The Sin That Worries Me Most: Sloth

Some of the laziest people I know are workaholics. But most aren’t.

The lazy-overachievers push themselves night and day in a vain effort to convince themselves they are not lazy, not sloths or couch potatoes or blights on humanity. But most lazy people are under-achievers of the first order.

The workaholic has his own demons to tame, so we will leave him to them.

The rest of us are just cotton-pickin’ lazy.

Who would have thought that the ancients would have identified sloth as one of the deadly sins? It looks so tame, so benign. It doesn’t hurt anyone, but just lies there on the couch doing nothing. How could that be a sin?

The sloth rises from the bed at 10 am and whiles away the day, then rises from the couch at 10 pm wondering where the time went. Where the time went is into the trash bin, into deletion, never to be recaptured.

The sinfulness of sloth is that it wastes life. It denies that “this is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). It takes what is God’s and buries it. Sloth is life-denying, and thus rebellion against the purposeful Creating God.

I know about laziness. You too?

Now, I’m known as the guy who rises early and works late, who gets up in the night to tweak something and stays at it for hours.

As a young minister, I went for years without a vacation or taking an off day. From the outside, it looked noble to everyone except my longsuffering family. On the inside, I was living in fear. I was afraid of being accused of laziness, of not doing enough, of not earning my pay.

From the outside, that does not look like sloth. But my heart is where sloth resides.

In the same way that some part of me is an unbeliever, a thief, a liar, and an adulterer, I am lazy. The urge is ever-present, the all-too human tendency toward rebellion and indulgence. Staving it off is a never-ending chore.

Now, one reason we know laziness is so prevalent across humanity is that Scripture–particularly Proverbs–has so much to say on this subject, none of it good.

Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise (Proverbs 6:6). The ant, says Solomon, is worthy of our study. Unlike the ancient philosopher-king, we have seen nature films depicting colonies of ants working and cooperating and fighting. We stand in awe of this little critter.

Now, Solomon clearly knew nothing approaching what today’s scientists have learned about ants. And yet, what he said is exactly on target. The ant, as well as the squirrel in my back yard, puts us to shame.

The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly (Proverbs 26:16). The person who does not get up off the couch to run the vacuum or wash the dishes or to earn his pay in the office always has reasons and excuses.

For the record, here are the Proverb references to sloth and laziness: 10:4,26; 12:24; 13:4; 15:19; 19:15; 20:4; 26:14-16.

First, let’s say what laziness and sloth are not.

Sloth is not necessary idleness.

The overworked engine needs to be shut down occasionally and allowed to rest. The cowboy rests his horse from time to time, otherwise the animal is permanently ruined.

Humans need to rest, and sometimes that means sitting on a front porch doing nothing but watching the sun set over the mountains.

The sign at the gas pump says, “When refueling, turn off engine.”

The mechanic working on your car first turns off the ignition.

Idleness is necessary if we are to be refueled and restored.

Sloth is not boredom.

Boredom can be great. We find ourselves with time on our hands and our mind wants to accomplish something, to find something worthwhile on which to invest our time. Recently, author and columnist George Will wrote of the devastating change that technology has brought to our youth. The time it takes for them to be bored is now in the milliseconds, he says. In previous ages, it would have taken hours.

A bored person may decide to find a book to read, or start putting in his shop or take a walk in the neighborhood. Something good can come from any of these. They are not laziness.

Sloth is not rest.

A minister friend finally took the vacation he had been wanting for years. He and his wife rented a cabin in the Colorado mountains and for three weeks, did nothing. Now, I did not question him about it, but I know and you know they did not do nothing. They slept and rose and ate and took walks and read books. They laughed and went for drives and they talked. Which sounds to me like the perfect vacation.

There’s nothing wrong and everything right with taking a break from hard work for deep restful relaxation. The Lord told the disciples to “come apart and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).

Sloth and laziness have their own peculiar expressions.

How often have you heard these? Worse, how many times have you said them?

“I could not care less.” “I don’t give a d–n. Leave me alone.” “Who cares?”

“Let someone else do it.” “What’s the use? It’s all to be done over anyway.”

“Everything’s going to turn out all right. Just leave it alone.”

“You worry too much. You need to take a break and rest more.”

“I’ll do it later.” “Aw mom. You nag me too much.”

Sloth affects every profession, every kind of human.

A lazy teacher prepares his/her lessons for this year and thereafter regurgitates the same boring stuff every year. A great teacher is always learning, ever growing, never pausing in a pursuit of excellence in her field and with her students.

A lazy pastor will find ways to postpone sermon study until Saturday night, when he hastily digs through Scripture in a vain attempt to produce a sermon that works for the next day. Lazy preachers spend too much time on the golf course or fishing, too little time knocking on doors or on their knees or with their people.

A lazy father indulges his own pasttimes, but has no patience with his wife or children. He comes alive only when watching his team play ball, then rebuffs his son’s invitation to come outside and toss the ball around.

A lazy mother cannot wait until the children are out of the house in the morning so she can watch television or play on the computer or get with her friends for coffee and gossip. She grows irritated if a sick child has to stay home and needs mama close by.

What sloth (laziness) looks like. (Just so you’ll know it the next time you see it.)

A sloth is a spectator. He does not run for office, grow a garden, build a house, or prepare his taxes early.

A sloth is a procrastinator. He puts off everything to the last minute and beyond, if possible.

A sloth is a prevaricator. A liar. He has excuses and rationalizations and justifications for his life on the couch. But only he believes them. Everyone else knows the truth.

A sloth is a complainer. Life is unfair, he says. The government is on our backs, all politicians are crooked, hospitals are unsafe and doctors are not to be trusted.

A sloth is always looking for shortcuts. Rather than make a serious effort to take charge of his life, he goes for promises to “lose 20 pounds without dieting,” “learn Spanish without all that memorization,” and “get a degree without studying.”

A sloth is the most egotistical individual on the planet. He is interested in one person only, himself, and in only one aspect of himself, his appetite. Whatever pleasures him is first on his agenda each day.

The spiritual sloth has joined your church and fills half the pews, pastor.

Half the members of the typical church never read their Bibles, attend no weekly class to learn Scripture, and are engaged in no personal ministry. They come to church occasionally and when they do, only as spectators to fill in a pew as though somehow or other, worship will “happen” to them.

Ask them to come to a Sunday night meeting, to attend a church business conference, or serve on a special task force and you find out in a hurry who the real workers are in your congregation.

I sometimes urge pastors to invite worshipers to get up from the pew and meet him at the altar for a time of prayer on their knees, just to see the kind of response he will get. In even the most spiritual of churches, no more than half will respond.

Slothful members are known by…

…their unwillingness to make a commitment. Sign a pledge card? Not in this lifetime. Commit to giving a certain amount to a building campaign? No thanks.

…that glazed over look in their eyes during the sermon. They are far afield and completely uninvolved in what’s going on in church. They might just as well have stayed home.

…their philosophy that attending church is their primary obligation as Christians. They are in for a rude awakening when they stand at judgment.

…their promptness in criticizing the service as though their disapproval equates to God’s thumbs-down.

The cure for sloth? That one is simple.

“Awake thou that sleepest! Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14, quoting the Prophet Isaiah).

Sloths are sleep-walking through life. The cure is to awaken. Even a rude-awakening is better than no wakening at all.

Sloths are spiritually dead. The remedy is to come to life. (Are there spiritual defibrillators? Maybe a good shock would do the trick.)

Jesus said, “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).

Since we sloths like things simple, this ought to do it. What could be more simple than awakening and coming back to life?

And it won’t even take 30 days to do it?

2 thoughts on “The Sin That Worries Me Most: Sloth

  1. An interesting post, but it seems a bit incomplete. For example:

    1) It never gets around to saying what sloth is or exactly how it differs from idleness and boredom.

    2) I assume that all of those “sounds” are of sloth, but you don’t say how they’re different from sounds of idleness.

    3) I’m wondering if this post was left intentionally looking like it was unfinished (perhaps because of sloth?). 🙂

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