I love to read Proverbs. Daily, I try to read a chapter from Proverbs that coincides with the date of the month. It is a habit I learned from my beautiful bride, Suzanna. Beyond being a well of wisdom, it is a useful tool for keeping discipleship in the forefront of my life. We all need discipleship. I figure being discipled by Solomon’s writings is a great way to start the day.
One of my favorite scriptures in Proverbs 14: 4. It states, “The only clean stable is an empty stable. So if you want the work of an ox and to enjoy an abundant harvest, you’ll have a mess or two to clean up!” (The Passion Translation)
Isn’t that Scripture insightful? It is plain enough that even I can understand it, and it is deep enough that I can ponder on this Scripture weekly. And I do.
I mull over it a lot because if you know something about me, I love a clean space, but I HATE cleaning. My shared office is a perfect example. I will often tell the team, “Guys, we need to keep this place clean,” but when it comes to the actual cleaning part of the job, I’d rather do anything else. Let me fellowship or teach or … anything. But to clean — no thank you. It feels like a waste of time. As my kids say about their beds: “Why clean it when you are just going to make it messy in a couple of hours?”
This Scripture is metaphoric, so don’t think that this blog is going to be about keeping your house clean. (I mean, if cleanliness really was next to godliness, He would have created the earth with marble floors and AstroTurf.)
The truth is, I ponder this Proverb often because it reveals why I often have little to show for all the work I do. Let me tell you a story that illustrates the truth of this Scripture in my life.
A few years back, I was in charge of holding a missionary benefit dinner. It was my first big event and, to be honest, my leadership skills were strong in serving and weak in empowering and delegating. When I took on the project, I was the only person on the team. My boss (my father) did not do the leg work for me and assign people to the project. That was my job.
I had to accomplish a very long list of to-do’s. I needed to decide on a theme, decorate the sanctuary, prepare a buffet-style meal for the attendees, as well as provide an interactive experience, and much more. I had to do all of this while encouraging everyone to give their hard-earned money to support missionaries they have never met.
I set out with a lot of excitement. I had already envisioned what this dinner would be like. It was to be an island-themed dinner, with a massive volcano in the sanctuary, actors to perform skits, delicious food, and a moving speech on the need to spread the gospel around the world. To speak metaphorically, I surveyed the land, and saw how I was going to harvest.
And, in my head, the harvest was going to be plenty. But there was an underlying issue that had to be exposed in my life—one that goes back to that Proverbs about the messy stable. I would rather do the work all on my own than have to deal with the mess of other people working on my project. If you’ve ever worked alongside others on a group project — or maintained a relationship with another human being for more than a day — you know that people will always be messy. ALWAYS.
I worked my tail off that month. I made the massive 13-foot-high volcano on my own. I created the skits on my own. I even started to make the dinner on my own. Thankfully, for everyone who showed up, my wife forced herself into the food situation.
In hopes of not having to deal with people’s mistakes, people’s opinions, people’s attitudes and…well, the mess of people, I took on all of the work by myself. (Minus the skits, but if I could have done a multi-person performances on my own, I would have.)
The day of the performance came, and while I knew there were areas where I had dropped the ball — I didn’t promote the event well, nor were the decorations as elaborate as I had planned — I figured for a mostly-solo job, I had done pretty well. I patted myself on the back and waited for evening to come. I just knew it was going to be a blast.
Except it wasn’t. Within half an hour into the event, it was clear, the night was a bust. A total bust.
It was the least-attended missionary benefit dinner we had ever held. We raised the least amount of money we have ever raised for missionaries. And my hosting skills were less than subpar since I had spent the entire day tiring myself out managing every detail of the event.
In other words, I had little harvest for all the work I did. And, boy, was that discouraging. I have yet to do another missionary benefit dinner since that night.
I know the problem, and I think by now you do, too: I had little harvest because I was more concerned about the stable in my life than the actual harvest. By not having other people — with their opinions, drama, attitudes, etc — involved, I protected my “stable,” but stunted any potential growth.
As you can see, the Proverb is tested and true in my life. If my goal is to have as few messes as possible to clean, I know that I can do things on my own. But if I want to have a great harvest, and to leave a great impact, I need to become a leader and a team member who understands that working with people is messy but it is the only way to bring about a great harvest.
What areas in your life are not reaping a great harvest? What areas in your life could have a better outcome if you just asked for help or ideas? Maybe there are things in your life that you are putting a lot of hard work into and finding that the harvest is small. You may never have hosted a missionary benefit dinner, but where in your own life have you kept people at bay to ensure a mess-free life? Can I encourage you today? I think we all want to have a great harvest. So grab your gloves, and call your church friends and family and ask for help. I promise you will have to clean up some messes by involving others, but the harvest will be worth it!
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