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. Proverbs 24, verses 30 – 34.
I’m poorer than poor. That’s a statement and a lyric from a hymn written by my friend, Anthony. He sang it in church yesterday and the line really resonated with me. Yes this is a shameless plug for his music; check out “Anthony Celia” on itunes. I don’t think you’ll find the song he sang in church, but you’ll find others equally good.
That song, one called “Passover Me,” got me thinking about being the sluggard. That’s a word we don’t use much anymore: sluggard. The closest I get to using it is “slug” (as in those slimy things that crawl around, or the action performed when you see a VW Beetle). These days, if someone thinks you are lazy, they will probably just call you lazy, shiftless, or good for nothing; you know, all those words parents use to describe teenagers who do little over summer vacation.
A sluggard is more than that. There’s a special brand of apathy and laziness involved in being a sluggard when such a word is recorded in Scripture. I think it’s being a witches brew of laziness, sloth, ineptitude and that “I don’t care” attitude. That’s the biggest part, I think: I don’t care. It delves into the land of selfishness and sin. Notice that the first verse links the sluggard to lack of judgment. By my read, it’s not that the slug is necessarily ignorant or unwittingly in the dark. No, the way his fields are neglected shows a practiced lack of good judgment, a self-focused posture of that “I don’t care” that moves from the understandable alibi of not knowing something is errant to the conscious realm of willful abandon.
Prepare the fields of life. We are meant for work and life; our lives take hard work. Lately, I’ve been trying to focus on ‘getting’ to do things instead of having to. I get to go to work; I get to go to pay bills; I get to do work around the house; you get the picture, eh? It’s a way of reminding myself that while I have obligations, I also have blessings in how I get to meet them. God provides, and in the middle of my job, my debts and my chores, He’s putting those things in my life as the consequences of my choices and as instructive lessons in how I should rely on His providence. He provides resources and he provides people to help and love. In doing that, I get to prepare, to till the fields and maintain them, and to tend to growing a good crop. I don’t have to: I get to. How about you?
But there’s a bigger theme in all this. Where have I been a sluggard in my relationships? Have you or I neglected my relationships, with my family, marriage, friendships, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-workers and best friends? Have my words or actions demonstrated an ‘I don’t care’ attitude to the people who matter most in my life? My answer: yes. Guilty as confessed and charged. For a myriad of reasons, some of which don’t even make sense to me now, I’ve done this. It’s a delusion to think that people don’t get hurt when this happens. It does. I’ve neglected the good people blessed into my life and let the blood of love run cold. Have you done this too?
And have I neglected my relationship with God? Have I taken for granted the blessings and plenty He provides just for me to take my breath every minute? Yes I have there too. Have I trampled on the relationship of grace that He imparts into every heartbeat? I have. Have I dishonored the fields of love that He planted in my life with the seeds of His word and the nourishing rain of His blood and cross? I have there too. If He walked by the fields of my heart – and He does every minute of every day – perhaps He would see an overgrown briar patch of thorns with broken down fences and ugly weeds.
…or perhaps He would be singing my friend’s song, remembering that I’m poorer than the poor, but that he passed over me and took me in His arms to forgive me because He chooses to. I’m thinking that He knows of all my shallow junk, and the way I’ve hurt the people I love – and how they hurt me too – and that He chose instead to offer up His eternal grace yet again. He passes over the ugliness of my fallow fields and plants a new harvest in my life, one of bountiful love and his Christ-given peace. He sees Christ in me, not the harvest I’ve squandered.
For awhile I wanted to be a farmer. I went through phases in my life where I wanted to own a farm, to till my own fields and do honest hard work for a living, the way people have for centuries. Life hasn’t turned out that way yet, and maybe it never will. And I envy my friend’s musical gifts. Words are wonderful things, but to couple them with music you write yourself is to harness the life-song of God himself. Words can touch and teach us: music moves and enriches us. Perhaps the farmer, the musician, the writer and the consultant aren’t so different, though. Perhaps we are each farming the fields God has given us, trying our best to make our way in a world that is set against us. We make good choices and we make bad ones, but perhaps we’re still doing the best we can. In light of these verses and my friend’s songs, we get to see, yet again, how God the farmer, musician, writer and worker stands beside us through all of it, cautioning us to yet do better and blessing us that it might really happen.