Fountain of Life
Diligence & Laziness
Good morning Chapel family! Thank you for welcoming us into your home today. I have to say: it was awesome to see so many of you out on Tuesday night for the outdoor night of worship. To be out there under the open sky, worshiping God, as dusk turned into nighttime—but especially being with actual people! Really a joyful event. So big thanks to everyone who made that happen. And would you keep praying for us? Pray for your church leaders as we make decisions about indoor church services. It’s pretty clear that it’s not time yet. We’re called to love our neighbors, and that means not infecting our neighbors. But pray for wisdom going forward. And also, pray for our national and state and local leaders—they have some really hard decisions to make. Pray for school superintendents as they make decisions about opening for the fall. They need lots of wisdom.
So…speaking of wisdom—we are taking the summer of 2020 to walk through the book of Proverbs. All of us are familiar with cultural proverbs, right? Little helpful sayings about life. “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” “Measure twice; cut once.” Or one of my personal favorites: “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle; non’ll come, and then a lot’ll.” You never heard that one, did you? So cultural proverbs are nice, but the biblical Proverbs are infinitely better, because they are theologically rich and timeless and applicable in every culture because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. So if we can get really familiar with the Proverbs, and start to align our lives with these principles, we will be wiser people and our lives will just be better.
So… one of the major themes in Proverbs is diligence and laziness. That choice—whether to approach life with diligence or laziness—has a huge influence on the direction of our lives. So…let’s read our main passage—Proverbs 6, verses 6 through 11. Hear the Word of the Lord…
6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
7 It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
8 yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
11 and poverty will come on you like a thief
and scarcity like an armed man. This is the Word of God.
So, today I want to talk about Laziness, Diligence, and Discernment. Laziness, diligence, and discernment.
So first, Laziness. Did you notice the label that Proverbs gives to lazy people? It’s a very unflattering label. Sluggard. It’s one of the greatest words in the English language: you sluggard. So when you read through Proverbs, you find out a few characteristics of sluggards.
First, a sluggard Avoids Effort. In the Scripture we just read, the person is lying in bed when they should be getting up. Or they’re taking a little mid-day nap—“a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.” Because it’s so much easier than getting up and doing what needs to be done. Proverbs 21:25 says this: The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. This is really the most basic definition of laziness, right? Refusing to work. Refusing to make any effort. Years ago the Chicago Tribune did a series on the Seven Deadly Sins. And I want to read what they said about the sin of sloth:
Sloth is insidious. It whispers that you might as well do it tomorrow, that nobody will know if you cut corners here and there to save yourself some trouble, that the world will be the same in a hundred years no matter what you do, so why do anything? Sloth says, ‘Don’t strain yourself,’ ‘What’s the big hurry?’ and ‘Just give me five more minutes.’
Sloth hits the snooze alarm, hits the remote control and hits the road when the going gets tough…Sloth cheats on exams, drinks straight from the milk carton and leaves exactly two sheets on the toilet paper roll…
Sloth does slightly less than the right thing. It doesn’t bother returning something to the lost-and-found...it doesn’t tell the clerk he has undercharged. Sloth has never written a Thank-You note, sent a birthday card on time or entertained angels. All of this simply takes too much effort.
Can anyone relate to that? Stop thinking about that other person; start thinking about yourself.
Llet me add one more thing to that description. In 2020, one of the main ways that sluggards avoid effort is we get hypnotized by our smart phones. Right? I find this in myself sometimes: I’m in my office; I’ve got all kinds of important work in front of me. But before I get started, let me just check my email. And my texts. And my Instagram. And my Facebook. And the news. And that’s all fine. Except when I put it down, and I dive into my work. And then about 10 minutes later, when I hear that little buzz—a new message came in. And I check that message. And while I’m at it, I check my Facebook, and my Instagram, and real quick look at the news headlines. Am I the only one? So people have always had the propensity to avoid work, but now we have an amazing distraction right in our pockets. And I’m not saying get rid of our smartphones; but we need to tame that beast.
Okay—here’s the second thing: A sluggard Prefers Talking. Proverbs 14:23… All hard work brings a profit, but mere talkleads only to poverty. This is the person who says, “One of these days, I’m going to start my own business.” And then, years later, they’re saying, “You know what I’m going to do? One of these days, I’m going to start my own business.” It’s the person who says, “I’ve been reading about eating low-carb, and it’s so good for your health. I’m going to try it—I’m going to go low-carb. And they watch documentaries about the benefits of a low-carb diet, and they check the carb content on all their food labels. Months later, you see them having pizza and beer, and you say, “Hey—I thought you were going low-carb?” And they say, “I’m definitely thinking about that.” It’s so easy to talk about stuff. How about you? What have you been talking about, and talking about, and talking about…?
Here’s the third thing: A sluggard Drops Projects. Look at Proverbs 26:15…
A sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
Is that not pathetic? The guy is so lazy, he doesn’t even have the energy to lift the food up to his face. One of the guys in my small group said, “You know, I can be lazy, but I’ve never had that problem.” But this is a picture of someone who starts something, and then right in the middle of it, he loses motivation and doesn’t finish what he started.
This one is very personal for me. Because when I was in seminary, I had a part-time job managing a database for an oil company. And one year I got an evaluation from my supervisor, and I don’t remember any of the good things in my evaluation, but thirty years later, I still remember this: it said “Dave has the tendency to drop projects.” Oh, that stung. Of course he was right—there were some things that I had started, and when I ran into some challenges, I had put them on the back burner. It was just easier to focus on other stuff.
To this day, when Norma Jean wants me to do something, and I get started on it but I don’t finish it for some reason, she knows exactly what to say. She says, “Dave has a tendency to drop projects.” Oh, man. That is not fair.
Let me give you a recent example. About two years ago, we had kind of a makeshift fire pit in our backyard—really just a circle of rocks. So I cleared that out, and now there was just a circle of dirt on the lawn. So I said, “Let’s build a nice fire pit here.” Norma Jean loved the idea. A year went by. Norma Jean said, “How about that fire pit?” I said, “I’m still thinking about options. I’m not sure if I’m going to put in pavers around it, or pour a concrete slab, or what design to use. I’ll do some more research. Months went by, and that circle of dirt started growing weeds. Good old Dave, still dropping projects.
There’s another Proverbs that speaks to this situation—look at Proverbs 22:13… The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” This is a person who always has excuses for not going out to work. “I could get killed by a lion!” I had my excuses for dropping the fire pit project. I don’t know what kind of stone to use; I’m not even sure anyone will use it; is it too close to the trees, so it’s going to be a fire hazard? I had all kinds of reasons for abandoning the project. And all of that was not good for my marriage.
How about you? If you look around your house or your office or your yard, do you see evidence of projects that were started and then abandoned when they got challenging? Are you highly skilled in coming up with excuses? What might God be telling you through the Proverbs?
So—three marks of a sluggard: they avoid effort, they prefer talking, and they drop projects. And Proverbs says, “If that’s the way you approach life, it will have some predictable results.”
First, Unsatisfying Work. Proverbs 12:24 says Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor. So there’s this contrast between ruling and being ruled. And the assumption is that being ruled is not a good thing, right? Because if you’re doing forced labor, you don’t get to be part of the leadership or the decision-making or the creative process, right? The boss basically says, “Your job is to do what you’re told.” So you’re treated as a work unit.
So here’s the irony: if your approach to life is to avoid work and try to make your life easy, you’ll probably wind up doing the kind of work that makes your life really hard! Right? You wind up getting exactly the opposite of what you were hoping for. Work that’s undignified and unpleasant and unrewarding. This is such an important thing to teach our kids: the way they approach work now will largely dictate the kind of work they wind up doing in the long term. Hmm…
Okay—another result is: Inadequate Funds. Proverbs 10:4 says Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth. As a general rule, hard work leads to having enough money, and laziness leads to not having enough. And by the way, having “diligent hands” doesn’t mean you’re just working hard; it means you’re working wisely. You’re being diligent to keep up with the times. When Borders books decided that Amazon was really no threat, or when Sears decided Home Depot was no threat, and they just kept doing what they were doing, that was lazy hands—they were unwilling to do the uncomfortable, hard work of re-learning and shifting, and it led to poverty.
Third result of slugardliness: Unreliable Reputation. Proverbs 10:26 says As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are sluggards to those who send them. Have you ever delegated a job, and the person you delegated it to dropped the ball? How do you feel toward the person who didn’t come through for you? Annoyed? Disappointed? Irritated? Like getting smoke in your eyes, or tasting vinegar…it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, right? So if you’re lazy or half-hearted when you’re asked to do something, you’re building a reputation where you might not get asked to do anything again.
And then finally, a sluggard will have an Unfulfilling Life. Proverbs 13:4 says A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. So again, there’s a real irony—because a sluggard is actually very in tune with his appetites, right? Whatever feels best at the time—it feels best to sleep longer; to cut corners, etc.—so you just do it. You obey your appetite! But the result is that your deeper appetites—the big things you want in life—like a fulfilling job and a good reputation and the ability to travel—those things don’t get filled.
So when you read what Proverbs says about being lazy, you could summarize it like this: being a sluggard means that in the moment you choose what’s easy, but in the end it makes life really hard.
So before we go any further, let’s stop and do a minute of self-reflection. Maybe you’re realizing that you have just been lazy. And any time the Bible identifies something harmful in our life, it’s not to condemn us; it’s so that we can repent—turn from it, and ask God for the grace to align our lives with his Word. So all through Proverbs, it contrasts laziness with diligence.
So let’s talk about Diligence. In our opening passage, it points us to the example of the ant. And three things stand out. First, Self-Motivation. The ant has no commander or overseer or ruler. And so nobody needs to tell him what to do; he just does it.
When my kids were young, they all took a few years of garbage duty. (Now that the youngest one has a job, that’s back on me. But it was nice for all those years). But do you know what I used to love? When I would come home on a Monday night or a Thursday night, and drive up to my house, and the garbage was already out. Such joy filled my heart! Because that meant that my child took it upon himself to do this dirty, nasty job without being told! Self-motivation.
And you know this if you have people who report to you: if you still have to remind them to do a certain thing, guess who still owns that thing? You do! The monkey is still on your back. And the goal is always to transfer the monkey from you to that person—because that means they are self-motivated. And the more they’re willing to do that, the more likely they’ll get promoted and get raises and all kinds of good stuff. That’s what Proverbs teaches and that’s just reality.
So look at your life and ask yourself: Do I wait for other people—like my boss or my spouse—to tell me what to do, like a sluggard, or do I take ownership and do it?
Second thing about ants: Delayed Gratification. Verse 8 says the ant stores its provisions in summer. Have you ever seen something like this? An ant, carrying a hunk of food away? Why doesn’t he just eat it? Apparently, he has some awareness or instinct that he’s going to need it in the future, so he stores it up. He puts off the instant gratification, so he can have it when he really needs it.
If you’ve been around my teaching for a while, you’ve heard me refer to the Marshmallow Experiment. Kids had the opportunity to eat one marshmallow now, or, if they could wait ten minutes, they would get two marshmallows. So they did that with a bunch of kids, and then they tracked those kids for about twenty years to see what they could learn. The kids who had self-control, and waited for the two marshmallows, had higher SAT scores, fewer legal problems, the girls were less likely to get pregnant outside of marriage, they had less drug and alcohol problems, less gambling problems, they managed their money better…basically, they did better in life!
Delayed gratification. It’s what I have tried to impress on my kids. I think all of my kids could quote me on this—if you have several things to do, and you’re trying to decide what to do first, always do the thing you dread the most, first. Get it over with. You’ll be so much happier later.
And the nice thing is…the delay doesn’t last forever. And that’s the third thing we see with the ant: Long-term Satisfaction. The end of verse 8 says the ant gathers its food at harvest. In other words…it gets to eat! When you develop a lifestyle of work first, enjoy later, it makes the enjoyment so much deeper.
When Norma Jean and I were newly married, we were living in Dallas; we had no kids yet, and she decided to take on the challenge of becoming a CPA. And if you know anything about the CPA exam, it’s brutal—It usually takes a person multiple years to pass the exam. So I’m going to brag on my wife for a minute: she went for it. She spent her Saturdays taking review courses; she had a stack of index cards about this high, and we would take long walks and I would quiz her on these cards. And with all that, it took her three separate attempts—over a period of 18 months, to pass all the different parts. But one day the envelope came from the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, and it said she was officially a CPA. And I can remember going out to dinner with her, and looking back on all that went into that, and saying, “You did it!” And the satisfaction of that accomplishment was so much greater because of all the self-motivation and delayed gratification that went into it. And now—30 years later—she has experienced the benefits of it in so many different ways.
And you can apply the same thing to so many other areas of life. Including, by the way, our fire pit! With my wife’s encouragement—and actually it was very strong encouragement—she bought me all the materials for the fire pit this past Father’s Day. And in about two hours, I worked with two of my kids, and we got it done. Isn’t that nice? So it actually didn’t take nearly as much work as I thought, and every time I see it in my backyard—every day!—there’s a feeling of satisfaction. (Now if the temperature every gets below 80, we can have a fire).
Now: I’m actually going to close with a warning. It is possible to be a very diligent person, but to focus your diligence on all the wrong things. Does that make sense? So you’re working hard, but you’re working on things that don’t really matter. So, let’s talk about this last thing: Discernment. How do you discern what to be diligent on? Let me give you two guides for thinking about this.
First, God’s Priorities. It could be that you’re a father who diligently keeps your garage and your cars in perfect condition. You’re not lazy at all—you’re very diligent! But you never spend time with your kids. You can be a mother who diligently works out at the gym (or I guess at your home gym now). I mean, you diligently stay in perfect shape! But you have no clue what’s going on in your daughter’s life. Do you see what I’m saying? So diligence in itself is pretty worthless; in fact, it can distract you from what really matters. Real wisdom is to be diligent in things that matter.
Remember what Jesus said about what really matters? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; love your neighbor as yourself. If you want to know what’s worth being diligent about…be diligent in your love for God and your love for people.
Diligently study the Word of God. Decide to make prayer part of the rhythm of your life. Be intentionally generous in your giving—that takes diligence. Whatever you volunteer for in ministry—work hard at it. On Tuesday night, I saw this group of young musicians leading our night of worship, and here’s what I realized: every one of them has a God-given gift—a musical gift, and they have diligently practiced and improved that gift to express love for God. And hundreds of people were blessed by their diligence. It was awesome.
And…be diligent in the way you love people. You might be tempted to make your garage or your body look perfect, but choose to invest time in people instead. If your relationships are a mess, who cares if your garage or your lawn or your kitchen look perfect? Right? If you’re married, be diligent in the way your nurture your marriage—schedule dates; guys—work hard to listen to her. Diligently be involved in the lives of your kids. Be diligent in the way invest in friendships. We men aren’t very good at that. But it’s so worth it—invest in your friends.
In other words, if you’re going to be lazy somewhere in life, don’t be lazy with God or people.
And then, second, God’s Gifts. God’s gifts. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about a man who goes on a journey and entrusts his servants with different amounts of money. And later he comes back and settles accounts with each of the servants. It turns out that the first two servants have been diligent—they’ve put the money to work and made more money, and the master says, “Great job! You’ve been faithful with what I gave you.” But the third guy has decided to bury his money in the ground, so all he has is the original amount to give back to the master. And the master calls him a “wicked and lazy” servant. So this is a parable about the different resources and talents that God entrusts us with. And all he expects is this: that we take what he’s given us—the resources and gifts that he’s given us—and use them. I’m not responsible to use Pastor Ted’s gifts or Pastor Paul’s gifts; I’m going to answer to God for how I used my gifts. And the same with you.
So here’s what that means: when I hear Proverbs telling me to be diligent, I need to focus my diligence specifically in the areas where God has gifted me. For example, I have a God-given love for languages. I’m one of those weird people who loves grammar and vocabulary and imitating accents. That’s a gift that God has given me. So when I was a missionary in Latvia years ago, I poured myself into to learning the Latvian language. And it really paid off. Three or four years ago, I realized I wasn’t doing much with my language gift—I was kind of burying it. So I decided to pour myself into learning Spanish. I didn’t even know what I would use it for, but I didn’t want to waste the gift. So I’m trying to be diligent in studying Spanish—I started with the DuoLingo app, and I’ve worked with podcasts and conversation partners and I do all my Bible reading in Spanish, and I’m gradually getting opportunities to use it. Now: that might not be how God has gifted you at all. But I know he’s gifted you. He’s put certain resources into your hands. Are you using them diligently?
If you think about it, this is kind of a relief. God doesn’t expect me to be diligent on auto mechanics or accounting or engineering or brain surgery. Those are other people’s gifts. There’s actually this small handful of things: love God; love people; use your gifts well. Get out of bed in the morning and give the best of who you are to the things that really matter. You won’t get it perfect—nobody ever has—so there’s tons of grace to go around. But give it your best. Do hard things. Make sacrifices. Pour yourself out. Be diligent. You will be blessed; others will be blessed through you, and God will be honored.
Life can be so confusing—especially in a pandemic. At a time when everything seems to be changing, let’s root ourselves in the unchanging wisdom of Proverbs. Throughout this 3,000-year-old book, wisdom is referred to as “the fountain of life”—exactly what we need when we’re exhausted, empty, and dry. Come and drink deeply from the fountain of life.