I almost missed it again this morning.  I’d skipped right through it and was two verses past it when I quite literally heard the Spirit of God whisper in my ear, “go back and read that again.”

“Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” – Proverbs 14:4 (NLT)

I’ve read this particular verse in Proverbs probably a hundred times or more and missed it every time.  After a few minutes reflecting on that verse, I was left with more questions than answers:

“What am I doing to reap a harvest for God’s kingdom?  I mean what am I REALLY doing?  Am I living in a way that reflects Christ living in me to those around me?  How dirty am I willing to get to do the work God’s called me to do?”

Planting, sowing, tilling and harvesting a crop is dirty work.  And yet, we are called to it…put here on Earth to reap a harvest for God’s kingdom…to bring Him glory in everything we do…to point the lost to Him.

“‘Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory.  It was I who created them.’” – Isaiah 43:7 (NLT)

“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)

Spoiler alert!  The lost aren’t generally in the most pristine and cleanest of places (by our standard of clean anyway).

In actuality, our first priority in reaching the lost should be in our homes.

As parents, we’re on the front lines doing battle to win the hearts and souls of our precious little ones for God.  And make no mistake moms and dads…it IS a battle.  A battle that takes place both in the spiritual realm between God’s angels and the forces of evil…and a battle that takes place in the physical realm between us and the influences a fallen world has on our children.  As we seek to hold our children close long enough to instill in them Godly character and moral truths, Satan is working overtime through the world around us.  He is working to pull them farther from our reach into a cycle of sin that can only be broken when they truly realize and accept their brokenness and complete dependence on God.

Dads, as a father of three boys and a special needs girl, I can assure you that raising kids is messy work.  I get it, I know.  It’s emotionally cluttered and chaotic…littered with drama.  Drama we don’t like and would just assume avoid every chance we get.  I mean honestly guys, who among us wouldn’t “rather be fishing”?  Fatherhood is heavy-laden with emotional turmoil and baggage that wears us down…leaves us inpatient and unkind.  It’s scary and often times traumatic.  It’s heartbreaking and gut wrenching.  It’s late nights and early mornings…with sleepless nights in between.  And that’s just the emotional side.

It’s just as physically relentless and cluttered.  You show me a dad who’s never navigated the minefield of Legos and Hot Wheels, and I’ll show you ten more with the battle scars to prove otherwise.  For the mom reading this, when you look at the living room littered with toys, the couch covered in Cheerios, the syrup-covered dining room floor, the endless loads of laundry, the kitchen sink overflowing with the day’s dishes, the bathroom you wouldn’t let a stranger use, let alone a close friend who stops by unexpectedly, the ransacked-looking bedrooms and kids running around half-dressed with bubble gum stuck in their hair…have faith that “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.”

You WILL one day wake up to a clean house with no laundry to wash, no dishes to clean, no floor to mop, no bathroom to sterilize, no toys to pick up.  No giggles to enjoy.  No children to play.  For the dad reading this.  You wanna make an impact in your kids’ lives?  Don’t let mom be the one to do all the dirty work.  Let’s man up and get in the trenches with her in managing the homestead, eh?

Because like it or not, we are right where we are called to be…whether we’ve fully accepted the role or not.

“Children are a gift from the LORD;  they are a reward from him.  Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.  How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!  He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.” – Psalm 127:3-5 (NLT)

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

Do you see it?  To get an ox to plow the field and do the work that’s hard, it has to be trained.

“It’s easier to train oxen when you start when they’re babies.  In addition to being smaller and easier to handle, you gain their trust and respect from the beginning.  They’ll trust you and your judgment just as they would trust their mother.  If you are careful in how you handle them (never abusing them, but never letting them get away with anything) they respect your dominance and will not challenge your authority when they are older and much bigger”  (excerpt from “Training Oxen: Start with Calves” by Heather Smith Thomas via http://www.countrysidemag.com)

The ox doesn’t become strong after one planting season.  It takes many seasons to develop its strength.  It has to be trained, and then only after years of training is it strong enough to do the work well.  Much like an athlete who has spent years training for his sport, the ox is stronger for having endured the training.  Likewise, our kids are being trained.

The question we have to ask ourselves as their father is, “who’s training them?”

Are we training them for the work God will soon call them to?  Or is the world training them to resist Him?  Are we preparing and equipping them for success on the front lines for God?  Or is the world preparing them to rebel against Him?

As dads, we have to be on the front lines in the mud with them (mostly figuratively, though many times literally).  We lead from the front, not the back.  To win their hearts and minds, we have to be involved.  Engaged.  Committed.  Standing steadfast and consistent.  Intentional in our actions and words.  Every. Single. Day. Without fail.  There are no breaks in fatherhood.

It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen this week, this month, or even this year.  Through many years of training, though, they will grow stronger.  They will come out the other side stronger for having endured it.  Stronger spiritually.  Fully reliant on God.  Through our consistent love (which is more than affection…it includes discipline, but that’s a note for another day), we will have reaped a harvest in our children.  A harvest that will go forth and reap another harvest when it’s their time.  The question that remains is, “how messy are we willing to get?”

What we’re called to do isn’t easy, by any definition.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.  And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.” – Galatians 6:1 (NIV)

We’re being asked to work in the mess without getting messy.  To work the field without getting any of the field on us.  To be in the dirt without getting dirty.  How is that possible, you ask?  Only by the power and grace of a God who loves us enough to get messy for us.  It’s by the blood we’re kept clean and holy.  Even when we fail.  It’s by the cross we are found pure in God’s eyes.  It’s by the Son we can do all things.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

I’m gonna go jump in the dirt.  Who’s with me?

Love,

Dad

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