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(May 2) The Manger of Ministry -- part 3 in the series on Proverbs 14:4

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

We continue our look at how to apply this unusual, but helpful proverb. Let's take a moment to consider what we have already covered. This simple yet profound statement refers to a man who worked his fields. He has grown weary of the mess that comes with having oxen. The work, the responsibility, and the smell have become a burden. The landowner can get rid of the oxen. If he does, the manger will be much cleaner. He will gain some free time and his place will look and smell much better. Getting rid of the oxen isn't a bad idea until he needs to do the work that leads to abundant crops.

So, the principle is clear: There are things in life that are messy, but they are worth it because of the value they bring to our lives.

Part 1 -- The Manger of Marriage

We first looked at the truth that marriage has its challenges, but when it is God's will for you to be married, the difficulty is worth it. You can read that devotional here.

Part 2 -- The Manger of Parenthood

Having children will not be easy. Raising them will not be cheap. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it now costs a middle-income family in America an average of $233,610 to raise a child...and that does NOT include college. The high cost is superseded, however, by the even higher joy of raising your children to walk with the Lord. You can read the devotion on parenting here.

Let's now look at Part 3 -- The Manger of Ministry

Let's consider a young couple...we will call them Tony and Mary. They are in their early thirties and faithfully attend their church. The Children's Pastor approaches them about teaching third grade Sunday School. Tony and Mary talk about it and decide to commit to the ministry of teaching.

They enter the classroom on their first Sunday with a mixture of excitement and fear. They are genuinely eager to teach children about Jesus, but they are a bit nervous about whether or not they are up for such a task.

The first few Sundays go well. The children listen more than they don't and the parents of their students seem genuinely grateful for Tony and Mary's ministry.

And then...

They start to notice a lot of their friends at church that are their age miss a lot of Sundays. Nothing bad keeps the others away -- just real life. Their friends miss to go to kids ballgames, weekend shopping trips, and maybe sleep in on a rainy Sunday morning. Tony and Mary occasionally begin to grumble at how they can never miss because there are children counting on them to be in Sunday School. They have tried to get substitutes, but it gets discouraging being turned down too many times.

As the weeks go on, they notice some of the kids in their class begin missing Sunday School. Tony and Mary are prepared every single week, but their attendance fluctuates. Some Sundays the children's parents drop them off late and they have missed half the lesson. Other weeks their class is quite small. More and more it seems the children talk and fidget more than they listen. Regardless, one thing is a constant. Tony and Mary prepare each Sunday to teach whoever shows up.

Something else is happening more frequently. When Sunday School is over, parents are getting later and later picking up their children. Tony and Mary cannot leave the children by themselves, and so they are late getting into the sanctuary for worship service most Sundays. They deal with multiple headaches a week but receive very few words of appreciation.

So, the question is a fair one: Why in the world would anyone agree to teach children's Sunday School? High demands and high responsibility are yielding few "thank you's" and even less visible fruit from their labor. As they take stock of their ministry, the stench of the oxen is everywhere. They have become well-acquainted with the mess ministry can bring.

Then, one Sunday in the Spring, after teaching the lesson on the crucifixion, one of their children in class begins to ask questions about sin. The child inquires about why Jesus died and what it means to know Him as Savior. As Tony and Mary begin to answer the questions, they notice a look of brokenness come over the little face of the one asking the questions. When class is finished, a tiny hand tugs at the shirt of Tony and says, "I am a sinner. I believe that Jesus died for me and I would like to ask Christ to forgive me and become my Lord and Savior."

It is at that very moment that Tony and Mary realize the same principle that the married couple learned after a rough patch of marriage. It is in that instant they understood the same principle parents have figured out after walking through a particularly stressful season of raising their children: There are things in life that are messy, but they are worth it because of the value they bring to our lives.

What about you? Have you ever wondered if it is worth it to teach that class? Ever contemplated the value of praying over the church prayer list week after week? Maybe you have considered quitting greeting at your door or pondered dropping out of your area of ministry because the mess seems so, well...messy. It may be that as you have reviewed your family's finances you look at the money you give to the Lord through your local church and begin to think, "What could we do for ourselves if we didn't give so much?" Ah yes, the manger of ministry.

But, hang in there and remember:

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men" (Colossians 3:23)

"And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

Simply put, there are no clean mangers when it comes to ministry, but so much good comes from serving people in the name of Jesus. So continue to deal with the messy manger while on earth, for when you enter into heaven, the manger will be replaced with never-ending joy and the earthly frustration will give way to eternal treasures. The ancient writer had it right when he said, "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox."

Part 4 on Thursday, May 3 -- The Manger of Friendship


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