I recently read back through the book of Proverbs, and for some reason this time through I was especially struck by the often very funny imagery that is used by the various authors. The one that made me actually laugh out loud was 26:10, "Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard." That archer must be some kind of idiot! I imagine him fumbling with the string, accidentally smacking a fellow soldier with an arrow as he draws it from the quiver, and then holding the bow improperly so that when he looses the string it hurts his arm and flips the arrow out in a random direction causing even more chaos.
Proverbs is not kind to fools and sluggards. Of course, what would you expect from a book about wisdom, after all. But as we laugh at the antics of the fool and shake our heads at the laziness of the sluggard, we also need to take these nuggets of wisdom as they are intended: as a warning.
In that vein, one of the proverbs that I highlighted as being something that I personally need to remember is 15:19.
"The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway."
Once again, there is definitely some humor in this statement. You imagine the lazy fellow standing there looking at all of the thorns and shaking his head in frustration. Maybe he bellows out a mighty sigh and then shrugs his arms and gives up. It's funny because that's not actually what the road forward looks like, but only what he assumes it is like. All this is just too much trouble, he thinks to himself. I think I'll just go inside and do nothing instead.
The upright (non-lazy) person, though, sees nothing in front of him but a wide-open and fast-moving lane of opportunity. It's important to realize that there may actually be some difficult obstacles ahead, but that's not how he thinks of it, and that's not how he treats this journey. For him (or her), nothing stands in the way of successfully completing the task.
Now, some of the other proverbs about the sluggard seem like they are definitely not talking directly to me. Proverbs 26:15, for instance, says, "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth." As far as I know, I've never been too lazy to eat! When my hand goes into the dish, it definitely comes out again!
But I can't deny the applicability of 15:19 above. There are many times when I get so bogged down in considering everything that can go wrong that I give up the journey before it even starts. Isn't it true, though, that we also have to count the costs of an undertaking to be sure that we have the resources to complete it (Luke 14:28-32)? Well, yes, we must be wise and diligent when it comes to any undertaking, but Proverbs reminds us that the sluggard will always see the road ahead as full of thorns. This is then a warning. As you count the costs, be sure not to see roadblocks that aren't really there. Be courageous and prudent. If you see that you have a habit of giving up before you begin then realize that you might be a big part of the problem.
I think that it is fascinating, however, that in this verse the writer does not contrast the 'sluggard' with the 'diligent' as he does in so many other proverbs. In this particular case, he contrasts the sluggard with the 'upright'. It is not mere diligence that causes the road ahead to be straight and clear. Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are created by God "for good works, which [He] prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." And I do not believe that these "good works" only have to do with preaching engagements, mission trips, Sunday school lessons and the like. I believe that this refers to every good thing that a believer may do, which would include something so simple as working a job to provide for your family - because providing for your family is a 'good' thing (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
So what is the takeaway for Christians from a passage like Proverbs 15:19? I think that we need to be conscious of sinful laziness that would cause us to give up or not pursue big important things that could be a benefit to us, our families, or even the kingdom of God. We need to be courageous, diligent, and prudent. But we need to also remember that while we work things out with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13) it is actually God who wills and works in us for His purposes and His glory. He will give us the energy and the courage that we need to accomplish His purposes. And instead of letting that fact serve as an excuse for inaction, treat it as a promise for success in action - as long as we work in accordance with His revealed will.