We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
In his best-selling book The Road Less Traveled (p.271f) psychiatrist M. Scott Peck discusses ‘laziness’ as an aspect of sin. He gives an excellent description of our natural tendency toward laziness and shows how that hinders our spiritual growth. Peck says that he had at first rejected the idea of original sin. Then he began to notice a disturbing and frustrating trait in most of the people he counseled. He saw in them a resistance to making the obvious changes they needed to improve their lives because they were too lazy to put forth the effort. In his office they would agree he was right and would heartily agree to do whatever he suggested. But when they would return, he would more often than not hear them offer excuses for not making any effort to do even the simplest things he told them to do. He then became aware of a similar laziness in himself in things he wanted to avoid, and soon he began to see it in almost everyone. Peck points out that people can indeed be very hard working in some areas of their lives, keeping even too busy with their job or garden or cleaning or whatever. They do not look lazy at all. But at the very same time they might be neglecting to work on that area of their life that needs the most attention– a troubled marriage perhaps, or a problem with alcohol, or a deepening despair that they have been meaning to talk to someone about but just don’t get around to doing. In fact, it may be easier for a person to keep very busy in one area of life, than to make the effort in an area that needs the attention most of all. Sometimes hard work in one part of life can be an outwardly honorable way of avoiding responsibility in another, more necessary part.
This can be applied to our spiritual life and well-being. Peck says that inherent in our sinful heart is a tendency toward this laziness and inactivity. He writes:
Ultimately there is one impediment (to spiritual growth) and that is laziness. If we overcome laziness, all other impediments will be overcome. If we do not overcome laziness, none of the others will be hurdled… In the struggle to help my patients grow I found that my chief enemy was laziness.
Laziness is one of the classic ‘seven deadly sins.’ ‘Sloth,’ as it is usually called on that list, refers especially to our sinful lack of attention to matters of the spirit. This means that our natural and spontaneous ‘self,’ so worshiped since the 1960’s, is actually a ‘lazy self,’ and naturally tends toward the wasting of our God-given time, talents, and resources. On the other hand, deciding ahead of time to discipline ourselves, and then sticking to that decision, forces us to do what we may not feel like doing at the moment. It is laziness that comes through in our spontaneous feelings and actions, and that laziness can always come up with ways to excuse oneself from the work. But as Ben Franklin said, “He who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.” To discipline ourselves is to resist these excuses, to resist our spontaneous, momentary, and lazy impulses. If do not discipline ourselves, we will move toward what is easy, toward the television or other entertaining diversions; and we will move away from that which requires more effort– prayer, Scripture reading, or worship.
You may work very hard at your job and that is admirable and that also fulfills one’s duty to God– but work is only one aspect of life. God commanded the Sabbath Day to rest our bodies and to give our spirits a chance to be nourished. Hard work will not save you. You must not neglect your Savior. You must not be lazy in the care of your soul. God commands that we work. God also commands us to worship and pray. “Fight the good fight of faith,” Paul said in I Timothy, and “Take hold of eternal life, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, gentleness, and endurance.” These verses tell us that what we should not be lazy, but we should work hard so we do not drift down the easy road to neglect and unbelief. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered,” and if it wasn’t easy for Jesus, we should not expect that it will be easy for us.
As we ran laps around the baseball field to get in shape, our high school coach would yell out, “Does it hurt? Are you tired yet?” “Yes”, we would reply, “we want to quit.” “Keep running,” he’d yell back, “don’t be lazy, you have to get in shape.” Ten minutes later he would say again, “Does it hurt? Are you tired yet?” “No,” we would say, hoping that was the answer he was looking for. But then he would yell back, “Well, keep running until you are tired.” And on and on we’d go. We hated it, but we knew it was coming. It was the same every year. We would be out of shape for those first practices in the Spring, and so we expected to suffer at practice. That is how you get in shape.
Spiritual training is the same, but many folks are unwilling to suffer through even a worship service, especially if it lasts more than an hour. Such impatience is a clear indication of spiritual flabbiness and weakness. When one is out of shape, running even a short distance will cause suffering and pain; but for those who run every day and are in excellent condition, running even several miles can be a pleasure. The same is true in our spiritual life. When we are ‘out of shape’ prayer and worship will be a chore and a burden. But as we grow in faith, prayer and worship become times of great blessing, times we can look forward to and in which we are blessed.
II Peter 1:5-7 — …Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
I Timothy 6:11-12 — But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
II Timothy 1:7 — For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldst have us to do, that the spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer