Question: Would you rather be organized or rich?

To answer the question requires: (1) A sense of priority – which is more important? (2) An understanding of the risks involved. (3) A willingness to trade one thing for another.

People who deal in financial analysis and decision-making face these choices every day.

One Old Testament text addresses this very question: Proverbs 14.4 says, “Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox.”

This proverb illustrates a common farming decision. In biblical times, owning oxen would be like owning a tractor today – it was a huge advantage. It involved additional costs but was generally considered worth the risks for the sake of extra revenue. Most farmers would gladly trade a clean manger (or stable or barn) without oxen for a smelly, messy barn with oxen. More oxen meant more crops which meant more income.

The application to business is obvious. Businesses constantly must decide about the maintaining and upgrading hardware, software, offices, furnishings, equipment, factories, fleets, and a thousand other things. It’s all about risks and rewards. 

A broader application is to the stewardship of our blessings. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25.14-30) teaches that when we’re entrusted with blessings – money, possessions, abilities, time, opportunities, relationships – we have a God-given duty to invest in them and grow in them. We must weigh the priorities, risks, and tradeoffs to properly evaluate and make good choices. Growth is the expectation.

An even broader application is to our personal growth. At a surface level, Proverbs 14.4 is about growing one’s business. At a deeper level, it’s about any kind of growth: spiritual, relational, educational, vocational, or financial. To grow requires prudent risk-taking and pushing ourselves beyond our normal limits. Growth is still the expectation.

Solomon is telling us that we need to properly evaluate things. There’s a time and place for cleanliness and organization. There’s also a time and place for risk, work, and growth, which means there’s a place for messiness, too.

The takeaway is this: Whenever you’re confronted with an opportunity for growth, take it! By all means analyze it and measure it and weigh it. But never forget that growth is the expectation of wisdom.