Would you recall with me for a few minutes the powerful verses in the book of Proverbs that describe the awful human condition named by the Bible as idleness?
For our good health, Solomon’s library of wisdom includes a very graphic set of word-pictures that relate to our personal work, rest and play: the slovenliness of mattress-loving; the noisiness of doors turning on their hinges; public gardens, neglected; private households, ruined.
These images should linger long in our thinking and in our prayers.
A Proverb for Before Christmas
The sluggard does not plough in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing (Proverbs 20:4)
As I look outside through the window in front of me, this proverb seems particularly poignant today because the leaves have carpeted the grass in layers of green and red as the trees have once again been reduced to skin and bone.
The cyclical nature of the seasons ‒ and perhaps especially autumn ‒ is designed to remind us of the natural law of ploughing (preparation) and harvesting (hope).
Elsewhere in the Bible, Paul taught about this principle in terms of our sowing and reaping (see 2 Corinthians 9:6).
But this proverb is much more than just a general, task-focused principle for living (though it is at least that). Most ultimately, it’s a personal promise from our vine-dressing Father who prescribes seasons of great fruitfulness via new beginnings that may (now) seem cocooned in death.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
A Prescription for Falling
You may be struggling at the moment and, if you’re not, someone you know will be.
Through relational challenges in your family, pastoral issues in your church or other traumatic circumstances oozing stress, it might be that you can relate very closely with the metaphor of autumnal death.
So, I don’t want to sound glib, contrived or unnecessarily poetic.
Rather, let’s be honest: Christian living is very hard, very painful and leadership responsibility can sometimes make all of this virtually unbearable. Even if we had to pick up a cross once a year, life would be hard ‒ you’d no sooner have recovered than you’d have to pick it back up again.
But, of course, we’re to pick up our cross every single day.
Yet there is a kind of falling that is healthy and glorious ‒ one from suffering ‒ and that is actually prescribed by God in His Word. Not the type of destructive falling designed by Satan but the type of falling that is prescribed to us by the Spirit and keeps us in the place of surrender.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6; see also Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5: 5)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you … (James 4:10, emphasis mine)
The Proper Time to Fall
To be fruitful we have to recognize that idleness is bent on killing our spring-time harvests.
But where does idleness actually originate?
I think from two main places:
- Human Pride (1 John 2:16)
- Human Unbelief (Hebrews 3:12)
From prayerful experience, I can say that idleness-breeding, harvest-destroying pride and unbelief can take root from a number of different places and not always from the “classic” character flaw of arrogance.
PAUSE: Read 1 Peter Chapter 5.
In this chapter, God teaches us that humility is like the penicillin of all smelly, spiritual infections of the heart. Indeed, I believe it is one of the most powerful gifts of God that is rarely ever sought after. (When was the last time you asked the Holy Spirit to give you a fresh [or new] anointing of humility?)
David certainly had this anointing of humility when we was tempted to kill King Saul in the desert of En Gedi. A God-given, “ploughing humility” not only stopped him from killing his arch-enemy but then led him to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. As we know, David later inherited a harvest of breathtaking scope and lineage. (See 2 Samuel 7)
Then David went out of the cave and called out to Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. (1 Samuel 24:8, emphasis mine)
So, defeating idleness requires both:
- the illuminating light of the Word ‒ to diagnose pride and unbelief (Proverbs is great for that) and
- the double-edged sword of the Word ‒ as a worshipful treatment for it (Psalms are great for this).
It follows that Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18) describes perfectly the kind of humility and thankfulness that will protect us all from plagues of idleness.
Probably the most startling part of our proverb, above, is that the idler still goes looking for a harvest when winter has passed. The dawn of spring-time arrives and, undoubtedly, they are hungry. Their hibernation had finished. Like a bear with a sore head, this could of course mean that they are deluded about their laziness (they presume on grace) or that they are blissfully unaware of their state of heart.
So, pray this autumn that you would be aware of the areas in your life that are idle. Consider why it is that you’re like that. How have you arrived at a place of preferring your bed to your harvest?
I believe the Lord will surely reveal to you the cause(s) of the problem and lead you into new seasons of ploughing and reaping, of preparation and hopeful expectation of things to come.
Living in the season of autumn means that winter is knocking but also that spring will soon be here. This means that harvesting isn’t far away and another year will have gone by.
We must be busy ploughing this autumn.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24)