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A Messy Manger – By Pastor/Elder Paul Linzmeier

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Do you ever find yourself struggling through a day, knowing your heart is not quite where it should be and you think to yourself, “I’ll get to that later.” Then, when you sit down and open the Word, BAM! a gut punch; your heart is exposed. It’s a good thing called sanctification, and a recent moment for me was on a day I had “lots to do” trying to bring orderliness to the mess at my house and for every step I was seeking to move forward I was set back two (so it seemed) because of the busy activity and needs of my family. “Daddy can you play?” “Honey, can you help me move this to the storage room?” “Dad, I need a band-aid!” “Where is my favorite frisbee, Dad?” “Can you get these Lego pieces apart?” “My shoe keeps coming untied.”  “What do you want for dinner this week?” And the list goes on.  All these “interruptions,” (or so I thought) to my desire to tidy up the home were bringing irritation, impatience, and frustration out of my heart because everything was a mess and with all the commotion in the home I couldn’t get anything done! Have you ever been there?

Then the Lord had me turn to His word and I was reading along in Proverbs until one verse pricked my heart. (ESV) Proverbs 14:4—“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Without oxen in the manger the farmer will not be able to sow his crops and bring in a harvest of grain. Sure he could have a neat and tidy manger if he wanted, but the implication is that a clean manger means an empty manger, and an empty manger means no harvest, and no harvest means ruin for the farmer. A clean manger will incur loss for not only the farmer, but he will also have nothing to sell or share or to feed the rest of his animals. The manger is meant to be filled and used, and his most important duty is not the clean manger but to labor with his ox in the field for a good harvest.

We may not all be farmers, but to each person a manger is given to steward. This proverb of wisdom applies to us all with or without children, single or married, young or old.  As good stewards of the grace we have been given in Christ Jesus, we are to put to good use His gifts and the Word of God to care for the people and relationships we have been entrusted with as we walk out the ministry of the gospel. Often we selfishly want to keep what we have untouched or preserved, lest its value be depleted or we incur undue loss in the stress and sacrifice of the labor. Yet the very purpose we have been given life in Christ and any gift of the Spirit is so that it would be given back and put into use for the Lord’s ministry for an eternal spiritual harvest; that is that Christ would be known, believed, and treasured by more and more.

The Word warns us not to be stained by worldliness where we are tempted to live to preserve and build our mangers into pristine castles that are spiritually empty and fruitless. There is not true life in a clean manger. Yes, no life and no ministry labor means no mess, no stress, no chores, no fixing, but no life means no harvest and great loss.

Another aspect of this proverb is the ox itself. The most valuable item in a farmer’s manger is his strong ox. Without it he can do very little. So his duty is to bring his ox into the field and work the land to plant and harvest the grain. It comes at some cost as there is work to be done in the manger but the sacrifice is good. As believers we have something stronger and more valuable than an ox; we have the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ in us, and we are called to get out in our field and plant.

Are we living with our calling in mind to labor with the Word of God, pouring into the lives of those around us? Sure it’s easier to just sit back and enjoy a stress-free, mess-free, sacrifice-free life, but of what value eternally is that?

This proverb helped me examine what my heart intention was that day. Two things I was reminded of: one, though I wanted my “manger” to be clean, neat and tidy, it kept getting messy from all the people living in it.  I was forgetting the bigger perspective that the messiness of a full manger is a part of the work of ministry to bring about a good harvest. Secondly, my most important work and primary ministry, especially as a husband and father, begins in my home not making a clean manger but as a good steward, caring for the souls that have been entrusted to me and getting out in my field with my ox (Word of God) and keep sowing seeds of truth and life for a good harvest.

We know that abundant crops come by the Lord’s blessing alone, so may we labor in hope, diligently, faithfully, prayerfully, and in thankfulness even in the messy manger, knowing that the Lord will bear His good fruit in and through us for an eternal harvest to the glory and praise of His name.

Laboring in the messiness of ministry with you,



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