes people do everything they can to make you feel comfortable and welcomed, but other times they treat you like you’re part of the furniture. Literally. As in we have our food, the podium, the decorations and the speaker and our work is done.
I knew little about this church. I drove down to it by myself. I let myself in, walked by several women who were engaged in conversation and finally found a room with several tables set up for dinner. Everything was perfectly spotless. I picked out someone who looked like she was in charge and told her who I was.
“Oh,” she led me to a seat. “You sit right here.”
I sat. The lady walked away. I sat by myself for several minutes watching other ladies wander in and sit down, busily chatting with each other. Since I was at the speaker’s table, I was in front of everyone and it was all rather awkward, sitting there by myself staring at the ladies facing me. I did notice as more and more seats were taken that most of these banquet guests seemed more of the mother variety, than the daughter variety. (Although I realize every mother is a daughter.) But there were NO young girls. I mean younger than 25.
I took the time to study my surroundings. Pink table clothes, pink plates, pink flowers and two very obviously-placed posters on the wall – that I could tell were permanent fixtures.
The posters were identical to each other. They said:
RULES FOR CHILDREN
1. NO RUNNING
2. NO LOUD TALKING
3. NO LOUD LAUGHING
4. NO PUSHING
5. NO HITTING
That was just the first of 10 rules, the last five I can’t remember but they seemed like reiterations of the first 5.
The in-charge lady came back and sat down next to me and started going through her official-looking mother/daughter banquet notes.
I decided to play a mental game. If someone told me to list those rules for the kids, how would I change them around so they could be positive?
1. WE’RE THANKFUL WE HAVE AN AWANA CIRCLE TO RUN ON …
Wait a minute! They DID have an Awana Circle. I was literally sitting on it. A conversation starter! “Oh,” I said to in-charge lady, “you have Awana?” (I didn’t work at Awana at that point and had no personal investment, but knew enough …)
“No,” she said. “We used to, but not anymore. For some reason we can’t get any kids to come.”
Duh! (They also didn’t have any daughters under the age of 25.)
And that church is what I think of when I think of this verse. “Children, we have programs for you at our church, BUT IF YOU HAPPEN TO SHOW UP, we don’t want you ACTUALLY behaving like a kid. We don’t want to put forth the effort to prepare for you or clean up after you. But if you come and sit perfectly still in our perfectly-clean chairs, you can come.”
I’m sure there were good people in that church. The banquet went fine. They had great food and entertainment.
But it all made me sad.
What are our priorities?
Do we care about the scuff marks from someone’s shoes or the condition of someone’s heart?