Shovelling Out the Barn

The book of Proverbs is my favourite book of the Bible because of its intensely practical nature. Often it communicates profound truths in simple, one-sentence analogies. Proverbs 14:4, one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible, is one such example. It states:

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”

At first glance this may not seem particularly interesting or inspiring. Yet it explains a lot of what life is really like. The point of this verse is that hard and unpleasant work is part of living a productive, abundant life. Consider the farmer who is behind the story of Proverbs 14:4. He is a simple man wanting to make his way in the world. He needs to provide for himself (and his family if he has one), and to do so he will need crops to eat and sell. Realizing this, he acquires an ox to plow the fields for him. Seems easy enough, right?

Yet what the farmer notices next is that the ox requires a lot of maintenance. He must be fed and not soon later makes quite a stinky mess in the barn! So, the farmer must work hard to maintain his ox, keep a clean and sanitary barn, so that the ox will help him produce the abundant crops he desires.

This is the basic point of the proverb: abundance comes at the cost of hard labour. Too many people wish to have “abundant crops” without putting in the effort it takes to get it. We want riches without having to earn it, a spouse without having to make personal sacrifices, a job without having to inconvenience us, a car without all the attached maintenance, and the list goes on. This is often true of young people early in life, who look at older folks and want that kind of life without realizing it took that person 30 years to get there. The pursuit of many people are for shortcuts to get them further ahead in life by benefiting from the work other people have invested.

Proverbs 14:4 reminds us that life does not work this way. God has designed it so that we must humble ourselves, be willing to work hard and get dirty, and make an honest living all to his glory and our joy. The truth is that earning money takes hard work, loving a spouse takes self-sacrifice, working a job is inconvenient, and owning a car requires extra maintenance. In short, the ox you desire to make you happier will also make life messy. The point is not to run like a coward from the hard work life throws at you, nor is it to try and find every shortcut to make things easier; rather, the point is to know that everything worth anything requires something, and we should be willing to pay the cost and put in the hard work in order to reap the rewards. Pick up your shovel and start cleaning out your barn.

For reflection:

  • In what areas of my life am I neglecting to put in the hard work to see it flourish? (Ex. faith, relationships, work, studies, health, ministry)
  • What causes me to be lazy or fearful of working hard in these areas?
  • Take a moment to repent of your sin and ask God for help and strength to take on the responsibilities you should.
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