Do you have enough stuff? If you said, “No,” you are probably not unlike many people, because our human natures always want more. Yet, it is also true that some people have enough to get by in life, while others don’t. Why is this? And why is it that given the same circumstances, some manage to make a life for themselves, while others remain continually in want?
“The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (Proverbs 13:4)
Laziness is a difficult topic because it can mean different things to different people. A parent might feel a child who has not done his homework–or a boss might feel an employee who has not completed assigned responsibilities–is lazy, whether this is indeed the case or whether there are other reasons behind the lack of follow through. Someone who disregards God’s principal of a day of rest might feel those who honor it lazy. Furthermore, people tend to call others lazy to control them and get them to do what they want them to do. Yet genuine laziness is, in fact, something altogether different; it is a reluctance to do what needs to be done–to get its hands dirty with real work–when it needs to be done. So Biblically, what are some of the characteristics of a lazy person?
A lazy person makes excuses rather than doing what needs doing.
The book of Proverbs gives us an example: “The lazy man says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!'” (Proverbs 22:13) We all have times when we would rather not do what needs doing, yet excuse-making keeps us from addressing the issue at hand and resolving it, and is thus an evidence of laziness.
A lazy person does not recognize when it is time to work.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” There is a time for rest and a time for work: we must correctly discern the difference, and when it is time to work buckle down and do what needs doing. Not working when it is time to work is therefore an evidence of laziness.
A lazy person does not do what needs doing.
“I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. “ (Proverbs 24:30-34) The point is not that we must work 24/7. To the contrary, “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.” (Psalms 127:2) God knows that we are made of flesh and blood and need both daily sleep and a weekly day of rest, and gives both to His people. Yet, because work is not a bad thing as some wrongly assume but rather a necessary and even potentially enjoyable component of life, God gives each of us responsibilities that need doing. Not doing what needs doing is therefore another evidence of laziness.
A lazy person does not finish the job.
Proverbs again illustrates: “The lazy man does not roast what he took in hunting, but diligence is man’s precious possession.” (Proverbs 12:27) Even when he begins to do what needs doing, a lazy person does not finish it properly, leaving it half done and it dubious as to whether there was any merit in his even undertaking the task in the first place. A writing or artistic competition for which the work was begun but never finished and thus not entered, a paycheck cashed but not deposited and subsequently unaccounted for, a remodeling project begun yet left incomplete for so long that that paintbrushes have hardened and screws have been misplaced–these and more illustrate the futility of beginning something that is not brought to its appropriate resolution. Not properly finishing what needs to be done is yet another quality of a lazy person.
So, now that we know what laziness is, what is its opposite? What are the corresponding good qualities we should cultivate in ourselves?
The opposite of laziness is industriousness–a spirit that is willing to gets its hands dirty with real work when this is called for–and diligence–being on top of things. It is an attitude of making a point to know what is going on, and doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done, not making excuses or doing the job half-heartedly or incompletely–and, like laziness, God’s Word also tells us what we will reap when we are diligent.
A diligent person’s financial well-being increases over time.
“He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Proverbs 10:4) This is not a guarantee of great wealth, but it is certainly a principal that a diligent person’s financial circumstances tend to improve over time. It is the maxim espoused in the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.” When you take care to know what is going on with what you have and diligently deal with it, you can’t help but improve your circumstances.
A diligent person’s authority and influence increases over time.
“The hand of the diligent will rule, But the lazy man will be put to forced labor.” (Proverbs 12:24) This, again, makes a lot of sense. Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10) A person who is diligent attracts attention–perhaps exactly because it is so uncommon–and others come to trust him to be faithful with the destiny not only of his own family but also of others.
Help me do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Amen.