Last week we began our study of Proverbs 6 as Solomon urged his son to refuse to co-sign a debt for a friend or neighbor. It was a powerful lesson for many of us who live in a day when it is so common to have someone co-sign with us for something we want really bad, but don?t have the money to buy. Solomon teaches his son to avoid the trap of taking on the responsibility of someone else?s debt.
Today, we are going to continue our study of Proverbs 6, but this week we will hear Solomon speak to his son about the ways of the ant and the ways of the sluggard. As we study this section of God?s Word we will learn that the ant is productive, he is organized and methodical in his work, he makes the best use of his time, and he doesn?t need a supervisor standing over his shoulder to make sure the job gets done. On the other hand, the sluggard is the antithesis of the take-action-oriented ant. The sluggard loves to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today, he is full of excuses, he is committed to getting his beauty rest, and taking life easy. As a result of the sluggard?s sluggish ways?Solomon says that poverty is sure to become his constant companion. Turn with me to Proverbs 6:6-10 and let?s begin our study.
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 bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-10 NIV)
As I have been studying this section of Scripture this past week I have become increasingly convinced that we desperately need this lesson. The longer I live the more I am convinced that we as people have a severe attraction to the extremes of life?we live unbalanced lives. I believe that because we have this propensity to gravitate to extremes we tend to either work too hard or not hard enough.
There are ?Type A? personalities among us who work, work, work and never seem to be able to rest. They hit home runs at work, climb the corporate ladder, and leave their mark on industry, education, medicine, or some other field, but you can barely find a trace of their influence in the one area that will bear the greatest return for their efforts?their home. Because they give so much, so much energy and so many hours to their job, they have little to bring home and invest in the lives of their kids and spouse.
On the other hand there are others among us who have a difficult time getting started. They procrastinate and put off. They are easily distracted by the course of least resistance. They avoid sweat, struggle, and strain at all costs. Some, who are sluggard dreamers, you know the people I?m talking about, describe and define goals that they want to meet in 5 or 10 years, they talk about achieving their dreams, but they do little if anything to put in the sweat equity needed to achieve them.
A few years ago there was a young man who was doing community service at our church. I was spending some time with him one day and we were talking about life. I asked him, ?What do you want to do when you grow up?? He said, ?I want to play in the NBA.? I said, ?Man, that?s a great goal. It?s going to take lots of work and sacrifice for you to achieve your dream. What are you doing to work your way towards your goal?? He said, ?Huh?? I asked him, ?Where do you go to school?? He said, ?I go to John Marshall.? I asked, ?Do you play basketball at your school?? He said, ?No, the coach has his favorites and he doesn?t like me.? I asked, ?Are you playing AAU ball?? He didn?t even look up, but mumbled under his breath, ?Naw.? I said, ?How are you ever going to reach your goal of playing in the NBA if you don?t even play high school basketball?? The young guy looked at me like I had just hit him between the eyes with a 2X4. I could tell that he hadn?t even given it a thought.
To be honest with you, I don?t think he is that unusual in his thinking. I meet young people all the time who have dreams. They aren?t doing anything to work towards the fulfillment of their dreams, but they still want their dreams to come true. They want to play pro football, but they are more dedicated to playing Madden 2005 than they are at getting up off the couch and running sprints and lifting weights. They want to go to college, but they don?t even show up to class and turn in their homework in high school. They want to drive a fancy car and live in a big house, but for them to get either one they are going to have to win the lottery because they aren?t willing to exert themselves to get the education and skills necessary to obtain these things.
For those of us who run in low gear and have a difficult time getting going, Solomon counsels us to consider the ways of the ant. I want us to realize that this is not the first time that Solomon offered someone a lesson from God?s creation. In 1 Kings 4:30-34 we read,
30Solomon?s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite?wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon?s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:30-34 NIV)
Solomon knew that God has written a million sermons into His creation and used those sermons from nature to teach others about life. There are so many lessons for us, all around us, to teach us about life if we will just pay attention to God?s creation. In our lesson for today, Solomon?s desire is that we would draw close to the ant hill and learn the lesson God has planned for us in the work of the ants. So let?s take a look.
In the very first verse Solomon says, 6 ?Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!? I did lots of reading about ants this week and I learned some amazing facts. Did you know that there are more than 10,000 species of ants all over the world? Regardless of the species of ant there are only a few different ?jobs? available in any ant hill. There is the Queen whose job is to produce future generations. There are the worker ants that gather food for the whole ant colony and take care of the eggs and larvae in the nest. At night the worker ants move the eggs and larvae deep into the nest to protect them from the cold. During the daytime, the worker ants move the eggs and larvae of the colony to the top of the nest so that they can be warmer. Other worker ants hunt food so that the ant colony will be well fed. If a worker ant has found a good source for food, it leaves a trail of pheromone so that the other ants in the colony can find the food.
The worker ants are incredibly strong. They can lift up to fifty times their own weight, carry their cargo long distances, and even carry it up trees. If a person were able to match this feat then he could lift a car, carry it ten miles on his back, and then march up Mount McKinley with the car on his back. That?s strength! Along with the worker ants there are also soldier ants that protect the Queen and the entire ant colony.
You know what?s really interesting? All of these different tasks that I?ve described for you are done by the female ants. Some of the ladies among us this morning are already nodding their heads. I know what you ladies are thinking, ?Well, I?ve got more in common with ants than I ever dreamed. Produce the future generation, do all of the work, and then guard the kids with my life.? Where?s the men? What?s Adam Ant doing while the women are so busy? I?m so glad you asked. I learned this week that the male ants have one function and that is to impregnate the female Queen. After this his work is pretty much done so he just goes off and dies.
Men, I don?t think Solomon would have us learn too much from Adam Ant. On the other hand, maybe we?ve learned too much already. In this neighborhood the men are missing. 93% of the homes don?t have a dad present. Many men, young and old alike, love to sweep the women off their feet with their charm and smooth Casanova ways, but they lack the commitment and dedication necessary to carry the weight of responsibility for supporting, nurturing, and under girding a home for their wife and children.
Solomon addresses this lesson to a very specific population?sluggards. Who are sluggards? Are they just laid back, take-life-as-it-comes type people? No, the people Solomon is offering his lesson to are specifically described as ?sluggards.? The Hebrew word for sluggard means, ?sluggish or lazy.? The same word appears several times in the book of Proverbs and I want us to take a minute to study some of these verses so that we can gain some valuable insight into the characteristics of the sluggard.
First of all, we can see from Proverbs 10:26 that the sluggard is not a good employee. Read along with me.
26 As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is a sluggard to those who send him. (Proverbs 10:26 NIV)
Unlike the ant who doesn?t have a supervisor and doesn?t need one, the sluggard needs constant supervision. Even with someone standing over him, making sure that he is doing his job, the sluggard rarely if ever is an asset to the company. His life expectancy on the job is short. In the translation of the Bible called ?The Message? we can see this very clearly. Eugene Peterson translates the same verse from Proverbs this way.
26A lazy employee will give you nothing but trouble; it?s vinegar in the mouth, smoke in the eyes. (Proverbs 10:26 The Message)
Any employer knows this verse to be absolutely true. A lazy employee not only cuts into the productivity of the company because of his laziness, but he also stirs negative emotions like jealousy, bitterness, resentment, and anger in some of the other employees who have to take up the slack because they know that he is not pulling his weight.
The second characteristic that we can learn from Solomon?s teaching about those who are lazy and unmotivated is that they want it all, but never get it because they are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve what they desire. This ties in closely to our lesson from last week. Arranging for someone to co-sign a note with us means that we don?t have the finances to buy what we are wanting. We crave something and today we can get it because of credit?credit that will shipwreck us in the end if we are not careful.
In Solomon?s wisdom found in Proverbs 13:4 he says that the sluggard craves what he doesn?t have, but that he gets nothing. They didn?t have wallets bulging with Mastercards and Visa cards in Solomon?s days like we have today so they did without for the most part. Let?s read the Scripture together.
4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Proverbs 13:4 NIV)
In contrast to the ant who works diligently, knowing what needs to be done and doing it, the sluggard wants it all, but isn?t willing to put forth the effort and energy to see his dreams become reality.
Joe Robbie, when he was a young man, was a small town attorney who had a big dream of owning an NFL team some day. He didn?t just watch football on television and think about how nice it would be to own a team?he began to talk to people in order to find out what it would take, he made friends with wise and influential people who could give him good advice, and he worked and worked and then worked some more to achieve his dream. Years later, the late Joe Robbie, became the first owner of the Miami Dolphins. This is what he had to say.
There is no substitute for effort. If someone with superior natural ability permits you to outwork him, you can defeat him. If you permit someone of lesser skill to excel you in effort, he will likely excel you in accomplishment. Always play up to your full potential in every endeavor. The greatest extravagance of all is to waste human potential. (Joseph Robbie, late owner of the Miami Dolphins)
Joe Robbie is a tremendous example of the diligent person that eventually sees their desires fulfilled. He didn?t obtain ownership of an NFL team the day he had the dream, he had to work, save his money, and endure years of struggle before he achieved his dream.
The third characteristic that Solomon teaches us about those who lack initiative is that they make excuses as to why they can?t. In Proverbs 22:13 we read,
13 The sluggard says, ?There is a lion outside!? or, ?I will be murdered in the streets!? (Proverbs 22:13 NIV)
The sluggard always has an excuse. There is never a good time to get started because something else is always interfering at the present time. ?I don?t feel good. They don?t like me. I?m not as smart as they are. There are other people who are trying to get the job as well. I can?t, I wouldn?t, I shouldn?t, I couldn?t?these are the most used phrases of the sluggard. Once again, The Message makes this so clear for us. Let me read to you Proverbs 22:13 from The Message.
13The loafer says, ?There?s a lion on the loose! If I go out I?ll be eaten alive!? (Proverbs 22:13 The Message)
If you?ve been around the offices here at Britton Christian Church then you?ve seen a message that is posted on some of our doors. Lorenzo made the little posters for all of us and they read, ?Excuses are tools of incompetence that build monuments of nothingness. Those who excel at excuses seldom excel at anything else.? The first time I heard Lorenzo quote the saying that has now become wedged in my heart I asked him where it came from. Lorenzo said that while he was in college he always had an excuse. Excuses for why he didn?t show up to class on time, excuses for not turning in his work on time, and the list went on and on. Then one day the Lord put a professor in his path who proved to be one of the greatest blessings Lorenzo could have ever asked for in life.
When Lorenzo came into his professor?s office to offer an excuse and ask for grace the professor pointed to a sign on the wall behind Lorenzo?s seat. On the sign was the quote that I read to you earlier??Excuses are tools of incompetence that build monuments of nothingness. Those who excel at excuses seldom excel at anything else.? That one simple quote, heard repeatedly, changed Lorenzo?s life. Dreams without effort are worthless. Goals without diligent devotion will never be met. Potential without productivity will never be more than a story of what we could have been.
I don?t want to mislead you. There are risks for those who choose to get in the game. Sure there are dangers. Certainly there are struggles, setbacks, and failure waiting for those who get off the couch, off the sidelines of life and into the game, but the diligent will get back up and get in the game over and over again.
Pat Tillman played professional football for the Arizona Cardinals. He was successful, he made lots of money, but he had a desire to be a soldier. Pat took the necessary steps to work towards his goal. He retired from professional football, enlisted in the Marines, and went to boot camp before he was deployed to Iraq. Many of you know that Pat Tillman was killed during the past year and many have responded to his death by saying that it was such a waste. Hardly! Those who would say such a thing are nothing more than Monday morning quarterbacks. They?ve always got a better plan, but they never do anything to get in the game. Pat Tillman died, but he died doing what he dreamed of doing?he was a soldier.
Last of all, let?s turn to Proverbs 26:14-16 and let?s take a look at one final example of the Hebrew word we have been studying.
14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. 15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. 16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly. (Proverbs 26:14-16 NIV)
Morning rituals are important. You may roll out and have your quiet time with the Lord, hit the streets for a morning run, or huddle over the morning newspaper as you wrap your hand around a warm cup of coffee. The sluggard has his own morning ritual and it goes something like this: The alarm goes off and he hits the snooze bar and rolls over in bed. Ten minutes later the alarm goes off again. Once again he hits the snooze bar and rolls over in bed. Twenty minutes later the alarm goes off for a third time. He picks up the alarm clock, throw it across the room, and pull the covers all the way over his head. ?As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.?
Solomon notices the morning ritual of the sluggard and he also notices the feeding habits of the sluggard. The kind of person Solomon is describing can?t even muster the energy or initiative to lift a finger to feed himself.
This is a pretty sad existence, an existence that is far too familiar to many people today, but you can?t talk to them about. You can motivate them because they won?t move out of the rut they have dug for themselves. You can?t inspire them because they are insipid. You can?t chastise them because they are far too intelligent in their own eyes to be corrected.
At this point it is important for us to stop and allow the Lord to let these Scriptures sink deep into our hearts and teach us. As we do this we need to ask the Lord to show us what He desires to teach us. Are these verses describing us in some way? Are we dreamers, but not doers? Does our mind and our energy seem to wander from goal to goal and task to task, instead of staying the course? Do we have a difficult time getting off high center? Do we procrastinate and ruminate, but really never get revved up and going? These are great questions and before you give a quick answer let me challenge you to broaden your thinking. Don?t make the mistake of looking at one aspect of your life to formulate your conclusion. Let me give you an example, if you are a great student and you work hard at making your grades and doing your best in the classroom then it would be easy for you to conclude that this lesson doesn?t pertain to you. Before you draw that quick conclusion let me ask you a question?Do you apply yourself to your relationship with your family the same way you do to your school work? Are you as diligent in the study of God?s Word as you are in the study of your school books? Are you as conscientious about getting your work done around the house as you are about getting your work done at school? Ah ha! Gotcha didn?t I?
Let?s apply this same line of questions in another direction. If you are a businessperson or a professional who is here this morning and you went to sleep right after you heard that the lesson was for those who are lazy and sluggish then wake up just a minute so that I can ask you a couple of questions. The reason you nodded off was because you have dogged determination when it comes to your profession. Nobody works harder at doing a good job at their job and you take a lot of pride in that fact. I commend you. My dad taught me that if something is worth doing then it is worth doing right. I?m sure you probably got the same lesson somewhere along the way. That bit of advice we were given is to be greatly guarded because it is truly a gift, but let me ask you what ?something? includes for you. Does something entail anything outside of your work? Do you exert the same amount of energy in the kitchen helping your mate as you do in the Boardroom at the office? Do you work at winning the hearts of your kids with the same passion and vigor as you do your employees? You are known as a leader at the office, but are you the leader of your family? You go to seminars and read the latest professional journals to sharpen your skills and stay up with the latest breakthroughs in your chosen field, but do you spend the same amount of energy and time getting alone with the Lord, humbled before His Word, so that He can shape and mold you into the man or woman that He wants you to be at home and at the office?
Boy, these are tough questions aren?t they? They should be. God doesn?t just want our public image. He doesn?t desire that we simply be a great public figure, a man of integrity at the office, a woman of high regard in the classroom, but He desires that we give Him our best in every venture. Colossians 3:23 says,
23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men? (Colossians 3:23 NIV)
The sluggard knows nothing of this type of lifestyle. On the other hand, the ?Type A? person of the world knows nothing of this type of lifestyle either. Birth doesn?t give us insight into the balance, devotion, dedication, and discipline that are necessary to live the kind of life that honors God in all aspects of life; it takes a rebirth to see the importance of these characteristics.
In the world in which you and I live we can get by if we will leave our mark on society. Build a huge financial empire and they?ll put your picture on the cover of Fortune magazine…just like Bill Gates. Have a stellar career as a professional athlete and they will put your bust in the Hall of Fame along with a plaque to commemorate your achievements…just like Barry Sanders. Turn around a corporation like Jack Welch and they?ll give you a seat at the head of the table in the Boardroom and a ?golden parachute? for the day you depart. Shaquille O?Neal was traded to the Miami Heat basketball team and they gave him a key to the city. Discover a medical breakthrough, like Dr. Paul C. Lauterbur for his discovery of magnetic resonance imaging, and you?ll win a Nobel Prize. Teach the world how to be a better homemaker and they?ll name a corporation after you, like they did Martha Stewart. You can do any or all of these things and gain the applause and accolades of people, but what will you do when you stand before the throne of Almighty God? What will you tell Him when He asks why He should allow you into Heaven? Will you show Him your press clippings, pull out your wallet, or tell him about your achievements? I don?t think that will work.
I mentioned to you earlier that sluggards and the Type A personalities of the world know nothing about the kind of life that God calls us to live. What kind of life is that? It?s the surrendered life?surrendered sin to the saving grace of His Son. Surrendered will to His will. Surrendered pleasures and indulgences in exchange for the glorious abundant life God desires for us. Surrendered plans and dreams to the plan that He has for each of us. Won?t you surrender your life to Jesus this morning?