No Mess, No Mission

by Pastor Anthony Pranno

Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty. Proverbs 14:4

Most Proverbs are easy to understand. You can let your eyes scan up and down the pages of the book of Proverbs and you’ll see that they are pretty straightforward and direct with sage advice normally attributed to King Solomon. However, this one should make you think for a minute about what Solomon is telling us.

Imagine yourself an ancient farmer. Your mission is to reap an abundant harvest and make money. You decide to build a brand-new barn on your farm. You pick out a large, flat parcel of land, you have the best wood and other building materials, and you recruit the best carpenters, then you get to work. Day after day you work on building the barn until it is finished. It’s perfect… just the way you envisioned it. 

You open the doors of the barn and you see several stables designed for your livestock. In each stable you have a manger: a trough in which feed for livestock is placed. Each manger is perfectly crafted. You can smell the freshly cut wood and the workmanship is undeniable. You’re proud of the entire barn and you really like these finely crafted mangers.

Then it hits you… the mangers are clean because there are no oxen. In fact, the entire barn looks and smells great (right now) but when you start bringing in the livestock, things are going to get messy. You realize that there’s a price for a clean manger… no oxen, but you also realize that without oxen you cannot complete your mission, plowing fields, reaping the harvest and making a living.

This Proverb is a lot like the little story I’ve asked you to imagine. The moral of the story: no Mess, no Mission.

What does the manger represent in contemporary times? Your family? Your place of work? Your neighborhood? Our church? When we talk about messy mangers, we’re not really referencing cleanliness… we are talking about the relational messes that we get into.

The mess of a barn and a manger was dung, hay, spilled water, dirt, mud and odor. Anyone who has ever stepped into a working barn and experienced the sights and smells knows that it can be pretty messy. Messiness in the manger is a prerequisite for a farm that will be fruitful and productive.

Think about the life and ministry of Jesus:

  • A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched Jesus on his cloak
  • A man covered with leprosy fell at Jesus’ feet and begged to be made clean
  • Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law a “brood of vipers” and “whitewashed tombs!”
  • A blind man shouted over those who were rebuking him “Son of David, have pity on me!”
  • A demon-possessed man begged Jesus to be cast into a herd of pigs
  • Jesus said to Peter, his most trusted disciple, “Get behind me Satan; you are a stumbling block to me!”
  • A prostitute crashed a dinner, fell at Jesus feet, wept on his feet and dried his feet with her hair
  • A group of men cut a hole in the roof of a house and lowered their friend down on a mat in front of Jesus so he could heal him
  • One of Jesus closest followers betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver

And, oh yes, one more… Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Sounds like a mess to me… but it was a beautiful mess. Something about the unpredictability and awkward situations surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus made him the most attractive and powerful man who ever walked the face of the earth. Always remember that things don’t have to be pretty to be perfect. Expect a few setbacks, a few challenges, and a few messes to clean up. After all… no mess, no mission.

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