Friday, March 20, 2015

The messy business of faith (March 20)

Where there are no oxen, the feeding trough is empty, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox. (Proverbs 14:4 HCSB)

If you want your stables to be clean and spotless, get rid of your oxen. But if you want a big harvest, then be ready to deal with the mess, the maintenance, the labor, the time and care that owning an ox requires. Big harvests are worth the effort.

Christians can have a very misguided image of the process of receiving blessings. This proverb teaches that it’s as messy and tiresome as bringing in a physical harvest — God made it that way. Sometimes the process requires some serious repenting, repairing damaged relationships, making personal sacrifices, consistently wrestling in prayer, risking reputations and friendships to do what’s right, and battling against demonic thoughts that God’s answer will never come. And sometimes in the middle of our struggle, we realize that we're not getting it right and have to readjust our efforts and refocus our faith.  

Some people don't like the idea of having to fight against demons at all. They want an EZ Tag to zip through problems without much effort, just a few whispered prayers and some good deeds to earn their blessings. Even those of us who do understand that we're in a spiritual battle, still hope for clean, simple victories, but it’s during the fight that we learn the most. Those times when we try, then feel like giving up, but try again anyway, are the moments when we're seeking God more than ever. When we think we're really doing well spiritually and then a problem knocks us down, we realize that we weren't as strong as we'd hoped, but that’s when a new light shines in our spirits and reveals what we need to change to be truly strong. Without stumbling and making messes, we'd never mature, we'd never learn.  

Traditional depictions of Moses, Abraham, Elijah and the disciples in stained glass windows, sculptures and paintings make them appear so holy and otherworldly. But the truth is they were all men, just like us. They wanted their harvest, and they knew they needed the “strength of their oxen.” They needed to plunge themselves into risky and messy situations and be ready to change course whenever God commanded, but allow the power of God to flow through them unhampered.  Had they preferred a nice tidy life, they'd see no harvest.  Thankfully they weren't concerned about themselves but about the business of serving God.

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