“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” – Proverbs 24:30-31
Meet Mr. Sluggard
The word “Sluggard” is derived from a Hebrew verb that has the idea of ‘leaning idly’, or to be slow going, indolent or slack. In other words, the Sluggard is someone who is characteristically lazy and idle.
The Proverbs makes very detailed observations about this individual. The Sluggard is observed sleeping when he should be working (Proverbs 6:9, 19:15, 24:33, 26:14). He is an unreliable and loathed team member (Proverbs 10:26) who is enslaved to his own desires (Proverbs 13:4, 21:25). His slackness and lack of planning set him up for a future of no provisions, resources, or means (Proverbs 12:24, 12:27, 13:4, 19:15, 20:4).
He makes laughable and ridiculous excuses (Proverbs 22:13, 26:13). His fields that he should be stewarding and managing lie overgrown and infested with their defenses broken (Proverbs 24:31). He can’t even finish the most basic tasks (Proverbs 19:24, 26:15). And as foolish as he is, he considers himself wiser than all (Proverbs 26:16).
Meet Ms. Ant
Solomon’s cure for the Sluggard’s sluggish ways is for him to go watch and learn from the Ant (Proverbs 6:6).
The Ant does not need someone to check in on her or to micro-manage her for her to complete tasks (Proverbs 6:7). She looks ahead and makes a plan far in advance of the deadline, and then she faithfully works the plan to complete the job (Proverbs 6:8). The result is that she gets to enjoy the bountiful harvest (Proverbs 6:8).
While the Ant does not need hand-holding, the Sluggard has to have someone come and wake him up (Proverbs 6:9). The Ant has a plan, but the Sluggard’s only plan is to sleep (Proverbs 6:10). While the Ant works, the Sluggard sleeps (Proverbs 6:10). And when the Ant reaps the reward, the Sluggard reaps poverty (Proverbs 6:11).
Strength Neglected is Strength Stolen
The Sluggard’s strength is stolen by lack of use. He doesn’t work and he makes no plans other than to sleep. He makes excuses for not working and his fields that should have been the recipient of his strength are destroyed due to the lack of strength. The irony is that he will need to work even harder next season to make up lost time by clearing his field first before he can cultivate it.
This is exactly what happens to you physiologically when you don’t use your strength. When you remain characteristically idle physically, your body slowly declines. With lack of use your bones weaken, your waistline expands, your muscular strength diminishes, and your heart health declines. The stone rolls downhill faster as time goes on. Your body becomes the fields (Proverbs 24:30-31) that will need extra work and effort to restore to use.
In contrast, the Ant’s strength is used for planning and working. There is a reward for her use of strength, which is her harvest. The food she plans on reaping will feed her so that the energy she exerted working will be replenished. Her fields do not need nettle-removing or fence-fixing; she can move right into executing her plan for next year. Her strength cycle recharges itself.
This is exactly what happens to you physiologically when you do use your strength. When you remain characteristically active physically, your body slowly improves. With use your bones strengthen, your waistline shrinks, your muscular strength grows and your heart health improves.
To reform our Sluggard ways, we need to learn from the Ant. We need to roll up our sleeves, not neglect our strength, and work in and unto Christ.
It’s through God’s grace that we learn to renounce our passions and desires (sluggish desires included) and live self-controlled and godly lives (Titus 2:12). Christ redeemed us from our lawlessness and purified a people for His “own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). And it’s unto Him that we labor and work heartily, in whatever we do (Colossians 3:23-24).
As Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:
“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living”.
My Sluggard Story**
To one degree or another, we are all learning from the Ant and scrapping our Sluggard ways. So, lest you think I have mastered the art of becoming the Ant, let me share my own Sluggard story with you.
One late summer afternoon, I smelled an odor coming from my outdoor patio after I had finished mowing the yard.
I looked a little more closely. The bottom edges of all three of my white patio furniture covers were sprinkled in a light coat of mold. We had just endured nearly two weeks straight of rain, so the mold wasn’t surprising, but there was enough of it for me to want to dispose of the covers.
Want is the keyword here. A desire without a plan is just a wish, they say. And one of the tell-tale characteristics of a Sluggard is desires that don’t lead to work (Proverbs 13:4) but instead lead to death (Proverbs 21:25).
The truth of that manifested itself for me in a nasty way that I will never forget.
11 days, 10 hours of NFL football, a few old NCIS episodes, and nearly two weekends later, I finally was outside removing the patio covers. The smell was still there, and even stronger than it was a few weeks ago. And guess what I found underneath the patio covers lying on top of the cushions?
And not just one little rat turd. About 50 rat turds were lying on all three outdoor couches, all concealed under the white covers. I started removing the seat cushions from the furniture, which allowed me to see the ground underneath the couches.
That’s when I saw the culprit.
He was lying dead on the ground underneath one of the couches.
I had never noticed him before, as I had never bothered to look on the ground under the outdoor couch. And by the look of him (as Ducky would say), he had probably been dead for weeks.
That would explain the smell.
“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 it 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”.
– Proverbs 24:30-34
The dead rat was my field overgrown with thorns. I had procrastinated on a responsibility to take care of my patio, and a decomposing rat had gone undetected for weeks while I idled away precious time watching NFL football and NCIS reruns.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with rest or recreation of course, but there is something wrong with lounging while a field is being choked by thorns.
The snoozy Sluggard sleeps while there is work to be done, and his idleness is continuously shamed by the relentless diligence of little Ms. Ant.
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