One of my favorite animated movies is Toy Story. One of the classic lines in that movie comes from Buzz Lightyear when he says, “To infinity and beyond!” and then he charges up his powerpack to fly off to fight “evil”. I sort of felt like that at the end of my book launch day for Heal the Wounded , I was soaring! But the day did not start out that way.
That morning I will admit I was feeling more than a little discouraged. I suppose I had brought a lot of it on myself. I mean whenever you have spent weeks and weeks planning and getting ready for a big event, there is always a kind of let down if the day doesn’t pan out exactly as you envisioned. I had planned and prepared for my book launch of Heal the Wounded for months and to say that I was excited would have been an understatement. That is why when I opened up my computer and particularly went to the Amazon.com website that morning, I fully expected to see my book sales soaring! Instead I saw I had sold all of two books. Two books!! With my impressive royalties that translated to my making enough money to buy one cup of coffee at Tim Hortons.
Talk about discouraging. Now I know (or at least I try to tell myself) that it’s not all about selling books for me. Writing for me is a ministry. I’m called by God to write, but still for a while there that morning I really questioned God if what I was doing was really worth it. I mean what was the point of writing books if NO ONE read them? So, I wept before the Lord that morning and cried out all my frustrations to Him. It was truly the sorriest “pity party” I could throw for myself. I thought it sort of ironic in a way because it was supposed to be a day of celebration.
I told God (as if He didn’t know already) that my entire family had been neglected while I planned and promoted my book leading up to that day. I had spent the majority of my time networking, blogging, doing interviews, Facebooking, Tweeting and much more all for the sole purpose of selling my books. My house had gone weeks unvacuumed and undusted. My husband and kids had lived on take out because I was too busy to prepare them a decent meal. There were some days I had forgotten to eat, and some nights I never slept. And that morning I discovered what all my efforts had accomplished…the sale of two books! I cried to the Lord and asked, “Was all my hard work worth it?”
Then I asked God to give me a scripture to cling to for the day and I fully expected that I would get one of those “pep talk” scriptures. You know the ones like “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” or “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”. I expected God to lead me to one of those “feel good” scriptures but instead as clear as a voice in the room I heard, “Proverbs 14:4.”
I opened my Bible and read: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.”
I will admit that up until yesterday morning, I had never EVER taken any special note of that little verse of scripture. I was slightly offended, “You calling me a COW, God?” I think I could almost hear Him chuckle.
I was sure God wanted to teach me something and since I was just too dense to figure it out for myself, I decided to use a few commentaries to figure out what the verse was all about. This is what I discovered:
“Proverbs is an interesting book on the surface,” I read, “but it is not just another collection of ancient sayings. It is, rather, a collection of inspired truths in memorable and vivid forms. Proverbs covers a wide range of topics. There are proverbs concerning wealth, wisdom, friends, family, work and worldliness.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “There are pros and cons to everything”? We make decisions by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a thing. Now we might not understand this analogy of oxen and tillage because farmers today use machines for tilling the soil but in Biblical times (and even in some third world countries today) oxen are valued “tools” for farming. But when it comes to owning oxen, there are definite disadvantages. For one thing, they eat a lot. They also can be very expensive to keep and apparently using oxen for labour in the fields can be extremely time consuming. It’s also incredibly dirty work using oxen in the fields. Thus if a farmer looked at all the disadvantages, a farmer might agree that he might save himself a lot of time and expense if he did not own an ox. That said, without an ox “the manger is empty” or “clean” in other words. Without oxen there is no food needed in the feeding trough to feed the animal, but there is also no food on the farmer’s table either. Oxen provide the means necessary to till the soil and to gather in the abundant harvest later. Their cost and convenience does not compare with their overall productivity.
Solomon is not simply giving a lesson in agriculture here in Proverbs, he is stating two basic principles:
- you need the right tools for the job you need to do, and
- the cost of the right tool is worth it.
This is true for both material and spiritual work. With any kind of work in ministry or in service to others, at times the labour is hard and sometimes even dirty. There are unpleasant aspects of the job, yet it ends in profit…building the Kingdom. There will be a sure reward of that activity for him who goes, as with “the strength of the ox,” to the task to which God calls him.
Another thing I learned about oxen comes from Revelation 4:6. John’s living creatures included an ox. The ox was one of the emblems in the cherubim, and those living creatures were full of eyes, within, before and behind. Scholars liken the word “oxen” to signify “teachers”, “leaders”, “guides” and “govenors”; names which most properly belong to ministers of the Word and indicating as well “sharp-sighted”. A minister of the Word should be as laborious and unwearied as the ox. The abundant harvest of souls is the result.
Light-bulb moment. When we are called to minister in whatever capacity God assigns to us, we are to labour, work hard with diligence, and “keep on keeping on” because the effort is always worth it. We may not see the results of our labour until eternity, but we have the assurance from God that when we labour for Him, whatever the cost, the effort is always worth it.
I had no sooner understood what God was trying to tell me through scripture than I went back to my computer and clicked again on Amazon to find that my book was not just on one but TWO best seller’s lists. Not only did God encourage my efforts through scripture…He blessed them as well to prove His point! Isn’t God good?!