The lazy man will not plow because of winter;
He will beg during harvest and have nothing.
Have you noticed the trend in fortune cookies in America the past couple decades? I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed: they all say you’re going to have success. ALL of them. It’s as if nothing unusual or bad will ever happen in a person’s life. I remember the day when they used to be proverbs lifted from ancient Chinese writers like Confucius or Lao Tzu, and occasionally they’d print something from a Western philosopher. The idea back in the “old days” of my youth was to give people food for thought, advice on how to approach life to make their fortunes better–or, at the very least, to remind us that we will face “interesting times.” But these days, if I were to believe every fortune cookie I read, I would win lots of money if I played the lottery. And if I got a promotion every time the fortune cookies have said I would over the past few years, I’d be president of the company where I work–which I most certainly am not. Of course, the Bible warns us away from fortune-telling and spiritualism–in fact, God outright bans diviners, sorcerers, and mediums. (Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10-11) The future is in God’s hands, and when we consult anyone other than God about His plans for us, it not only shows we don’t trust Him, it also shows we want to control our own future. The Lord God is not terribly fond of that.
1 Chronicles 10:13-14
13 So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the LORD, because he did not keep the word of the LORD, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance.
14 But he did not inquire of the LORD; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.
However, there’s nothing to say that we can’t learn from folk wisdom, and we certainly can learn a LOT from the book of Proverbs. It’s not so much that the Proverbs are meant to show us our future but more that they–like the fortune cookies of my youth–are geared toward helping us to live right. Solomon’s Proverbs, of course, are one of the Bible’s guides to righteous living, wisdom handed down from God Himself. They are often so practical in their application that they need no explanation. Take, for example, these three ideas which are all related to gossip and contention:
18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death,
19 Is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, “I was only joking!”
20 Where there is no wood, the fire goes out;
And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.
21 As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
Solomon likens deceit and gossip and contentiousness to fire, and so he reminds us of their destructive power in lives and relationships. And by implication, he reminds us also that we need never kindle those fires nor allow them to burn unchecked. Very good advice indeed.
The proverb I came across this morning seems a pretty straightforward one about laziness. Solomon loved to tell us about the results of being a lazy man. There are at least thirteen verses in Proverbs that talk about the slothful or lazy one, and many more about fools. And it is no surprise that the lazy man is one who lacks wisdom, who prefers not to work, and who suffers for his indolence. On the surface, today’s verse is a simple warning to plan for winter–something a lazy man never does, instead relying on begging to get him through harvest time alone. But as I looked at today’s verse, I couldn’t help but think of all the times Jesus talked about harvesting in His parables and teachings.
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.
35 “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!
36 “And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.
37 “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’
38 “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
Looking at today’s proverb, I got to thinking about how many of us don’t think to plan for our spiritual future, how we always think we’ve got another day or another year to get our lives in the right place. Instead of truly repenting and changing our lives, we tell ourselves it is alright to “get by” with our little religiosity and self-serving prayer. Worse yet, we come to Jesus as little children and then we never seek to grow any further in His care. We remain childish in our faith, instead of maturing into men and women of God who live and breathe and act in His name. In short, we are begging during a time of harvest–the harvest of the Word of God, the harvest of the Holy Spirit, the time of plenty in our own growth in the gospel. What do I mean by “begging”? I mean that we accept scraps when a banquet is available. I mean we ask only for a little when much more is available. I mean we do not seek to enter the fields and participate in the harvest, instead staying on the side of the road and asking for handouts from those who ARE harvesting.
And then what are we to do when winter comes? How will we support our faith when we face a season of spiritual unfruitfulness? If we have been begging for little bits during the time of plenty, what will be left during the time of want? Jesus is calling us to reap food for eternal life, and yet we settle for little scraps of wisdom instead of the full measure of the blessing of the resurrection. We get lazy and complacent, expecting someone else to hand us what we need, instead of going out and plowing for ourselves!
The Bible is full of riches. Why do we not plumb its richest depths while we can still see and hear and understand? I have an older friend who cannot see well anymore, but she has read and heard so much Bible teaching in her lifetime that she is still rich in her faith. I pray that I am so rich when my eyes fail! I have a younger friend whose eyes have degraded the past few years due to disease, and yet he still pulls his Bible close to his face and forges through reading as best he can. He has thankfully laid up a store of Scripture in his memory, and he listens to many good Bible teachers, and so he is ready for whatever winter he may face.
On a purely spiritual level, many of us think we are still in summer, that, as Jesus said, “There are still four months and then comes the harvest.” But the time to harvest the Holy Spirit is NOW. Now is the time to be the one plowing and sowing and reaping for the kingdom of God.
“Oh, I can do that mission work next year, when I have more time.”
“I will give more to the offering when I get past this rough spot.”
“I will help out in the youth group when we get past this baseball season.”
“I will start reading my Bible more when I…”
How many times do we have to be told that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, that we will not know the day nor the hour of His coming but will be surprised right where we stand? How many times do we have to be told that God wants us to be holy RIGHT NOW? How many times must we be reminded that following Christ is not for the lazy nor the half-hearted, but only for those willing to take up their cross daily for Him?
The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing;
But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus Himself told us that the fields are ripe for harvest, that the bread of life is ours today. There is no need to beg for scraps when the Lord has invited us to dine with Him, to partake of His blood and His body that we may be washed clean and know eternal life. Now is the time to strengthen ourselves in the Lord, to build up stores of faith and godliness, to take in the fruit of righteousness. A day will come when we will face a winter of the spirit, when we will feel cold and lost, when it seems like nothing we do will bear fruit nor nourish us. But if we join in the harvest now, if we partake of God’s mercy right now, if we receive the gracious gift of eternal life now, if we store up faith today, then neither drought nor winter will be able to weaken our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us not be lazy but diligent in our faith. Let us reap what we have not sown and receive with gladness the bounty of God’s grace and mercy while it may be found by us. Then we will indeed be rich in the Spirit and ready for whatever winter comes our way.
Heavenly Father, help me to NOT be lazy. I am not willing to settle for scraps when You have offered so much more. I desire the full bounty of Your blessing, so that even in the hardest of times I will remember Your love and grace. Have mercy on me and forgive me my sins, so that I am not burdened as I go into the fields to harvest and to glean. Allow me to be among those who harvest in Your name and for Your kingdom and to Your eternal glory. Amen.