Around our home, you will find various pieces of decorative wood or stone which hold a wise saying or a famous quote. My wife loves them. Well, I think she loves them…. Maybe she has strategically placed them around the house as subtle hints for me. I wouldn’t blame her. I can often use the reminders. However, when she starts labelling our home, it might be going a bit too far (see below).
A significant portion of the Bible is dedicated to relatively short, concise, sayings called “wisdom literature.” To be honest, wisdom literature isn’t very exciting. It is much easier to become engaged in a story or a parable. Plus, when I think of wisdom literature, I expect to have an “ah-ha” moment. To glean some new insight that will be life-changing. So, when I read wisdom literature in the Bible, such as Proverbs, I expect to discover something new. Instead, my mind often responds with a routine, “no kidding…” I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but, I have often found the wisest sayings to oddly state the obvious. Or, in some cases, they express basic truths that should be obvious.
Perhaps wisdom literature, like my wife’s stone and wooden signs, are meant to be reminders. Voices calling us back to the basics. We identify these sayings as wise, meaningful or familiar precisely because they are part of our created identity. Have you ever wondered why you thought, “That is pretty wise! I need to remember that.” Why did it connect? How did you recognize it as something worth remembering? In some miraculous way, perhaps we are hardwired by God to identify our original and most basic programming.
Over the course of our lives however, we let false narratives and corrupt data flood into our souls like a computer virus. Most of the time, these viruses appear to be relatively harmless and simply run in the background, undetected. But over time, their sinister and corrupt programming begins to build up and silently infect our conscious thoughts. By the time they reveal themselves in erratic emotions or dangerous behaviors, it is often too late to prevent a system crash. So, from time to time, we need a reset. We need to strip off the negative bias and unprincipled buildup and return to our core programming and identity.
Let’s explore a few examples from Proverbs, and for fun, let’s add a bit of mystery and excitement… Sherlock Holmes style.
The Mystery of the Missing Maize
The lazy person does not plow in season; harvest comes, and there is nothing to be found. (Proverbs 20:4)
Even if you have never set foot on a farm, I doubt this is new information and hardly a mystery. You can’t expect a harvest, if you have never planted seeds. No matter how much you complain, or how unfair and corrupt you think the system is, corn (or maize) does not grow on good intentions or just because you want it to. That’s farming 101.
No matter how much you demand and stomp your feet, if you don’t spend time in the field of hard work, you shouldn’t expect a reward for your lack of responsibility. That’s life 101.
But, apparently the author of Proverbs thought his community needed the reminder. And, those readers thought their kids needed the reminder, and so on. So, over the generations, they passed along this bit of wisdom…all the way down to us. Like I said, this is basic, life 101 principles.
For generations, we have forgotten, repeatedly, that God has ordered our world in such a way that if you want to gain a benefit from something you have to put in the effort. But, here is the best part. When it comes to the harvest, God has designed the return on investment to be beyond extraordinary. Let’s say you decide to plant a seed of corn. You water it, care for it, protect it from being trampled by the ghosts of baseball players, etc. What return would you expect? 25%? 50%? To double your investment? Nope. From, that solitary seed, we can expect a stalk of corn holding several ears of corn that each produce 600-800 kernels neatly organized into 16 edible rows. In case you are not familiar with an ear of corn, there are about 490 kernels of corn in a typical bag of microwave popcorn. So, your single kernel could earn you 3 to 4 bags of delicious microwave popcorn for you and your friends to enjoy while watching Field of Dreams.
Hard work: It's elementary…
The Riddle of the Restless Respite
As a door turns on its hinges, so does a lazy person in bed.
I can identify with this one. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. The alarm goes off early in the morning, I roll over like a door on its hinge and take a wild swing in the vicinity of the alarm clock, which is blaring Eye of the Tiger. Well, that is not completely true. I still roll over like a door on a hinge, but these days I have to blindly search for the small button on the side of my cell phone, because opening my eyes means I am no longer asleep. Then, I hinge my way back to the dark side of my bed.
Like rolling over again and again each morning, a door turning on its hinges is not doing its most basic job. A door is either open, to allow entry, or closed, to prevent access. The entire function of a door is to be open or closed. (Although, technically, a revolving door is always open and closed at the same time. But there are no archeological remains discovered of revolving doors, so they don’t count.) To swing back and forth, with no apparent purpose, is the only thing a door should not do. It is not that complicated.
The swinging door appears to be busy. It is in constant motion, endlessly squeaking its way between open and closed. The door moves, but without purpose.
Ever thought, “The boss just walked in… look busy!” We can look busy, while merely going through the motions. We can even be busy, without being productive. Those wasteful moments that we spend swinging busily on our hinges fail to honor the opportunities that have been given to us. We betray the time we have been blessed to inhabit. After all, you set Eye of the Tiger on your alarm before going to bed for a reason. “Rising up to the challenge of our rival” starts by getting out of bed.
The Puzzle of the Pesky Predator
The lazy person says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!”
This one is a bit more serious. Here, we allow fear to bully us into inaction. We permit fear the power to paralyze us. And this momentary paralysis can quickly turn into habitual laziness.
Typically, this form of laziness begins with the words, “What if…”
What if I can’t meet the deadline?
What if I fail?
What if someone disagrees with my decisions?
What if I have to sacrifice something, or anything?
What if everyone looks down on me?
What if there is a lion, or tiger, or bear out there? Oh my!
So, let’s simply start by answering the “what if” question. What if there isn’t a lion in the street? What would you do? Your answer to that question is your plan to move forward, your plan for the future.
Now, let’s say there is a lion in the street. You can still have the same plan. You might need to modify that plan a bit to deal with the predator in the street. Maybe you learn to use a whip, or have the number for animal control on speed dial. But if your only answer is to cower behind the couch and hide, you have already failed. You sacrificed your mission without a fight. Fear wins and you lose, along with anyone else who is depending on you. Real life teaches us that there will always be a lion in the road if you look hard enough. The question is, what will you do about it.
The Investigation of the Industrious Insect
Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
The first case we investigated reminded us that to reap a harvest, we need to put in the work. Building on that lesson, we are now told where to go for some advice and direction. And, we don’t have to go very far. According to Iowa State University entomologists Larry Pedigo and Marlin Rice, there are 400 million insects on an average acre of land. Right now, under your chair there are 400 million lives working to eat and build, multiply and survive. We rarely notice them. They don’t make a big fuss, they work. And their work is incredibly efficient. Every day, all over the world, without managers, CEOs, BR departments (bug resources), mayors, governors, or other elected officials, they have found a way to effectively work together.
No one had to tell them to gather food. They don’t need to attend a seminar on motivation. They don’t wait around for more specific instructions. They do what they can that day for the good of the colony, and by extension, themselves. Ants aerate the soil, help water and oxygen to reach plant roots, and provide food for other species. Ants don’t worry about a lion that may or may not be in the street. Ants don’t roll around in their beds all day, or hang out in the ant hill enjoying some popcorn. They simply make the most of their days. Even if what they do is relatively small, everyone one of us benefits from their labors.
• • •
So, did you learn something new? I hope not. There is really nothing mysterious or puzzling in these sayings. Just a few powerful reminders that laziness and procrastination were never part of our original programming. These straightforward, wise sayings simply remind us that we can decide, each day, to work toward making our life or the life of someone around us better. We label these statements as wise, not because they offer new information or a secret to a better life, but they connect to real life and a reality that we know is true, along with every ant, lion, door hinge and bag of microwaved popcorn.