Perfection

Proverbs 14:4 Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”

We all have areas where we are a bit obsessive.

Because of the COVID-19 virus, we have all been more obsessive about our hygiene and cleanliness. 

Some are fastidious about their appearance, their home, their health, or their finances. If anything were to be out of place, we might be a bit unsettled, or some might have significant anxiety.

Clinically, they call it OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. While I do not wish to diminish any problems some may experience, I was struck with a thought today when I read this in my devotions. 

The picture it paints is one of cleanliness. But, if any of us have ever visited or worked on a farm, you know it is anything but clean. Any good farmer knows that there is a considerable amount of work that is needed to keep cleanliness and order to operate correctly.

Stalls need to be cleaned daily. Animals washed if they are to be raised for slaughter and consumption. If any part of the operation is compromised or infected, it is often assumed that the whole has been infected and there will be much waste as a result.

Life has a way of imitating that as well.

If I see what someone portrays as a squeaky clean life, I begin to question where they hide the messy bits. That is what the writer of Proverbs is trying to teach.

If you have no ox, it is easy to keep everything clean. But, when you have an ox, there are certain assets and liabilities to owning one. That ox may plow your field and haul bulky items that otherwise would seem impossible. Yet, that same ox needs to be feed, housed and leaves quite a sizable mess as a result.

Our lives seemingly parallel this thought.

We can do everything to try to look good on the outside, but in the tasks of everyday life, a good manicure, toned muscles, or full bank account or social calendar will do nothing to prepare you for the storms of life ahead.

Much of the uncertainty we face comes with biblical principles as our guide. If we do not apply them correctly, we enter the school of ‘trial and error.’ We try this, and if it doesn’t work, we try something else. 

In the Christian life, we can make the outside look good for a time, but our true nature comes out when we hit a bump in the road, or a storm enters our life.

“Crisis reveals character.”

It also reveals where a saved child of God places their trust. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

If we expect to be perfect or act perfect, we will be sadly and grossly disappointed. If our expectations go unmet, we will begin to criticize the one we feel is responsible. We start a process of gathering evidence to support why we’re hurt and the wound we’ve sustained. Pretty soon, we’ve built a case against the ones in our life that are supposed to help us, not hurt us.

After thirty years since becoming a child of God, I have come to the realization – Man will let me down.

From my pastor to the staff. From the deacons to my teachers. From my parents to my family, friends, and neighbors. Even those closest to me will, at some point in my life, let me down. 

They will fail. They will fail to call when I am in need. They will be silent when I want them to speak. They will be absent when I need their presence most. At times, it just seems like an enormously big mess.

Some try to get satisfaction by affixing blame. Some want revenge or justice. Others will utterly distance themselves thinking to remove the opportunity of ever be hurt again. In any case, God wants us, His children, to get along. 

The dynamic of human relationships is far more complicated – even spiritually – than can be remedied here. I do want to share just a small thought using the imagery given in our text today.

Wherever we find ourselves in our present-day relationships, we must expect that there will always be a time when I can and will be hurt by those I love and respect. What we do after the hurt will tell just how good a Christian we’ve become.

Having forgiveness in ready when I am offended means no matter what you’ve done, I can and will forgive you. Forgiveness does not mean I am releasing you from guilt, reparation, or utterly forgetting. It does not mean I won’t take steps to guard my heart against hurting or being hurt.

Mostly, what we do after the mess largely depends on a few things.

  1. How deeply we’re hurt
  2. How close the person who hurt is to us
  3. Can I allow God to take me beyond what I see and understand

Because we cannot refrain from living this thing called “life,” we must learn how to deal with the mess it makes. I look at a remarkable statement Jesus made while on the cross.

Luke 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”

Forgive the very ones who condemned Him and crucified Him? How can I ever expect to have that kind of forgiveness? I must be dead to myself to do so.

Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

I can be offended. Dead men cannot. 

So, then, it must be Christ that forgives through me. I must remove myself from allowing the wounds to dictate my judgment. Too often, we feel we’ll be satisfied with revenge or justice. God asks that we apply mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

I know that I cannot be perfect. But I have found that through Jesus, I can.

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