Proverbs (7) — Wisdom and Time

We continue this morning in our series on the book of Proverbs, with a focus on wisdom. We said that wisdom is the ability to make good decisions, and so we’ve been talking about some of the decisions that we have to make in life and what Solomon has to say about them.

We talked about the words that we speak, because most of the decisions we make in life involve the words that we choose to say. We talked about anger, because a lot of the poor choices we make in life are choices that we have made in the heat of anger.

And last week, we talked about money, because we all have a lot of choices to make in regard to our money. Are we going to spend it on something we need, or spend on something we want? Are we going to save it, or give it to someone else who needs it? We make a lot of decisions every day regarding what to do with our money.

This morning, we’re going to look at what we do with our time, because, once again, every day, all day long, we make many decisions regarding our time. What time am I going to go to bed? What time am I going to get up? What am I going to get done today? How do I spend my time when I’m at work? How do I spend my time when I get home and relax? On Sunday, am I going to go to worship or am I going to do something else? How much time am I going to spend with my husband, my wife, my kids?

There are 1,440 minutes in every day, so you could say that every day, we have 1,440 decisions to make regarding what to do with our time. That’s a lot of decisions. And Solomon wants us to know that we need wisdom in order to make good decisions regarding our time.

The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:15-16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time…”

Time is a unique commodity. There are a lot of inequities in this world. When it comes to money, there are some people who have a whole lot of it. And there are other people who don’t have much at all. There are some people who have more access to electricity and clean water than other people do. There are different educational opportunities for different people around the world.

There are many ways in which we are not equal, but there’s one thing that we all have in common. Every single person on the face of this earth is given the exact same amount of time every day. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Bill Gates or a McDonald’s employee, you have 24 hours to spend every day.

Jackson Brown once said, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

Perhaps, because we are products of our fast-paced society, we tend to think and act as though God has short changed us when it comes to time. We often hear comments like, “There just isn’t enough time in a day to get done everything I need to get done.” Or, “I just don’t know where the time goes.” Or, “I’ll try to find time, but I’m hard pressed for time at the moment.”

In our day, when so many people seem to meet themselves coming and going, most people feel pushed for time. The feeling is that there simply aren’t enough hours in a day. Life with all of its demands is far too busy.

The truth, though, is that our problem has nothing to do with how much time we have every day; our problem has everything to do with our priorities. Because we will always – we will always — make time to do those things that are most important to us.

Somebody may say, “Getting into shape is important to me, but I just don’t have time to exercise.” No, I can tell you that it’s really not that important to you. Because we always find time to do what is most important to us.

Somebody may say, “Spending time with God is important to me, but I just don’t have time to pray.” No, it’s really not that important to you. Because we always find time to do what is most important to us. Our problem has nothing to do with how much time we have every day; our problem has everything to do with our priorities.

And our priorities will determine what choices we make when it comes to spending our time. Which is why Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). Once we have established that God is the number one, top priority in our lives, that will give us a basis by which to make decisions in everything we do in our lives, including what to do with our time.

Now, when it comes to time, there are some things that consume more of our time than other things. Someone has composed a list of seven things that we spend most of our time doing (as the advertisements says, your mileage may vary).

7. Cleaning – It has been estimated that women will spend about 13,000 hours cleaning over the course of their lifetime. Men will spend about 6,500 hours.

6. Surfing the Internet – A study done in 2010 said that an average American spends 32 hours online every month. I would guess that it’s higher than that now, but over the course of a lifetime, that’s 28,000 hours.

5. Eating — Eating is a necessary part of our lives. One study said that the average American spends 67 minutes per day eating and drinking. Over the course of a lifetime, that’s 32,000 hours eating food and drinking beverages

4. Driving – According to one study, the average American spends 101 minutes per day driving. That means, over the course of a lifetime, an average person will spend about 38,000 hours driving a car.

3. Watching TV – Most of us love watching TV as a leisure activity. According to one study, the average American watches television 2.8 hours per day, which means that the average person will spend over 80,000 hours over their lifetime watching TV.

2. Working – Work is obviously a big part of our lives. Working a 40-hour week, over the course of a lifetime, an average person will spend about 90,000 hours of his or her life at work.

1. Sleeping — Given that an average person sleeps for about 8 hours a day, that means that the average person will sleep about 230,000 hours in their lifetime.

As I said, your mileage may vary. But, I would guess that these are probably seven of the things that you most spend your time doing. Now, considering the fact that the book of Proverbs was written about 3,000 years ago, you probably won’t be surprised to find out that Solomon didn’t have a whole lot to say about watching TV, driving, or surfing the Internet. But he did have a lot to say about these top two items – sleeping and working.

And I think one of the toughest things for us to do as Christians is to find the right balance. Throughout the Bible, God tells us that work is important. So much so that Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” But God also warned the Jews about working too much. That’s why he gave them the Sabbath, a day when they were forced to stop working and rest. God knows that we need to work, and he also knows that we need to rest.

And I think we struggle with finding the right balance. We all know of people who spend all of their time working, 70-80 hours a week, without taking a break, without getting enough rest, and they absolutely wear themselves into the ground. But, on the other hand, we also know people who refuse to work, who are so lazy, you can’t get them to do a thing. Their motto is the bumper sticker you may have seen, “Hard work may not kill me but why take a chance?”

So let’s see what Solomon had to say about spending our time wisely:

1. Be willing to work hard

There are probably more proverbs about this in the book of Proverbs than anything else (other than the importance of wisdom itself). Let me give you a few examples;

“Lazy people are soon poor; hard workers get rich.” (Proverbs 10:4, NLT)

“Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” (Proverbs 13:4, NLT)

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” (Proverbs 14:23, NLT)

“If you love sleep, you will end in poverty. Keep your eyes open, and there will be plenty to eat!” (Proverbs 20:13, NLT)

“A hard-working farmer has plenty to eat. People who waste time will always be poor.” (Proverbs 28:19, GNT)

One of the words that used in several translations to describe those who work hard is the word “diligent”, and I think that’s the key word. The word “diligent” means “having or showing care and conscientiousness in one’s work or duties.” And I think that one word distinguishes a Christian’s attitude toward work from the attitude of most other people.

For most people, work is nothing more than a place to get a paycheck. And so the object becomes to do as little as possible, while taking home as much as possible. But, for a Christian, we have a totally different motivation.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:22-24 (TLB), “You slaves must always obey your earthly masters, not only trying to please them when they are watching you but all the time; obey them willingly because of your love for the Lord and because you want to please him. Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering that it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all he owns. He is the one you are really working for.”

Paul tells us what a Christian worker ought to look like. And he challenges us to ask ourselves the question, “Does the way I work represent my Christian faith?”

For many Christians, the workplace is their primary mission field. It’s the place where they will spend the most time, and often the place where they will be around the most people. For the teacher, her mission field is her co–workers and students. For the businessman, his mission field is his clients and co–workers. For the soldier, his mission field is his fellow soldiers.

It is in the workplace that many of us have the greatest opportunity to be salt and light, and demonstrate Christ to the people around us. And one of the ways we do that is by “working hard”, or as some translations put it, working “with all your heart.”

I understand that it is difficult to find the motivation to work hard for an employer who is unfair or who doesn’t treat people rightly. I understand that it is difficult to find the motivation to work hard when we have a job that we don’t like. And I understand that there are some jobs that even make it almost impossible to work hard.

I heard recently about a man who went to work in a factory that was controlled by a union. It was a tool and die factory where the laborers were paid by the number of pieces of work they completed. They had to complete a certain number of widgets every hour, and when they completed that number, they got paid their hour’s wage.

However, it took only fifteen minutes to do an hour’s worth of widgets. And so, the workers worked for fifteen minutes, got their work done, then they sat down and played cards for forty-five minutes. Then they worked for fifteen minutes more minutes and then played cards for forty-five minutes. And that’s what they did all day long.

Well, this particular man didn’t feel like that was right, plus he didn’t know how to play cards and he was bored, and so, instead of taking a break after 15 minutes, he just kept making widgets. As a result, he was able to produce four times as many widgets as all the other workers. But they didn’t like it. They told him to stop making so many widgets.

But this guy wanted to do what was right, and so he went to his boss and told him what he thought was wrong with the system, and that the factory could quadruple its production if it just required people to keep working all day long. He thought he might get a Nobel Prize or something for rooting out this problem and exposing it.

Instead, his boss said in no uncertain terms, in a menacing voice, that he had negotiated with the union long and hard to get the number of widgets down to the number where it was, and he didn’t want anyone coming in and messing up the system, and that if he knew what was good for him he would make only the required number of widgets. So much for hard work.

And I would question the truthfulness of this situation if I didn’t know some people personally who experienced a similar thing in the factories around Bassett, Virginia.

So, I understand that there are people who can make it difficult on us. But I believe that Christians should always have a reputation for being a people who are willing to work hard. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”

So, Solomon says, be willing to work hard. The flip side of that is….

II. Don’t be lazy

“Lazy people irritate their employers, like vinegar to the teeth or smoke in the eyes.” (Proverbs 10:26, NLT)

Have you ever gathered around a campfire, maybe to roast your marshmallows, but the smoke from the fire blows toward you, and up into your face? I don’t know how it’s possible, but it always seems that it doesn’t matter which side of the fire you stand on, the wind is going to blow in that direction. But that smoke in the eyes is painful and irritating. And, as for vinegar in the mouth — yech!

But, as irritating as those things are, Solomon says, that’s what it’s like when you try to give a lazy man a job to do. It’s just irritating. He’s a pain to have around.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon mentions four things that are true about the lazy person.

1. A Lazy Person Has Trouble Getting Started

“As a door swings back and forth on its hinges, so the lazy person turns over in bed.” (Proverbs 26:14, NLT).

Solomon said you can’t get that lazy fellow out of bed. He’s like a door on hinges. If Solomon was living today, he probably would say that the lazy fellow is like a screen door — you know, the kind with one of those air pumps on it that keeps it closed. You can push it open, but as soon as you let go, it swings shut again.

And that’s what a lazy person is like. You can push him for a while, but when you let go, he just swings back into bed. It’s hard to get him going, hard to get him motivated. He’d rather take it easy. There’s a word for this attitude. It’s called “procrastination.”

As Mark Twain used to say, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow.” And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re all guilty of procrastinating from time to time. Let’s face it, there are certain tasks that it’s just really hard to get motivated to do.

Things like: Cleaning out a closet or the garage………..or returning phone calls to people you dread talking to………or raking the pine needles which are all over your yard.

But sometimes we procrastinate when it comes to doing some really important things. Things like: going to the doctor for a checkup…….or doing our taxes………or writing out our will………or changing the oil on the car……or paying bills………or starting on that diet or exercise program. When we procrastinate on these kinds of things, it can end up being very costly to our health or our wallet.

And then there are times when we procrastinate when it comes to important spiritual matters, such as reading our Bible or spending time in prayer, or giving up a sinful habit or talking to our loved ones or friends about Christ…… or even making the decision to follow Christ and be baptized.

Solomon says, “Don’t be that lazy person who has trouble getting started doing things.”

2. A Lazy Person Won’t Finish What He Starts

General George Marshall once said, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” There is no reason to be proud of a half-baked cake, or a partially painted house, or seeds planted but not harvested.

“A lazy man won’t even dress the game he gets while hunting.” (Proverbs 12:27, TLB).

Assuming that you can somehow get the lazy fellow out of his house and into the woods to go hunting for food, and assuming that he somehow manages to kill an animal, you’ll never get him to dress his game and cook it. He won’t finish what he starts.

Far too many of us can see examples of things in our lives that we’ve given up on and never completed. Maybe it was that three-month diet that only lasted one week. Maybe it’s a book on your shelf that you never finished reading. Maybe it’s a garden that got tilled but never got planted. Our laziness shows up in our lack of completing the things that we start.

“Lazy people take food in their hand, but don’t even lift it to their mouth.” (Proverbs 26:15, NLT).

Talk about lazy! Imagine a man so lazy that once he gets food loaded up on his fork, he’s too tired to raise the fork to his mouth. You say, “That’s ridiculous! Nobody is that lazy.” And you’re right, I think. But Solomon is trying to paint an absurd picture here to try and impress the point that a lazy man won’t finish what he starts out to do. He just doesn’t have the discipline necessary to see a task through to the end.

3. A Lazy Person Makes Excuses For Not Doing Things

“The lazy man is full of excuses. ‘I can’t go to work!’ he says. ‘If I go outside, I might meet a lion in the street and be killed!’” (Proverbs 22:13, TLB).

Even in biblical days, lions didn’t come into the city — they stayed up in the hills. But the lazy man’s excuse for why he didn’t get out and do something is that he might be eaten by a lion.

And when you don’t want to do something, one excuse is just as good as another.

4. A Lazy Person Feels Unhappy and Unfulfilled

“Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and never succeed.” (Proverbs 12:24, TLB).

A lazy person will never be a success. It doesn’t matter what his or her goal is, whether it’s to make a lot of money or to be a good athlete or to be a good Christian. A lazy person just doesn’t have the drive and the discipline to succeed at anything.

A young person may want to become a doctor or a scientist, but he doesn’t want to buckle down to years of hard study. Many people would like to achieve greatness in music but never will because of the long hours of prac¬tice required year after year.

I believe that most marriages that fail do so because people don’t work hard enough. Love requires commitment and work, and most people aren’t willing to expend that kind of energy. In fact, I think that most couples who struggle know what the problems are in their marriage, but they’re not willing to work hard enough to restore the relationship.

And I think we can see the same thing in the church. The church is filled with people who would love to be mature Christians with a tremendous knowl¬edge of God’s Word. But they’re not willing to pay the price to get there.

“Despite their desires, the lazy will come to ruin, for their hands refuse to work.” (Proverbs 21:25, NLT)

It’s not a lack of desire. A lazy person may want the same things that everyone else enjoys. He may want to be a rich man. He may want to be the star quarterback. He may want to be a great musician. He may want a fantastic marriage. But he’ll never get those things, because he’s not willing to put forth the effort.

Conclusion:

Solomon says, “Work hard, don’t be lazy.” But, as I said earlier, we struggle with finding the right balance. Some of us are so concerned about being lazy that we turn into workaholics who never take a break. Other times, we go to the opposite extreme and get lazy, not doing those things that we ought to be doing.

In the end, the question comes down to this – are we making wise choices regarding our time? Are we spending too many hours watching TV, or browsing the Internet? Do we get more sleep than you need? Or maybe not enough sleep, because we feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it all?

Your time — and how you choose to use it — is important. Examine your schedule. Learn to budget your time and manage it well. And remember that how you spend your time demonstrates to others and to God what truly is most important to you.

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