Combating Laziness

If you were playing the game show “Family Feud” and the question was “top things people complain about” you could be sure that one of the answers would be “your job” or “work”.

God designed us to be “contributors” to society. He intended meaningful labor not as a curse, but as a way to find fulfillment and purpose in life. We misunderstand the punishment that was given to Adam as a result of sin. Adam was not punished by having to work. Adam had responsibilities before sin ever entered the world. The consequence of sin was not work, it was increased struggle (weeds, and thorns) in doing the work. Doing something meaningful is a joy, a blessing, a way to share in God’s creative genius.

That is why the current emphasis on finding ways to not work is troubling and has led to a sense of “entitlement” in our society. I’m not just referring to those who refuse to work and are content to take government money. I’m also referring to the mentality that we will do our crummy job for as long as we have to and then we will retire and start to enjoy life.  The impression is that work is evil. But it is not.

Proverbs encourages us to work well. It also has some strong words directed at laziness. It has also some very graphic images of a lazy person.

What Do We Observe About a Lazy Person?

Pr. 6:9-11 But you, lazybones, how love will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber.

I love the older translations . . . we can become “sluggards”. (The picture is that of that slow blob that slowly moves across the ground). Solomon describes a “sluggard” or a lazy person as someone who is always sleeping. Have you found that laziness breeds more laziness? I don’t mean a week or two of vacation where you recharge you battery and come back fresh and ready to go. It is something that happens when you let off the gas a little and maybe start watching a little more television than normal. Before long you are watching yet a little more and work becomes harder to do. You don’t even have to be off of work. There are those people who get lazier and lazier at work! They discover they can “get away with” doing a little less. We all know what happens, they will continue to do less and less (almost like a child who wants to find what the absolute limit is for what they can get away with or the student who is always asking “will this be on the test?” (which translated means: do I really need to temporarily remember this?)).

Pr. 13:4 “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.

Prov 21:25 “Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.”

A lazy person is one who has great dreams but isn’t willing to work to reach those dreams. There is the person who feels they are a great athlete but they aren’t willing to do the off field work that is necessary to be successful. There is the musician who won’t put in the practice time. The person who has a book in their head but will never put it on paper. Dreams are great but without effort you will never see dreams become a reality.

Pr 15:19 “A lazy persons way is blocked with briars, but the path of the upright is an open highway.”

Pr 22:13 “The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion out there! If I go outside, I might be killed!”

A lazy person always has an excuse for why they can’t do something. Solomon says their way is either blocked with briars (which is like saying “I would mow my lawn but the grass is too high!) or they are concerned about potential problems like a lion in the street! What if I can’t do this job? What if I don’t have the right tools? What if it starts to rain? The point is clear: sluggards are great at making excuses. They always have some physical problem that makes it impossible to work. They may have a previous commitment that precludes them doing their job. They excuse their laziness by saying they have not found the “right kind of job” yet (in most cases that would be a job that pays a bunch and demands very little).

Pr. 26:16 “Lazy people consider themselves smarter than seven wise counselors.”

A Lazy person is out of touch with reality. They don’t see life clearly. They are living in a land of delusion. They believe they are doing their best even though they are doing nothing. They refuse help from people who want to teach them how to be self-sufficient because they believe they know better.

Pr. 12:27 Lazy people don’t even cook the game they catch, but the diligent make use of everything they find.

Pr. 19:24 Lazy people take food in their hand but don’t even lift it to their mouth.

A lazy person doesn’t finish what they start. In this case the person went out and caught some food but they are too lazy to cook what they caught or they cook it but are too lazy to move it from their plate to their mouth. These people have a million projects that have begun but they have finished none of them! They have great intentions but seldom follow through.

Pr. 18:9  “A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things.”

Finally, lazy people are costly to others. Lazy people in an organization hold that organization back. They destroy motivation, initiative, and drive. Perhaps you have been in a job where you were told, “don’t work so hard. Take it easy, you are making the rest of us look bad”.

Laziness is costly in terms of benefits paid to those out of work (or unwilling to work). It is expensive to pay people for doing nothing. It is expensive and it is a severe drain on those who do work and have to pay the bill.

Puritan David Thomas wrote these clear and insightful words,

Laziness is inactivity arising from an indisposition to work. Plenty of power but lacking desire. A lazy man is a drag upon the wheel of social progress. He consumes the products of other men’s labors, and produces nothing himself. His life is one great theft. [1]

Lessons from the Ants

Solomon gives an illustration of what a hard-working person would look like. Surprisingly, he doesn’t point to a Fortune 500 executive or some expert financial planner. In Proverbs 6:6-11 Solomon tells the lazy person (the sluggard) to learn from the example of an ant! Even this tiny creature can teach the sluggard how to live a better life.

Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.

Learn from their ways and become wise!

Though they have no prince

or governor or ruler to make them work,

they labor hard all summer,

gathering food for the winter.

The first thing we learn from the ant is that they are self-motivated. They don’t have to have someone standing over them making them be productive. Ants are ingenious architects, miners, and builders. Though they are small in power they work hard and work well. They don’t need a boss standing over their shoulder, or a parent harping on them to get their homework done. They know what needs to be done and they do it.

Ants don’t spend time moping about their size. They do what they are able to do and do it well. We spend too much time in life talking about what we can’t do. It is better to focus on what we can do. We can all do something and as we do that something we develop deeper skills. We learn by doing. The more we do, the more we learn.

God has not given us the same skills and abilities but He has given us skills and abilities that He wants us to use for His glory.

Second, ants know how to prioritize. The ants focus on what is most important and get that finished. They don’t take the summer off to play. No, they spend the summer preparing for the winter so they will be well taken care of.

Do you ever feel like you are pulled in so many directions that you never seem to truly accomplish anything? We dabble in this, we dabble in that, but we don’t seem to finish anything. And the things we do finish are not the things of greatest importance they were just the things that were the most urgent or attractive at any given moment. Think of all the things we encourage our children to be involved in and then we let them sleep on Sunday morning because they are so busy they need their rest!

It is true, most of us function on the basis of “the priority of the urgent”. We run after whatever has the most urgent deadline or what our impulse clamors for. We seldom take time to prioritize. The ant knows what is important and does what is most important first.

Third, ants don’t expect others to do their work. If you and I were in the ant-world and could tour its little mines, chambers and storehouses we would find that all the ants were doing something. There are no ants sitting on the sidelines expecting handouts.

This is not just about the system of “entitlements”. This also carries through to our Christian life. God calls us all to do what He has called us to do. There is no room for believers who just stand around and watch others work. He wants us to work too. Some have described the Christian community as similar to a football game. 60,000 people who desperately in need of exercise sit screaming at the 22 guys on the field who are exhausted.

God has certainly promised to provide for us. However, He has also established the means for His provision: work. He will provide for us as we do what we are supposed to do.

Fourth, ants do all this without fanfare. Ants are incredibly industrious creatures yet hardly anyone recognizes them as such. The people who work the best are often the ones who are so consistent in their jobs that others sometimes take them for granted. However, no matter what others do, God smiles at the one who works faithfully even when no one is looking.

Lessons for Life

The danger of a topic such is this is that it is easy to think of all the people who you hope will hear the message. It is one of those messages that we think is for “the other guy”. I want to suggest that we all struggle with this in some areas of our lives.

The truth is that we struggle to balance extremes. On one extreme we are unmotivated and lazy, on the other extreme we can become obsessed with a project to the point where we become a workaholic or just plain obnoxious. Most of us have both those extremes in our lives in different places.

Let me show you what I mean. Let’s divide life up into categories (you could surely come up with other categories):

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Financial
  • Business
  • Recreational
  • Family

It is likely that in some of these areas you may border on the fanatical. You may eat nothing but lettuce and spend all your money on a fitness trainer so you can be in the best physical shape possible. You may be such a great financial saver that you never spend your money…for anything! You may be really into your recreational activity to the degree that it takes up all your free time and makes it hard to get any work finished.

On the other hand, while you are obsessive in some areas you are likely lazy in some others. You may be so focused on being productive that you don’t care for yourself emotionally or physically. You may be so committed to being successful that you have completely neglected your relationship to God. Or . . .you may be so spiritually minded that you are lazy in your job (which, by the way, is a very poor testimony to the Lord). Certainly it seems that the spiritual life often dies due to neglect because people are out of balance. The challenge is to find balance in all the areas of our life; to be diligent without becoming obsessed.

Second, work is not our enemy. Work is a means of participating in the world. It is God’s blessing to us. It is meant to allow us to join Him in the creative process. Work allows us to express our faithfulness to God in very practical ways. Work helps us care for each other.

Third, laziness at its core indicates a lack of a plan to accomplish an objective. There are many people who are dreamers. They want to do all kinds of things but they never make a plan (even a simple one) to reach the goals. As a result they never get going. Here is a very simple principle: Before we can do anything of significance we have to BEGIN.

Fourth, Laziness robs the heart of joy. Lazy people miss out on the joy of the Lord. The Lord’s intention is for us to know the pleasure and joy that comes from participation and accomplishment. There is great satisfaction to see something we did make a difference. There is a blessing that comes from doing what God has called us to do. Lazy people miss out. God intends for us to be contributors to life, not to siphon off the contributions of others.

So how do we become more productive?  First, make an extra effort to find where you can contribute significantly. Instead of looking for ways to avoid involvement, look for ways that you can contribute meaningfully. It doesn’t have to be something big, it should however be something.  Look for where you see God at work and then join Him in that labor.

Second, be honest with yourself about areas of your life where you are out of balance. Make this a matter of prayer. Ask a friend for help. Have regular “check-ups” with them and ask them to hold you accountable.

Finally, work with enthusiasm. Instead of viewing your job as a necessary evil, view it as a glorious opportunity for God to do something significant through your life. We all love people who love their jobs. Just the way some people work becomes a blessing to us. Think about a person that seems to love and enjoy their job. Don’t they make you smile simply by their attitude? Strive to become one of those people who reveals the joy of the Lord by the way you do your job.

Enough talk, it’s time to get to work!

©Copyright August 17, 2014  by Rev. Bruce Goettsche


[1] David Thomas BOOK OF PROVERBS (Grand Rapids: Kregal 1885, 1982) p. 82

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