Robert Jeffress - Choosing Productivity Over Laziness
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". We often use words like diligent or driven to describe hardworking people, but those adjectives are more than just personality traits. They represent deliberate choices about using our time, our finances, and our education to advance our lives. Today, I'm going to share the personal benefits of leveraging whatever God has given us, whether it's a little or a lot. My message is titled "Choosing Productivity Over Laziness" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
In my desk drawer at home, I have an envelope that is filled with gift cards to various restaurants that people have been kind to give us for birthdays or anniversaries or other occasions, and the other night, I decided to retrieve one of those gift cards when we were going out to eat, and when the waiter came to present the bill, I was so proud to be able to flip out that piece of plastic instead of having to charge it or give them cash, so I proudly gave this gift card. The waiter took it. A few moments later, he came back and whispered into my ear. He said, "I'm sorry, but this card has expired". I was so mad at myself. I mean, I had surrendered the opportunity to exchange a worthless piece of plastic for a nice meal, and I had nobody to blame but myself. It was my forgetfulness, my slothfulness, my, yes, laziness that caused me to pass up that opportunity to exchange something of little value for something of great value.
You know, I thought about that later. In a lot of ways, our life is like a gift card from God. We can choose to spend it on things infinitely more valuable than a meal at a restaurant, we can choose to spend our life on trivial pursuits, or we can allow our lives to expire without really exchanging it for anything. In our series, "Choose Your Attitudes, Change Your Life," we're saying we don't get to choose our circumstances, we don't get to change our circumstances, but we can choose our response, our attitudes to the circumstances of life. And one circumstance that we all in this room share together is this. God has given each one of us a limited amount of time, talents, resources, and opportunities, but we choose how we spend those gifts from God. One choice of an attitude is an attitude of productivity.
I've defined that on your outline as being an attitude that maximizes, that chooses the maximize God's gifts to us, or we can choose the attitude of laziness. Laziness. The Bible calls it slothfulness. It is an attitude of indifference toward the time, the talent, the resources, and the opportunities that God gives us. And today, we're going to talk about why the Bible says we should choose the attitude of productivity over the attitude of laziness. And for the few minutes we have this morning, I want us to do three things. First of all, we're going to look at the relationship in the Bible between productivity and prosperity. Secondly, we're going to define laziness or slothfulness and look at four characteristics of it. And then finally, we're going to talk about five practical ways to develop an attitude of productivity in your life.
You know, failing to be productive, choosing laziness over productivity not only profoundly affects the kind of life you experience now, but it affects your eternity as well. Now, first of all, let's look at the relationship between productivity and prosperity. I want you to listen to this next few minutes especially carefully, because I don't want to get any emails of people who have misunderstood what I'm saying. There is a strain of teaching and Christianity today, it's really heresy, called the prosperity Gospel, and the prosperity Gospel basically says it's God's will for every Christian to be rich, for every Christian to be physically well, and if you're not experiencing health and wealth, it's because something is wrong with you. You're sinning. You're not a Christian. You haven't given enough money. That's why you're not prosperous. That is not what the Bible teaches, and yet you hear it all the time. You hear it on television.
Now, the problem with heresy like that is there's just enough truth mixed in with a lot of error to make it sound plausible. And here's what I'm saying, is as you look at the Bible, there does seem to be a relationship between obedience to God and prosperity. In fact, John said in 3 John, "My desire is that you prosper in all things, in all areas of life". Let me show you what I'm talking about, that relationship between obedience to God and prosperity. Look at Proverbs 3, verses nine through 10. "Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all of your produce: so that your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine". Or Proverbs 10:4 through 5. "Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he use sleeps in harvest as a son who acts shamefully". Proverbs 10:22. "It is a blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it". Or Proverbs 13:21. "Adversity pursues sinners, but the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity". Proverbs 15:6. "Such wealth is in the house of the righteous, but trouble is in the income of the wicked".
How are we to understand those verses? Some people will say, well, those are in the Old Testament. That was God's promise to Israel, but we're not Israel, therefore none of those promises applies to us today. It's completely irrelevant. It is true, some of the promises in the Bible are specific to Israel only, and we're foolish to try to apply them to ourselves. But are we going to say that about all the promises in the Old Testament? Or we're saying none of them is applicable to us today? When you look through Proverbs, it's clear Proverbs isn't just written to the Israelites. It's a universal, not promise, but principle to all people, Christians and non-Christians alike. The other extreme, some people say, well, you don't have to explain these away. Just take them at the face value.
If you do what God says, you're going to be wealthy. But there's a problem with that, too, especially when you consider both the New Testament and the experience of Christians around the world. For example, in Hebrews 11:37, it talks about those first-century Christians. "They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated". That hardly sounds like the prosperity Gospel, does it? And that's been the way it's been throughout history, most of the world, for Christians. 1 Corinthians 1:26, Paul said, "Consider your calling, brethren, there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble".
You know, why isn't it that the majority of celebrities, the majority of wealthy people, the majority of academicians around the world don't embrace Christianity? It's because those things, their accomplishments have become stumbling blocks to them, and that's why Paul said, "Look around you. There're not a lot of rich people here in church". There's not a lot of people with PhDs. Nothing wrong with that. Everything right with that. But the fact is, it's usually humble people, people of lower means, not great income, who come to faith in Christ. So how are we to understand these verses about prosperity, especially in the book of Proverbs? Look, there is no guarantee of wealth from becoming a Christian. God hasn't promised you wealth. But what he has promised is this. People who follow God's principles about work, about productivity, about their finances, people who follow God's principles are generally going to be more prosperous than those who ignore God's principles. And that's what we're going to talk about today.
Now, the best way to understand productivity, that is, the attitude of maximizing your God-given gifts. The best way to understand that attitude is to look at it's opposite, slothfulness, laziness, and the book of Proverbs has a wealth, pardon the pun, of information about slothfulness, about laziness. Turn over to Proverbs chapter 24, verses 30 to 34. The slothful person, the lazy person in the book of Proverbs is often referred to as the sluggard or the fool. There are some people who are just plain foolish, and that's the lazy person. And notice what the writer says, beginning in verse 30. "I passed by the field of the sluggard, the lazy person, and by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, and behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles, its surface was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. And when I saw, I reflected upon it: I looked and I received instruction". And here's the instruction he received. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber, and your want," that is, your need, "Like an armed man".
As the writer of Proverbs was taking his morning walk or jog through his neighborhood, he noticed that one of his neighbors' house had fallen into disrepair. The paint was peeling from the sides. The grass was overgrown. The fence around it was falling down. And at first, he probably grew angry. He thought, "Man, this eyesore, this is hurting my property values. You know, I can't sell my house with a house like this next door". But he turned his irritation into a desire for instruction. He thought to himself again, "You know, this house didn't get the way it is by itself. There is a certain attitude in the owner of this house that produced this kind of dilapidated eyesore". And that's why he says, verse 32, "I decided to learn what I could. I applied my heart to what I observed, and I learned a lesson from what I saw".
You know, read through Proverbs, you can learn just as much from an ungodly person as you can a godly person. You can learn a lot of good things from godly people about what to do. Look at an ungodly person and what happens to him, and you can learn what not to do. That's why you ought to observe and teach your children to observe not only the end of the godly, but the end of the ungodly. When you see something in the news about the consequences of an ungodly life, you ought to point that out to your children. Or this is what the writer of Proverbs says. He says, "I decided to learn what negative lesson I could learn". And here's the lesson. It's actually one that he repeated earlier in Proverbs 6:10 and 11. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a thief".
Now he's not saying there's anything wrong with resting or sleeping, but this was the stock answer of the sluggard. Whenever he faced something that required effort, he said, "Oh, no, no, I've got to get my rest. I've got to get my sleep". I like what the Old Testament theologian Derek Kidner says about the sluggard. He says, quote, "The wise man will learn while there's time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but as often as not, an ordinary person who has made too many excuses, too many refusals, and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible and as pleasant as falling asleep".
How do you recognize a sluggard and recognize maybe the characteristics in you that make you a sluggard? Proverbs gives us four definite characteristics of a sluggard. Number one, the sluggard refuses to begin a job. The sluggard's motto is, "Never do today what you can postpone till tomorrow". That's his whole life credo. He's always finding a reason to procrastinate work that needs to be done today. Proverbs 26 verse 14 says, "Like the door turns on its hinges, so does the sluggard on his bed". Turns back and forth and back and forth. He can never get himself out of bed, and in the rare event that he does get out of bed, he'll find an excuse not to start working. Proverbs 26:13. He says, "There is a lion in the road! A lion is in the open square"!
Now, the chances of a lion being in the open square in Jerusalem, walking down a main street in Jerusalem is about the same chance as a zebra walking around your neighborhood. It just didn't happen. But he's always finding some preposterous excuse about why he cannot begin doing something. Now, before we're too hard on the sluggard, let's admit we all have some of the sluggard in us. Remember back in high school or college. Remember when the teacher would assign maybe a term project, a term paper, and give you three months to do it. How many of you would start on the first day, working on that project?
Now, Amy used to do it. I'll tell you she was a much more diligent person than I was. She actually started on the first day. But I kept saying to Amy, I remember, I'd say, "Oh, we've got plenty of time to work on this. We've got plenty of time. You know, three months. Who needs three months"? Well, three months, you know, suddenly became one month, and then you had a few weeks left. "You thought, well, maybe I oughta think about this, but I'll think about it". You know, and then the last week, and then the night before. Remember the night before? Suddenly you remember, "I have got this thing due tomorrow". So you stay up all night, you turn in something that's, you know, half baked, and you swear to yourself, "I'll never do that again".
Never say never, 'cause we do do it again and again. And if you're not careful, you can carry those same bad habits with you into adulthood. That's what the sluggard does. He always finds a reason not to begin something. Secondly, the sluggard does not complete his work. He doesn't complete his work. Proverbs 12:27 says, "A slothful man does not even roast his prey, but the precious possession of a man is diligence". I mean, this guy is lazy. He goes to the effort of killing an animal for his meal that night, but he's too lazy to cook the animal, to cook his meal. And in the event that he does cook the meal, look at this.
Proverbs 19:24. "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth". That's lazy. I mean, goes to the effort of preparing the meal. He sticks his fork in it, he tries to bring it to his mouth, and he says, "This takes too much effort," to even put a piece of food in his mouth. That is the sluggard. If he does happen to finish his task, again, it's a mediocre project that he completes. Mediocre work. His stock phrase is, "It's good enough". It's good enough.
It was John F. Kennedy who said, "Success hinges on a passion for excellence". The word excellence is not even in the vocabulary of the sluggard. As somebody said, mediocrity is excellent in the eyes of the mediocre. The mediocre person is satisfied by just getting by. I remember my old cigar-chomping accordion teacher named al trek. Some advice he gave to me one time. He said "Robert, remember it only costs a little more to go first class". What he was saying was it only takes a few minutes more of practicing "Lady of Spain" to turn a mediocre performance into an excellent performance. In fact, somebody has said, "Really it's just five minutes more that separates an amateur from a professional, that separates mediocrity from excellence".
For example, it just takes five minutes more of reading towards your goal. Just five minutes more of working out a problem with your mate. Just five minutes more helping us son or daughter with a difficulty they're experiencing at school. Just five minutes more of pleading with God for something you desperately want him to do in your life. Five minutes more many times separates mediocrity from excellence. The sluggard doesn't understand that. Third characteristic of the sluggard. The sluggard ignores opportunities. He ignores opportunities. The problem with the sluggard in Proverbs 24 is not that he was sleeping, it's that he was sleeping at the wrong time. He was sleeping when he should have been preparing his vineyard for the harvest, preparing the ground and planting seeds, so that when the harvest time came, there was something to harvest. But the sluggard doesn't do that.
The sluggard, listen to this, the sluggard views opportunities as a train. Oh, there'll be another one in five minutes from now. If I miss this train, there'll be another one. If I miss this opportunity, there'll be another opportunity. That's what the sluggard did. He said, "Oh, well, I've got plenty of time to plant seed and till the land, and if I miss the planning time this year, there's always next year". But a wise person, a productive person understands how rare opportunities are. How many times have you heard somebody say, "Oh, if only I had invested in the XYZ company stock 20 years ago, I would have been a wealthy person today".
Well, there's a reason that person didn't invest in the XYZ company 20 years ago. He was so undisciplined in his finances that he spent everything he had and then some. He never had the resources to take advantage of that opportunity. Or somebody says, "You know, I actually thought of the iPhone 30 years ago". Well, that's great, but why didn't you do something about it? Because it would have required too much effort, too much hard work. You see, a sluggard understands or thinks that opportunities will always be there. A wise person, the productive person is one who will take advantage of them. A fourth characteristic of the sluggard is the sluggard craves riches. Now, he doesn't like work, but he likes the rewards of work, and so he wants wealth in order to buy the things that he craves and wants.
So since he's not willing to work for them, how does he get the money? Well, he short circuits the work process by looking for a get rich quick scheme. Lazy people are always looking for a get rich quick scheme. By the way, Proverbs has something to say about that. Proverbs 28, verse 20. "He who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished". Do you know people like this? They're always looking for the big deal. The big deal. They're always talking, talking, talking about their next big deal, their next big deal, no effort, little money that's going to give them all of these riches. The key word is they talk about it. They talk about it, but they never do anything. Proverbs 14:23 says, "In all labor there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty". Or Proverbs 28, verse 19. "He who tills his land will have plenty of food, but he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty".