I drove past a billboard the other day that proclaimed the words, “Welcome to (es)Cape Town.” That billboard’s message—that Cape Town is a city where responsibilities are to be minimized and pleasure is to be maximized—is passionately embraced by many who live here. Now, please don’t misunderstand me: I Love Cape Town! This city has breathtaking natural beauty, incredible creativity, and inspiring people. But it is a city where, because of these good things, laziness regarding responsibilities has become a major problem. This is not a particularly news-breaking statement, because laziness is a human problem rather than a Cape Town problem. And so I am sure that in your city or town, laziness is also an issue. I am sure that for many of the people you counsel, laziness is a problem. Perhaps laziness is a personal problem for some of us.
This blog post cannot adequately diagnose the prevalence of laziness, nor is there space to plumb the depths of Scripture to understand how laziness works in all its nuanced minutiae. Instead, what I’d like to do is take a brief look at a biblical passage that will help us understand how to identify laziness, and we’ll end by briefly considering how to change.
The passage which helps us to identify laziness is Proverbs 24:30-34.
I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
Laziness Is Seen in Neglect
The basic identifying mark of laziness is neglect. “This ‘field’ in which a ‘vineyard’ (v. 30) was once planted has become overrun with brush due to the owner’s neglect.” Lazy people neglect their roles and responsibilities; instead of bearing fruit through diligence, their lives are covered with nettles of neglect. Therefore, instead of reaping the nurtured harvest of grapes, the sluggard reaped the neglected harvest of nettles. Due to neglect, he reaped thorns instead of fruit.
Wherever you see the nettles of neglect in someone’s life, you see traces of laziness.
Where are the thorns in our lives? Where have we allowed the nettles of neglect to grow? Perhaps it is in our marriages? Instead of the nurtured fruit of romance and intimacy, there are nettles of neglect: bad communication, a non-existent sex life, or a lack of relational vitality.
Perhaps the thorns are in our relationship with God? Rather than nurturing our relationship with Him, we have neglected time in God’s Word and prayer, and therefore instead of the fruit of the Spirit we are reaping the thorns of unbelief.
Matthew Henry, commenting on this passage, writes:
“Our souls are our fields and vineyards, which we are every one of us to take care of, to dress, and to keep. They are capable of being improved with good husbandry; that may be got out of them which will be fruit abounding to our account. We are charged with them, to occupy them till our Lord come; and a great deal of care and pains it is requisite that we should take about them.”
We could go on, of course, but if we’re not sure where the traces of laziness are, we can look at those areas of our lives where we see neglect. Which areas of life are we most prone to neglect? Personal hygiene? Housecleaning? Executing on our to-do list? If we had to go around our house or our office or look inside our car or our computer, where would the neglect be? If we had to take an inside look at our soul, where would the neglect be? Wherever we see neglect, we see traces of laziness. Can we each identify where that is, for us, today?
Laziness Is Fuelled by Procrastination
Also notice that the sluggard is a procrastinator: verse 33 is likely a quotation of the lazy person whose answer is not “no” but “later.” The sluggard “does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.” Lazy people deceive themselves and fuel their neglect by being procrastinators.
Laziness Leads to Poverty
Finally, what are the consequences of such neglect? Solomon tells us in verses 32-34. Laziness, seen in neglect, leads to poverty.
The Sluggard’s apathy decreased his productivity and resulted in poverty. “The point is that the lazy man, one day, awakens from his stupor to discover that he has become poverty-stricken. The poverty did not spring up overnight, but the realization of it has suddenly dawned upon him. With arms folded, eyes closing in slumber and mouth muttering rationalizations (v. 33), sudden economic destruction overtakes the sluggard unawares.” This is true economically, and that’s surely the primary application here. But this “poverty” can also be expanded to include all neglected areas of our lives: spiritual, physical, relational, etc.
If we’re lazy, we’ll reap the nettles of neglect and end up in enduring poverty. And because the sluggard didn’t have the sense to maintain what he had, he’ll never be able to regain what he lost. Thus, his poverty is an enduring poverty.
So here’s the main idea:
Laziness (seen in neglect) is fuelled by procrastination and results in poverty.
Perhaps, like me, you read this passage and think: “That’s a description of me. I’m in trouble—I need to change!”
How Do We Overcome Laziness and Replace It with Diligence?
Scripture gives us several answers to the question of overcoming laziness. We consider two.
Firstly, we can go and learn from the diligent ant. We can read about the proactive, forward-looking ant in Proverbs 6:6-8. We can consider how we can become more proactive and diligent in those areas we are currently neglecting. We can imitate the harvest mentality of the diligent ant.
Secondly, we can go to the Savior. Remember, the message of Proverbs (and the message of the Bible) is not that we are wise. The message of Scripture is that, inherently, we’re fools. We need forgiveness and help. Jesus is the Wise Man, Jesus is the Diligent Sage who was never lazy, and when we go to Him in faith, when we behold Him, we become more like Him (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18). So, we go to Him. Worship Him, dwell on Him—and seek to become more like the Wise Man.
Join the Conversation
What additional principles would you add to help us to identify and overcome laziness?
For a resource by Kyle Johnston, visit Identifying and Overcoming Laziness.