Last week I pointed out how observing the ant in Proverbs 6 could make us more effective evangelists. This week I look at the back half of Proverbs 6:6—11 and point out some important lifestyle pointers for ministers and missionaries.
Go to the ant, you slacker!
Observe its ways and become wise.
Without leader, administrator, or ruler,
it prepares its provisions in summer;
it gathers its food during harvest.
How long will you stay in bed, you slacker?
When will you get up from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the arms to rest,
and your poverty will come like a robber,
your need, like a bandit.
(Proverbs 6:6—11 HCSB)
Over the years I have worked with missionaries, church staff, and students. These men and women have had passion in their hearts and a vision to changing the world for Christ. They launch into a ministry. Soon they are frustrated and ready to give up. They do not see the fruit or success they hoped for. They suffer from burnout or their family suffers because of an unhealthy work/ministry pace. The back half of this proverb quoted above contains some important tips for successful ministry/missionary life.
- Rest when it is time to rest, and work when it is time to work
This proverb is not “anti-sleep.” In fact, even a cursory reading of scripture shows that sleep is a gift from God (see Psalm 127:2). Not sleeping often comes from a lack of faith. This is sin. Our proverb points out what happens when someone sleeps (or goofs off) when they should be working.
Those of us who make a living teaching, writing, or doing other work away from the public eye are especially vulnerable to this type of laziness. As I talk with missionaries or church staff members who are frustrated with the work, a good number are simply not disciplined enough to work when it is time to work.
- Success doesn’t come binge living, but from a series of small steps
One of the ways laziness catches up with us is through a series of small, seemingly insignificant, activities. This proverb warns that it is just a little sleep and a little slumber that can result in failure.
A little FaceBook
A little Twitter
A little YouTube
A little Netflix
Well, you know where it leads. Don’t you?
What is our solution to this? Well, many of us do not choose discipline. Rather we survive on binge living. Instead of steady ministry or mission work, we try to cram a weeks worth of work into a few days. We work late, stay out late, and drag the whole world into our panic.
Work Crises = Binge schedule
Writing Crisis = Binge writing
Financial Crisis = Binge saving
Family Crisis = Binge parenting
This type of work rhythm may work once or twice, but not over the long marathon of ministry. We neglect or hurt those we love. We produce shoddy work. We do just enough to make us think we deserve a long break — this starts the cycle all over again.
Choose faithfulness in small steps and a disciplined life over binging.
- Remember, some moment of need or accounting is coming. Don’t be surprised.
This proverb highlights that the lazy man lives in denial. The word translated “robber” can also be translated as “traveler.” It can be interpreted negatively, but it does not have to be – perhaps it is simply the arrival of a person in need.
There should be no surprise when a need arises or when we are called to give account for ministry.
Last week I wrote that the ant prepares for a time when there is no food. In ministry, we should work with the understanding that a day of need is coming. We budget money, knowing that a need will come that requires us to have a savings. Write knowing there is a deadline and due date.
I am haunted by the chorus of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song, Cinderella.
So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
‘Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oh I will dance with Cinderella
I don’t want to miss even one song
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she’ll be gone
Let’s minister, evangelize, parent, write, etc. Knowing that a clock will strike midnight, a robber will come, a deadline approaches.
Scott Hildreth is the director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies. He frequently speaks on issues of missions, spiritual formation, missiology, and theology. Scott also contributes to SEBTS faculty blog www.betweenthetimes.com