If you want to accomplish anything meaningful in life, you have to learn how to work. That is the meaning of today’s unusual saying from Proverbs. Oxen are messy animals, and they require a lot of food. But farmers in ancient times needed their oxen’s strength to pull plows, thresh grain, and move stuff around in carts. Yeah, the manger or feeding trough might be clean and not need constant filling with no oxen to care for, but you also wouldn’t have nearly as big a crop and harvest without the work of those oxen. You had to sacrifice something small to get something of greater value.
So what does that ancient farming observation have to do with us today? Well, underlying this truth that seems unrelated to modern life is a universal principle: Big gains in life normally require investments of time, money, and effort. Do you want to make better grades? Then you will probably need to give up some more free time or reduce other activities in your life to allow for more time for studying and doing homework. Do you want more friends? Then you will need to spend more time and effort in being nice to people and listening to them instead of always thinking and talking about yourself. Do you want to play better and more often on your team or in the band? Then you must practice your skills more. And if you want to grow spiritually, you need to spend time studying God’s Word, believing and doing what the Bible says, and listening for God’s voice in prayer.
Like many truths in Proverbs, the concept of giving up small costs for bigger benefits is simple to understand but difficult to accept and put into practice. Why? Because we are naturally lazy and want to get something for nothing. We don’t want to sweat and toil and delay our satisfaction for days, weeks, months, or possibly years before we can enjoy a future success. But this is the biblical version of “no pain, no gain,” and it remains as true for us today as it was for farmers back then.
The Text (Proverbs 14:4)
4 Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.
Questions to Think About
1. Is there something you want to accomplish this school year that will take some or a lot of time and effort to achieve? Explain.
2. Do you hate hard work? Why or why not?
3. Can you think of a time when you really had to struggle and suffer for something you wanted but were glad in the end that you did? What happened?