The book of Proverbs is filled with short sayings of wonderful wisdom. That wisdom is often portrayed as a choice or outcome between two paths: one path is wise and the other foolish. To make their point, the author often uses extreme examples. There are also plenty of If/then kinds of statements. If you do this, then this will be the outcome. These, however, should not be read as promises but as general wisdom.
Let’s consider this proverb, “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” (Proverbs 12:11, NASB95) This is not a promise about bread, but a general observation of wisdom. A reminder that reward follows meaningful work. A field will not produce a harvest on its own. And, as every farmer knows, there are many factors and risks between plowing and harvest that can reduce or destroy the crop.
And what about those who live in the city and don’t have any land to till? Does this proverb leave them out? Through the lens of generalized wisdom, this proverb applies to all. It questions what we choose to spend our time on and the “fruit” of that time. Going to work or running a business has the capacity for a fruitful outcome. Spending our days watching the clouds go by? Not so much.
The stark choice of this proverb points to a strong work ethic, of seeking to do that which is productive. But that’s where the proverbs can leave us with a wrong impression. Work is meaningful and necessary. But God also ordained times of rest and of celebration. What this proverb doesn’t consider is the necessary balance between work, life, and rest.
That balance is not always easy to find or maintain. If work unbalances the labor of parenting, then the heart of a youngster isn’t being tilled. The lessons of life are not being planted. So we must consider that we have more than one kind of field to farm, more than one harvest to enjoy. Marriage is a field. So is parenthood. Our neighbors and community are fields. And there are many more beyond that.
Now, let’s take this a step farther. The obvious application is work but could this proverb also apply to the fruit of following Jesus? I think so. Are we plowing our soul with God’s Word? Are we leaning into the wind of the Holy Spirit? Or are we pursuing fringe spiritual issues that seem important but are fruitless? Are we pursuing religious activity or seeking a relationship with Jesus? Fruit will follow if we allow God to plow our hearts, but little will be gained through busyness framed with religion and spirituality.
Neither does the harvest immediately follow the first turning of the soil. There are many steps between the plow and the bread. In the context of farming, these occur over a known span of time, about four months for wheat. Time and patience are hidden but present factors in this proverb. In the context of those other fields mentioned above, it could take a lifetime of labor before the harvest is ready. We may invest more time and energy than we could possibly imagine before we see the fruits of that labor. But, without the effort, there will be no harvest at all.
Today’s encouragement is simply this. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what in your life is fruitful and which is folly. The answer may surprise you. Not all work is fruitful nor all leisure folly. If you are feeling unbalanced in work, life, and rest, ask Jesus for His guidance. Some things may require pruning back, while other activities may require determined effort. But above all, remember to also allow God to plow your own heart and cultivate your relationship with and in Christ.