“Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it and received instruction” (Prov 24:32). If we had eyes to see, the most commonplace and mundane, the most ordinary and repetitive would all serve as windows into spiritual realities. Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned long age, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
Thus it was for our friend who was out for his walk in the country. His feet took him down a road upon which, perhaps, he had not ventured before. Passing the fields of growing crops, lush with the evidence of care and order, all harbingering a future day of bounteous reaping, he was impressed with the farmers and the industry evidenced from the fields upon which he looked.
As he rounded a bend, however, a totally different field arrested his attention. Here was a vineyard that bore all the signs of neglect. If there was to be a harvest it would be an exceedingly exiguous one. He noted first that the wall was broken down. What once was kept out of the vineyard was now growing in the vineyard, side by side with the vines, choking life and robbing nourishment. There were thorns and weeds throughout. It was dry and barren, lacking water, but above all, lacking work by the owner.
The wise observer could only hazard a guess as to the cause: “A little sleep, a little slumber … so shall thy poverty come” (ch 24:33).
What lessons, other than the value of work and the poverty which comes from slothfulness, did he, and can we, draw from this? “I saw” resulted in, “I received instruction.” What can we learn?
Lesson number one is that every field needs a wall. If I am to be like “a watered garden” (Isa 58:11), having fruit for the pleasure of God, then my life will require boundaries. To the western mind inebriated with the concept of individualism and freedom, the thought of boundaries is inherently abhorrent. It all reeks of legalism and restrictions, of lives bound by Victorian rules and mores. But the onlooker learned that a garden without boundaries would be open to invasion by everything that belonged on the outside.
The lesson he learned for his own spiritual life was that self-discipline is vital but also exceedingly difficult. To say “no” to legitimate pursuits, to place the Kingdom of God first, to maintain that mindset throughout the Christian life is a worthy and demanding goal. How you apply that to friendships, occupations, career goals, hobbies, entertainment, and time management are all personal things which you must work out in the presence of God. But you must establish some boundaries.
The field also needed weeding. As believers, we need to be active in weeding things from our lives. This is not to suggest a legalistic pursuit in an attempt at “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor 7:1). It does mean we need to ask God for the grace to not only keep things out but to remove things that can hinder fruitfulness for Him. Many of us have allowed weeds to grow and to hinder the development of fruit for Him.
It is obvious that the field needs water. Perhaps the most critical factor for the farmer or vine dresser is that water will make or break the crop. Times of drought inevitably lead to times of famine if no other source of water can be supplied. Water is frequently employed as a picture of the Word of God throughout the Scriptures. We need the Word of God daily in our lives. We need it not only for its cleansing effect, but for it refreshing and renewing influence. It is our lifeline to the throne, our food for daily living, our handbook on the road to heaven. It is here that we learn more of Him; it is here we glean handfuls of truth for worship. It is from the Scriptures that we learn of ourselves and of the grace and goodness of God. We need the “water of the Word.”
The lesson learned by our wise onlooker, however, is that the one ingredient sorely lacking was work. The owner of this field was sleeping, idle, indolent, and lazy. Walls, weeding, and water all presupposed someone working in the field and performing all of these vital functions. Laziness in spiritual things does not produce likeness to Christ. “Work” is exactly that; it is work. It is not that we merit fruitfulness by our efforts, but without effort and self-discipline, it is highly unlikely we will produce much fruit from the vine. In John 15, you might rightly argue, it is the Father Who does all the work of lifting the earth-bound vine and of purging the branch which is producing fruit. But there is a responsibility of the branches – to abide in the vine.
Living in an age of mass distractions, even during a lockdown, we are easily distracted from what ought to be our priority in life. “Abiding” in the vine takes work. Each of us needs to prioritize ultimate goals and seek with God’s help to be willing to invest that work in light of the fruit.
So, we all need to open our eyes and allow all that heaven has “crammed into the earth” to educate us, to give us insights and spiritual lessons from all that is around us. Perhaps then we will be able like the wise man of Proverbs 24 to say, “I saw … and received instruction.”