Sloth in all honesty is the article in this series that I’ve had some apprehension about. At first, the concern was in wondering how in the world would I provide value for you on the subject.
Seriously, how often do we even use the word “sloth” in today’s English?
Then, the deeper I dug into the idea of sloth, the more value I found. And because of that, the more exciting sharing this with you became.
Sloth Isn’t Just for the Lazy
For most people, sloth means being lazy. True, laziness is one of the symptoms of sloth, but that’s not all there is to it. It doesn’t take laziness to suffer from the sin of sloth. In fact, one could be overworked, overextended, burnt out, and still slothful.
Do you know that guy who is always on the go, neglecting his family and his spiritual life for the sake of being counted on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
That, I’m afraid is an even more typical image of sloth in Western cultures than the half-dressed, unshaven, beer guzzling football addict that only leaves his recliner to relieve himself and get more beer.
The Symptoms of Sloth
Sloth is a tricky sucker. Despite my previous point, it does show up as laziness in some people, and others may look more like workaholics. Here are a few ways to identify the patterns of sloth.
- Procrastination. Do you struggle with seeing your commitments through? Have you made too many commitments? I’m guilty here. I’ve tried every task manager app that could be found and I can still get buried beneath prioritized to-do lists with my phone alarm ringing at me throughout the day.
- Speaking of priorities, having too many of them is also a problem. The person with too many priorities becomes stretched too thin, and when you’re stretched too thin your priorities are out of whack and your best efforts are only half as good as your full potential.
- Carelessness is also a sloth symptom, especially when it means being careless in your work and in your relationships. When I’m slothfully careless, it’s my family who suffers. I forget to pray with my wife, or to read my own devotions. Gasp. Yeah, it happens.
- Some types of fear is another symptom of sloth. I mean the kind of fear that stops you from making decisions or from taking action. This kind of fear comes with discouragement attached to it and it can really paralyze you sometimes.
- Entertainment is the choice drug of our day. And it produces another level of sloth. The problem isn’t taking in a movie or catching your favorite sports team on the weekend. The trouble with entertainment is that there’s just too much of it and it’s killing our senses.
How Rest Prevents Sloth
The more our smart phones can do, the harder it is to unplug.
Says the guy sitting with his laptop writing this post from an Upsate New York lake house on a rainy day.
I can say this because I have the blessing of limited internet here and my phone doesn’t have service. So I’ve read more Psalms than usual, finished a good book, and have had deeper prayers than I had grown accustomed to recently.
And I’ve caught a good number of fish in the last few days out of this New York lake.
But I also know myself well enough that if I have that constant connection, being out there casting my favorite plastic lure would include it’s share of interruptions. The online world really can wait. The last few weeks have taught me that.
Entertainment and rest are ironically required to prevent sloth, but when they’re either excessive or are constantly interrupted with status updates and mobile phone games, you’re really missing out on the things that quiet moments can produce. Like dealing with life’s stuff that you avoid by over stimulating your downtime.
It took a forced Sabbath in the land of the unconnected for me to discover that.
And then there’s the real danger of falling into slothful patterns: the impact on your spiritual life.
The spiritual sluggard is the person who has fallen into various degrees of neglecting his or her spiritual life and responsibilities. Prayer and reading the Bible become chores that are easily replaced with busyness. Excuses replace gathering together with other believers in study or in church fellowship. Worship is completely shucked.
That’s when your faith becomes lukewarm. After that, faith dies.
Here’s how Jesus calls it in Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
Do you know what the original text is for “spit you out?” It’s vomit. Jesus says he will vomit you out if you’re lukewarm. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want Jesus to puke my mediocre, lukewarm faith away.
So we have to deal with spiritual sloth, and we had better do so because it has eternal implications.
If you’re like me, then you’re very good at following the path of least resistance. But did you know that very few humans are ever satisfied with being completely idle? You are made to be productive in all areas of your life, so when you neglect one area, that space gets filled with some other distraction.
And that usually involves sensuality, indifference, overwork, or entertainment.
The Prescription to Overcome Sloth
Identifying sinful patterns in your life is part one. Uprooting them is the rest of the battle. Here’s some tips on dealing with sloth.
- Read Proverbs and highlight every verse that mentions “poverty,” “sluggard,” “sloth”, “idle,” and any form of the word “lazy.” Study those verses once you have a list of them.
- Learn to say “no.” Sounds counterproductive to say no when you’re overcoming sloth, right? But stretching yourself too thin leads to half-hearted efforts at your growing list of commitments and conflicting priorities.
- Take a Sabbath. Unplug everything for a day. If you can’t do that, then start with half of a day. Get disconnected from the electronic world. You could even go fishing or hiking.
- Go to a study group or a Sunday school class. Staying in fellowship is healthy. Plus, you’ll learn stuff.