Proverbs on Prosperity: How Long Wilt Thou Sleep, O Sluggard?

Courtesy LDS Media Library

I remember finding these verses in the Bible years ago while serving a mission. They made me laugh out loud then. They still tickle me now. “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: so shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:9–11; compare Proverbs 24:33–34).

The word sluggard, which indicts the habitually lazy person, appears only six times in holy writ. And all six instances are found in the Book of Proverbs (KJV).

A sluggard is a stark contrast to a diligent person. Often lacking positive role models, a sluggard, I am sad to report, has little vision, purpose, direction, motivation, ambition, or hope. He is sometimes selfish and often unhappy, may project a sense of entitlement, is focused on physical indulgence, tends to manipulate people and circumstances to maintain the status quo, that is, a state of idleness and ease. He finds ways to avoid work, watches way too much television and way too many movies, may play endless video games, and eschews any form of culpability or responsibility. He is the ultimate slacker. And one last point, there’s that emptiness that goes along with it.

The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat. (Proverbs 13:4; compare Proverbs 21:25.)

I’m actually a recovering sluggard. I don’t think I’m alone. Oh, I never liked video games much, but other than that, yeah, I’ve been crawling out of my sluggardliness since my youth. Okay, I try. But still there’s that sluggard in me, that natural me who is an enemy to God. It doesn’t feel good or right. I fight that imp daily.

Similarly, the word slothful (inclined to sloth, indolent, from the South American mammal) appears 12 times in the Old Testament, 11 times in Proverbs alone. A sluggard, if anything, is slothful. (Sloth is by tradition one of the seven deadly sins.)

I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. (Proverbs 24:30–32.)

The slothful man (or woman) is preoccupied with anything except effort or work. He doesn’t take care of his vineyard which provides his sustenance. In our times, he doesn’t take care of his home or yard, he has a hard time holding a job, or wanting to, and he squanders his money.

Now I understand that some of these inclinations can be due to mental illness and emotional distress. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the capable who opt out, the able but unwilling, who are caught in a web of gratification, the haze of laze. The true sluggard is a rare find, but most of us struggle with elements of his character. 

In other words, it’s not such a great thing to be lazy. I don’t mean there’s never a time to rest, relax and even veg out. There is. There has to be. It’s even scripturally mandated. We just shouldn’t be at our leisure 85 percent of the time (or you pick the number). I mean, what’s rest if you have nothing to rest from?

One more thing about the slothful, and then I’ll quit talking about this thoroughly depressing topic.

The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets. (Proverbs 22:13.)

Always dreaming up a reason why he (or she) can’t, why he won’t, do a thing. Too many obstacles in the way, not worth the effort, because he is intoxicated with laziness and momentary pleasures and the delirium of (digital) distraction. In time, his intoxications bring him to ruin. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it.

We were created to get up and do something, if only with our minds if physically unable, because we are all born creators. And you can’t create sitting in a heap on your sagging, overburdened couch, watching hours of what President Hinckley called “inane and empty television.” We are not here to indulge the natural man but to overcome him.

Let’s step up now, you and I, to higher ground. I’ll do that by sharing part of a post called “22 Vitals Habits of Successful People.” These habits take motivation, vision, hope—the opposite of the sluggard manifesto. Brandon Gaille’s list makes me feel happy and hopeful. I trust it will help lift your spirits as well.

Here are a few things you’re almost always going to find [that successful people do]:

1. An ability to track their progress. 

2. An ability to learn from mistakes. 

3. A burning desire to succeed in everything they do.

4. A desire and willingness to take risks.

5. A tendency to create and follow to-do lists.

6. A reputation for being humble.

7. A willingness to accept responsibility for their failures.

8. An ability to embrace change.

9. A willingness to share data and information with others.

10. An ability to create and carry out goals.

11. A reputation for complimenting others.

12. An eagerness to engage in an exchange of ideas with others.

This list moves the needle back toward the diligent side of the scale. I feel better already.

If you are struggling with your get-up and gumption, pick just one thing off this list—the easiest one for you, and the easiest one for you to start, and work on that. (I need to start working on #1, myself.)

If you feel discouraged, I understand. So do I. All the time. But I keep taking that step up, that one that’s right in front of me, and try to not look back at the stairs I’ve already climbed. (At least not stare at them.)

I am innately lazy. But I know there’s a better me. And so I go forward. And I happily confess that I’m less lazy than I used to be. That is the trajectory of triumph, one marked by almost imperceptible progress. No other trajectory seems within my reach.

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