Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves, and I’m the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of CCEF, which stands for the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, where our mission is to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. For more information about CCEF and our ministry and thousands of resources for biblical counseling and discipleship in the hard situations, come check us out at ccef.org.
So it’s the beginning of October, which means at least if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re probably a few weeks into getting the kids back to school or going back to school yourself, or at least the people around you being in, “Hey, we’ve gotten back to school now for a bit,” mode. And I find that after just a few weeks into that sort of school year mode, you start to feel the initial surge of energy and the freshness of the new pencils kind of goes to the backseat. And all the struggles with laziness and procrastination, and all the stuff that was there last June when you finished up has come right back where you left them. So I thought it’d be a good time to talk a bit about laziness.
What does scripture teach about laziness, and how we are to address and respond to it? I’ve found that there are two simple questions, at least the questions are simple, whether the answers are simple or not, that are really helpful to me when I’m processing laziness, that instinct, that desire in myself or in conversation with someone else. And I like to just spend some time thinking about those two questions and how they play out. Question number one is, what is it that you want? Or actually, in many cases, more accurately even, what is it that you don’t want? What are you trying to avoid? What is your laziness or your procrastination saying about what you’re trying to get away from? That’s question number one. What are you trying to avoid? What are you wanting? What are you not wanting? Question number two is, what are you not seeing about the vital, the abundant life, beautiful, rich, rewarding, satisfying, glorious, joyful nature of the Kingdom of God?
Now, obviously neither of those questions emerges directly from any one exact verse in that way responding to laziness. The Bible knows a lot about people struggling to make themselves do what they know to be good. But I find those two particular questions, that idea that we’re going to operate out of the overflow of our hearts, that our desires are going to shape what we do. You see that all over the place, not just in Matthew. You see this idea that we can become blind to the goodness of what God is calling us to. The fact that his call to obedience is a call to the path of life, not the path of death. That when our drudgery becomes our view of what’s happening here, in some senses, even when life is hard, even when we do have hard things we do need to make ourselves do… that if we see it as Him against us or calling us to something that’s not good for us, we have a better plan for our lives than whatever obedience looks like today. We’ve lost some ability to perceive what is true, to see the beauty of the path of life and a God who gave up his own son for us. How will he not graciously along with him give us all things? Something about that, something about that we can trust him to really be good and really care for us as 1 Peter 5:7 puts it, we lost some piece of that.
Let me offer a couple of thoughts about how this might touch down in action. I’ll be looking at myself, my own story. This is certainly an area I’m very familiar with. I have told this story many times, but a number of years ago, a coworker of mine I was working with met my mom for the first time and was saying, “Oh, I like working with your son,” and saying all the other nice sorts of things you say when you meet someone’s mother and you work with them. And my coworker went on to say, “He’s just so driven.” And this person obviously meant that as a compliment and was trying to encourage my mother, but my mother burst out laughing. She laughed out loud and then she felt bad about it and she apologized to me and to the other person, which she didn’t have to do. But “driven” is not a word that anyone would have used to describe me in the early years of my life as my mother was trying to pour in to help me become someone who would be responsible and energetic in pursuing things that are good about working out the pleasure of God in your life. I have a significant struggle with laziness. I always have. And my biggest struggle, as is so often the case for us in life, is also probably the place of my greatest growth in my walk with the Lord, in my sanctification and becoming more like what Jesus looks like. I remember David Powlison once saying that to me. He said, “Over and over throughout the history of the church and through the history of God’s people, I’ve seen that it’s particularly in our areas of greatest weakness that the Lord does his greatest work,” which makes sense, right? 2 Corinthians 12, “His power is made perfect in our weakness.” We’re not here to boast, we’re here to be pictures of what his good work actually looks like.
What don’t I want when I am moving into something that I’m procrastinating on or wanting, to at any rate? I thought I would take a specific example of speaking events and writing, both of which I have to do for my work on a regular basis. And I should say here, I have the blessing and the curse of having a job that I love, that keeps me busy with good things that I care about. And I assure you there are lots of valuable things I can always find to do that allow me to say, oh, I’ll start that writing project in a bit. I’ll get to that speaking event later. What do I want or what do I not want?
Well, I’ve found as I’ve thought about this that there seemed to be basically two things, and they’re both in the category of things I don’t want. Thing number one, I don’t want to be uncomfortable. I don’t want discomfort. I just don’t want the sheer uncomfortableness of actually sitting down and opening up the Google document and writing words and then getting up in front of a microphone and saying them or of editing them. It’s just there’s a strain, there’s a stress on my brain, even my body feels tense. I just don’t like the feeling of stepping into these things. Yeah, I always overblow it when I’m thinking ahead about it. It reminds me of the proverb: the sluggard says, there is a lion in the streets. I’m going to get killed. I’m going to get mauled. We manufacture much larger fears than are actually accurate when it comes to getting out of things we don’t want to do. And so we stay indoors and don’t go do the things we should do. But yeah, there’s a discomfort I’m trying to avoid. And I also find that I fear how the end result of things often falls so short of the exciting idea that I began with. There’s something about getting to the end and being like, ah. It felt so fun when I just first had the idea of like, oh, I should give a talk on that. Or, oh, I could add this to an article. And there’s something of a letdown when you actually wrestle it down into words and actually get out there and say it and go, ah, it didn’t quite capture the fullness of what I hoped and wanted that it would.
The second question then, what is it that I need to see about the glory of the path of life? What is it that I need to see that I’m not seeing, that I’ve lost sight of, that I’ve become blinded to? Well, here’s a few thoughts. These things are helpful to me. These are places I run in the face of feeling the desire to run away from my work. I’ll start with discomfort. What are the things that help me in the face of just the discomfort of sitting down and making myself do something that I don’t want to do, of typing words into the Google document? There is a sense that I lose hold of that Jesus is with me, His promise to be with me. I mean so simple, so constantly there throughout all of scripture, His promises to be with us. Yes, even to the end of the age, I will be with you. I’ll never leave you. I’ll never forsake you. Even the valley of the shadow of death. And my goodness, sitting down and writing some words is hardly the worst part of the valley of the shadow of death—that he’s with me in it, that I’m not sitting down by myself. I’m not isolated. I’m actually on mission with my friend, with my shepherd, with my King. In a sense, I’m even on a quest when I’m writing, when I am preparing a speaking talk or even yes, a podcast. I am participating in something he cares about, and we are right there as a team together in the moment of the discomfort doing these things together. I sometimes can even almost see the wry smile on his face as I’m being all cranky in my soul trying to get myself into a project, and I see him chuckle when, oh, as I get into it, I actually do feel the passion and enjoy it and it’s not as bad as I thought or the sense of shared satisfaction. We did something together that mattered. I find that helpful. Jesus is with me and He’s with me on mission or even we’re on a quest here together. There’s a sense of adventure that we’re setting out on into something unknown for me, but He’s got me and He’s with me and we’re going to go after this thing together.
I think another thing I find helpful would be the idea that whatever it is, sitting down and typing for the next hour, that’s simply what this moment calls for. Later tonight when I get home, it will be the moment to have dinner with my family. After that, it’ll be the time to have the joys and the challenges of getting my kids down for bed. Later, it’ll be time for me to sit and read my book a little bit and then to turn out the light and go to sleep and then it’ll be time for me to sleep. And the idea, obviously put most poetically in Ecclesiastes 3, that there’s a time for every purpose under heaven. This time, this purpose, the next hour, the purpose of that time is to press into whatever discomforts there may be in writing or in speaking or preparing or doing hard thinking, heavy lifting, or whatever the case might be.
I find it helpful in the face of all that to acknowledge the discomfort. Yeah, it is uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel good. And even to pray that, to speak to him and say, Lord, this is hard. I don’t want to start this process. Sometimes even just being able to pray that and saying, Lord, would you help me? I don’t want to do this, can be an enormously powerful help.
Last thing about discomfort I’ll say is just that it can be really helpful to remind myself that there will be a joy in having done this good thing. A right joy, a right kind of satisfaction of I’ve pushed something forward that really does matter, that really does bring joy to my Lord, joy to my friend, joy to the one who is with me and whom I am obeying and wanting to obey because of the advance of His kingdom and this one little place for whoever it is that hears or reads these words. The idea of joy, I want to keep in mind that there will be a satisfaction that’s rightly placed.
Secondly, what about the other thing I don’t want? I don’t want the end to fall short end, and it always does. A couple things that I’m losing sight of. Number one, I’m losing sight of the value of doing something that actually gets out there and meets people where they are and in some way participates in the Spirit’s work in their lives. Here in the context of this podcast, if I never make myself do this, if I never actually get words out there, you never hear them. Now, how helpful are they? Well, that’s between you and the Lord, but I am committing my words into his hands to go and actually have an impact. I need to actually send something out the door. It needs to actually happen if that’s going to be worth doing. And the point is not for me to do something that I feel, well, good, that lived up to my expectations. The point is for me to send something out that has benefit to other people, that on some level is some piece of truth that is brought to life, that is made more compelling, that is made more helpful, that is made more accessible, whatever it is, I am trying to do something here that meets you, that meets others where they are and that commits to the Spirit. Here you go, Lord, you can use this as you see fit.
I basically just said this, but the flip side or the expansion I would make on that is it really is this kind of work, this crafting of something into words that go out the door, it is about love. It’s not about being evaluated. It’s not about some sort of quality in the abstract. It’s not even about me feeling good about the fact that it happened, it’s about love. It’s about bearing fruit. It’s about words that have an impact. Now, I don’t control the whole impact, of course, that my words have. I don’t control any of the impact. That’s again, between the Lord and his people. But my goal is to love, it’s not to produce something that will reflect on me in a certain way. And that is helpful to me. It’s helpful to be freed of the burden of, oh no, it’s not going to feel as good as it did in the spark.
And some of that’s even trusting the Lord with the process. I can commit to Him I like having ideas. I like having a thought about, hey, this could be a cool way to put it, or, wow, that’s been so helpful to me to see that differently. That’s what I love about doing a podcast is I have a natural space where I’m forced to think about, hey, what is it that’s most helpful to me in life right now? Or what am I seeing be helpful to the people around me? What am I seeing that really is scripture coming to life in the world around me? And I like those sparks. The point is not to retain all the excitement of the spark. The point is for the excitement of that spark to push me to actually love others by speaking and being faithful and sending something that can have a different kind of spark for others. Even if for me, often it feels like, oh, it never quite lived up to that first idea of what this could have been.
Let me say one last thing in light of the word faithfulness that I just used. There really is a power in faithfulness, not a power in faithfulness in and of itself. It’s faithfulness in the Lord who causes the work of our hands to be established as Psalm 90 puts it. But if I just open up my Google Doc and write some things, further along down the road, I will have a better ability to say, you know what? Those words aren’t the most helpful, and I can craft them a different way here. And oh, okay, here’s the problem, and I can make that better. Every time I push faithfully into a project that is on my plate that I need to do, that I’ve committed to do, there is a way in which the writing, the editing, the prepping, the speaking is just me being faithful one minute at a time. And there is such a beautiful power in being faithful. When you are faithful in the little things that you’ve been called to do, recognizing that it makes a difference.
I actually had the opportunity this year to hear my brother who was an intern at a church, preach a sermon, and it was the first time I got to hear him preach live at this church, and he preached on the parable of the talents and he was talking about how sometimes faithfulness simply looks like getting out of bed in the morning. Sometimes the putting of your talents and trusting your talents to the Lord and seeking to multiply them simply means the faithfulness to get out of bed in the morning when it feels in all your senses and in your brain like this is not going to do anything. I’m trusting the Lord with my day by simply setting my feet on the floor. The power of faithfulness, even as simple as getting out of bed, is a profound, wonderful thing that the Lord has done in saying, commit your way to me. Come, give me your steps. Give me your words and let me use them. You can trust me with everything you do, with every obedient step you take, that it will be what I want it to be.
There’s no shortcuts, but God delights to grow us in self-control, in becoming people who are better and better about choosing what is good and living into what is right and what obedience looks like. And those questions of what is it that I’m wanting or not wanting, and how can what I want be more full of a kingdom perspective, there’s just such a depth of help there. Not that we grab ourselves by the bootstraps and make ourselves want it more, but that in coming to the Lord and coming to his spirit and asking, Lord, will you help me in the face of knowing I am trying to avoid something here? I want to want it. Will you help me want what is good? Will you help me desire and see the rightness of the path of life?
I’ll leave you with this final image. I feel like when we wrestle with self-control, when we wrestle to take actions that we don’t feel like taking, it’s sort of like being a little kid in the pool and the Holy Spirit is like the adult standing there putting his hands down in a little stirrup that you stand in and you try to jump up out of the water and you can maybe make three or four inches up on your own power. But when he gets under you and launches your foot, you go flying up into the air out of the water altogether a higher jump than you could ever possibly have managed in your own strength. And yet the joy and the fun of that when we splash around in the water, is precisely that the child is jumping. And how the spirit delights in taking our tiny little efforts and launching us up into things we could never have even imagined, because that’s who He is. He is the one who gives more abundantly and does more than all we can ask or imagine. Let’s commit our way to him today, right? Let’s take him our laziness and procrastination and desire to avoid and just say, okay, help me see life and will you launch me into the delight of obedience?