First plant your fields; then build your barn. (Proverbs 24:27)
At our weekly women's Bible Study last night, I mentioned that God wants us to build accountability into our lives. I was asked a very pointed question, "How do you do that?" It comes in many fashions, but this is a question that I have been asked many times in my life - how is it that we go through life and still struggle with the same stuff we were dealing with years ago? We aren't as faithful in our study of the Word, we don't spend much time in prayer, the study of the Word seems difficult, so we avoid it. Well, don't fool yourselves - this walk is NOT easy and it is NOT easy to be accountable for the stuff God asks of us in it!
The writer of this Proverb shows us something about accountability that I want to explore this morning. He presents us with the concept of being a farmer. A farmer has several things in mind as he is going about his daily chores of life. He needs a plot of ground in order to plant a garden. He starts small - a garden is certainly not a farm. It is in tending the garden that he learns to "farm". I can tell you for a fact that is tougher than it looks! You cannot just go down to the local nursery, pick up some seeds, come home, drop them into unprepared soil and expect miraculous growth of beef steak tomatoes! There is preparation necessary and the crop that is yielded is a direct result of the quality of the preparation.
Don't miss the first concept about accountability - it begins with the small stuff. I think we see our present state and think there is just no way we will get to where we dream of being. Discouragement sets in and we languish in our guilt of having tried and failed, or of having not even tried at all. Okay, bear with me here - I'm going to a secular movie to drive home this fact! "What About Bob" is a movie about a man paralyzed by his phobias. He cannot get out of his apartment, cannot face the world because he is a germa-a-phobe. In this movie, his psychiatrist gives him some advice that we need to embrace ourselves - take "baby steps". Throughout the movie, you observe Bill Murray taking "baby steps" to deal with his phobia. It is not the best movie in the world, but it illustrates the point. When we want to see results, we have to do SOMETHING about it!
When we have the small steps accomplished, we move on. The writer of Proverbs says we plant the field, then build the barn. What a crazy thing it would be to build a barn and have nothing to fill it with! Yet, we often look at our faithfulness in study of the Word in just that way. We have compared our "farm" with another believer's "farm" and we don't see the same results, so we get discouraged. That is why Scripture warns us against comparing ourselves with one another.
If we want to have a barn, we have to start by planting a field! It doesn't happen overnight, but eventually we will see the garden become a field and the field a farm. Soon, we have a barn, full of refreshing stuff that will bring life to those who partake of its stores. Maybe we are not great at journaling or writing a blog. Maybe we don't even "get it" when we read the Word. Then, get your hands on some "gardening" tools!
When I first began to commit to study of the Word, I had to get some books that would walk me through the book in the Bible that I was studying. I found some that walked me through an introduction to the book so I'd know what the author had in mind (kind of like the abstract of the entire book of the Bible), then the author would get into breaking down the various chapters and verses into "digestable" chunks. I liked to read Bible studies by Charles Stanley, Joyce Meyers, and others. They write in a simple fashion and don't hit you with so much meat all at one time that you cannot possibly absorb it!
After you begin with the teaching of others to help guide you through your study of the Word, then you will eventually become more comfortable with reading it on your own and letting God speak to you. Your gardening right now - relying on the fact that a "failed" crop is never really a failure. Even if you don't "tend the garden" each day this week, the soil benefited from being tended as many days as it was! The crop produced may not be as rich as you'd hope to see it, but the soil benefited from being tended!
Don't tackle more than you can handle - perhaps you begin with a "flower pot" sized Bible study technique. How about taking one index card, writing out some question you have for God or something that you'd like to study about. Then, over the course of the week, use your concordance or an online concordance to find some verses that speak to that question. Then add those verses to the index card. Over the course of the week, you may be very surprised and delighted with what God shows you in his word about what it is you are seeking. There's your garden! Tend it well, then begin to look at expanding to a field.
At the garden level, you need a trowel. At the field level, you need a plow. The work becomes harder and the time involved in producing a crop takes a little longer. The barn still stands a ways off, even for one who is tending their field! Eventually, there is sufficient harvest yielded to require the barn. It is incremental growth that God designed us for! Have fun with your garden!