Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14:4
Think of the things you are most proud of in life, the things that have brought you the most joy and satisfaction. Maybe it was that degree, crossing the finishing line of that race, that personal project you finally put the finishing touches on, that family or romantic relationship, that promotion, or that fitness goal you finally reached.
Now stop and consider this, all of these either took a lot of effort to attain or take a lot of effort to sustain. The good things in life are messy. Working out is messy. Eating healthy is inconvenient. Healthy relationships demand self-surrender. Long-term goals require discipline.
Proverbs 14:4 reminds us that fruit in our life doesn’t come from the clean, picture-perfect life we often subconsciously desire. I’m sure the hypothetical farmer in Proverbs 14:4 would have much rather installed that jacuzzi room instead of the manger for the oxen. Yet, he possessed the wisdom to look down the road and see he desired crops even more than comfort, so he housed the oxen. Despite the animals’ smells, the space they took up, the daily care they required; he understood the mess was his ticket to his ultimate goal.
Work (aka: discipline, self-denial, effort, trust, sacrifice, etc.) was always in God’s plan for us as humans. Adam and Eve were destined to cultivate and grow the garden of Eden well before sin came into the picture. Yet, in the midst of all that “work”, they were simultaneously designed to thrive and have endless joy.
If this is true, then the first work we have to do is in the renewing of our minds. It’s to change the narratives in our head that we’d automatically find joy if things in our life would be less complicated or come easier to us… if our mangers were clean. Instead, we need to ask God to help us joyfully work as we keep our eyes on the fruit we hope to reap.
In fact, it’s in the messiness and the process of reaching our goals that we are changed.
Oh, and especially coming out of Easter, let’s remember Jesus endured a messy manger so that we could reap something in abundance: life.