Understanding Sloth 

We will continue with another challenging area SLOTH. You will find quite a few scriptures on sloth/fulness in Proverbs. Some translations use the words “lazy”, sluggard”, in the place of the word “slothful”, generally implying – laziness, sluggish, lacking diligence.
Prov 13:4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. 
Prov 15:19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.
Physical expressions of slothfulness e.g., robotic lawn mower, slothful exercising have their place as a normal existence in life and we think nothing of it. There are expressions of sloth the bible talks about that cut deeper than that. It’s to do with the state of ones heart, the disposition of ones life, the inner attitudes that actually rob us of our productivity and purpose as followers of Christ. We can be busy and active in life but slothful in aspects of true kingdom living.

Four Faces of Sloth 

  1. Spiritual Apathy. (Rev 3:15). Lacking fervency, passion, zeal. A person can start out on fire for God, loving him wholeheartedly but over time that affection starts to get misplaced with other pursuits, fire dies down, sluggishness creeps in. What was precious now gets discarded. Apathy comes from Latin word acedia: absence of caring, unemotional, expressing moral numbness to others around us. The worst sin toward our fellow man is not to hate him but to be indifferent to him.
    Sloth whispers “Why bother” or “Who Cares” or “ I don’t give a flip”. 
  2. Making excuses/procrastinating. (Pro 22:13). Prone to making excuses and at times outlandish excuses to get out of something. I won’t go to church today because there are grizzly bears roaming outside my home. I won’t get a job yet, because I am waiting for an invite to the Deal or No Deal programme – then when I earn that mega bucks, I will open a business. Till then I will just fantasise, think of other get-rich-quick schemes. At times it also involves procrastination. I will do my SOAP bible reading tomorrow and it never happens.
    Sloth whispers “Don’t worry about it for now…there is always tomorrow” 
  3. Wasting precious time/resources. (1 Pet 4:10). God has given all of us gifts, talents, time. When we don’t use them or value them then we neglect what’s important and start to indulge ourselves with things of lesser value. We don’t live beyond ourselves. We waste precious time pursuing temporal things whilst what’s important to God, like investing in lives around us, looking after those who are needy, gets pushed aside. Jesus in Matt 25:26 told the wicked and lazy servant off for not investing his talent. He simply buried it and got no returns for it.
    Sloth whispers “ There is no urgency, you don’t need to inconvenience yourself now” 
  4. Making soft choices. (Prov 26:15). Defaulting to what’s comfortable and easy. Lacking discipline. Not pushing out for more. Not taking risks. Not willing to pay the price. Growing spiritually requires making some persistent, hard decisions, putting some disciplines, changing some mindsets. Psalm 78:57 The Hebrew term describes this as a bow that is not strung or equipped with an arrow. They turned back and were faithless. Undependable.
    Sloth whispers “Its too much trouble to change, just tolerate it, live with it”. 

How Sloth Creeps In 

These expressions or faces of sloth confront all of us. We don’t intentionally set out to become slothful. Sloth creeps in subtly.

At times busyness of life , juggling work, family, church, causes a person to neglect spending time with God, not feeding our spirit and over time we become spiritually sluggish. We may be scoring huge goals in one aspect of life work-wise, but not necessarily engaging in what God has called us to be and to do. Something precious dies within the relationship.

At times physical exhaustion, extensive spiritual output with little results can cause one to become weary. Rather than taking time out and bouncing back you may decide to quit serving altogether and stop investing your time/resources in kingdom matters.

At times prolonged spiritual battles, unanswered prayer can cause us to become spiritually apathetic, hardness of heart sets in. We think God doesn’t care and we stop caring too. Or we start to nurse doubts, faith wavers and we simply quit praying, believing, persevering. CNN news reporter says. Moral numbness is setting in.

At times we procrastinate/make excuses in not deploying our spiritual gifts.

a) we think we need to be perfect only then can we serve, we keep making excuses, procrastinating about it, meanwhile we waste precious time and resources.

b) we can compare ourselves with others and envy their particular gifting or personality, become half-hearted in using what God’s gifted us for.

c) we wait for the right season. one season / stage of our life to be over, so we can do something meaningful in the next season/stage. E.g. wait for children to grow up, then I will serve in this or that. (B A R R Y S M I T H)
Procrastination causes opportunities to slide by and at times they are unrecoverable.

At times it could be our soft choices, lacking spiritual disciplines, weak convictions. Just embrace the flavour of the month, spiritual conference junkies, no goal, no purpose, just going thru the motions of work, weekly church and little in between. When a trial of faith hits, there is not enough substance within to keep persevering, so they end up just quitting church, all because life gets too hard. There is too much effort to change and take new territory in God. Undependable.

God regards these expressions of sloth as spiritual laziness, selfishness and sin. WHY ?

Because our lives were bought at a price, the blood of Christ was poured out to give us a life that should be lived in wholehearted devotion to God. Whenever and wherever we embrace priorities that exclude loving God and serving Him, we start to make compromises. True kingdom values get watered down , we not only become poor representations of Christ, but we may at times misrepresent Him altogether.

In fact the subtle lie behind sloth is that WE are giving up something substantial 
- when we spend time with God, attend church or Life Group 
- when we take time to reach out to others, look out for the interest of others. 
That subtle lie persuades us to pull back, become self-serving, have no long-range spiritual goals in this journey of life. Sloth has a way of numbing us to this truth: that IT’S GOD WHO GAVE UP HIS ALL to secure us and give us a purpose.

Sloth certainly creeps in and robs us of true kingdom living. Days become weeks, weeks become months and turn into years of seeing life pass us by, not investing in what matters to God. Then one day we look back on life with regrets.
Faith you never shared with the person sitting next to you at work, 
That neighbour you never visited and prayed for, 
That mission field that beckoned you but you never visited.
Bold prayers never prayed, risks never taken, sacrificial gifts never offered, lives never touched. 
All that we have to show God is a life of regrets and a shrivelled up soul, small mindedness, wishful thinking, buried talents, half-heartedness. No wonder Jesus was so angry with the servant who buried his talent and got no returns for it !!

Solomon who warns us of slothfulness in Proverbs - experienced the damaging effects of sloth in his own life. He tasted what it was like to start his journey loving and serving God wholeheartedly and also tells us what the whispers of sloth, the bite of sloth did to make life seem so purposeless, empty and meaningless. As the wisest, richest, most influential king in Israel’s history he looks at life from the human perspective, he says from “under the sun“ it’s like grasping for the wind. 
(Eccl 2:11) Power, popularity, prestige, pleasure none of these bring fulfilment in life. He says these are earthly prescriptions for living a so-called fulfilled life and once you gain all these; it leaves you empty, bereft, purposeless with a bitter after-taste.

People today are becoming restless, listless in life, are desperate for something ‘out there’. In desperation they turn to new age, occult, horoscopes, spirituality outside of Christ - all looking for something that will fill that void that only God can fill..

Likewise for us too, the moment we take on priorities that exclude loving God and his works, the true purpose of living gets pressed out our lives, over time we start to live shallow, listless, restless lives. We realise apathy and indifference, have actually set in.

Solomon then goes on to make a comparison and says however, when life is seen from God’s perspective, “above the sun”, life takes on meaning and purpose. 
(Eccl 2:24 and 3:12) - 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. He says that’s the heavenly prescription. See your life as a daily gift from God to be lived with true kingdom values. Vocation, ages/stages in life, friendships, recreation, choices, decisions – live with a total surrender to God.

Examples of: Bill Gates and Bono ( U2 Lead Singer)

I think Paul’s life exemplified this really well. He was pragmatic and spiritually minded at the same time. He worked hard as a tent-maker yet advanced God’s kingdom with passion, fire and zeal. His disposition in life “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. The essence of Christ flowed out of his vocation, out of his moments of captivity, his imprisonments, out of his conversations, his relationships, his affections, his willingness to die for the cause, his whole being oozed out with love for Jesus. That is why Paul could say with such confidence “Follow me as I follow Christ!” He was a true representation of his saviour. We too need to be true representations of Christ.

Cure for Sloth is Diligence 

How do we become diligent and keep sloth at bay is simply by getting a GRIP on these:

  • Guard our hearts
    (Prov 4:23-24)
    Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (NLT). Diligently guard the affections and priorities that are within our hearts. Parameters of our life are set by what is in our heart. If our hearts are following wholeheartedly after God, loving him and seeking after Him, everything in our lives will be awakened to God’s purposes. That connectedness to God will water everything in our lives. When sloth whispers give up that bible reading or praying because you are giving up something substantial - recognise that deception and instead of buying into it, shut your ears to its subtle lie and stay close to God. What you feed grows and what you starve shrivels. You feed your affection for God – it will grow. You starve your affection for God – it will shrivel. We need to continually direct our hearts back to God. Rom 12:11…we are to be fervent in spirit. Boiling over. Zeal matters. Wholeheartedness matters. Don’t settle for anything less. We exist to spread that passion. You can’t spread what you don’t have.

  • Respect time and resources
    (Jn 9:4)
    Life is a race against time. Time is limited. Life is short. The mortality rate for humans is 100%. It means all of us are going to die. Death is certain. The maximum number of productive years is established by God. (Ps 90:10-12). We are not to waste our lives but to walk with purpose. Time is entrusted to us for God’s work. Jn 9:4 the night comes. God has gifted us with talents, resources and giftings. We have to be diligent with the use of our time and resources. Wherever he has placed us, we are to be productive for the Kingdom of God. We need to be intentional with our time. Make the most of every opportunity. People who get up everyday are motivated by two things:- a pay-check or by a mission/cause.

  • Initiative
    (Lk 10:30-33)
    Jesus in this wonderful story of the Good Samaritan highlights that loving God is also expressed in meeting the practical needs of others around us. Jesus cites the story of a person who is beaten and stripped, wounded and left for dead. A lawyer is quibbling over the definition of who a neighbour is, Jesus simply points to the fact that the priest saw the victim and walked the other way, the Levite comes along and he too walks the other way and the Samaritan comes along and has compassion on the victim and nurses him back to health and gives him proper care. INITIATIVE.

    This sounds so much like what we can fall victim to today. We can analyse situations, quibble over theological definitions of this and that, whilst the wounded, sick around us are groaning. Sloth makes excuses as why one shouldn’t attend to the needy, whilst Diligence comes dressed in Initiative to makes things happen.

    We can have all the ideas, great intentions to do this and that for God but they never result in anything unless we take the initiative to do it. Everything flows out from initiative.
    You can have passion and get excited and do nothing.
    You can say it’s a great celebration meeting, but unless you take initiative to be here, you won’t be here. LifeGroups are a great place to build community but unless you take the initiative to step out of your home and get to the group, you won’t build any community.

    We have a great vision at CityLife. We have missions, nations, community projects. It will take all of us to accomplish that vision. So many volunteers needed to help out in so many ministries here. Rather then waiting for someone to push you out of that rest position, take the initiative to ask “What’s the need? Where can I assist?” Serving isn’t always easy or convenient – the Samaritan paid the innkeeper for looking after the victim, likewise at times serving costs us but it is always worth it.

    Initiative is an ACTION word – get moving.
    Judges 18:9 The tribe of Dan were encouraged to take the new territory and not to be slothful.

  • Persevere
    (Heb 6:11-12)
    ...... and we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. True kingdom living requires perseverance, just as the best things in life demand effort and energy.

    The best businesses come from sweat and labour.
    The best marriages are those that have been worked on, regularly, year after year, it requires commitment and energy.
    Likewise spiritual growth results from perseverance.
    It’s not always easy to keep to spiritual disciplines.
    To keep sowing seeds even when you haven’t seen any results,
    To keep praying,
    To keep sharing our faith with someone who doesn't seem to respond for years.
    To stay anchored in God when everything is going south!

    Sloth whispers quit the race; God has forgotten you, stop wasting your time and energy. Just default to what’s comfortable, doesn't require any effort, no sacrifice. Diligence says keep your eyes on the One who is Faithful and persevere.

Conclusion 

Sloth is a sin that not only displeases God, but it lies to us that we are giving up something when we surrender our lives to Christ. Sloth robs us of true kingdom productivity. Just imagine if all of us decided to walk wholeheartedly with God, valued time and resources, used our spiritual gifts and talents, stayed accountable to each other for areas we need to work on, live out the spiritual disciplines, shared our faith with people around us as if there was no tomorrow. What a mark we will make on our generation. There will be a new measure of release right across this place, as we confront expressions of sloth and invite the power of God to help us stay true to our kingdom purpose and call.

- Guard our hearts diligently
- Respect time and resources
- Initiative
- Persevering in faith

Sample Discussion Questions 

  1. Can you identify with any of the 4 faces or expressions of sloth in your life? 
  2. Can you identify how SLOTH crept into your life? 
  3. Has it affected your relationship with God and serving Him? 
  4. Is there any particular area of G R I P that you have compromised on? 
  5. Pray that G R I P will stay strong in our lives.
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