September 1, 1999
One of the greatest challenges in our use of time is when we abuse it by laziness. Alistair Begg invites us to look at the figure of the sluggard from the book of Proverbs. This sad character hangs on to his bed, happy with his excuses. He is hopeless at completing things and hungers for fulfillment. He is haughty in his self-appraisal, yet his vineyard is in disrepair. Such laziness is a sin and must be dealt with by repenting and remaining diligent, for today is the day of salvation.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, thank you for coming back. It’s good to see you. I’m going to read just a brief portion from Proverbs, and if you would like to turn with me there, then I’m going to read from Proverbs chapter 24, and then just three or four verses from Proverbs chapter 26.
There is, at least in my mind, a progression between what we were considering this morning and what we are faced with this evening, insofar as one of the greatest challenges to our use of time is the abuse of time which emerges as a result of laziness, one significant dimension of which is, of course, procrastination. And we’re going to… Some of you might like to think about that for a moment, or you may want to put off thinking about it just as you please.
These also are sayings of the wise:
To show partiality in judging is not good:
Whoever says to the guilty, “You[’re] innocent”—
peoples will curse him and nations denounce him.
But it will go well with those who convict the guilty,
and rich blessing will come upon them.
Incidentally, and just totally off the subject, that’s one of the reasons that we’re in such chaos, is because in the whole dimension of our legal system it has become so customary to refrain from meting out any kind of justifiable punishment. And so, as a result, you have this mass confusion, and the innocent find themselves in difficulty and the guilty find themselves going free.
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.
Finish your outdoor work
and get your fields ready;
after that, build your house.
Do not testify against your neighbor without cause,
or use your lips to deceive.
Do not say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me;
I’ll pay that man back for what he did.”
I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest—
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.
And then just a brief section from 26:13:
The sluggard says, “There[’s] a lion in the road,
a fierce lion roaming the streets!”
As a door turns on its hinges,
so a sluggard turns on his bed.
This is getting more and more uncomfortable, isn’t it?
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who answer discretely.
And this is the Word of God.
Let’s take a moment and ask God’s help.
Our gracious God and Father, we want to acknowledge before you now that our need of your help is not partial, it’s total. And at this point in the evening, in light of all that has already gone before, in view of everything that clamors for our attention and every distracting influence that grabs for the custody of our minds, we know that we need your help both to speak and to listen, to understand, and to have the truth of your Word applied to our lives in such a way that it would be life-changing. Therefore, to you alone we look. It’s an immense futility to gather in this way simply to listen to a man ruminating. And we’re not here to do that. But we do believe that when your Word is truly preached that the voice of God is really heard. So then, we come to wait upon your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Laziness—that’s our subject. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the man who lived somewhere in the mountains, I think, of West Virginia, and he won the title The Laziest Man in North America. The gentleman from the sponsoring company who had put up a prize of ten thousand dollars for the gentleman who was successful arrived at this man’s home to present him with the ten-thousand-dollar prize. “Where,” said the man from the sponsoring company, “is Mr. Jackson, The Laziest Man in the World?”
“Oh,” said the person at the door, “he’s down at the bottom of the garden. You’ll find him there.”
And so, the man went with the ten-thousand-dollar check down into the bottom of the garden, and there he found Mr. Jackson lying in the grass, not moving a muscle, and although not asleep, his eyes were closed.
“Mr. Jackson,” he said, “I am from the sponsoring company, the ones who ran the competition for The Laziest Man in North America, and I’m pleased to inform you that you have won, and I have here for you your check for ten thousand dollars.” To which the man replied without opening his eyes, “Roll me over and put it in my left pocket.”
I didn’t think that was much of a story, and I’m now convinced that it wasn’t. But anyway, the idea… (Everything’s worth a try once. We will now consign that to the nether darkness.)
That may seem a little farfetched, but I think most of us understand what we’re talking about, although the book of Proverbs is an uncomfortable book, and the name “sluggard” is not necessarily one that we’re hoping to put on our resumes. However, it may well be that to this point in our lives we have managed to qualify for that designation. And indeed, it may be, if we’re perfectly honest, that it is one of the besetting sins which we find ourselves facing. I suppose it would be hard for me to believe, however, that any of you would be in that situation, given how hard you have had to work in order to secure a place here—although I know there are ways around that as well. So perhaps there are just one or two sluggards who are going to find this distinctly challenging this evening. There are very vivid pictures, some of which we’ve read together now, of this slothful individual, and I find in looking at him that I see myself very clearly in the mirror of God’s Word.
Now, what I’d like to do in the time that is available to me is to look at this sluggard—first of all, take a look at his lifestyle, and then take a look at his vineyard, and then make a couple of words of application in conclusion.
First of all, let’s look at his lifestyle. And I will be making reference to various verses, and I don’t assume that you will turn them all up, but you can read the book of Proverbs if you haven’t done so for a while, and you’ll find that it is of tremendous help to you.
First of all, let’s look at this amazing picture of him in Proverbs 26:14: the sluggard is hinged to his bed. He’s hinged to his bed. It’s a quite dramatic picture. Some of you have already discovered that your roommate has a certain tendency in this direction, and you’re wondering what this academic semester is going to hold for both of you. “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.” It’s not that he enjoys his bed—that he merely enjoys it. It is that he’s frankly in love with his bed. He is hinged to his bed. He is stuck to his bed. And like a door on hinges, there is a fair amount of movement, but there is absolutely no progress. And so this individual moves a fair bit—may move in response to pokings and cajolings, and the ringing of small bells and the ringing of big bells, and all kinds of things—but he never actually moves apart from just the slight rolling effect that he creates as he moves himself from one more comfortable position to another. And we may have found him lying there on September 1, 1998, and here it is September 1, 1999, and he’s pretty well lying in the same position in which we left him. Oh, he moved around a little—nothing drastic—and he’s delighted to be back in his favorite spot.
It’s impossible to get this character to begin things, and he doesn’t like being directly approached. He doesn’t like being asked questions like “Will you begin?” and the follow-up question, “When will you begin?” and the follow-up question, “Do you think it will be this millennium?” He does not like that kind of thing. He never actually—or she; we’re using the masculine generically, as the Scriptures so often do—he or she never actually refuses to do anything. It’s not that they come right out and say, “No, I’m not going to do that.” They just put it off bit by bit, moment by moment, and as a result deceive themselves into thinking that they’re going to get round to it. The procrastinator is always “getting to it.”
“Are you coming for breakfast?”
“Are you coming for breakfast?”
“Yes, I’m coming.”
“Are you still coming for breakfast?”
“Yes, I’m coming for breakfast.”
“Well, would you quit coming for breakfast and actually come for breakfast?” Because there is a distinction to be made between someone who is coming but never actually gets there. And indeed, this is one of the features. And what they’re hoping to do they allow to slip away by minutes and inches as they find themselves in this position.
So, this character is hinged to his bed. Secondly, he is happy making excuses. In fact, lazy people are usually masterful at the making of excuses. When his laziness is disturbed, he becomes incredibly ingenious. And like a child when the summer holidays begin to drag and they say to their mother—usually after about three days at home, when they’re high schoolers—“I’m bored with this summer vacation. What can I do now?” and the reply is, “Well, you could cut the grass,” then you will discover that they are ingenious in finding a number of reasons as to why it is that although they are horribly bored, there is no possibility of them cutting the grass. Why? Because they’re downright lazy.
The person who doesn’t have a mind to work never ever is absent for excuses to secure their idleness—if somebody just flat-out doesn’t want to work. And I don’t want to enter into dangerous territory or demean in any way people whose lives are dreadfully unfortunate and who are in great need of our compassion and our help, but I’m skeptical enough to believe that at least one or two of the individuals that I’ve seen at the end of the freeway in Los Angeles who “will work for food” are kidding themselves. Because if they wanted to, in most cases, they could. And I’ve heard of two occasions where a lady, in seeing a person in such a situation, pulled off the freeway, went to Burger King, bought a selection of Whopper Jrs. and fries and all that jazz and returned to the exact same situation, rolled her window down, and said to the gentleman, “I don’t have any work for you, but I brought this food for you,” and as she drove away she saw him throw it in the street.
Now, he’s not representative of every homeless person, I’m not suggesting. But I want to tell you something: that when laziness becomes a characteristic of our existence, we may convince ourselves that we really are prepared to run ten miles, that we really are ready to scale the mountains, that we are just about to write that paper, that we are going to finish that, and so on. And before we know where we are, we really are living in the realm of imagination.
And so, the lazy person begins to make absurd excuses. So, for example, “The sluggard says, ‘There[’s] a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming [in] the streets!’” What’s that about? What’s that about?
His mother says, “Would you go bring in the garbage bins?” He says, “There’s a lion in the street! There’s a lion roaming in the street!”
“No there isn’t! Why did you say that?”
“’Cause I don’t wanna go out there and get the garbage bins.”
It’s absurd! So cowardly is this individual towards work that they actually manage to convince themselves of these things. And we have to beware of the subtlety of heart and mind that dwells so long upon an imaginary reason for inactivity that we can actually convince ourselves of it. And the real danger that most of us face is not an imaginary lion in the street; it is Satan, who is “a roaring lion [seeking] someone to devour” and longing to lull us into defeat—not least of all in the abuse of our time.
Third thing to notice about him is that this individual is hopeless at completing things—hopeless at completing things. Hinged to his bed, hopeless at completing things. He begins to chase the prey, but in the course of his attempt to run after it, laziness takes him over and he says, “You know, I think I’ll lie down under this tree for just a moment or two.”
Indeed, even the most needful exertion becomes a nuisance to him. That’s the significance of this graphic picture of him putting his hand into the dish and being too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. So you have this picture of the guy with the cereal bowl again—the psychologist can work out my fixation with cereal bowls—and he puts his hand in the Cheerios, and then it’s cheerio! He’s just there. And you come back an hour later, and he’s just… So, what’s the problem here? “Well, I don’t know, I just can’t be bothered pulling this stuff out. You know, it’s just… You know, I thought it was a great idea when I opened the box. I mean, I opened the box; I’m not that lazy I wouldn’t open the box. I poured it, I put the milk on, and I was seriously considering it, but…” So he’d rather enjoy his laziness than his food.
Now, I can speak to this. My wife was gone all last week taking my daughter to school on the West Coast. I was left with my other daughter, Emily, with a refrigerator full of all kinds of things that apparently, as a result of the wonders of modern science, I would be able to make gourmet meals without even knowing I was doing it—provided I went in, got the stuff out, and put it where it was supposed to go. But I never did it once. In fact, when she came home on Monday, I had to start moving things around to make it look that I’d even attempted it. Now, I assuaged my conscience by saying to myself, “Well, I really wanted my daughter to have nice meals when she was gone; therefore, it was better to go out than for her to, you know, experiment with my culinary arts, or the absence thereof.” But you know what? I was just too lazy. I don’t want to fool around with that stuff. So I don’t wanna be too quick to condemn this character.
Three guys, you ever live in a house? You want to tell me what is so difficult about actually taking the used toilet roll holder off the thing? I mean, this is the epitome of laziness! In most houses, without ever rising from your seat, this maneuver can be accomplished. And if it demands a transition, even when the lazy rascal goes gets the new thing and brings it back, he still sets it on the top of the thing! I’m forty-seven years old, following people around, taking those cylinders off toilet rolls everywhere I go! That’s why I know this is a relevant message. And the reason you’re laughing… If you’ve just tuned in to the radio, this is Wheaton College, and we’re discussing laziness in the bathroom.
Fourthly, he is hungering for fulfillment. He’s hungering for fulfillment. The lazy individual will always be hungering for fulfillment, because by virtue of his posture there never is fulfillment. Because it’s always out there somewhere, but never realized, never materializes. He has cravings which remain unfulfilled, and as a result he is consequently restless. Proverbs 21:25, I hope it is—yes—“The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.” So in other words, he establishes or she established for herself an objective, let’s say in relationship to study. And they hold out for themselves: “You know, I’m going to really bust it this semester, and I’m going to get this and this and this.” It’ll be the death of the individual! It’ll be their psychological discouragement beyond imaginings! Because all that they hold out to themselves, they are unprepared to do the hard work that gets them there.
And so they live in the realm of illusion. They succumb to invitations on the television to buy dumb stuff that apparently makes you, you know, skinny and fit. Because they think that if you pay $19.95 for some plastic bucket and sit in it you get an abdominal frame to die for. And so you have these poor souls sitting in $19.95 plastic buckets, fatter than anything you’ve ever seen. And then you say to them, “Why are you sitting in here?”
“Well, I bought it for $19.95, and they told me…”
“Yeah, but you’re supposed to go up and down like this. You’re not just supposed to sit in it.”
“Oh,” says the person, “but that looks like sit-ups to me.”
Exactly! Now don’t you feel dumb for buying that for $19.95? Why did they buy it? They bought the illusion that you can be something, achieve something, without effort!
I just flew on a plane yesterday, and I found that for two hundred and … dollars I can strap electronic gadgetry to me and end up looking like the Incredible Hulk. Do you believe that? I hope you don’t! You’re supposed to be a sensible group of individuals. But they’re selling, presumably. And one evening, when I’m out walking, I imagine I will look in through one of my neighbor’s windows—not a peeping Tom, I mean just from the street—and I’ll see the poor soul all rigged up like he’s trying to electrocute himself. But he’s too lazy to get up in the morning and walk his dog!
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, not because he can’t but because he won’t.
And the final tragedy in terms of his lifestyle is that this individual is haughty in his self-appraisal—haughty in his self-appraisal. “The sluggard”—26:16, as we read it—“is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.” You see, it would be one thing for this individual to face the facts and say, “You know, I’m really in a dreadful mess here. I am hungry for fulfillment, I’m holding out to myself the illusion of success, I’m imagining that I’m going to be this or going to be that, and I’m thinking to myself as I’m hinged here on my bed, tossing back and forth instead of out there running on the pavement or whatever else it is—instead of learning the jolly back of the Greek textbook off by heart, because that’s the only way I can memorize these irregular verbs—instead of doing that, I’m just lying in my bed, and I’m thinking that somehow or another by osmosis all of this is going to happen.” And when someone says to him, “You know, that’s a really silly way to go about things,” “Oh,” he says, pulling himself up to his full height, “you know, I know that you think these things, but I’m actually wiser than seven men who answer discretely.”
Well, there’s his lifestyle. You can add to it. He’s a comic, tragic figure: hinged to his bed, happy with his excuses, hopeless at completing things, hungry for fulfillment, and haughty in his opinion of himself. Not a particularly attractive character, I would suggest. We’re all very close to that, you know.
Now let’s view his vineyard. Because as a man is or as a man thinks, so he will be. If you turn to 24:30 and following in the verses that we read, you’ll see it there. His approach reveals itself as you look at his life: “I went past the field of the sluggard, past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment,” and what did it look like? “Thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.”
Now, if you and I were driving down the road and we came to a dwelling like that, we would be first to assume either that there was no one was living there at all, or that the person who had been living there had been taken unwell and was unable to care for his circumstances or her circumstances, or that the individual who was living there was just downright lazy. And that, of course, is the scene that is described here. It’s not as a result of ill health, it’s not as a result of moving out of the area; it is that this lazy man lives, and his vineyard is a testimony to his laziness.
Now, was this as a result of a positive desire for poverty and disgrace? Did he wake up one morning and say, “You know, I think I’m going to have the most disgraceful vineyard in this entire region, and I’m going to do whatever I can so that it will just be a downright mess”? No, not for a moment. His attitude was rather this: when challenged with work, he said to himself—and, of course, this is no surprise, hinged as he is—verse 33, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest. Just five minutes more. Just turn over once. Just… no, not yet, no. No, I’m coming! No…”
I lived a summer with one of my friends, Richard Morgan. I’ve told you his name, now you’ll have to go and find him somewhere in the wastelands of Yorkshire. I’m sure he won’t be offended by this. It’s too late now! But I was a student, and he was employed, and he wouldn’t get out of his bed. And I had the worst time. I could run the vacuum cleaner, beat him round the ears, do everything for him, and he would pull—I’d try and pull the covers off his bed for him, and he would have ahold of the top end under his chin. I could pull ’em off the bed, they’re still under his chin. And it was always in his pathetic little voice: “Oh no, just five minutes more. I just wanna stay…” I’m trying to save him from unemployment from the rest of his life, and all he can do is clutch his laziness to his chin. You got a roommate like that? You don’t have to answer out loud.
Now, such an individual gets his reward. And the reason that it ends up like that is because he has neglected the lesson of the ant. That’s not his aunt from Minneapolis; that is the ant, as in “ants in your pants.” And in Proverbs chapter 6… You see, the sluggard, of course, is never going to learn the lesson of the ant. Because we’ve already detected that “the sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.” So if you say to the sluggard, “Go and learn the lesson from the ant,” sluggard says, “I ain’t learning no lesson from an ant, you know. Because, you know, I’m a highly intelligent individual, and I can give better answers than seven wise men.” Nevertheless, Solomon says, Proverbs 6:6,
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
In other words, without an overseer the ant is innately industrious. And also, unlike this lazy character, the ant knows what time it is, because “it stores its provision in the summer and [it] gathers its food at [the] harvest.” And then comes the same iteration:
How long will you lie there, you sluggard?
When will you get up from your sleep?
And then again, like a chorus:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands …
and poverty will come on you like a bandit.
You see, to the sluggard all time is the same. There’s no need to get too active; just take things easy, rest for a little while. It used to be when they advertised Mars Bars in Great Britain that the slogan was “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.” For the sluggard it’s simply “A Mars a day helps you rest.” There is no work and there is no play! He just eats Mars bars—and lines his blankets with the evidences of his indolence. So what we discover is that the lesson which the sluggard failed to learn from the ant produced an approach to life from which we need to learn this evening.
Now, I think we’ve done enough on that. We’ve made the point. I think we’ve probably beaten it up just slightly too much, but anyway… Even the brightest need to have it drummed in. We need to beware of looking at laziness as an infirmity, as a condition, as some psychological disturbance that you need to go up on the fourth floor and see somebody about. The fact that all of your laundry is lying in the corner of your room, already testifying to your indolence, I don’t suggest to you is a matter for the psychology department. It’s more a matter to get a kick in the seat of the pants and get the laundry done. Incidentally, you should never marry a man who doesn’t finish his cereal. Watch very carefully if they leave those floaters in the bottom of the milk. Have nothing to do with them. I’ll explain that to you on another occasion.
Laziness is not an infirmity, it’s a sin. It affects the whole of our lives, it grows with unperceived power, and as with every other sin, it needs to be dealt with ruthlessly, immediately, and consistently. And to the degree that we find ourselves there, facing it at all, we have to tackle it in that way.
Incidentally, I recognize that there are some for whom this this evening is a lesson that is for another time and another place. Your problem is that you’re a high achiever and you’re totally crazy and fastidious about many things. That’s another talk another time, but not this time and not me. Me, I can only talk about what I know about. For if the sermon is not preached first to the individual who himself is speaking, then it will not come with conviction to those who are listening. This is not an arm’s length study. This is not me standing up somewhere and saying, “You know, I believe this is a problem with certain people.” No, you’re looking at the archetypal procrastinator—the one who has turned it into an art form and lives with the dreadful, ravishing impact of it continually.
Well, what about the lesson? We looked at his lifestyle, we viewed his vineyard, and we learn the lesson.
First of all, let’s just think about it: it’s not something really to be joked about, but rather it is something that needs to be dealt with. Because if it is not dealt with, then in our daily work we will not be giving our best. And since, as Christians, we are—in terms of Ephesians, as we noted this morning—to make the most of every opportunity, laziness will hinder us in that way.
Let’s think about it in terms of spiritual things—our walk with God, our devotion to him. Let’s think about that for just a moment. Most of us will perhaps be concerned to do well, especially in these early days of the semester, when it comes to the academic matters, because we know that there are implications that will be immediately apparent for all to see. And we may not be driven so much by a desire to excel and give ourselves wholeheartedly as we’ve been driven by a fearfulness of what the outcome will be and the implications of the outcome, so that we may actually be overcoming our laziness not as a result of determining that it is a sin for which I need to repent and then go on to serve God wholeheartedly in these things, but I may only be overcoming my laziness, which is a sin, by the replacement of another sin, which is pride, which drives me to achieve in order that I may not be thought ill of by those around me, or in order that I may make people think that I’m actually better than I am. Which comes, of course, to tomorrow night and the issue of jealousy. And there is nothing that will rob us of friendship and destroy family life in a campus such as this—especially surrounded by high-achieving students—than the issue of jealousy. But that’s tomorrow night, for the three of you who return.
Concerning progress in the things of God, can I ask you, as I must ask myself: Do you keep a journal? Do you have any indication at all of how you’re doing? This is the first of September, is it? So a year ago on this day it was the first of September, I think. Made any progress? Done any more Bible memorization? Done any Bible memorization this week? This month? During the summer? During 1999? During the last twelve months? Or have I been rather lazy in terms of storing the Word of God within my heart? You say, “How dare you say such things?” Well, I’m saying them to myself. You just happen to be listening.
When you’re asked to take part in Christian things, are you involved? “Well,” you say, “it’s not that I don’t want to be involved. It’s not that I refuse. It’s just that I’ve been putting it off bit by bit. And my time, which I recognize is a gift from God, is filled with other things.”
What about in the hearing of the Word of God when it is preached—when it comes home with power and impact to us and when we know that it demands application and it demands change? We must “work out [our own] salvation with fear and trembling.” How well are we doing there? Or are we deceiving ourselves by being merely hearers of the Word? You see, here is the great danger of being a preacher. Because the preacher can assume that having preached it, he’s lived it, when all he’s done is preached it! And it will take those closest to him—his wife and his kids and his immediate circle of friends and colleagues—to determine whether he is just giving voice to things or whether he himself is both a doer of the Word that he hears, albeit hearing it out of his own lips.
And how about you as the listeners? Isn’t it not challenging when the Bible says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves”? I can convince myself, you know, that I really ran the three and a half miles that I ran today—you know, that I really ran them in twenty minutes. That’s a flat-out lie! I was like a lumbering elephant staggering around getting lost up some street. I don’t know where I was, and I was longing to come to something that would all of a sudden be the Holiday Inn Select, you know—would just materialize in front of me. And I was running further and further away from it. But I can lie down in the hotel room and say, “You know, that was pretty good; I did that in eighteen minutes.” You see, I’ve already advanced it by two in the telling of the story. You saw me, you said, “He’s not running, he’s stumbling.”
I fear lest I’ve become the master of unfinished business. All the unfinished projects, all the started plans, all the kind notes that are just in my mind. All the words of repentance, all the sorrys, all the forgive-mes, all the help-mes dying in my mind as I turn on my bed.
And what’s the answer to it? Well, I have to repent of that. I have to realize that God wants his best for me. I want to receive what he gives, and I want to affirm my desire to follow him. [Derek Kidner], the Old Testament commentator, has a wonderful paragraph when he says, “The sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals, too many postponements. [And] it has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep.”
That’s why, in the world of sport as in the world of academics, many an individual less gifted and less able has gone further than the more gifted and the more able—because of diligence. Because of a willingness to take honestly and seriously the challenge of indolence. And we all understand.
Is it Frost who did “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” or whatever it was? I know he did “After Apple-Picking,” ’cause I had to study that when I was sixteen, which was thirty-one years ago. I didn’t know much about it then; I’m not sure I know anything about it now. There was some great symbolism about his foot on the ladder rung, I remember, and the pressure on his foot—so my English teacher told me. I just said, “Yes. Yes.” But when we got to “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” I said, “Now we’re getting into my territory”:
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Let me apply it, finally, in this way: loved ones, do not neglect your souls with laziness. I’m going to assume that in most cases your lives are fairly well organized in relationship to being able to plan things and schedule events and so on. But I want to tell you that in this environment—and some of you know this experientially, and some of you are listening and wondering if it’s accurate—in this kind of environment, it is distinctly possible for you to neglect your soul, to be kept buoyant by the spiritual temperature of whatever is engendered around you. And you’ll know that when you go home on vacation. Because when you get out of the environment where the band plays and you march, and you have total freedom, and you don’t have to go to seat 47F, you know, to sit in to hear the Word of God—when you can go to no seat, or any seat, or do whatever you like—that’s when you find out! And that’s when you face the danger: “A little of this, and a little of that.” And there are many graduates of Christian schools all across the country who have amounted to nothing for God. Nothing! And if you honestly traced it to its root, it’s because, as of a result of laziness, they neglected the soul.
“The sluggard does not plow in autumn; he will seek a harvest and find nothing.” Staggering thought, isn’t it? He doesn’t sow in autumn. And then when the harvest time comes, he’s so crazy that he goes out and says, “Well, I wonder how we’ve done with the crops.” You say, “Are you are you nuts? You expect crops without sowing? You expect to be useful to God? You expect to yield a harvest of righteousness? You expect to be able to reach people on the seas of life and all their trouble and all of their emptiness? You expect to be a highwayman in relationship to that and pointing the way?”
And let me tell you this—what I said to the soccer team this afternoon in part. Let me tell you this: twenty-three hundred students. Most will pitch their tents in the plain. Few will go up the hill with God.
The story’s told of someone making an ascent on Mont Blanc—group of individuals who decide that they’re going to climb with this ancient French guide. The French guide tells them, “When you come in the morning, I want you to bring the absolute essentials—just your boots, just your rope, just what you stand up in.” One smart aleck, who was an Englishman, I think… Sorry, that was racialism right there. But anyway, one smart aleck said, “You know, I am bringing with me blankets, I am bringing chocolate, I’m bring cheese, I’m bringing wine, I’m bringing cameras, and—see you in the morning.” The guide said, “Not me you won’t see in the morning! You come with me, you go up bare bones. You bring all that claptrap, you go on your own. You cannot reach the top with that stuff.” Believing that he knew better, he sent out in advance of the party following under the jurisdiction of the French guide. And as the group made their ascent, they started to find his stuff—blankets, chocolate, cheese, big camera lenses, all the stuff. And finally, at the top—the chap, basically as the guide told him.
And the man who used that illustration first was a man called S. D. Gordon, and this is what he said: “And so it is with the Christian life. Many find that when they cannot reach the top with the things they hold in their hands, they let the top go, and they pitch their tent in the plain; and the plain is so very full of tents.”
We’ll think about this tomorrow morning in relationship to friendship. There are people in whose company it’s easy to be good, there are people in whose company it’s easy to be bad, and friendships are never neutral. So your roommate, your lab partner, your tennis partner, whoever it is, will recall you on multiple levels, and they will remember whether, as a result of your diligence and your zeal and your commitment to Christ, you were a person that led them further on.
Let me quote this poem, and I’m done. It’s eight o’clock exactly on my little electronic gizmo in front of me here, and so therefore I’m just about to violate the time code, but only by about sixty seconds.
He was going to be all [a] mortal should be
No one should be kinder [n]or braver than he
A friend who was troubled and weary he knew,
Who’d be glad of a [light] and who needed it, too;
On him he would call and see what [to] do
Each morning he stacked up the letters he’d write
And thought of the folks he’d fill with delight
It was too bad, indeed, he was busy today,
And hadn’t a minute to stop on the way;
More time he’d give to others, he’d say
The greatest of workers this man would have been
The world would have known him had he ever seen
But the fact is he died and [he] faded from view,
And all that he left here when living was through
Was a mountain of things he intended to do
“Tomorrow” is the devil’s favorite word. “Now is the accepted time; behold, [today] is the day of salvation.”
Father, we bless you that we have a Bible to read. And these are uncomfortable truths, which you bring to our minds in order that you may instill with us the ultimate comfort.
I do pray that you would prevent any of us from thinking that this is just some kind of cajoling exercise to try and encourage each of us to do everything that’s necessary and somehow to pull ourselves up, pull our socks up, and do our best. No, we want to acknowledge that every mountain we can climb, every letter we can write, every valley we can go through, every diligent exercise we can engage in, is only by your grace—the grace alone which you supply.
So pour out your grace upon us tonight. Help us where we’ve faltered to get back in line; prevent us, Lord, from a dreadful slide into oblivion, despite all of our protestations to the other effect; and grant that we might be a help and an encouragement to one another, and all the more as we see the day of Christ’s return drawing near. For we ask it in his lovely name. Amen.
 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV 1984).
 Proverbs 23:7 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 2:12 (NIV 1984).
 James 1:22 (NIV 1984).
 Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1964), 42–43.
 Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (1923).
 Proverbs 20:4 (paraphrased).
 S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks with World Winners (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1908), 52–4.
 Gordon, Quiet Talks, 54. Paraphrased.
 Edgar Guest, “Tomorrow” [1916?].
 2 Corinthians 6:2 (KJV).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.